(a) There1 is a verse that says,2 “And the L‑rd your G‑d will bless you in all that you do.” In explanation of this verse, Sifri writes: “Lest a person think that he should sit idly, the verse comes to teach us that G‑d’s blessing is bestowed in all that you do.” This means that it is the Torah that instructs one to create a natural vessel for one’s livelihood, and that “one should not rely on a miracle.”3

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

(i) One knows that nature per se has no self-sufficient existence4 and is no more than “an ax in the hand of the woodchopper”; nevertheless, since G‑d commanded that one should do — i.e., one should create a natural vessel 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.

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

This explains5 the teaching of the Sages6 on the verse,7 “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,8 “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 sow 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.” That is why he sows.

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

When what one has to do is perceived as a value in its own right,9 i.e., when the laws of nature enjoy a certain standing in one’s estimation, then one’s obligations in the realm of the Torah and its commandments (on the 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,10 “Two nations will contend for the upper hand.”

Indeed, let us even suppose that one foregoes activities that are bound by the laws of nature (because he realizes that “it is G‑d’s blessing that bestows wealth,”11 and natural processes are merely a conduit for G‑d’s blessing), and he therefore engages in studying Torah and observing mitzvos. Even in such a case, he is following his present priorities by battling and contending with his animal soul. Hence it is always possible that the “other nation” will gain the upper hand (G‑d forbid).

This is not so when what one has to do is not esteemed as a self-sufficient value, and one engages in natural ways and means only in order to fulfill G‑d’s Will. Indeed, this kind of occupation in itself becomes a mode of Divine service.

The Sages teach that “all your actions should be performed for the sake of Heaven,”12 and there is a verse that teaches, “Know Him in all your ways.”13 Now, when one’s service of G‑d is such that one engages in natural ways and means only in order to fulfill His Will, “all [one’s] actions” and “all [one’s] ways” are not distinct from “the sake of Heaven” and from the obligation to “know Him.” They all become one.

Moreover, because 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, “One mitzvah draws another in its train.”14

(c) The distinction between the above two approaches does not find its first expression in an actual deed; the Evil Inclination does not begin by inducing a Jew to contravene the Divine Will outright. Rather, it begins with a hair’s-breadth. As the Sages teach,15 “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,16 the Evil Inclination ostensibly agrees that one’s involvement in worldly activities must not conflict with one’s fulfillment of the Torah and its commandments. At this initial stage, the Evil Inclination only emphasizes that the Torah concedes that nature does have a certain status. Later, however,17 he ultimately persuades his listener to accord first priority to the nature-bound activities of this world.

My revered father-in-law, the Rebbe [Rayatz], interpreted18 the above Talmudic teaching (“today [the Evil Inclination] tells a man, Do this”) as follows: The Evil Inclination does not begin by trying to persuade a man to do something that is opposed that person’s real desire19 (and thereby contravene the Divine Will). On the contrary, he tells him to Do this. The Evil Inclination agrees that this Jew should fulfill the Torah and its commandments. Indeed, he even explains the subject at hand according to the intellect of the animal soul. In this way, by involving himself in his listener’s fulfillment of the Torah and its commandments, and by habituating his listener to the idea 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 he tells him, Serve idols.”

Accordingly, 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 one’s avodah by subjugating one’s own will — to the point of self-sacrifice — to the Divine Will,20 in a manner that transcends mortal reason, for then the only consideration in one’s life that has real substance is the Divine Will.