Seeing the Sky

Speaking1 of the future state of our people in the early stages of the Redemption, even before it blossoms into complete fulfillment, the Prophet Michah says that at that time, we will “not place our hope in man, nor look forward to help from a mortal.”2 The wording implies that at that time we will not pin our hopes even on our fellow Jews, as it is written,3 “Cursed is the mortal who trusts in man (adam).”4 Rather, we will rely on G‑d alone, as it is written,5 “Blessed is the man who puts his trust in G‑d.”

Since the above prophecy — that we will “not place our hope in man” — relates to a time at the beginning of the Redemption, it is obviously not speaking of forbidden conduct, concerning which it is written, “Cursed is the mortal who trusts in man.” Rather, it foretells how at that time we will rise above reliance on man even in a manner permitted by the Torah.

To explain: It is written,6 “And G‑d your L‑rd will bless you in everything that you do.” In explanation of this verse, Sifri writes: “Lest a person think that he should sit idle,7 the verse comes to teach us that G‑d’s blessing is bestowed ‘in everything that you do.’ This means that it is the Torah that instructs one to create a natural medium8 for one’s livelihood,9 and that “one should not rely on a miracle.”10 Hence, since making a living according to the natural order requires that one have dealings with mere mortals (including those who are not fellow Jews), “placing our hope in man” is well within the Torah’s guidelines.

The verse, “Cursed is the mortal who trusts in man,” does not contradict the above course of action. For making a natural medium for a livelihood does not mean that one relies on the natural order as it exists in its own right. Rather, one trusts that G‑d will grant His blessings through the natural medium that he has prepared.11

This represents the new development that will come in the time of the Redemption: Blessings will then come “like dew from G‑d,” which “does not come to the world through mortal efforts, nor does man request it. Similarly, we will not hope to be helped by man, but by G‑d.”12

From a Different Perspective

A related verse states:13 “It is preferable to rely on G‑d than to trust in man.” As understood in the teachings of Chassidus,14 this means that “to trust in man” is permitted by the Torah, though it is preferable “to rely on G‑d.” In this context, “to trust in man” is a mystical allusion to the Sublime Man, i.e., the Divine energy that “permeates all the worlds.”15 From the perspective of this level of spirituality, a person must endeavor to make a medium within the natural order on which G‑d’s blessings will rest.16 Therefore it is “preferable to rely on G‑d,” on the level of G‑dliness that “transcends all the worlds.”17 At this level, a person has no need to ground his endeavors in the natural order. Rather, “He (G‑d Himself) will provide for you (יכלכלך),”18 by providing the medium (כלי) as well.16

Unraveling the Code

The ultimate Divine intent is not that the natural order should cease to exist, but that it should be refined and elevated19 to the extent that it is apparent to every eye that nature is one with G‑d. With regard to the concept at hand — not to place one’s hope in man — the Divine intent is not that help via mortals will cease to exist. Rather, the natural order will then be so utterly fused with G‑dliness that we will perceive this help not as help from man, but only as help from G‑d.

The requirement to do6 — i.e., to create a natural conduit through which one’s living is to be earned — may be approached in either of two ways:

(a) One knows that nature per se has no self-sufficient existence20 and is no more than “an ax in the hand of the woodchopper”;21 nevertheless, since G‑d commanded that one should do — i.e., one should create a natural medium for one’s livelihood — nature acquires a certain standing in one’s mind, even though this status does not derive from nature in its own right but only by virtue of G‑d’s command.22

(b) One engages in natural ways and means only because G‑d so commanded. The natural order is of no account in one’s eyes because one perceives it as nothing more than a means of fulfilling G‑d’s Will.23

This explains24 the teaching of our Sages25 on the verse,26 “He shall be the faithfulness of your times….” The Sages teach that here, emunas (“faithfulness”) alludes to Seder Zera’im [which is the section of the Mishnah that deals mainly with the laws applying to agriculture], for [a Jewish farmer] “believes in Him Who is the Life of all the worlds — and sows.”

True enough, the fact that germination follows sowing is a natural phenomenon. It does not matter whether the farmer is Jewish or not, nor even if the seed fell to the ground without any human agency. The earth by nature promotes germination, regardless. (Indeed, this intrinsic nature of the earth is constant, as in the verse,27 “seed time and harvest… will not cease.”) Nevertheless, nature does not acquire status in the mind of a Jew. When he sows, he does not do so because according to the laws of nature sowing leads to germination, but only because “he believes in Him Who is the Life of all the worlds — and sows.” That is why he sows.

Integrity in Thought, Speech and Action

The difference between the above two approaches is not only a matter of how one experiences the attribute of trust in G‑d. Beyond that, the manner in which one experiences this attribute of bitachon leads ultimately to differences in one’s actual conduct in the realms of thought, speech, and action.

When what one has to do is perceived as a value in its own right,28 i.e., when the laws of nature enjoy a certain standing in one’s estimation, then one’s obligations in the realm of Torah and its commandments (on one hand) and the requirement to do (on the other hand) are perceived as two separate entities. In such a case, what happens if the two interests conflict? (A person might think, for example, that if he invests more time in meditation during prayer, his business affairs will suffer. Likewise, if he fulfills the mitzvah of tzedakah generously, he may be left with less money to invest.) The tension between the two contrary claims can then be metaphorically described by the phrase,29 “Two nations will contend for the upper hand.”

