Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Baal HaTanya: Success is not determined by rational planning so don't ask advice from a gadol for personal matters

An interesting point is made by the Baal HaTanya. Personal advice such as finances were never asked of a talmid chachom but only a prophet. This is clearly stated in Koheles (9:11). This is perhaps a reflection of believing that everything is determined by Providence as opposed to the view that talented people with intelligent plans are more like to be successful  Thus he seems to be asserting that  a person's success is always determined individually by hashgocha protis - and not by rational planning. The role of a gadol is to give advice in avodas HaShem and spiritual matters. This is related to my previous question as to whether a person should monitor outcome and modify his behavior to increase success. This seems to be consistent with the Chovas HaLevavos that hishtadlus is only a precondition for success but doesn't determine it. Therefore there is no need to modify ones efforts or change jobs because there is no causal relationship between specific type of effort and success.

Koheles(9:11):[Shlomo said] I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not always won by the swift, the strong don’t always win the battle, the wise don’t always have bread, the men of understanding aren’t always wealthy, and the talented aren’t always favored. In fact they will only sometimes be more successful than others but all of them will find that at times their successes or failures are apparently random.

Baal HaTanya(Igros Kodesh #22): My dear friend… Has there ever been anything like this since the beginning of creation? Where can you find in any one of the books of Jewish sages – whether of the earlier period or later period - to have an established practice of asking advice concerning secular matters such as what to do regarding some mundane issue. [This wasn’t done] even from the greatest of the ancient Jewish sages such as the Tannaim and Amoraim -- from whom no secret escaped and for whom the pathways of heaven were clear. In fact asking advice was only done from the genuine prophets such as those that used to exist amongst the Jewish people. For example  Shmuel the Seer was asked by Shaul about the donkeys his father had lost. That is because in truth all matters pertaining to a person – except those having to do with Torah learning or fear of heaven – are not comprehended except through prophecy. As it says, “And the sage has no bread”(Koheles 9:11). Our Rabbis have taught, “Everything is in the hands of heaven except for fear of heaven.” They also say that 7 thing are concealed…and that no man no knows how he will profit… and when the House of Dovid will return… You should note that these are equated to each other. And this that is says in Yeshaya, “A counselor and a sage who silences all,” and also, the statement of our Sages that people “benefit from [a talmid chachom] by his advice and sound wisdom” – that is referring to his words of Torah which are called “sound wisdom.”…


  1. Yeah, tell that to the "rabbi to the real estate moguls," R' Yoshiyahu Pinto.

  2. The Baal HaTanya was referring to wisdom not ruach hakodesh

  3. Several great Kings of Israel/Judea had an issue with great success - material and spiritual. They ended up, however, sinning , each in his own way, and leading to their own destruction. the ones I can think of are Solomon, Hezekiah, Jehoshafat, and Joshiah. In fact, the pattern actually began with Saul, and David.

    I have tried to see if there is any common pattern in all these cases. they all had miracles, wealth, and pretty much everything that any man can dream of, be it a secular man or a King.
    When miracles occur regularly, we become arrogant, egotistical, and start to think we can do the magic. I believe this is why they all strayed. It is a human weakness.
    We can apply this lesson to success today. It is very hard NOT to get arrogant or pompous when you are very successful. I know a very successful doctor at my shul - but he is so arrogant, he will not even reply to "Shabbat Shalom"!
    And we can all be guilty of this arrogance when we succeed in one area or other.

  4. "Therefore there is no need to modify ones efforts or change jobs because there is no causal relationship between specific type of effort and success."


    Perhaps this is not a realistic approach, but an Ostrich type response.

    Specifically, university education, which is carefully guided by proactive parents or advisers, provides more opportunities in the job market.

    Here is a dilemma for the Haredi world. On the one hand they knock institutions like YU and Bar Ilan U. According to previous Gedolim, all secular studies are assur.
    This caused feedback of unemployment and poverty int he Haredi comunity. So they set up Haredi Technology Yu type institutes to teach Haredim computer sciences and other hi tech subjects, to help them enter the job market.

  5. I don't think the idea that "there is no need to modify one's effort or change jobs" follows from the belief that Providence ultimately controls everything. We are supposed to do a certain amount of effort, and then Providence will determine whether we are successful or not. But surely we should use our faculties of reason in the efforts that we make. For example, I am sure Rambam, in his capacities as a doctor, determined which treatments were effective and which weren't through trial and error, and then responded to this information by changing his treatments. It would be crazy to ignore this information. Similarly, we should use our reason when deciding whether to try a different strategy for our business or to find a different job or profession. However, we should also do "spiritual" things that will increase the likelihood that Hashem grants us success -- praying to Hashem to show us the right path and to grant us success, giving tsedakah, etc. R' Shalom Arush's recent book, the Garden of Riches, discusses these issues, but I'm not sure if he addresses whether we should adjust our behavior and use our reason.

    About the Baal HaTanya, the final Lubavitcher Rebbe clearly did not hold by this teaching. The Rebbe gave all kinds of advice to people, including what profession to go into. From the stories I've heard, I think he did this with a combination of reason/wisdom and ruach hakodesh (or something like it). As an example, when it came to Israeli policy, he used reason: he said that the experts agreed that a Palestinian state would increase security risks to Jews, and for that reason opposed land-for-peace.


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