Sunday, August 31, 2008

Relying on Heaven

Jonathan Rosenblum has a column about Charedi poverty in Israel (link). I have no way of knowing whether his description is accurate or whether he is overstating the problem, although I suspect the former. While one conclusion from the article is that we have to give more money to food banks like Yad Eliezer, I also wonder why so many people are not taking responsibility for their own situations.

All adults, and soon-to-be adults, need to have a plan for how to provide for their families (see these articles by R. Yaakov Horowitz: I, II). You can't just start a family, and keep growing that family, without any plan whatsoever on how to feed and clothe them. Relying on God stepping in without having any idea on what you will do yourself is not a plan. Granted, not all plans work out and we need to support those people through charity. Poverty will never be totally eradicated. But we are dealing here with a large group of people who do not train or otherwise plan to earn a living, and are therefore overwhelmed with the responsibility of providing for their large families.

When R. Shlomo Goren was the Chief Rabbi of the IDF, he once invited R. Aharon Kotler to address soldiers and R. Kotler said the following explanation of the Mishnah in Sotah (as quoted by R. Eliezer Melamed in Revivim: Am, Eretz, Tzava, p. 36). I don't know whether R. Kotler arrived at this explanation on his own but there is a story told about R. Itzeleh Volozhiner with the same explanation (Peh Kadosh Ha-Shalem, pp. 347-348).

Click here to read moreIn 1843, there was a gathering of leading Russian rabbis in the capital, St. Petersburg. When the rabbis were discussing a particularly perplexing political problem, one of the rabbis said that there was no way that they could solve the dilemma and all they could do was rely on our Father in heaven (as is repeated three times in the last Mishnah in Sotah).

R. Itzeleh Volozhiner replied that he finally understood the meaning of that Mishnah. It has multiple lists of bad things that happened to the Jews after the destruction of the Temple (e.g. people who did good deeds were lowered, and the forceful people and talebearers overpowered others) and each list concludes "We have no one on whom to rely except our Father in heaven." It's not clear what that final phrase has to do with the list of curses that befell us. R. Itzeleh explained that failing to act and relying solely on God is itself a curse. We are all obligated to try our best and let God's blessing rest on our actions. Failing to try, to plan, to attempt, is a symptom of the lack of direction and guidance that we have nowadays.

This was also R. Kotler's message to the Israeli soldiers, telling them that their efforts to defend the Jews in Israel is an avoidance of the curse of relying solely on God.

The Mishnah at the end of Kiddushin (82a) quotes a number of Tannaim discussing the pros and cons of various professions a man can teach his son. However, R. Nehorai dissents and says that he will only teach his son Torah and not a profession. R. Moshe Feinstein (Iggeros Moshe, Orach Chaim 2:111) suggests that the halakhah follows R. Nehorai. He makes the point, though, that this is only about training a child for a future profession and that even R. Nehorai would agree that an adult must work. The problem that we are witnessing today is that adults, and 18 year olds are certainly adults, are not following even the view of R. Nehorai and obtaining professional training so that they will be able to support their families.

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