Let us even suppose that one foregoes involvement in activities mandated by the natural order (knowing that “it is G‑d’s blessing that bestows wealth,”30 and that these natural processes are only a medium and a conduit for G‑d’s blessing) and involves himself in studying Torah and observing mitzvos. Even then, doing so involves an inner war and a struggle to overcome his animal soul. Moreover, there is always the possibility that the balance of power will shift and the “other nation” will gain the upper hand (G‑d forbid!).

When, however, he gives no importance to the conduit that he makes for G‑d’s blessing, and involves himself with it only in order to fulfill the Creator’s Will, that involvement in itself becomes a mode of Divine service. The Sages teach that31 “all your actions should be performed for the sake of Heaven,” and there is a verse that teaches,32 “Know Him in all your ways.” When one’s service of G‑d is such that he engages in natural ways and means only in order to fulfill His Will, “all [his] actions” and “all [his] ways” are not distinct from “the sake of Heaven” and from the obligation to “know Him.” They are so utterly permeated by those ideals that they all become one.

Moreover, since in such a person’s mind nothing is held to be of any account apart from G‑d’s Will, there can obviously be no conflict between one mitzvah and another. Indeed,33 “One mitzvah draws another in its train.”

Navigating the Slippery Slope

The difference between these two approaches does not begin with a distinct point of conduct. At the outset, the Evil Inclination does not try to convince a person that he should transgress G‑d’s Will outright. It begins with a hair’s-breadth. As the Sages teach,34 “This is how the Evil Inclination plies his craft: Today he tells a man, Do this; the next day he tells him, Do that; until ultimately he tells him, Serve idols — and he goes and serves them.” At first, the Evil Inclination concedes, as it were, that this person’s involvement in making a living via a natural conduit should not conflict with his observance of the Torah and its mitzvos. It merely emphasizes that activities within the natural order should be given their due standing. Ultimately, however, it causes these worldly activities to be considered of primary importance.

My revered father-in-law, the Rebbe [Rayatz], interpreted35 the above Talmudic teaching as follows: At the beginning, the Evil Inclination does not try to convince a person to do the opposite of his true will36 (and thereby violate G‑d’s Will, Heaven forbid). On the contrary, it tells him to Do this. The Evil Inclination agrees that this Jew should observe the Torah and its commandments. It even explains to him how that observance makes sense according to the understanding of the animal soul and the Evil Inclination.In this way, by projecting itself into this person’s observance of the Torah and mitzvos, and by habituating his listener to thinking that the listener needs his consent, the Evil Inclination draws him along to the point at which “the next day he tells him, Do that; until ultimately it tells him, Serve idols.”

Therefore, the way to defend oneself properly against the wiles of the Evil Inclination is not to gear one’s Divine service to the dictates of mortal reason, because mortal reason gives weight to nature as a self-sufficient consideration. Rather, one should go about his avodah by subjugating his own will — to the point of self-sacrifice — to G‑d’s Will,37 in a manner that transcends mortal reason, for then, the only consideration that exists for him is G‑d’s Will.

In Cosmic Terms

The difference between these two possible approaches to Divine service parallels the above-mentioned distinction38 between “relying on G‑d” and “trusting in man.” The level of Divine service at which one “trusts in man” relates to the G‑dly light that “permeates all the worlds.”15 In terms of a soul here below, this mode of Divine influence corresponds to Divine service that is directed by mortal reason and that requires worldly involvement according to the natural order. For with regard to this level of G‑dly light, the natural order is significant.

The level of Divine service at which one “relies on G‑d” relates to the G‑dly light that “transcends all the worlds.”17 In terms of a soul here below, this mode of Divine influence corresponds to Divine service that is directed by bittul, transcending mortal reason, and ascribing no independent importance to the mediums of the natural order. For a person who lives at this level of trust, the appropriate expectation is that “He will provide for you (יכלכלך)”39 — G‑d Himself will provide the medium (כלי) as well. There will be mediums, but they will come from Above. As mentioned above,40 even when such a person employs natural means, he does not grant them any independent importance. It is not appropriate to say that he receives “help from man,” because in his perception, the mediums of the natural order are one with G‑d.

This explains why in the above-quoted prophecy of Michah, the preparation for the Redemption is that we will “not place our hope in man.” At that time, the veil of concealment will be entirely lifted from nature and we will see with our fleshly eyes that nature itself is G‑dly. Hence the pattern will be that blessings will come, unasked for, “like dew from G‑d.” At that time, we will “not place our hope in man, nor look forward to help from a mortal,” but “He will provide for you.” […]

Looking to the Horizon

This lesson is also appropriate in these last days of exile, when we are preparing to enter Eretz Yisrael, led by Mashiach. We are still living in an era characterized by the double and redoubled darkness41 of exile, the very opposite of “the beginning of the Redemption,”42 as is plainly to be seen. Nevertheless, all the revelations of the Future Redemption “depend on our actions and Divine service throughout the era of exile.”43 In particular, this applies in the present generation, when we are making the final preparations for the redemption to be led by Mashiach. As the Previous Rebbe states,44 Mashiach is “standing behind our wall,”45 and moreover, the walls of exile are already burning.46

At this time, therefore, every individual’s Divine service should have at least a foretaste of the level at which we will “not place our hope in man.” He should not prize the worldly mediums of the natural order at all, but should place his trust in G‑d alone. Through this, every individual will be redeemed from the worries and problems that disturb him. For when he engages in “all that you do” only for the sake of fulfilling G‑d’s Will, he will not be fazed nor bothered by his worldly occupations, for all that will concern him is carrying out G‑d’s Will.

And this individual redemption which will be experienced by each person47 will also serve as the preparation and the medium for the all-encompassing Redemption led by Mashiach, and to “the day that will be entirely Shabbos and rest for life everlasting.”48