The Sixth Pillar: Action

VI. Sixth Pillar: Action

The sixth fundamental principle is to know that even though all things in both the spiritual and material realms are in God’s hands according to His supreme decrees, even so the Ruler of the Universe has arranged things in such a way as to give us free will and test us. He therefore leaves it up to man to do his part. We have to act – though always with the understanding that our need to act in this world is a test, to see how we will exercise our free will. It is God’s will that we should act, even though things are not up to us.[1]

We must therefore follow the path of the King of the Universe with all our strength and determination, fulfilling the positive commandments of the Torah and guarding ourselves against all sin and wrongdoing. In worldly matters too we must endeavor to do everything in the best possible way, and always with this understanding.[2] For example, in the light of true faith it is clear that any profit which is supposed to come to a person will get to them even if they hide themselves under the ground. The same applies when it comes to doing mitzvot and being spiritually inspired: if God wishes to grant someone the merit of a mitzva because they have found favor in His eyes through prayer, God will send them the mitzva or the inspiration.[3] Nevertheless we are commanded to descend into the concealment – to take the initiative and act, as if it is up to us. The reason we have to do this is in order to reveal Godliness out of the concealment itself.

The majority of people are badly mistaken about this. They see written in the Torah that God will bless you “in all that you do” (Deuteronomy 14:29) – alluding to material endeavors – and that “you shall do them” (Numbers 15:39) – i.e. the mitzvot. Similarly we find in our prayers, “In me, my Lord, is the sin” (I Samuel 25:24) and “I caused all this” (cf. I Samuel 22:22) etc. They then infer that everything is in man’s control. What it really means is that man has to act with all his strength and determination, but always with the above understanding. One must never forget this no matter what one does, whether in spiritual or material matters. God’s decree is that we should never be able to see His hand directly.[4] He takes delight when we recognize Him through the concealment itself and know that the concealment comes from Him. This way the upper worlds become unified with the lower worlds, God’s knowledge of the fore-ordained with our free will, and God’s providence with the law of nature, in order to perfect the Crown of Kingship and to reveal that “Hashem is God”.

So when it comes to making a living and our other needs, even before we know which direction to go in, where to turn and what to do, we must lift our eyes to Heaven in simple faith. The task at this moment is to work to remedy the flaw in what the Kabbalah calls the “Vacated Space”. This was formed through God’s withdrawal of His infinite light in order to make a place for the finite creation. The Vacated Space is the root of the entire concealment. The flaw is corrected through our having faith that we should never do anything or take any action without starting with prayer, appealing to God. Then afterwards, when some idea or plan begins to develop in our mind, we can follow it – but always with the knowledge that our actions are a test to see how we will exercise our free will.

A person should never think, Heaven forbid, that it is impossible for God to give them their livelihood except through particular means and through their own efforts and activities to the point that they come to depend on the means rather than on God. This is literally the sin of the Golden Calf. On the Day of Judgment a person is asked: “Did you go about your business with faith?” (Shabbat 31a). In others words, when you went out to make a living, was it with the intention of developing your faith, that being God’s commandment to us – to face the test and act, in order to be refined through fulfillment of the Torah in this way? Did you act with the knowledge that, even so, your livelihood comes from His hand and not at all through your actions? Or did you act out of disbelief, going out to make a living because you thought, “What will it help my livelihood if I sit in the study hall – if I don’t do something I won’t have anything to live off.” It takes a clear head to understand what action Providence wants of us, and what not. May God have mercy on us and help us to know what to do.

 



[1] What about the mitzvot that cannot be performed today, such as the sacrificial offerings, the Jubilee Year, etc.? The Talmud teaches: “When someone studies the laws of sacrifices, it is as if they brought that sacrifice” (Menachot 110a). Thus even if one cannot perform a mitzvah properly by trying one’s best he will be credited with having done the mitzvah.

[2] “People need encouragement in four areas: Torah and good deeds, prayer and business” (Berakhot 32b). Thus we see the need to strengthen oneself in all one’s endeavors so as to do the best one can.

[3] See Bava Batra 8b, regarding the mitzva of charity, and the same applies to all mitzvot.

[4] “The eye can only see what it is allowed to see” (The Aleph-Bet Book, Eyesight 1). Thus, even one wanting to see the revelation of God cannot do so unless it is decreed from Heaven.