Friday, September 11, 2009

Perhaps you can square this circle?

A Jewish preacher I know is fond of reminding us that nothing we have is achieved  through our own efforts, rather its all a gift from God. We may think our nice salaries and big houses resulted from our hard work, he'll say, but really its not us, but God, who delivers to us blessings as he sees fit.

That's fine, I suppose, but in the same breath this same Jewish preacher will often advise us to join a shiur, give extra tzedaka, be nicer to our wives and similar. Why? If nothing is in our hands, and its all controlled by God, what do we gain from performing mitzvoth? And if mitzvoth are what's required in order to earn God's attention and blessing, well, its simply not true that nothing is achieved through our own efforts. Performing mitvoth takes effort and according to the preacher, this effort produces our paychecks and the rest. So whether my effort is pleasing my manager or pleasing God, its still my effort that's producing the outcome, and God, like my manager, isn't going to deliver unless I put in the effort first.  We may not have the power to achieve things without God but, per this preacher's formulation, He doesn't seem to have the power to give us things without us.

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