The Sages of the Gemara are split in their view of whether this is a good thing or not. One says: “How great is this man, for whom such a miracle was performed!” The other says: “How lowly is this man, for whom the order of creation was changed!”
This discussion takes place in Rav Dessler’s essay on ‘Torah and Economic Activity’ in Michtav Me Eliyahu, where he brings the five levels of faith that people are on, when it comes to earning a living. The five levels are as follows:
- Level 1) The highest level is that of the person who…now sees the natural and the miraculous both as open miracles, having realized that ‘nature’ has not independent existence at all…His worldly needs can now be given him in way that are openly miraculous. There is no longer any need to conceal the miracle from him.
- Level 2) There is another person who may have reached a very high level of faith, but when he searches the depths of his hear he finds that nature and miracle are not completely equal for him. He has not yet reached the ultimate perfection of trust. Consequently, he will not find miracles attending his path.
- Level 3) The third level refers to those people whose faith is strengthened by miracles, while it is weakened by natural processes. Such people should reduce their use of natural means as far as possible.
- Level 4) People…who do not recognize miracles when they see them, can derive no benefit from being dealt with in a miraculous fashion…they will be dealt with by providence in ways that seem to conform to natural patterns…If he becomes poor and downtrodden, and in spite of all his endeavors care and deprivation are his lot, he may eventually face a moment of truth. He may realize that all his efforts were of no avail and, heartbroken, he may turn to Hashem in prayer.
- Level 5) Some people may completely fail to recognize God’s providence and may go in for worldly endeavor in a big way – and their activities may be blessed by Heaven…Why are they not taught the error of their ways by poverty and suffering?...The answer is…they are so far gone that they are no longer worthy of attention from on high.
When my husband quit his job to ‘let God provide’ – as he’d been encouraged to do by his then rabbi – I knew we weren’t on the level to really live that reality. But it’s only when I came across this that I realized we were aiming for Level 1 – which even Yaacov Avinu didn’t think he was on – when really, we were at tops, Level 3, same as the man who grew boobs.
The two years we were trying to rely on miracles, we got a lot of them, but they weren’t exactly enjoyable, or easy, or something that helped us make friends and influence people. In fact, they often did quite the opposite, because when all is said and done, who wants to hang out with a guy who grew miraculous boobs?! Mommy and me doesn’t want him; his mates down the pub don’t want him; even his mum thinks he’s a little strange and off-putting and tries to keep the visits short and sweet.
Miracles don't come for free
Sure, it’s still a spiritual level higher than most people probably ever get within spitting distance of – but it’s a not a ‘good’ place to be, is it? Where did he buy clothes? Did the boobs disappear again, once the kid grew up, or was he stuck 42DD forever? These are all very important questions, because as Rav Dessler and the Gemara makes clear, miracles don’t always, or even usually, come for free.
So where are we holding now that we’re definitely not in the relying on Heaven for everything category? I’d love to say it’s level 4 – I’d love to say we’re now back to working hard, while still knowing that God truly is providing everything, and there are days when I really believe this. But not always. Sometimes, I still complain. I still feel aggrieved when I hear of rich foreigners buying up all the apartments in Jerusalem, which means us poor locals can’t even get a foot in the door. I still worry sometimes about ‘what will be?’
Sometimes, I feel like an open miracle is the only way I’m ever going to own my own home again. So maybe, it’s somewhere between 3 and 4. Who knows. The point is, just because someone is getting miracles, even a lot of them, doesn’t mean they’ve completely made it in the spirituality stakes.
- It’s possible they could be at Level 1 – if they’re the generation’s equivalent of the Rashbi.
- Or, they could be holding at Level 3 – unnatural boobs, no friends, but at least their kid has some milk to drink.
- Or, they could even be at Level 1, where their success is miraculous because God has decided to give up on them, and not send them any material difficulties or hardships. From the outside, it’s often impossible to tell.
Personally, I’m not having enough financial success to be at Level 1, or enough horrible challenges to be at Level 2, or enough open miracles to be at Level 3, so maybe it is Level 4 after all. I guess we’ll see what happens next.