Business Ethics

For the week ending 25 August 2018 / 14 Elul 5778

Trusting in G-d vs. Putting In The Effort

by Rabbi Ari Wasserman
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I have just started a new job that requires, as per my contract, that I work 7.5 hours per day, 37.5 hours a week — this is basically a 40-hour workweek with a half-hour off for lunch.

However, as is common in corporate America, more is actually expected of me. Indeed, in this firm everyone works significantly more than eight-hour days. Furthermore, as I am new, I am on “probation” for the first six months, meaning that my employers are evaluating my performance and deciding whether or not to keep me or to let me go when the six-month period ends.

It would be ideal for me if I could actually work according to the contracted hours. This would leave me time for my Torah studies, for my family, for exercise and recreation. But I realize that, if I do the minimum required, I may not have a job in six months.

Thus far I have been working 10-hour days in the office and also answering e-mails while commuting or at home. In terms of my Torah studies, these work hours have caused me to cut my learning in half, as I am only able to learn about 45 minutes in the morning, instead of my customary hour-and-a-half.

How do I balance bitachon (trusting that G-d will look after me even if I don’t do what everybody else does) with hishtadlut (the requisite effort expected of me to earn a living, which means doing much more than the minimum in order to insure that I keep this job)?


I asked advice of Rav Mayer Twersky in answering your question, and he distinguished between bitachon and hishtadlut as follows:

Today, G-d operates through natural channels. Since the Children of Israel finished their wanderings in the desert, there has been no manna falling from the skies. Everyone is expected to put in the requisite effort — hishtadlut — to make a living in the modern world.

Indeed, the Hebrew for “world” — olam — comes from the verb le’haalim, which means “to hide.” In this world, G-d hides, so to speak. And because He hides, we cannot depend on miracles.

Trusting in G-dbitachon — does not mean that we can say a prayer and expect the unexpected.

We have to put in the required effort. But once we do, we can trust that our hishtadlut will become a vehicle through which G-d will provide for us while still hiding behind the curtain backstage. However, this will happen only bederech hateva, in the way of nature.

In other words, hishtadlut has to make sense bederech hateva, in the way of nature.

For example, it would not be enough for you to buy a lottery ticket in order to get rich. Buying the ticket would not be sufficient hishtadlut because winning would not be natural, since the odds against it are astronomical.

Similarly, going to law school would not be sufficient hishtadlut if you don’t also study for the tests. Obtaining a law degree and making a living as a lawyer requires more hishtadlut than just attending classes.

In your particular case, the key is finding what would be reasonable hishtadlut in terms of keeping your job. (Hishtadlut has to be reasonable, it need not be superlative.) If the culture of the firm is that everyone puts in more than 37.5 hours, then it is clear that merely working the minimum is not reasonable. Reasonable hishtadlut is working more. The question is: How much more?

It seems you have found a balance by working 10-hour days, but not 12-hour days, which still leaves you time for some Torah studies and for your family. However, it if turns out that to keep your job you need to work 12-hour days, then you will have to ask yourself if this is the right job for you.

L’iluy nishmas Yehudah Ben Shmuel HaKohen Breslauer z”l

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