The Keys to Life

Trust in G-d – Rabbi Zamir Cohen


A person who is distrustful of G-d has a poor quality of life. Even if he is rich, healthy and happy overall, he may still feel uncertain about what tomorrow will bring and secretly fear the worst. However, the person who acquires the attribute of trust, besides for living a life of truth, will also enjoy a peaceful and happy life. He knows that once he makes an effort to fulfill his part, there’s going to be someone taking care of him, orchestrating his affairs and ensuring that the outcome will be as favorable to him as possible. After all, the One in charge of this divine intervention is unlimited in His abilities, sees the future, and is wise beyond any human measure. He therefore knows what is truly good for the person in the short and long term. And thus, the person who trusts G-d is more relaxed and lives in peace – as it is written in the book, Duties of the Heart:

What is trust? Peace of mind of the one who trusts. That one relies in his heart that the One he trusts in will do what is good and proper for him on the matter he has trusted him with…[2]

And it should be emphasized that a person who wishes to achieve the attribute of trust in an absolute manner, would not be able to do so if his faith is flawed in any way, because trust is built upon the premise that a Creator exists. Only the person who recognizes the existence of a Creator can trust Him and live in peace. However, a person does have a duty to do what is naturally necessary for him to attain his needs. This duty is a result of Adam HaRishon’s sin – as it says:[3] “By the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread.” This includes all human needs – because as a general rule of thumb, without physical effort, they will be impossible to attain. But prior to the sin, all human needs were automatically taken care of. The ground produced wheat in the form of bread that was readily edible, and no work had to be done in order to prepare it. But after the sin, the ground received an order that without man’s labor it is not to produce anything but thorns and thistles, and that wheat and sustenance will be produced only after manual labor is put into action – as it says:[4] “To Adam He said, ‘because you listened to the voice of your wife and ate of the tree about which I commanded you saying, ‘you shall not eat it’, accursed is the ground because of you; through suffering shall you eat of it all the days of your life. Thorns and thistles shall it sprout for you.”

So how much effort is a person required to exert for the sake of his livelihood? He is required to exert the amount of effort necessary to make a decent income. Meaning, if after a reasonable amount of effort he sees that all the gates are locked and is unable to make a living the way that he had hoped, then he must accept his current situation and understand that it is for his benefit. And he should never become sad or depressed, G-d forbid. Rather, he should trust that his Creator would surely do what’s best for him, while making occasional attempts to try and improve his situation. After all, maybe this was just a temporary decree for his own good – to be in a difficult situation as an atonement for his sins, or maybe it’s as a wake up call regarding some matter, and now that this goal has been achieved, his efforts to improve his economic situation are required once more.

On the other hand, if a person is presented with lucrative business opportunities that require him to dedicate most of his time to business, or if he works overtime in order to increase his income to greater amounts than what he needs to provide for his family, then he must strengthen his attribute of trust and do only that which is necessary to earn a decent income. The rest of his time should be devoted to building his spiritual world by learning Torah, praying, extending his kindness to his wife – providing her with a listening ear and helping her around the house, spending time with his kids, observing the mitzvoth in an optimal way, and extending kindness in general to all those who seek his help. And he should trust his Creator that if on Rosh Hashana He has decreed that he will be wealthy, then he must rest assured that G-d has many ways by which He can make him wealthy without him having to exceed the required amount of effort that he must exert as a consequence of the curse: “By the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread.”

Below is a wonderful explanation of this matter from the book, Duties of the Heart:[5]

The proper way of trusting G-d, is to engage in the means which G-d has made available to him to the extent necessary for his maintenance and sufficient for his needs of this world. And if the Creator will decree for him more than this, it will come to him without trouble or exertion.

He continues to write that a person who trusts G-d should strengthen himself through reflection, that if G-d has not decreed for him to become wealthy…

And if the Creator has not decreed for him more than his sustenance, even if all those in heaven and earth were to try to increase it, they would not be capable by any way nor by any means.

We must take this as a lesson for all aspects in life that require trust in G-d. The person must make a reasonable amount of effort in a particular area, and then trust that G-d will orchestrate things in the most favorable way for him.

When a person overexerts himself in an effort to attain his desires, not only does it not help him, but it also harms him. As it says in Duties of the Heart:[6]

If one does not place his trust in G-d, he will place his trust in something else, and whoever trusts in something other than G-d, the Al-mighty will remove His providence from such a person, and leave him in the hands of the one he trusted.

(Recommended reading: Chapters 4-7 in The Gate of Trust in G-d – Duties of the Heart).

And indeed, regarding the verse:[7] “But talk of the lips brings only loss”, our sages say in the Midrash:[8]

Yosef was only supposed to be in prison for ten years, corresponding to the fact that he spoke against his ten brothers. But because he turned to the Chamberlain of the Cupbearers and said:[9] ‘If only you would think of me with yourself…and mention me to Pharaoh’, two years were added to his prison sentence – as it says: [10] ‘It happened at the end of two years.’

Some have explained that because Yosef was on such a high spiritual level, he was not supposed to make any effort in saving himself. But according to the simple understanding, the claim against Yosef was that he made an increased amount of effort – more than was necessary. Once he said: If only you would think of me with yourself…he should not have added, and mention me…as he had already made his initial effort and fulfilled his obligation. Meaning, because he made two requests for the Chamberlain of the Cupbearers to mention him, he received an additional two years of prison.

However, if he would have only asked him once, he would not have received one extra year in prison, rather, he would not have been punished at all because he carried out the necessary effort that’s required of man. But since he asked twice, it showed that even his first request was questionable and stemmed from a deficiency in his trust in G-d, relative to the level of Yosef HaTzadik and therefore, he was punished for the first time too. And so, every person is required to elevate himself and strengthen his trust in G-d – each person according to his level, until he reaches the ultimate perfection.

We will conclude this section with the words of Rabbeinu B’chayeh at the end of The Gate of Trust in G-d in Duties of the Heart:

May G-d place us among those who trust in Him and give themselves over to His judgment outwardly and inwardly, in His mercy – Amen.

Notes and Sources

[1] Duties of the Heart – The Gate of Trust in G-d, chapter 1

[2] Regarding Inner Peace, refer to the chapter entitled “Wellness of the Mind”

[3] Bereishit 3:19

[4] Bereishit 3:17-18

[5] Duties of the Heart – The Gate of Trust in G-d, chapter 4

[6] Duties of the Heart – The Gate of Trust in G-d, Introduction

[7] Mishlei 14:23

[8] Midrash Rabbah Shemot Parsha 7:1

[9] Bereishit 40:14

[10] Bereishit 41:1

Adapted from “The Keys to Life” by Rabbi Zamir Cohen


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