A basic component of human nature is to strive for success — whether in work, marriage, parenting, interpersonal relationships, health, or any other aspect of our lives. When we evaluate the results in any given area, one of the questions that we face, both philosophically and in our everyday experience, is what measure of control we had in determining our success. We made a plan, focused on what needed to be done and proceeded toward making it happen. But the question remains: How much of the way that things turned out was really a result of our planning, attitude, actions and effort, and how much was the result of random factors beyond our control? It is often hard to tell.
Sometimes we achieve what we wanted, but with great difficulty. We overcame many challenges and obstacles before eventually pushing through. Unfortunately there are times when, for some unapparent reason, nothing worked out. We made every effort, tried every option, and still at the end all doors were shut.
And then there are those auspicious memorable events where everything seems to fall into place with our barely trying? From the moment we begin it looks as if the world is at our service, anticipating what we want. We find ourselves being the right person in the right place at the right time. Obstacles vanish. It becomes a story that we run to tell to our friends: “Listen to this…Isn’t that unbelievable? How lucky was that?”
If we pay attention to the relationship between effort and results, it is easy to see that all the preparation, intelligence, and dedication in the world doesn’t guarantee success. Our very language reflects this. Before even the most qualified person sets out to accomplish a task we still relate our wishes for success – an expression with a comparable translation in every language: Bonne Chance, Buena y, Viel Glück…and in English:”Good luck!”
The Hebrew equivalent of this expression b’hatzlacha has its origins in this week’s Torah portion where we read of someone who had one of those memorable events where everything seemed to fall into place. And when examining the details of the story, the question arises: what is the Torah’s view of luck?
The Jewish concept of “hatzlacha”- loosely translated as luck or success- has elements both yet possesses a fundamentally different operating system, which we will now examine. The story begins with the making of the first Jewish wedding in the Torah, when Avraham dispatches his servant Eliezer to travel to Avraham’s homeland to find a wife for his son Yitzhak. And since the future of the Jewish people is at stake, he gives Eliezer a special blessing: “The Lord, G-d of the heavens, Who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my birth, and Who spoke about me, and Who swore to me, saying, ‘To your seed will I give this land’ He will send His angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there…”
The commentaries explain that “Sending an angel before you” is an idiom that connotes a unique type of Divine assistance. The preposition “before” as opposed to “with” indicates a higher form of blessing and assistance, which requires minimal effort on the part of the person and results in certain success that is a foregone conclusion. In the words of Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, the great 19th century Torah commentator and leader of German Jewry “Before means to pave or smooth the way to the point that all Eliezer will need to do is make the trip and the rest would be taken care of.” Eliezer had to travel to an unfamiliar land, the birthplace of Avraham, and find the “right” girl for Yitzhak- the person that would continue the Jewish…And even if he found her, there was no guarantee that she would believe a stranger and agree to return with him. So without this “sending an angel” he may have found someone less satisfactory or even failed.
On reaching the destination, Eliezer himself prays for specific signs in order to be certain that he will choose the right girl, and to ensure that she will agree to the match. He creates the following scenario to serve as the test: I will say ‘Lower your pitcher and I will drink,’ and she will say, ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels,’ Eliezer immediately meets with extraordinary success by encountering Rivkah who fulfills all the requested signs. “Now he had not yet finished speaking, and behold, Rebecca came out… And the servant ran toward her, and he said, “Please let me sip a little water from your pitcher.” And she said, “Drink, my lord.” And she hastened and lowered her pitcher to her hand, and she gave him to drink. And she finished giving him to drink, and she said, “I will also draw for your camels, until they will have finished. (Wouldn’t it be nice if things happened like that more often.)
The story of Eliezer is not restricted to an event in the Chumash – it happens to us constantly. We have a mission both in the sense of our unique “purpose” in life or personal goals we set out to accomplish. We start an important process- finding a wife, creating a business, or even less important undertakings such as a new hobby- and we never know how exactly things will turn out. There is always the possibility that we might fail or that things may not go as expected. And here is where the above concept of “assistance” comes in.
discusses the application of this story to our lives – how when trying to accomplish a certain goal we, for some unexplainable reason, experience different measures of success. Sometimes we face obstacles and sometimes everything just falls into place, producing unexpected results. This type of extraordinary success commonly defined as “good luck” or “chance” we redefine by introducing the term hatzlocho. While we know what it isn’t – our achievement- what is it? We begin by discussing the general relationship between blessing and effort. Are results rooted in our own efforts or in G-d’s blessing, or in both? We will demonstrate how G-d determines the amount of bracha that can come into our lives in potential. But this bracha is only actualized through our deeds.
