In this week's parshah, the Torah warns us not to forget Hashem in our pursuit of wealth, nor when we achieve it. After describing a future where the Jewish people enjoy great prosperity, the Torah foretells and warns "...you will then say in your heart: my strength and the might of my own hand made this wealth for me".
The Saba of Kelm observes that the Torah does not write, "maybe you will say" that your ingenuity and hard work brought you your success. Rather, the Torah attests that you will certainly say this and think that you earned your wealth through your own hard work and good ideas. Apparently, the Torah is attesting that this is human nature. The Torah, therefore, proceeds to instruct us to take to heart that it is really Hashem who gives us our talents for making wealth (8:18). The Targum (Ibid.) explains this to mean that even the clever ideas that we devise to earn a lot of money, were put into our minds by Hashem.
This seems like a very difficult mitzvah to accept. I can understand that if I do a business venture that has a low success rate, and it succeeds, I should certainly be grateful to Hashem. However, if I work hard and come up with a novel concept that earns millions of dollars, or put in my own “super-human” efforts which succeed, why shouldn't I take credit for it? How can I attribute the success to Hashem?
A man named Jerry Fang, whose company came out with the hoverboard, a technological marvel, was wrapping up a terrific 2015. His hoverboards were selling like hot cakes. He was producing over 2,000 hoverboards a day and selling them all over the world. He was projected to be the next up-and-coming billionaire. Through no fault of his own, other companies were making imitations, and the batteries in those imitations were blowing up and causing fires. That didn’t stop him though, and demand for his model, as well as his company’s success, continued to soar. However, after a particularly bad outbreak of fires caused by the cheap imitations, Amazon, Target, Toys ’R’ Us, and other major retailers made a decision; they announced that they would stop selling ALL hoverboards, indefinitely, until meticulous safety measures would be implemented. Although there was nothing wrong with the ones Mr. Fang was selling, he got taken down with everybody else. Overnight, he went from owning a company of 500 employees, to a company of 100 employees and lost more than half of his revenue in an instant. (Facts compiled by R’ Ashear)
We can learn from this episode that even the best of ideas, and even the best implementation of those ideas, still require Hashem's Will to succeed.
Additionally, it is important to be cognizant of the fact that even the good ideas that we come up with in the first place originate from Hashem. All we need to succeed is siyata d'shmaya (Heavenly assistance), as illustrated by the following story related by the author of Ki Atah Imadi:
In the late 1800's, Ablan Leon emigrated at a young age from Lebanon to seek a better life. After several years of extensive travel throughout South America and the United States, he finally settled in the small town of Welland in Southern Ontario. There, he opened a small store selling housewares, living in the apartment above the store. He and his wife had eleven children and lived in very poor conditions. The old mattresses they slept on made their nights miserable. One day, Mr. Leon traveled to the big city to purchase his first new mattress. When it was delivered, he leaned the mattress against one of the walls of his store, waiting for the children to come home and help him bring it upstairs. A customer who noticed the mattress asked him how much it cost. Mr. Leon replied that it's not for sale. A few minutes later another customer entered the store and inquired about the mattress, and again, Mr. Leon informed him that it's not for sale. The customer proceeded to offer significantly more money than Mr. Leon had purchased it for, so he agreed to the sale.
That night, Mr. Leon's wife asked him where the new mattress was. After explaining what happened, his wife suggested that he take the money and buy more mattresses to sell - and so he did.
That small store eventually became the well-known Leon's Furniture Ltd. of Canada, which today boasts fifty outlets and almost three thousand employees, with last year’s earnings totaling almost 2 billion Canadian Dollars!
If Hashem wants to bless someone with wealth, He has endless ways of doing so. It's easy for Him. Our only job is to rely on Him, work hard (for the sake of fulfilling His instruction to work hard, in the normal manner that is reasonably expected of us), and use the rest of our time to pray with all of our hearts that our reasonable Hishtadlus (doing our part) will succeed.
In this generation, we all have our necessities and are far wealthier than any other generation in Jewish history. With our great wealth, we should constantly be overcome with gratitude to Hashem for his blessings and attribute every dollar we have to Hashem's kindness.
Why is it such a severe sin to believe that one's own strength is the source of his blessing and wealth? Rabbi Yosef Haber offers a Mashal (parable) of 2 parents who put a bag of candy on the table for their daughter to take. The girl took it, looked at it triumphantly, and declared "My candy". Thoroughly convinced that it was hers, she subsequently disobeyed her parent’s instruction to share it with her sibling, and refused to thank them for it. Let's analyze this. Her parents brought her into the world, raised her, and took care of all of her needs. They went to the store and bought the candy. They put it down right in front of her. All she did was take it and yet, she thinks that she earned it and that it's hers. Often, that's the way it is with us as well. Hashem brings us into the world, takes care of us, provides for us, gives us the skills and drive to be successful, and puts opportunities right in front of our faces. Then, we take them and think, "I did it." Everything we possess is only due to Hashem giving us the right skills, drive, and opportunities.
The Chovos Ha’Levuvos, in Sha’ar Ha’Bitachone, writes that one is required to invest a tremendous amount of time and work into making a living, and must make every reasonable effort to do so. In fact, doing so is a mitzvah. However, at the same time, we are also required to recognize that ultimately whether those efforts succeed or not is solely in Hashem’s Hands. Think about it - everyone knows extremely bright and capable people who aren't very wealthy. In fact, in every line of work, there are people just as talented and driven as successful people, who fail. This is an everyday proof that everyone’s success is directly from Hashem.
One method to internalize the fact that Hashem is the source of all success it to daven to Him before engaging in any act of business, and thanking Him after every success. Another method is to give charity, which embodies and demonstrates the understanding that everything is from Him.
May we always internalize this message. May we be grateful when we are given the great gift of wealth, and understanding that it's all for the best when Hashem limits it. All wealth, after all, is solely in His capable Hands.