Bitachon and Hishtadlut
This is the approved revision of this page, as well as being the most recent.
Please note: The concepts underlying Bitachon and how it integrates with a person’s life are, on the one hand, equally relevant to every individual and guided by the timeless values of Torah , while, on the other hand, need to be applied by each person according to his intellectual and emotional temperament.
- If a person is presented with a decision to move for prospects of work to a town with a Jewish community that he deems may not be conducive for his spiritual growth, he should consult with his rebbe about the cost-benefits involved.
- Should a person interrupt a chavrusa for a business opportunity? A person should create a fixed period of time to learn each day during which he wouldn’t interrupt even for a business deal.
Buying Life Insurance
- Does buying life insurance show a lack of Emunah? The consensus of the poskim is that it is permitted to buy life insurance, and that is considered a normal measure of effort and doesn’t express a lack of faith in Hashem.
- The Meshech Chochma (Devarim 10:20) points to the pasuk “ובו תדבק” as the source for having Bitachon. Rabbi Mayer Twersky (“Bitachon - Lema'aseh Applications”) added that perhaps some Rishonim considered Bitachon to be encapsulated in the mitzvah of Tefillah, which critically hinges upon recognizing our dependence on Hashem. For sources about hishtadlut, see Beresheet 3:19 and note 5.
- The Gemara Taanit 21a tells the story of Ilfa and Rabbi Yochanan, who learned together. When their situation seemed financially unsustainable they went to go into business. When Rabbi Yochanan overheard an angel threatening to kill them, he returned to learning and said that instead he wanted to fulfill the pasuk that says there will be poor people in your midst. He asked his friend Ilfa if he also heard the angel and when got a negative response he decided that the message was only for him. It seems that the solution for one person isn’t necessarily the correct one for everyone; sometimes Hashem sends us individualized messages.
- The Chovot HaLevavot (Shaar HaBitachon Introduction) speaks about an ascetic who traveled to a distant place to earn a livelihood. He met an idolater there and told him how foolish serving idols was. In response, the idolater told the ascetic “your actions contradict your words. If you trust Hashem, couldn't He provide for you in your hometown?" With that, the ascetic went home and didn't leave for the purposes of earning a livelihood. The Chovot HaLevavot goes on to point out that the person with Bitachon who decides not to travel for a livelihood benefits in increased peace of mind and avoids physical difficulties (though the difficulty of travel has changed over the last thousand years). [See Mishneh Halachot 8:247 who uses this story from Chovot Halevavot to argue against going to college for parnasa purposes]. This idea of not traveling in order to earn a livelihood is echoed by Rav Yitzchak Elchanan Spector advising against moving for increasing one’s parnasa (Orchot Petachya p. 16, Rav Mordechai Eliyahu on harav.org). Rabbenu Tam (cited by the Mordechai Shabbat no. 258 and Hagahot Mordechai no. 444) writes that earning a livelihood is certainly a mitzvah and therefore livelihood necessities warrant leaving before Shabbat on a ship that will travel on Shabbat. The Ravyah (ibid.) and Rama 248:4 agree. The Bet Yosef 248:4 argues that the Rambam and Rif don’t seem to hold of this as a sufficient mitzvah to allow for such a leniency. He explains that the leniency to leave on a ship that travels on Shabbat that departs beforehand for a mitzvah purpose is that if one is involved in performing a mitzvah, one is exempt from other mitzvot at that time (osek b’mitzvah patur min hamitzvah). That is, if a person leaves to make Aliya, he is exempt from Oneg Shabbat while traveling on a boat on Shabbat. However, being involved in a livelihood doesn’t qualify to be considered osek b’mitzvah. Aside from the explanation of the Beit Yosef regarding travel on Shabbat, during the week, potentially all of these rishonim could agree that traveling for the purpose of a livelihood is appropriate. Rabbi Twersky in a shiur on Bitachon and Parnasa mentioned that even if we can’t draw upon the Chovot HaLevavot for direct application today, perhaps a relatable example is moving to a small community where there is no Orthodox Jewish presence (i.e in a shul or school) for the purposes of work.