Regular Rules of Blessings:
To answer this let’s introduce some basic principles in achieving success. In success there are two components 1) our investment- of time, effort, skills, etc. (what we give) and 2) the return we gain on the investment- the outcome or what we receive. In any given area, one of our major questions concerns the- cause and effect- relationship between these two elements- how important is our education, our incentive and our effort in order to achieve success?
[Gary Player, world famous South African golfer was once asked if he thought he had been “lucky” to win so many majors – if luck had played a role. Player, who was an ego driven perfectionist, said undoubtedly luck played a role, “but,” he said, “it is a funny thing, the more I practice, the luckier I seem to get.” So he seemed to value his role in determining his success. Others may be more inclined to downplay their role.] And can we pinpoint any general rules? The belief that we largely contribute has produced many recent best sellers- guides to success. But we will now explore the Torah’s guide to success and learn some principles which govern and impact various parts of our life. Here is what the Talmud (Megilla, 6b) says: “R’ Yitzchak said: If someone says, “I have toiled, and have not found success,” don’t believe him. If someone says, “I have not toiled yet found success” don’t believe him. If someone says, “I have toiled, and I have found success” believe him!!!
From the above text it would seem that our input plays a crucial role in determining our success as there is a direct relationship between effort and results. And we seem to have a law of success which guarantees that the more we put in, the more we’ll receive. What’s the proof? If someone says, “I have worked hard, and have not found success,” don’t believe him.
Yet the commentaries qualify this statement and explain that it refers specifically to spiritual matters such as Torah study. While success in Torah study has a unique operating system where our contribution is prominent, financial success operates by different rules. In this department increased effort and input does not guarantee results. Even when we give everything we have, possess all the necessary skills and take the right steps, the outcome is not as predictable.
How important then are our efforts in the realm of material pursuits- are we only passive recipients? The answer is that here too our effort matters but at the same time we can accurately call these results a blessing. The general explanation of the way this works is as follows: On the global level, the quantity and quality of the blessing we receive is not manufactured by us but is decided by Hashem. Although the material blessing comes directly from Hashem it is only prepared in potential. The actual task of receiving this blessing is still left up to us with our free choice to accomplish. When we make the decision to work hard, to create the setting for the blessing to occur – we bring the blessing from potential to actual through what we do . In other words, Hashem set up a system where He appoints us as partners; He says “you produce and I’ll give!” When we (emulate Him) and do that, only then does the already-designated blessing come.
There is a verse in the Chumash (Devarim 15:18) that communicates both perspectives: The blessings already exist in all their details, but whether they materialize depends on whether our input is appropriate. The Lord your G-d will bless you in all that you do. Once we give our best effort and do our part to make room for the desired outcome, the results will vary. Nevertheless there is somewhat of a standard; the laws of nature (themselves a created system) dictate certain cause and effect reactions. Thus, usually the designated blessing of success is tailored to mirror our talents and efforts. And because we may easily trace success to our hard work, capabilities and good decisions it is also the easiest type of blessing to overlook.
But sometimes our actions will uncover a more potent blessing, outside of the usual occurrence. In this case, we experience success in excess of our input because behind the scenes such an occasion is being propelled by an increased dosage of “divine intervention.” This blessing can either come in the form of surprising success (as opposed to failure) or abundant success that is harder to account for. Yet even with this extra blessing we must work with our own means to uncover the blessing and we often face challenges before persevering and accomplishing our goals in surprising fashion.
In summary: With all blessings our actions influence the outcome. The only question is what type of blessing from Hashem did our efforts uncover? Thus far we discussed two general levels: There is a natural blessing of success which directly corresponds to our input. And there is a higher level blessing where results exceed our input.
