It is hard to believe something that can’t be proved. It is even harder to believe in something you can’t see. There is an old saying, “when I see it, I will believe it.” Then there is an even better saying, “When you believe it, you will see it.”
When Covid-19 first came to our shores, I was chatting with a doctor from New York, who was seeing patients in his clinic every day, many of which were fiercely ill. Yet he was having a hard time convincing people to change their ways. People could clearly see that their loved ones were sick, but they couldn’t make the link to physical (not social) distancing.
This doctor said to me, “Lazer, if lightning would strike each time, we violated someone’s six-foot barrier, we would be much healthier.” The problem is that lightning doesn’t strike, and in the moment, we don’t see the impact of proximity. If you enter my space and leave, neither of us will feel a thing, but the virus might have lodged in our throats and with time the symptoms would set in. However, by the time that happens, we would both have long forgotten our casual brush and the link would never be made. If only we could see those little pathogens transferring between us, it would be much easier to believe it.
In the Torah, G-d promises us reward for good behavior and punishment for bad behavior. The problem is that we don’t see the link between our actions and their punishments or rewards. For example, something might come along at some point in life that is good for us and we might never link it back to the good deed that we did. We label it happenstance or coincidence having no clue that it is a reward for a good deed. The same holds true for the negative things that happen to us in life.
You ask me, how do I know it? I could tell you the truth; I believe it, therefore, I see it. When you believe in the concept of Divine reward, you train yourself to notice the little clues. For example, things that usually go wrong, go right. Traffic lights that we usually miss, we start to make. Appointments that were scheduled two months from now are unexpectedly pushed up due to unexpected cancelations.
When these things happen, we often smile and accept, but we don’t pause to reflect. Yet, if we believed that they are all orchestrated from above, we would train ourselves to pause and reflect. What changed in my behavior since I made this appointment to justify the unexpected rescheduling? What good deed did I do that caused me to win the lottery?
I could tell you that this is how I know it, but I won’t because it won’t help you know it. The saying says that you must believe it to see it. That clearly implies that if you don’t believe it, you won’t see it. There are far too many ways to excuse or to justify our good fortune without attributing it to G-d. So, how can I help you see it?
G-d asked Himself the same question and realized that He would need to let the Jewish people put Him on trial. It sounds blasphemous. Putting G-d on trial? Yet, that is precisely what G-d proposes.
The prophet Malachi (3:10) wrote, “Bring all of your tithes into the treasury so that there may be food in My House. And test Me now with this, says G-d. See if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour blessing upon you until you run out of space to store it.”
The Torah requires that we give ten percent of our earnings to the poor. This is a pretty big percentage to give to someone that did nothing to earn it. It would make perfect sense for me to ask why I should give it away? I worked for it, the other fellow did not, why should he have my money?
G-d’s answer is, give it on my account. Whatever you give, I will return in spades. But this doesn’t satisfy us. Better one bird in the hand than two in the bush. Why should I give up the ten percent that I have in my hands in the hope of G-d’s promise for more? G-d’s response is succinct. “Test me.” Put me on trial. My credibility is on the line. I won’t ask you to believe it before you see it. Test me and I will let you see it.
If G-d invites us to test Him, we can be confident that He will pay us back in spades. As our sages taught, “tithe so that you will grow wealthy.” Indeed, it works every time. Whenever it seems like we can’t afford to tithe, and we do it anyway, we end up with sufficient cash flow. G-d makes that promise and we can take it to the bank. Moreover, we can laugh all the way to the bank.
Do Not Try
This leads to a question. If G-d invites us to test Him with respect to charity, why is it not okay to test G-d with anything else? Why can’t I test G-d by purchasing a kosher meal instead of a ham sandwich? Why can’t I put G-d on trial by closing my shop on Shabbat? The Torah explicitly forbids placing G-d on trial in these ways. “Do not try G-d, your G-d.” Which is it, may we put G-d on trial or not?
The answer is both. G-d invites us to test Him with respect to charity but forbids such trials in any other way. G-d’s objective is not for us to be eternally skeptical of Him until He proves Himself. His objective is to prove Himself in this one area and have us develop enough faith to take Him at His word in other areas. In the beginning, He allows us to believe it because we see it. But then He expects us to mature in our relationship with Him, and come to see it because we believe it.
That is the objective, but it takes some training. G-d supports us through our training sessions and, therefore, allows us to test Him with respect to charity. But once He proves Himself trustworthy, He wants us to trust Him. He wants us to perform all the other commandments without proof of reward.