How Much Hishtadlus?

Q: I’ve become frustrated in recent weeks as I wait to hear from the mesivta that my son very much wants to attend. They said they would contact us by the middle of August if any openings became available, but I still haven’t heard from them. I’m wondering how much I should push to try to get him in. Should I have others call on my behalf? I’m not sure if this is helpful or unhelpful. It’s hard to know when it’s best to accept what is, and when to push for something else.

A: Though we speak of the greatness of humility and of having a ruach namuchah, the reality of our 21st-century world seems to scream the opposite. There are only a certain amount of schools, a certain amount of “good” shidduchim — the competition seems so strong.

We cannot ask mechanchim to open up more schools just because it is our desire. It is a tremendous undertaking to hire staff, to pay their salaries, to hope that parents pay tuition and that the pipes don’t break…We may complain about our educational system, but must realize that actually establishing a new school is an enormous undertaking. Thus, the amount of schools remains limited.

In light of this reality, self-promotion is an avenue that many of us need to take. But how do we preserve our anivus and our spiritual dignity in such a competitive world?

One finds mothers who are totally exasperated after speaking to shadchanim about their daughters because they feel more like salesmen than parents. Getting your child a job in a sleep-away camp can take as much effort as getting a child into a school. But a person can get caught up in a kochi v’otsem yadi mentality (I caused all this myself by my actions), missing the point of appropriate hishtadlus.

Yes, it’s true that sometimes it is necessary to remind a person that your child exists and is very worthwhile, but there is a thin line between being appropriately assertive and being irritating. In one community it might be socially acceptable to “nag,” and in another it is considered undignified —where the parties being approached start to ask themselves, “Who wants to deal with a family like this?”

One needs to remind oneself Who is truly the Baal Habayis of this world — perhaps by saying a kapitel Tehillim or giving tzedakah — before making efforts on one’s child’s behalf.

In the hakdamah of Shaar Habitachon in Chovos Halevavos, it says that if a person puts his trust in something or someone else rather than Hashem, the actual providence is given over to that person or thing that the person is relying on (for example, the stock market). And it is not just a person’s way of speaking that reflects his bitachon, but the way that he strives to think in such difficult situations that matters.

On a practical level, the difference between assertiveness and aggressiveness is a subtle one. In general, if the person states his feelings without any anger he is being appropriately assertive. When his statements become laced — or worse, filled — with anger, then assertiveness has become aggressiveness.

Being calmly persistent yet aware of other people’s boundaries and comfort levels is important. If one goes past these boundaries, one creates mistrust and the opposite of one’s desired results is achieved.

When people over-identify with the need to be self-promoting, they must remind themselves that if Hashem does not desire this end result, no action on their or anyone else’s part can cause it to occur.

Achieving the correct but delicate balance between hishtadlus and bitachon is something all human beings must aim for. And we need to model this tenuous, yet continually moving balance for our children, to help them navigate the challenges that lie ahead.