After enslaving the Jewish people, Pharaoh was informed by his astrologers that a baby boy was destined to be born who would redeem Klal Yisroel from their terrible galus (exile). Pharaoh responded with great efforts to prevent this prediction from being fulfilled, including his order that every baby boy born should be thrown into the Nile. The Steipler Gaon zt”l notes the irony of the events that followed Pharaoh’s decree. When Moshe Rabbeinu was born, the Mitzrim seeked to throw him into the Nile, as a result Yocheved placed Moshe in a basket and left him to drift down the river to an unknown fate. His salvation came from none other than Basya the daughter of Pharaoh who drew him out of the water. The young Moshe was then brought up in Pharaoh’s palace by Pharaoh himself. All of Pharaoh’s efforts to alter events failed, but what is more remarkable is that Moshe’s salvation came about because of the very decree to kill the boys! As a result of that decree, Moshe was placed in the Nile and saved by Pharaoh’s daughter! The Steipler Gaon teaches us that from here we learn that if Hashem desires that a certain event take place then it is impossible to change His plans despite the greatest possible efforts . A person may make great hishtadlus (effort) in a specific venture and do well, but the Steipler asserts that he succeeds only because the Hashgacha decrees it. If he were not intended to succeed then no effort could change that reality.
This fundamental lesson assumes great relevance in the financial crisis that is gravely effecting people’s lives throughout the world. Many people who have invested incredible amounts of time and energy into earning a livelihood have suddenly been placed in a very precarious financial situation. How should a person react to this difficult challenge? The Steipler‘s idea can help us answer this question.
The Steipler cites the Chazal that tells us that a person’s year is decreed on Rosh HaShana. Accordingly, there is no amount of hishtadlus in the physical realm that can change the hashgacha decreed upon a person. A natural reaction for one who has suddenly lost a significant amount of money is to strive to find new ways of earning money. This is understandable, however it is important to realize that excessive hishdtadlus will not lead him to earn more money. How can he know how much hishtadlus is appropriate? My Rebbe, Rav Yitzchak Berkovits Shlita suggests that whatever is considered within the realm of ’normal’ hishtadlus is acceptable, however one should be careful not to go beyond that boundary. Devoting vast amounts of time and energy to earning money to the exclusion of everything else is considered unnecessary hishtadlus and will not produce any fruits. Thus, one lesson derived from the Steipler is that if Hashem decrees a specific event then there is no way to change that decree through physical hishtadlus.
An amusing example of this phenomenon is told over in the name of the Ben Ish Chai zt”l. It is the story of a man who had incredible success in all his business ventures. This man earned so much money that he became deathly afraid of ayin hara that would arouse from the jealousy of others. Consequently, he strived to lose all his money in disastrous business ventures. To his distress, his efforts proved fruitless and all his wild ventures succeeded! He went to a Rav to share his dilemma. The Rav told him that he should stop trying to lose his money because if Hashem decreed that he be wealthy then there is no way that he can change that decree. We see from here that both success and failure in gashmius are completely beyond our control .
There is, however, one way of changing the decree of Rosh HaShana; The Steipler explains that efforts in the spiritual realm can change the decree. The Gemara tells us that tefilla can change a gezar din. It further states that doing teshuva can make the decree pan out in a way that reduces the damage of a negative decree. For example, if a small amount of rain was decreed for the year because of one’s sins, a person’s teshuva can make that rain fall in a propitious fashion. Similarly, it would seem that if a person is decreed a certain amount of money based on his spiritual level at Rosh HaShana, his subsequent teshuva could make it so that that money arrive in a more beneficial fashion and suffice to provide for his needs .
Whilst growing spiritually can help one’s financial situation, it is important to remember that the main benefit of such growth is that it brings a person closer to Hashem. Very often, a loss of money can provide a person with an opportunity to focus more on the spiritual realm. For example, if one’s business suffers to the extent that he has less work, he can react in one of two ways: He can either work harder in a vain attempt to stem the downturn, or he can accept the decline in his wealth and use the opportunity to learn more Torah or be more involved in other spiritual pursuits such as chesed. A striking example of this phenomenon is the story of the beginning of the great Soloveitchik dynasty of talmidei chachamim.
In the time of Rav Chaim of Volozhin zt”l, lived a wealthy, G-d fearing man, Rav Moshe Soloveitchik. He had inherited his wealth from his parents. Since he owned great hardwood forests he went into the lumber business, cutting his trees and selling the wood for a good profit. Because of his busy work schedule, he was not known as a talmid chacham, but he was very generous with his great wealth, giving liberally to tzedoko. Yet the day came when he suddenly lost all his money, leaving him penniless. Everyone who knew him was left wondering how such a great philanthropist could suffer such a terrible fate. Rav Chaim of Volozhin convened a special Beis Din to delve into this question. They examined his account books exhaustively but found nothing amiss. Unable to point to any other cause for his economic collapse, they concluded that he must have transgressed the prohibition of giving more than a fifth of one’s fortune to tzedoko . They reported their conclusion to Rav Chaim, but he rejected their findings. He could not accept that for such a transgression Reb Moshe should be punished so badly, and thus the matter was left unresolved.
In the meantime, now that Reb Moshe had no business to attend to, he turned to the Beis HaMedrash and embarked on a vigorous course of study. Little by little, hidden talents revealed themselves until it became clear that he excelled in Torah study. He advanced steadily, until before long he was counted among the most learned in his town, and he eventually attained the position of Av Beis Din of Kovno. He also encouraged his sons to follow in his footsteps, and they too, took up the challenge and became famous talmidei chachamim. Now, Rav Chaim understood why Reb Moshe lost his fortune so quickly. For his great acts of tzedoko he deserved a tremendous reward; to begin a dynasty of Talmidei Chachamim. Since is very difficult for greatness in Torah to rise from a wealthy house, his wealth was taken away, in order to release himself from worldly involvement and allow him to learn Torah, setting the path for generations of outstanding scholars .
It is very difficult when a person experiences Hashgacha that seems to make his life more difficult, however every challenge is an opportunity to change our life direction. Loss of money may trigger a person to put more effort in this worldly activities, but this is a great shame. We learn from Pharaoh’s fruitless efforts to change a heavenly decree that no amount of physical hishtadlus can change Hashgacha. The only fruitful reaction is to use the extra time gained by less work in to be more involved in ruchnius. May we all merit to respond to Hashem’s decrees in the desired manner.