Stop Playing G-d

By Rabbi Ben Tzion Shafier

Eighty percent of our emunah problems and ninety percent of our questions on HASHEM stem from one mistake — we play G-d. Playing G-d means I know exactly what I need. I need to marry that woman. I need that job. I need my child to get into that school.

I’ve talked to HASHEM about it. I’ve explained it Him. I’ve even brokered deals with Him. “If You grant me this, I’ll …”

Yet for some reason, He just won’t listen.

“HASHEM, what’s the deal? Are you angry with me? Are You punishing me? Why do You insist in making my life so difficult? This is what I need. It’s so clear. Why won’t You just grant it to me?”

And I go on asking questions. “It’s not fair. It doesn’t make sense! HASHEM, what do You want from me?”

The problem here is quite simple – I am playing G-d. I know exactly what I need, and now I have figure out how to get HASHEM to understand that. The simple reality that maybe, just maybe, this isn’t good for me never seems to cross my mind.

Historical Perspective

The strange part of this is that I have lived through situations that didn’t exactly turn out as I thought they would. I absolutely had to have that job; it was just what I needed. I could earn a living, support my family, and still have time to learn. It was the perfect fit. In the end, I didn’t get that job, and I had major questions. “HASHEM, why?! Why aren’t You there for me?” Then five years later, I find out that the entire industry is being shipped over to India. Oh…

I tried to marry that woman. She was perfect. Great match, good family. She would make a fantastic wife and mother for my children. And it didn’t go. “HASHEM why have you abandoned me? This is what I need!” She married someone else, and two years later, I find out that term “mentally unstable” is a mild description of her situation. Mmmmm….

Another time, my son absolutely, positively had to get into that class; it was just right for him. Great rebbe, good atmosphere – it was perfect for him. And the menahel wouldn’t let him in. “HASHEM, why? Where are You?” Then, two months later, I find out that there’s a child in that class who would have been the worst possible influence on my son. It would have been devastating. Hmm…

Part of Human Nature

And, we do this all the time. We act as if we truly know what is best for us. We run after it. We hotly pursue it for all we’re worth. “No obstacle is going to get in my way. Nothing will prevent this from coming about.” And when lo and behold my efforts are thwarted — the questions begin. “But, why? It’s not fair! I am a good person. HASHEM, why won’t You just help me?”

The problem here is quite simple; we are playing G-d. We act as if we know exactly what we need; we try to convince HASHEM to give it to us. And when it doesn’t go — the questions start.

And while it’s easy to see the folly of this when other people do it, when it happens in my world, then the real challenge begins. To break out of this, we need to change two perspectives. The first one is easy to grasp. The second one is far more difficult.

Perspective #1 – HASHEM Loves Me

The first perspective is that HASHEM loves me more than I love me. HASHEM is more concerned for my good than I am. HASHEM has my best interests at heart to an even greater extent than I do.

While this concept may sound lofty, it isn’t that far removed from us. To see it in action, all you have to do is study your life. Look back on the strange twists and turns of fate that brought you to where you are today. Every Jew has a story. “I met that person, who just happened to mention…” “I ended up in that that course, where it just so happened that….”

When you look back on the events that have shaped your life, you see the hand of HASHEM. You see HASHEM orchestrating the occurrences that shaped your life. And now in hindsight, you see that HASHEM was taking care of you, guiding you, leading you. While you were living through it, it looked “bad” It appeared that HASHEM didn’t care. However, after the fact, you understand that it was done out of love, and concern for your ultimate good.

Perspective #2 – HASHEM Knows Better Than I

However, knowing that HASHEM loves me is the easy part. The second concept, which is far more difficult, is knowing that HASHEM knows better than I what is best for me. And understanding that HASHEM knows better than me what it is that I need.

HASHEM created the heavens and all that they contain. He wrote the formulas for quantum physics and molecular biology. He views the entire universe with one glance. He sees the future as the past. And He has the wisdom to see far-reaching results. What will this bring to ten years from now? What will the consequences be twenty years from now?

I, on the other hand, see about two inches in front of my face. I can’t remember what I had for breakfast this morning. I make mistakes. I blunder. I get confused and caught up. As much as I think I know, I am often wrong. That which I think will be so good for me, is so often just the opposite. And, I forget. I forget lessons. I forget facts. I forget results. I forget consequences.

HASHEM doesn’t. HASHEM remembers every event since Creation. And HASHEM made me. He is my Creator, and He knows me even better than I do. And so HASHEM understands my needs better than I do.

While this may sound obvious, it is —until it comes to the thick and thin of life. In the busyness of doing, and going, and accomplishing, this simple reality fades from my sight. I need that. I must have this. I have to accomplish that. And, when I face the brick wall blocking my path – I push on, bucking against everything in front of me. And I ask questions: “HASHEM, where are You? Why aren’t You helping me?”

The idea that maybe, just maybe HASHEM is telling me something. Maybe HASHEM is saying no – never seems to cross my mind. Maybe it’s not going, because it’s not supposed to go. Maybe HASHEM knows better than I what is for my best. “Hmmmm…. Never thought about that.”

