Monday, September 14, 2009

Hishtadlus: A Perspective

God has blessed me with, among many other things, wonderful friends who challenge me to think and provoke me to improve. During Elul, I called up one such friend and, simply to initiate conversation, asked how he was doing. He answered me in a grave tone: “The Director has me playing the role of someone who is having a bad day.”

My friend, whose hashkafah rests upon a bedrock belief that “all the world’s a stage,” sees himself as nothing more than an actor in God’s Divine play of life. He would never come right out and say “I’m having a bad day,” as that would, in his view, indicate a lack of faith that “Kol de’avad Rachmana letav avad—Everything God does is for the best.”

We all have our good days and our “bad” days, as well as plenty of nondescript days to round out the calendar, but my friend’s description of his day—his attitude toward what had been a setback in his livelihood—got me to rethink how to approach each day, and how to prepare for the new year.

The Talmud states, ”Mezonosav shel adam ketzuvim lo Meirosh Hashanah—A person’s livelihood [for the year] is set on Rosh Hashanah.” This alone should impel all of us to take seriously our prayers on the Yom Hadin. But more important than the actual words we read from the machzor is the attitude we need to reinforce on Rosh Hashanah and carry with us throughout the year.

Rav Chaim Friedlander, in his classic work, Sifsei Chaim, writes that the operative word on Rosh Hashanah is not teshuvah, but malchius. The main objective is not so much to ask for things or to beg forgiveness from God, but to acknowledge God’s complete control over the world. “First and foremost, we must desire that through us, through all our actions, His Kingdom will be revealed.” We spend much of these first two days of the year in prayer, declaring God’s sovereignty.

As a financial advisor, there is very little about my livelihood that I control. Rumors to the contrary notwithstanding, I have no influence on the daily direction of the financial markets. I cannot foresee when a client will drop a million dollars into my lap for investment, or when a client who had previously done so will ask for it all back.

All I can do is show up at the office, read the financial papers, talk to clients and prospective clients, and behave honestly and ethically. This is my hishtadlus, the sum total of how I “earn” a living. The actual dollar amount that flows from these behaviors into my paycheck is entirely at God’s discretion. Thus the greatest advantage of my occupation is that I am privileged to see the Hand of God supporting me every day.

As we begin to crawl out from last year’s economic meltdown, even those who earned the proverbial “steady” paycheck have lost their jobs, had their salaries reduced, or otherwise borne witness to the reality that we are all dependent solely on God for our daily bread.

Last year, after the market began its drastic decline, I had a significant setback with my biggest client, who liquidated his entire portfolio on the first day of chol hamo’eid Sukkos. I went into Simchas Torah without much joy, and tried very hard to change my mood, fully aware that whatever God had planned for me, I needed to embrace it. But the intellectual recognition of something does not induce an abrupt emotional response.

During Yom Tov, the rav of my shul spoke of the verse in Devarim, with which we begin the hakafos—“Atah hareisa ladaa’s ki Hashem hu haElokim; ein od milvado—You were shown in order to understand that Hashem is the Lord; there is nothing but Him.” The rav encouraged us to focus on those three words as we sang them, “Ein od milvado,” and to imbibe its meaning—our need to rely on God exclusively.

The first question that one is asked in the afterlife is, “Nasasa venasata be’emunah?—Did you conduct your business faithfully.” The simple translation means, Were you honest in business? But I believe that emunah here is more accurately understood as faith in God. In other words, did you conduct your business dealings with the faith that God was overseeing your success? If so, you would have no reason to cut corners. You would not be anxious as to when your next client would arrive. You would not be overly worried by financial setbacks.

This year, may we all embrace the message of malchius, bowing before the crown of our Creator, recognizing that “ein od milvado.”


Blogger Neil Harris said...

Great post and powerful message, thanks.

Wed Sep 16, 01:46:00 PM  

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