Only God can provide the redemption of the Messianic age, but he calls out a people to represent the powers and presence of the Age to Come here and now. As we approach Shavuot, we see this partnership at work in the cycle of festivals: “These are the feasts of the Lord, which you [Israel] are to proclaim” (Lev. 23: 2, 4). God appoints the times, but they’re not holy gatherings until Israel proclaims them.
In divine-human partnership Hashem has “given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness,” including the “exceedingly great and precious promises” that ensure us a share in the Age to Come. Indeed, only Hashem can provide those things. But then Shimon Kefa adds,
For this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah. . . . Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble. (2 Peter 1:3-10)
Our call and election did not originate with us, but with Hashem, yet we are told to be diligent to make them secure. From God’s perspective we are chosen and holy, but from a human perspective we still need some work—lots of it. I’m reminded of the vision of Balaam:
How lovely are your tents, O Jacob!
Your dwellings, O Israel!
Like valleys that stretch out,
Like gardens by the riverside,
Like aloes planted by the LORD,
Like cedars beside the waters. Num. 24:5 – 6
This vision comes right in the middle of B’midbar, the book of Numbers, which is filled with tales of Israel’s complaining, disobedience, and rebellion. We can be one thing in the divine vision and quite another in the earthly reality: diligence is the effort to become on the ground what we are in the mind of God.
I have to admit that when I read Shimon’s list, I tend to get exhausted. He starts with faith, which people sometimes describe as all you need to be right with God, and tells us to add seven more qualities, each one a middah in itself: virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. I’m sure we can identify exercises and techniques to help us develop these qualities. The point for now is that this list helps us understand all of mussar as the effort it takes to become in reality what God has already decreed us to be.
If we simply rest in the reality of being among God’s chosen, recipients of his undeserved kindness, we might feel that we have nothing to add, nothing that we need to add—so why pursue the tough disciplines of mussar? On the other hand, if we focus on mussar disciplines themselves, and forget the divine side of the equation, we might improve ourselves a bit, but we’ll miss the ongoing transformation that is the point of it all. So when we exercise diligence and rise up early to spend extra time in self-assessment, contemplation, and prayer, it’s vital to remember that this is a cooperative effort, a meeting with God. That’s exactly why it’s worth the effort.