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1 Adar 5766 - March 1, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Bitochon vs. Hishtadlus

by Rebbetzin Nomi Travis


"I'm what people call an older single. I've tried varied forms of hishtadlus to find my zivug. My dear ones stress: "You have to make your hishtadlus, then trust in Hashem for the rest." I have heard this or something like it parroted countless times in regard to that fine balance between leaving things in the hands of Hashem and putting forth one's own effort.

On the other hand, I've heard in the name of some Gedolim that the main hishtadlus for shidduchim is prayer. What does that mean? There is no end to the prayers composed for finding one's basheret. At the same time, one can always call more shadchanim and look for extra segulos. Please, matchmaker, I'm interested to hear from your experience and research.


The sages wrote at length about faith vs. hishtadlus. We are often faced with this question — if I am supposed to trust the Almighty anyway, how much practical effort am I responsible for?

The first and foremost thing to keep in mind is that Hashem runs the show. So where does effort fit in? How do I know when I've successfully volunteered my exertion? How do I know at what point I can say, "It's now out of my hands?"

Most of the following explanations were based on the sefer Kaveh El Hashem by Harav Yitzchok Kaufman, Shlita:

Destiny and Spiritual Development

Although a person can't control the outcome of his destiny, this does not mean that he has no connection to what happens. There are three primary aspects involved in deciding the course of one's life. The first is the force known as mazal, loosely translated as destiny, which establishes one's general fortune. That is basically determined through Divine specifications above our limited understanding. However, the two other factors are more closely related to our religious service: the balance of one's observance doing mitzvos versus transgressions and our level of faith in Hashem.

When it comes to implementing the Creator's Will and avoiding that which He prohibits, a person must try to do everything that is in his power. The recompense for this mode of behavior is that one is rewarded with the fulfillment of his personal needs as by making our will His Will in order that He should make His will our will.

By admitting that we don't have the ultimate control, we make the statement that only the Creator knows what is best. This basic belief was implied in the teaching from Chazal: "Believe in Hashem and do good." Faith can hold back Divine retribution, but unless one backs up his trust with commandments, his faith will not help him.

Every facet of a Jew's life is governed by the supernatural, or the metaphysical. This principle is so fundamental, that someone who attributes well-being or failure to "natural law" is considered to have estranged himself from the Torah. The proper outlook is that an individual's destiny is contingent solely on one's commitment to Torah.

Obviously, the very reality and substance of our belief should be striving to become closer to the Creator. Consequently, spiritual achievements bring the privilege of a more elevated hierarchy of celestial intervention. Therefore, we became bound to higher standard of natural rulings and protection. In certain matters, we are all identical, and therefore we were all given the same instructions to follow, but in other ways we are quite different. The Ramchal and the Vilna Gaon wrote that we were sent to the world chiefly to perfect our characters. Providence arranges the circumstances of our individual lives so as to insure that each of us is confronted by the situations required to perfect our own particular character. What that necessity compels us to do are what we actually need to get done anyway in order to work on our characters. Certainly, "l'fum tzaara agra" — "according to the effort is the reward." This means that whatever hard work you make to perform a commandment is rewarded. Even if it seems like you'll never accomplish your goal, you can't lose by trying. And you never know... the Almighty might make a miracle to help you accomplish what seems impossible.

Practical Applications

Even though the matter is spiritual, you have to be down-to- earth. With all theory and philosophy set aside, you have to figure out how it applies to your particular circumstances. Besides the fact that each person is holding by a certain level, they also have a unique combination of background and personality makeup. The human spirit is endowed with capabilities beyond what most of us would believe possible. You might hear well-intentioned advice such as, "Do whatever amount you can." If I really focus on whatever area it may be, that is really close to limitless. A more levelheaded approach is, "Do whatever amount you can within reason."

My husband once spoke with the gedolim about this issue, and they told him an interesting guideline. They said to "do as much as you think is necessary."

However, in order for this to work, a person has to be extremely honest with himself. At times, one might fool himself into thinking that he is on a higher level of bitochon than he really is. A person should consult with his mentors for guidance in deciding this question.

Define "within reason" as it applies to your personal situation, for in spiritual areas, every individual is different, with distinctive capabilities. To say, "follow the yellow brick road" is to sell oneself short if his capabilities exceed the average, and can potentially ruin him if he tries to exceed his limits to meet an unattainable average.

Life requires us to come up with sensible ways to accomplish goals. Work within the system, making a reasonable attempts. For example, I heard from a godol that adding lots of prayers for one might be inspiring, but for another, might be too taxing. You have to figure out what you can do. Don't let anyone frighten or confuse you into believing that finding your match depends on this or that matchmaker, or on some particular location, or on your acting in a specific fashion. Some have a very hard time keeping in touch with shadchonim, either because they had bad experiences, shyness, embarrassment or all of them together. But at least, whomever you do approach should be reliable and have access to suitable suggestions. You can always keep in mind the need to broaden your list of contacts of caring acquaintances that might for one reason or another not have been forthcoming with significant assistance, but could potentially be helpful.

Keep a pulse on your Divine Service so as not to lose perspective that the ways of the Torah are pleasant. Whatever you do, either in the realm of hishtadlus or character development, should be as much as possible with a happy heart. A positive attitude is refreshing and will propel you forward even when it's hard to visualize the light at the end of the tunnel.

Trust Helps Even When We Are Not Worthy

Even if one's actions do not merit that he should receive Divine assistance, trusting in Hashem can itself earn one's redemption. For at times, lack of faith is the root of ill fortune, and renewing trust is the key to turning the tables for the better. Both R' Akiva and Nachum Ish Gam Zu were saved from much travail only as a result of their unshaken belief in Hashem. Tehillim: "Israel trusts in G-d; He will provide help and protection. The House of Aharon trusts in G- d; He will provide help and protection. Those who fear G-d will trust Him; He will provide help and protection." Even when you practice hishtadlus, focus on the fact that the deliverance is only coming directly from the Only One Who can truly help. For real trust is that even when you do see your hand in the situation, you realize you have no ultimate control; you know deep down that Hashem is the Orchestrator. As we learn from the wise: "We try, and Hashem does."

How can we check if we really trust in the Creator, or if we are fooling ourselves in believing so? If, in times of need, the first place we turn is towards the heavens with earnest prayer, we can be sure that our belief is well established.

Rebbetzin Travis has many years of experience and success in helping people through shidduchim. Please note that all names have been changed unless specified with the exception of well-known public figures like Gedolim and educators. Any comments, questions and stories can be sent to: or at (02) 656-3111


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