Putting It Into Practice

When I fully embrace these two ideas — that HASHEM loves me more than I love me and that HASHEM knows better than I what is best for me — I approach life differently. I still try. I still put in my effort. I use my wisdom, reach decisions, and then pursue them but now it’s different.

I have my part, and HASHEM has His. My role is to go through the motions; HASHEM is responsible for the outcome. And if I try and it doesn’t go, and I try again and it still doesn’t go, I don’t kick. I accept. When opportunities don’t present themselves despite my best efforts, I turn my eyes to heaven and say, “HASHEM, You know best. I trust in You.”

And finally I understand life and my place in it. I am the creation, and HASHEM, You are my Creator. I am but an actor on the stage; I have my part to play, You direct the play, and You alone write the script. I know that you love me and take care of me. My job is to do; and You take care of the rest.

This is an excerpt from the new Shmuz on Life book: Stop Surviving and Start Living. The book will be in seforim stores beginning April 2011. Pre releases copies are available now at

12 comments on “Stop Playing G-d

  1. I keep thinking about John Paul Getty III, who was heir to over a billion dollars and who recently passed away. Sadly, JP Getty III spent his last thirty years blind and paralyzed in a wheelchair. He did it to himself: that was the result of a potent combination of hard drugs.

    When J.P. Getty III died, did he say to G-d: Why did you curse me with a billion dollars?

  2. I recently heard a story about the Chafetz Chaim that fits this post. He once asked someone how he was doing. The answer was, “Rebbe, I am doing well, BH, but it would not hurt if Hashem gave me a little more.” Responded the CC: “How do you know? Maybe it would hurt you to have more? Maybe Hashem gave you just what you need, and more would hurt just like less would hurt?”

  3. Based on my understanding of what the author of this article is saying it’s just as theologically “wrong” to say that a certain outcome “makes sense” as it is to say that it doesn’t “make sense”.

  4. For a very long time I was bitter about the fact that my husband was unable to get a job in the computer programmer field; instead, he took a job with a different government agency that had nothing to do with computer programming.

    Twenty-five years later, my husband has locked-in seniority with a pension and health insurance. Meanwhile, all around us, fifty-something men with many years of experience in the computer programming field are being laid off by private companies.

    That particular gamzu letovah took me a very long time.

  5. The tone of this post troubles me, for i think that it reflects one of the major shorcomings of present approaches to kiruv. Frankly, to me it reeks of cultural assimilation. for it treats God like Santa Claus. If we sit on His lap and promise to be good, well by gosh, Jimmy, of course He’ll give you the pony!

    This is not tefillah and is not what we should be davening for.

    Tefillh has three major components of which bakashah is only one. The other two – hodayah [acknowledgement through praise] and thankfulness are often ignored. Even bakasha is not to be focused in treating God like an ATM [even if you have the funds/mitzvot to draw upon].Rather, we ask God to make the raw materials available to us so that our hishtadlut can be successful. We ask forgiveness for the sins that we have committed [along with the other elements of teshuva – e.g., charath] so that they might not prevent us from accomplishing that which we set out to do.

    I have faced hundreds of talmidim who claimed that they were unable to daven and in almopst every case, the root of their problem was that they were davening for the wrong things. Don’t ask God to pass your LSATs – study as hard as you can and if you fail, realize that it was because you might not be qualified/capable and not because He wants you to become a truck driver instead.

  6. My Rabbi: G-d answers all prayers. Sometimes the answer is NO.

    My Rabbi (perhaps a quote or paraprhase of a Gaon or Rishon): If I understood G-d I would be G-d.

    Satchel Paige: There are more tears shed over answered prayers than over unanswered prayers.

    My comments on some of the anecdotes in the article: perhaps the woman became mentally unbalanced during a bad marriage; perhaps the parent in question would have lobbied the school to separate the “bad influnce” from his son, or vice versa.

    It’s all measure for measure, but we don’t know how G-d does the math.

  7. Tzaddikim have had a better batting average than most in these areas because they are more in tune with the Will of HaShem. Really, we should all try to emulate them.

  8. HaShem does send us messages individually and collectively in things that happen, but we can’t truly understand ALL things that happen.

    Bob, people often “read” messages that they want to hear and ignore potential “messages” that they don’t like. It’s human nature, from which being “religious” doesn’t exempt a person.

  9. We’re far from omniscient, but we’re not totally clueless, either. HaShem does send us messages individually and collectively in things that happen, but we can’t truly understand ALL things that happen. This all seems like a contradiction, but that’s life.

  10. Bob, humans don’t have that insight when attributing happenings to the hand of God. They may think they do, but common sense should tell even very frum people that they can’t “read God’s mind”.

  11. We often realize in hindsight (maybe long after the event) exactly why the thing we didn’t want to happen, and looked very bad at the time, was for the best. The trick is to use that insight in viewing current and near-term difficulties.

  12. When one has the “aha!” moment when he or she “realizes” what Hashem had in mind all along (preventing a marriage to an unstable partner, or preventing a child from coming into contact with a bad influence), he or she is STILL playing God. How the heck do you know, even at this point, what God is kvyachol thinking?

Comments are closed.