- Beit Shamai (Avot 1:15) famously stated “עושה תורתך קבע” - make your Torah learning fixed. Rashi ad loc explains that a person should specify an amount of learning to do each day, such as 4 or 5 perakim. Rav Acha would make up whatever he didn’t learn of his regular quota each night (Eruvin 65a). The Tur and Shulchan Aruch 155:1 rule that before going to work a person should set aside a time to learn each day and not miss it. Even if a person thinks he will miss a valuable business opportunity during that time, once he designated a time to learn, he shouldn’t give up his scheduled learning. While the Bet Yosef cites no source for this ruling, the Biur HaGra points to Sanhedrin 99b which states that a person who learns inconsistently won’t have clarity or success in learning. Mishna Brurah 155:5 supports this approach from the Yerushalmi Sotah 9:13, which states that a certain teacher turned down a business opportunity in order to keep to his set time for learning and proclaimed that if Hashem wanted him to have the money Hashem would give it to him another way. The Yerushalmi praises this person as being a man of Emunah. Similarly, Rav Safra (Rashi Macot 24a s.v. Rav Safra) once was in the middle of saying Kriyat Shema when he was offered to sell one of his merchandise. In his concentration, he didn’t answer at all. By the time he finished, the buyer thought he wouldn’t sell it unless he offered a higher price, so he offered a higher price. Rav Safra, however, took the lower price because he didn’t plan on negotiating. The gemara praises him for being honest. It is also noteworthy that Rav Safra didn’t interrupt the mitzvah even though he potentially could have lost out on the business deal.
- Kiddushin 30b derives from a pasuk in Kohelet that there is an obligation to teach one’s son a trade. This is strengthened by the Mishna Avot 2:2 which, according to Rashi, Rambam, Rabbenu Yonah, and Rav Ovadya M’Bartenura, endorses both working and learning in order to overcome the distractions of the yetzer hara (See Chatom Sofer ad loc for a homiletic explanation of the mishna.) Additionally, that seems to align with the opinion of Rabbi Yishmael in Brachot 35b, which was successful for most people. See further the gemara Brachot 8a, which puts work for a living in an extremely positive light. Shulchan Aruch 156:1 rules like the opinion of Rabbi Yishmael and the Mishna Avot according to the above explanation. It is important to note that the Mishna Brurah 156:2 explains that in order to ensure that one’s Torah learning is primary one should only work to the point that is absolutely necessary for his expenses. In order to avoid overworking, he advises thinking about how much a person would work to finance the minimal living expenses of someone who couldn’t work and make the same amount for yourself. Though the Mishna Brurah cites no source for this explanation, perhaps it was clear to him. Additionally, it seems that this is in line with the teaching of Chazal (Sotah 48b) that a person who has sufficient money for sustenance today and is worried about tomorrow’s lacks emunah! Lastly, the stories told about the author of the Mishna Brurah indicate that he personally fulfilled his understanding of balancing hishtadlut and Torah learning (Michtav M’Eliyahu v. 1 p. 35). Based on these sources, Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igrot Moshe OC 2:111) was asked whether it would constitute a lack of emunah to buy life insurance, since it is effectively ensuring one has assets for family and descendants not only tomorrow, but years later. He explains that since it is forbidden to rely on miracles we have to work for a parnasa, and since buying insurance is like any other business investment, there’s no issue. Yechave Daat 3:85 points out that the Maharsha (Sotah 48b s.v. pasku) writes that this gemara is speaking about the level of someone who goes above and beyond the letter of the law in his emunah, but even the tzaddikim would sometimes worry about this. He also garners support from Tosfot (Kiddushin 41a s.v. asur) who permits marrying off a minor girl if a person can afford it today, because who knows whether he’ll be capable tomorrow. Teshuvot V’hanhagot 4:325 and Rav Elyashiv in Kovetz Teshuvot 1:19 agree also permitted buying insurance. Yet, the Chazon Ish is quoted (in his biography Pe’er Hador v. 4 p. 96) as having advised against buying life insurance because it might remove a motivation for Hashem to extend his life. While he is necessary for the finances of his family Hashem might extend his life, but with insurance that reason is diminished.