America has spawned many wonderful myths. The myth that any man or woman, no matter what his or her starting point in life, can, by a combination of hard work, diligence and faith in the system, “make it” in the world. The myth that every citizen, regardless of race, creed, color or gender, can not only expect, but also receive, justice and fair play from society. The myth that millions of voters, driven almost solely by self-interest, electing officials even more self-interested than themselves, can create a system of governance that not only functions, but actually works towards the common good. The myth that the good guys always win at the end.

The most wonderful thing about these myths is that they can be—and often are—made true.

There is, however, one American myth that is very dangerous, particularly for us Jews: the myth of the self-made man.

Here is Moses, warning the children of Israel nearly 3,300 years ago: “Beware . . . lest you eat and be sated, and build good houses and dwell therein, and your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and gold increase, and all that you have increases, and your heart grows haughty . . . and you will say to yourself: ‘It is my own power and the might of my hand that has accumulated this wealth for me’” (Deuteronomy 8:11–17). Such an attitude, Moses continues, inevitably leads to idolatry and national suicide.

Why this double standard? Why is it okay for Tom, Jane and Spot to merrily skip through their self-made lives, but for Shira and Chaim a self-made attitude spells catastrophe?

But that is the price we pay for being a miraculous people. For thousands of years we’ve been working miracles, transforming the world in which we live. But being a miraculous people has a flip side—it also means that our very existence is a miracle. By all laws of history and nature, we should have vanished long ago. For us to survive a single day in this world, let alone prosper, requires constant divine intervention.

Our sages tell us that one of the built-in laws of creation is that “in the measure that a person metes out, so is meted out to him.” In simple English, this means that we decide the criteria by which our lives will run. If we say, “I’m a self-made man,” G‑d says, “Okay, make yourself. The laws of nature, which are the grounds from which your human self derives, will determine what happens to you.” And that is a very dangerous situation for a Jew to find himself in.

Does rejecting the creed of self-making mean that we don’t have to work as hard as the other guy? Unfortunately, no. The difference between the self-made man and the G‑d-made man is not that the latter need not catch the train to work in the morning. For while the G‑d-made individual appreciates that everything he or she has is granted from Above, he or she is still obligated to fashion the “vessels” with which to receive the divine blessings. You can strike oil, but unless you build the pipes, tankers and refineries to hold, transport and process it, it won’t be much use to you or to anyone else. Divine blessings work the same way. That’s why you still need to catch that morning train.

Still, there is a difference. You may work as hard, but not as obsessively. And while it may be exhilarating to stand on the top of a pedestal of your own making and proclaim “My power and the might of my hand have accumulated this wealth for me,” that’s also a very lonely and scary place to stand. Come to think of it, partnering with the One who wrote the rules and runs the show can be quite an exhilarating experience, too. And if you ever feel the need to be scared, you can always watch a horror movie.