Judaism considers life a most sacred gift, and regards harming oneself deliberately as a serious crime. In fact, Rabbi Yannai states in the Talmud (Shabbat 32a) that “One must never stand in a place of danger and expect a miracle to occur, lest it not occur.” This seems like sound and obvious advice. However, Rabbi Yannai goes on to further explain that “if a miracle does occur, it is deducted from that person’s merits.”
It is a well known concept that one’s merits and transgressions are weighed against each other on Rosh Hashana, the Day of Judgment. This statement of Rabbi Yannai implies, however, that the equation may not be as simple as good versus evil, but rather that one’s good deeds can actually be reduced “on account.”
Rabbi Hanin explains that Rabbi Yannai deduced this fact from Jacob’s statement to God: “I have become small from (unworthy of) all the kindnesses and from all the truth that You have rendered Your servant” (Genesis 32:11). Jacob, in Genesis 32, is preparing to meet Esau, who wants to kill him. Jacob’s statement alludes to the purpose of this “system of accountability,” which is to underscore that no person may sit around resting on their laurels--there are always more good deeds that one can perform.
Just as one must not deliberately place oneself in danger, one must also not depend on a miracle in his/her daily life. “Hishtadlut,” one’s personal effort and input, is the Jewish equivalent of “God helps those who help themselves.” By doing one’s hishtadlut, a person is no longer relying on a miracle.
This Treat was last posted on November 15, 2010.
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