One might think that hatzlacha belongs to the second level (but just requires less of our input to activate the designated blessing.) But actually this type of success follows a different pattern, breaking the normal rules of blessing. Ordinarily, it is up to us to activate the blessing which lies in potential. And even when the results exceed our investment, as long as we initiate the process and contribute, we can claim some “share’ in the profits- success. But with hatzlacha it is all purely a “gift”; unlike even the highest level of blessings mentioned above, here we are only recipients.
The consequences of being a gift are that both the amount given and the way in which it is given are different from the average blessing. Instead of corresponding to our initial input or capabilities, our success corresponds to His means. As a result, when manifesting itself in our life, this type of blessing is not bound by natural limitations and does not need to go through the usual channels in order to materialize. It appears with little effort, everything running smoothly, and a tremendous result. And that’s why even though there is no mistaking this blessing for our achievement, it can, however, appear as “lucky” or random
And this unique system of blessings called hatzlacha is, in fact, a special type of miracle. When we hear the word miracle we are used to the “noisy” miracles- the open or revealed miracles that stun the skeptic and force us to admit there is something outside of natural laws. But there is another type of miracle, a quieter miracle that serves a similar function. This type of miracle, instead of demanding attention prefers to come dressed in natural garments. A standard loud miracle will openly defy the laws of nature while these miracle subtly and silently weave their way into many aspects of our lives and actions, posing as a “chance encounters,” extraordinary lucky days, etc. Nevertheless the starting point is the same as a miracle.
Unlike the concept of bracha, where there is a relationship between our actions and the results, there may be nothing that we can do through our actions that will affect our hatzlacha. But, we can influence it by changing how we think, by modifying our attitude both before and after experiencing success.
will discuss how Hatzlocho differs from normal blessings in that the element of success is completely unrelated to our actions. On a deeper level this added intervention is a miracle camouflaged in nature and a sign of Hashem’s affection and reminder of His involvement in our affairs. We will discuss how to increase the level of hatzlacha in our lives. Unlike bracha, which is related to action, hatzlacha is related to attitude: The greater our level of humility both before and after we set off on a journey or start a project of any kind, the greater the chance of hatzlacha, of being assured of success.
Before one begins, it is important to realize the limits of how much we control and that the outcome is ultimately dependent on receiving a blessing. It is very important to note that even after receiving his blessing from Avraham, Eliezer nonetheless specifically stopped to pray:
With every single favor that G-d bestows upon a man, he ought to become very humble…And whoever is brought exceedingly close to G-d, being raised aloft to great heights ought to be ever more humble to the lowliest plane…Therefore, Whoever is more “before him” is that much more humble, seeing himself as unfit. This [self effacing response to Divine favors] is the level of the “right side” of holiness, and of “Chesed unto Avraham” This humility born of kindness is also the characteristic trait of Jacob… the more kindness [shown to Ishmael and to his type] the more he grows in pride, arrogance and self-satisfaction.
Tanya- Iggeret Hakodesh, Epistle Two
In this lesson we learned how to detecting regular blessings, a higher level of intervention called “with you”, and hatzlacha- all in their extremes. In real life it is not so black and white. During any given process, these blessings may be intertwined or come in different combinations. One aspect of success can be due to regular or higher bracha, another element can be with hatzlacha. In those areas where we have already succeeded, we can stop, detect, and appreciate that “this particular blessing in my life is due to hatzlacha. Aside from appreciating the past, when one acknowledges and internalizes this, it maximizes the chance and makes room for receiving this type of success in the future.
So the key factor in accessing the hatzlacha then is not through one’s actions, but through an attitude of humility before G-d and before one’s fellow man- recognizing the blessings and not taking these “gifts” for granted or come to believe we deserved them.
So the next time you want to wish someone good luck, wish them “brocha vehatzlacha” instead.
In summary: While ordinary success is tied to our efforts, there is a type of effortless success that we usually view as extraordinary good luck. The Torah calls this hatzlacha. It is a special gift from G-d. Recognizing what’s going on behind the scenes — both in our attitude going into an undertaking and in our interpretation after it occurs—can, in fact, effect the amount of bracha and hatzlacha that comes into our lives.
We find this term used most explicitly in another story in the Chumash involving someone for whom everything likewise seemed to magically fall into place