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Monday, 12 May 2014

Making Deals with G-d

Rosh Hashanah 4

Today’s Life Yomi is sponsored in memory of Brenda Grobman, Bryna bat Yitzchak v’Shoshanah  z”l, by her sister-in-law and brother, Paula & Eric Weil.  May her neshama have an aliya.

Joe isn’t a regular minyanaire (weekday attendee).  Actually, we rarely see him on Shabbos, let alone during the week.  One day recently he started appearing every morning, first one through the shul front door. 
I said “Joe, great to see you, but what’s going on?!”
“Look rabbi,” he tells me, “the city’s got this huge construction deal I’m bidding on.  I figured I’d better be on G-d’s good side if I want to score the contract.”

Is Joe’s behaviour acceptable?   Are we allowed to make deals with G-d?  And more importantly, do they help?

The Beraisa teaches: “One who says ‘I am giving this money to charity in order that my child should live or in order to merit life in the World to Come’ is completely righteous.”

How could that be so?  Doesn’t Antignos of Soho teach in Ethics of the Fathers “Do not act as servants who attend their master merely to receive reward”?   Rashi answers that Antignos’s warning is directed at people who get upset at G-d when he doesn’t ‘keep His part of the deal,’ but that if you are prepared to accept G-d’s final decision come what may, then you may make deals with Him.

Tosfos further clarifies that we’re talking about the kind of people whose belief in G-d is fuzzy to begin with.  If they make such a deal and ‘G-d doesn’t come through,’ they’ll totally lose any semblance of faith in Him.  People whose faith in the Almighty is rock-solid, however, may make deals with Him.

And so Joe is allowed to make deals with G-d provided he satisfies the two prerequisites of solid faith in the Almighty and not getting angry with Him if the deal fails to materialize the way he had hoped.

We always say “mitoch shelo lishma ba lishma” – it’s better to do a mitzvah for the wrong reasons that not at all.  But the Talmud is teaching us even more: It’s okay to make deals with G-d!

You’re allowed to say, ‘G-d, I’m going to keep 100% kosher for the next week as a special merit for success in my upcoming exams.’  Or, ‘G-d, I’m not going to so much as flick a light switch on this Shabbos and in return, You’ll help me find the right words in my upcoming job interview.’

But don’t forget the two requirements that must be clear before any deals with G-d.  Your faith in Him must be sound, so that you don’t question His ability if it doesn’t happen.  And you don’t get angry with Him if what you were asking for doesn’t happen. 

Remember, at the end of the day, G-d knows what’s best for you.  Not everything you think is the best outcome is indeed the best outcome.  We can make deals with the Almighty but ultimately we must have faith that He knows what’s best for us.

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