There is an old joke. An old man is shaking a fist at God. He says “Dear Lord, I’ve been a pious man all my life. I observe the mitzvot. I am ethical and kind in my dealings with my fellow man. I pray regularly in shul. I have only asked one thing in return: please let me win the lottery.” From Heaven comes an answer. Meet me half way; buy a ticket!”
This is an old, corny joke, but its message is profound. As God answered the old man so does God answer our prayers. In the week-day Amidah there are a total of nineteen prayers of which the middle thirteen are petitions, us asking God for something. We ask for wisdom. We ask for reconciliation and salvation. We ask for good health and healing. We ask for prosperity or at least for sustenance. We ask for justice, for the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Davidic dynasty. We ask for all sorts of good stuff. But the lesson of our tradition and the story above is that we have to be part of the equation.
God is not going to grant us wisdom if we do not make the effort to educate ourselves. God will not be forgiving if our repentance is not sincere. If we want God to grant us health and healing, then we need to take care of the bodies God gave us. You want food on the table? Work for it. God gave us nature and the laws of science. If we want justice, we must speak out against injustice and act justly ourselves. God gave us potentially powerful brains and opposable thumbs. It is up to us to use them. There are seeds and rain and soil and sunshine. We still have to plant the seeds and weed the fields and harvest the crops. When we wanted Jerusalem, we had to fight and bleed for it. When we say ‘Blessed are you, Lord…”, we are not thanking God for “stuff”, we are thanking God for giving us the tools and ability to provide for ourselves. Of course, there are times when it appears that God has more directly intervened. But those occasions are the exception, not the rule.
The point is that Judaism and life require more than lip-service. To me, Judaism is a religion of what we do more that what we say or believe. We need to be honest, charitable and kind. We need to observe ritual and mitzvot. But we also need to go out and work for what we want. The law of Shabbat does not say that for six days you may labor. It says that for six days you shall labor. Work is a mitzvah, too. There is much truth in the old saying that God helps those who help themselves. We have to meet God half way by using the resources we have been given. It is amazing how much we and God can accomplish together.