Ordering a Miracle or Just a Shidduch
Let me preface my essay on the issue with this caveat. I know that I may be perceived as a heretic (I do blog after all and, obviously, have been tainted by education in the secular environment of a university). But the views expressed here were also expressed by Rabbi Greenberg with no less than Lakewood credentials. In his Shabbos HaGadol drasha he expressed dismay at the ads he sees that promise whatever one wishes will be fulfilled if only they send money to this particular organization. Furthermore, he says he refuses to believe that the rabbi's name that appears on it actually endorses the idea expressed. It wasn't the attempt to raise funds that he was objecting to but the assurance that this will get people their heart's desire, as if they could then will the highway to be totally clear as a result of their participation.
I saw one of those type letters -- this one ascribed to a rebbetzin rather than a rabbi -- in the latest issue of Choices. This one doesn't ask for money but states absolutesly, based on a quote attribtured bto Rabbi Segal from Manchester: "'Never did I see a person who learned 2 Halachot of Shemirat Halashon every day and didn't see savlation from above, whether in children, in shidduch, good health, paranassa or bringing up the children.'" The rest of the letter offers examples of woman who finally got their "aging daughters" married after doing this and a a woman who had a baby after being childless for 20 years, and the woman whose mother's tumor disappeared.
This made me think of some people in TaNaCh. So, why didn't Chana just think of this instead of pouring her heart out to Hashem in the mishkan and rashly promising to give her first-born up to His service. She should have just been learning the halachos to have a child. And were the Matriarchs remiss all those years they were barren in learning these halachos? What of Michal who remained childless? She just didn't know the secret to the solution? And why would the Ish Shunamis need the blessing of a navi, no less, if she could have learned these halachos herself to merit having a child. And why bother to call him when the child is at death's door when learning these halachos solve every single problem?
Learning TaNaCh should give one an appreciation of the fact that there is no single panacea. Hashem has His plan, and miracles are not to be simply had for the asking. Chana's overturning her barren state was considered a major turn in the Divine plan according to Michtav M'Eliyahu. Her role was originally defined by her childlessness, and her tefillos were immensely powerful in turning around nothing less than her destiny. But she did not go in thinking this is a magical formula and promised to sacrifice no less than the very child she prayed for. So this proved her heart's desire was completely selfless, and so her prayers were answered. And that was back in the days of prophecy! Yet today people think that miracles or whatever wishes they have are to be had if only they find the magic formula.
In Pirkei Avos 1:3 Antignus Ish Socho states: "Do not be like servants who serve their masters for the sake of receiving a reward; instead be like servants who serve their master not for the sake of receiving a reward. and let the fear of Heaven be upon you." But all these segulas and rituals that are popularized today are based on the premise of quid pro quo. Their selling point is the "satisfaction guarantee." Say Shir Hashirim in a group on erev Shabbos, and you (or the one you have in mind) will merit meeting your bashert. Gather 40 women to do have in mind that their hafrashas challah is for the sake of someone who wishes to conceive or get well or get married. Or just buy these silver rings imprinted with kabbalistic signs to get whatever you wish. I'm just surprised no one has formed a specific ritual around lighting Shabbos candles yet.
These all make me think of a kid who, say mows the lawn. It is one thing if he really wants to help and the parent may decide to reward this behavior. But if the kid does it with the expectation that he will be rewarded, it really is not as impressive an act. Of course, it is perfectly normal for a child to think that way. But a more mature person should develop an understanding that there is more to a relationship than "I did this for you, now you do this for me." So all these "satisfaction guaranteed" gimmicks are really an infantile form of avodas Hashem. But what is worse is that, in reality, there is not such guarantee at all. So it is a false promise that is being sold to those who seek such panaceas.
According to the Chazon Ish, bitachon does not mean that you believe f you really pray with all your heart, you will get what you ask for. It means that you accept that whatever happens is for the good even if it doesn't match what you had envisioned. It is like the story in which someone attempted to test a little girl's faith by telling her to go ahead and pray for what she wanted to see if G-d listens to her. But the girls was wise and said, G-d listened, and he said, "no." Hashem is not bound to alter the Divine plan because someone just followed the halacha by taking off challah.
Then there is another issue in "cashing in." I referred to Michtav M'Eliyahu, which I was citing from memory. But I just started learning the sefer again with my son. It opens with the point made by R' Yaakov in Pirkei Avos 4:22 that just an hour inhaling the aroma, so to speak, that emanates from the figurative feast that is at the center of Olam Haba offers more pleasure than all the pleasure not only in one's own lifetime but of all the pleasure of everyone's lifetime in the whole world from the first through last generation. That is why the reward for mitzvos is ascribed to the next world, for any reward in this world simply cannot compare to what can be there.
Given the statement of the academy of Eliiyahu in Megillah 28b that "He who studies Torah laws each day is assured of a place in the World to Come" why would one wish to trade down, wouldn't it be trading down, in effect, to "cash" in the merit of learning halachos for something of this world? Even if these are fine things to want, like children, shidduchim, refuah, etc., they are, ultimately, of this world not the next.
I know what someone can say here: the real reason my blog got zapped was it was lacking a segula for protection. Time to market red strings to tie around computers.