Effort versus Trust in God: Free Will & Predestination Response on Ask the Rabbi
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Effort versus Trust in God

I heard a joke about a man who wants to win the lottery. Each week he prays to win, and after many weeks go by, he finally complains to God, "Why haven't I won?" Replies God, "You should have bought a ticket."

While the obvious message is that "God helps those who help themselves," I imagine that God doesn't need someone to purchase a lottery ticket. I once received a lottery ticket in the mail as part of a marketing promotion. So if God wants you to win, you'll win.

So, if I want to win the lottery, should I buy a ticket?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

This is an excellent question and I think there are two answers.

First, God wants us to make the effort, not because He needs it, but because we need it. Our actions create a change within us.

In the Talmud, a scoffer tells Rebbe Akiva: "You shouldn't be helping poor people, because it was God who made them poor, and by helping them you're going against God's plan!"

Rebbe Akiva answered: "God made poor people precisely in order that we should help them. Helping others is what God wants us to do."

So you see, God wants us to make the effort. This same idea is expressed in many other ways in Judaism - e.g. circumcising a new baby boy, or turning raw kernels of wheat into bread. Obviously God wants us to be active and involved in bringing perfection to the world.

The second answer is that God made a system called "nature," through which He operates. Of course God can override that system (and He often does - that's what we call "miracles"). But God prefers to remain somewhat hidden - to preserve our quest to find Him.

So that's why if you want the money, it helps to buy a lottery ticket.

Though of course, don't go out and buy a whole stack of tickets. Because if God wants you to win, one ticket should be enough.

In the section discussing prophecy, the Torah states, "You shall (trust) wholeheartedly in God" (Deut. 18:13). We are enjoined to trust in God, but to what degree do we have an obligation to make a normal human effort and what is considered a lack of trust in God?

The question arises regarding testing people before marriage for being carriers of Tay-Sachs disease. Some people wonder whether such testing is not contrary to the trust we are required to have in Divine Providence - why search for problems when in all probability none exist?

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, of blessed memory, a foremost authority on Jewish law, clarified this point. "Although the percentage of infants born with this disease is small and one might be apt to apply the verse: 'You shall trust wholeheartedly in the Almighty,' (which Rashi interprets as meaning that one should not delve into the future), in light of the fact that a simple test has been developed for this, one who does not make use of it is like one who shuts his eyes to what can clearly be seen. Since the birth of such a child, God forbid, causes great anguish... it is prudent for all who are considering marriage to undergo this test." (cited in Jewish Observer, May, 1986)

Having trust in the Almighty gives a person peace of mind and serenity. However, one should never use a claim of trust in God to condone laziness or rash behavior. There is a thin line between the virtue of trusting in God and the fault of carelessness and irresponsibility.

There is the story of a man who lived by a river. A policeman warns him to evacuate because of a flood warning. The man rejects the offer and says, "I have perfect trust in God to save me." As the water rises, a person in a boat offers to take him to safety. The man again replies with his proclamation of trust and refuses the ride. Finally, as the man is sitting on his roof, a helicopter comes to rescue him; again the man proclaims his trust and refuses the rescue. The water rises, the man drowns and is finally standing in judgment before the Almighty. "God, I had perfect trust in You. Why did You let me down?" The Almighty replies, "But, my son, I sent a policeman, a boat and a helicopter!"

The only way to be considered a "failure" in life is by being lazy and not trying hard enough. Why? Because we can only expected to work with the tools God provides. And whatever He provides is precisely what I need. Whether or not the eventual goal is completed - that is in God's hands.

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