How balanced must a relationship be?
We always hear about how the really important thing to have is “balance.” Balance is somehow the way to navigate between extremes, to keep our lives, like some canoe shooting down rapids, from tipping over into the drink.
And a cursory reading of the Torah suggests that the Torah believes in balance as well. For example, the Torah tells us that there are two easy ways to forget G-d’s role in our lives – through “Me”, and through “Not-Me”.
“Me” is easier to identify. There is a great temptation to view one’s success personally, to think that we should get all the credit for what we have achieved. Self-made men and surgeons often share a “god complex”, believing that they have worked miracles and wonders through their own hands. This, of course, leaves no room for G-d. “And you say in your heart, My power and the might of my hand has gotten me this wealth.” (Deut. 8:17)
“Not-me” is not as obvious, but no less dangerous. The Torah tells us that when we “find” wealth, or earn things that we do not deserve, then we are also at risk: “… And houses full of all good things, which you did not fill, and wells dug, which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees, which you did not plant; when you shall have eaten and be full; Then beware lest you forget the Lord.” (Deut. 6:11). In other words, when we don’t work for what we have, we can lose sight of the big picture.
And so we think that the balance really is to be struck between “me” and “not-me”, that there is some golden mean between selfishness and selflessness that allows for a proper relationship between man and G-d.
We could think of it in terms of a marriage. A marriage is in trouble when either spouse decides that they either do all the heavy lifting or none of it. When a married man or woman thinks that they are without an actual partner, then the relationship is doomed. So, too, in our relationship with G-d.
Or so it seems.
But this is not actually what the Torah says! On the contrary!
And houses full of all good things, which you did not fill, and wells dug, which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees, which you did not plant; when you shall have eaten and be full; Then beware lest you forget the Lord
Does not mean that G-d won’t give us everything! It does not say, for the “Not-Me” case, that the problem is that G-d gives us everything. Instead, what it says is that when G-d DOES give us everything, the key is to remember G-d’s role in that giving!
In other words, winning the lottery or finding lost millions, while frequently challenging to faith, is not necessarily a crippling blow to our connection to Hashem. Any blow is self-inflicted, and has nothing to do with reality. Remembering G-d is, in the end, nothing more or less than a state of mind. We can become wealthy through no act of our own, and still be devout servants of the King of Kings. All we have to do is desire it.
And the “Me” conclusion is true as well. The Torah does not have any problem with Jews who work hard, and achieve great things. Indeed, it is a great thing when a man lives in a house he has built, harvests the grapes from his vineyard, and lives with the woman he has wooed!
For the Lord your God brings you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills; A land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of olive oil, and honey; A land where you shall eat bread without scarceness, you shall not lack any thing in it; a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you may dig bronze. When you have eaten and are full, then you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land which he has given you. Beware that you forget not the Lord your God. (Deut. 8:7)
G-d has no problem with people who strive, and achieve, and know that they have done it as a result of their own hard work – as long as we always remember that G-d has played a crucial role.
So in the end, it is not about a “balance” between doing all of the work, or none of it. In any kind of relationship it may be easier to find a balance between doing everything and doing nothing, but it is not truly necessary to find this balance in order to have a successful relationship. After all, at various times in our lives we are sure to depend entirely on others, or have them depend on us. It is not a moral failing to be a baby, or a parent, or in a wheelchair. These are things that happen to us with others, and happen to us in our relationship with G-d.
But the key is to always recognize and appreciate and remember that in good times and in bad, both when we seem to make things happen and when things are happening to us, G-d is with us every step of the way. And so are the people we love, and who love us. The Torah does not tell us to seek balance. It tells us to always be grateful, to find ways to appreciate everyone around us.