Relying on G-d
Rabbi Reuven Mann

Student: When I learned the story when I was little, it made sense that David had faith in Hashem that Hashem would help him win the battle against Goliath. But reading it now, I can't help but ask what right did David have to assume he would win a battle against Goliath? Just because Goliath was "uncircumcised and angered the camp of the living God"? It seems that David had a basis to think that Hashem would help him out, because he cites the case of the lion and the bear. Rashi mentions that once Hashem saved him from the animals, he realized that this salvation was not for no purpose; rather, it was a hint for the future that he would save Israel.
That's good, but on what basis did David enter the situation with the animals in the first place? It seems, from the way David described it, that the animals took one sheep from the flock. David went after them and hit them, and rescued it from the lion's mouth, and the lion attacked him. The mefarshim bring down that there were 5 or 6 animals there. Why would David try to rescue one sheep from such a dangerous situation? Granted, once he killed all of the animals, he had a basis for assuming that such an event would not take place without Hashem's help, and use it as a basis for fighting Goliath, but why did he start up with the animals in the first place?
Rabbi Mann: As usual the question you ask is a good one. I will answer in a brief and general way.
David did not act on a blind and fanatical emotion when he volunteered to go up against Goliath. Saul and Jonathan were men of great valor who were prepared to risk and even sacrifice their lives for the sanctification of G-d's name. This is clear from the great battles they fought, from Saul's willingness to enter in to his final battle even though he knew he would be killed, and from the eulogy of David for Saul and Yonatan in which he coined the famous phrase "How have the mighty fallen?" Would he have referred to them as mighty if in fact they only fought when they felt safe but withdrew in fear from a mighty warrior who intimidated them?
Thus we ask: Why did the great warriors of Israel who were prepared to die for G-d shrink from a confrontation with Goliath thereby allowing a situation of chillul Hashem (Heavenly desecration) to occur? In my opinion it was not because of fear of death. Rather it was fear of defeat, not an emotional but a rational one. You see that even when one has the yearning to serve G-d and prevent a desecration of His name, he must control his emotions and act in the most intelligent way and not assume that simply because he has the proper intention that G-d will come to his aid. This is another expression of the principle of "we do not rely on miracles. Thus we must say that Saul and the other great warriors of Israel abstained from the challenge of Goliath only because they were convinced they had no chance of defeating him and had no right to rely on miracles and that Goliath's victory would produce an even worse calamity for Israel and a greater chillul Hashem. Hence they were in an absolute dilemma. This is confirmed by the fact that when David came along and offered to fight, Saul was at first resistant for he did not see how David could possibly succeed - thus you must assume that a reasonable possibility for success was a prime condition for entering a battle even where the motivation is purely for kiddush Hashem.
The case of David was different. He did not enter the situation on blind faith. The Rambam says in the Moreh that when David went against the bear and the lion he was operating under ruach hakodesh. This does not mean prophecy but a sense of certainty and clarity and courage which comes to a person when he has developed his abilities to the highest possible degree and makes a judgment based on the most objective considerations, and not on some inner recklessness which stems from a distorted ego. (Note; see Ramban on why Joseph risked his life by explaining the dream to the Sar Haophim. Yosef was batuach bechochmaso [trustful in his wisdom] thus a person has the right to engage in what seems to us as recklessly dangerous situation when he is acting on the basis of his knowledge - provided that he is on the proper level to make such assessments). Thus, David was possessed by a sense rooted in the most perfected type of rational understanding of his courage and fighting capacities, that he could rescue the lamb from the lion and the bear. When he encountered the situation of Goliath and was distressed at the desecration of G-d, he reviewed his experiences and came to the conclusion that he had the requisite courage and fighting ability to destroy their uncircumcised Philistine. Nobody can guarantee victory but you must have a viable plan that has a reasonable possibility of success and then you can pray for Divine assistance. We see the extent to which David used his intellect and independence of thought. Saul wanted to outfit him in his suit of armor. He tried it but wasn't comfortable. He rejected the advice of the great king and studied the situation carefully.
Why does the tanach recount this? To teach us that David was not relying on a blind emotion of faith that since he is for G-d, he must succeed. Rather, David knew that if he uses his intelligence to the greatest degree and works out a plan that has a good chance for success he has a right to go into battle and to hope and pray for divine assistance. Thus tanach says of him "And David was rational (maskil) in all his ways and G-d was with him".
Student: You addressed a question that I didn't even realize was bothering me: Why wasn't anybody fighting Goliath, thus allowing a situation of chillul Hashem to occur?
You explained that David was operating under ruach hakodesh (Divine inspiration) in the situation with the lion and the bear. That he had "clarity and certainty and courage" that he was making a decision " based on the most objective considerations and not on some inner recklessness." It seems from what you are saying that when he encountered the situation with the lion and bear, he was possessed by a certainty that he had the ability to prevail and rescue the lamb. Therefore, he entered the situation, and was successful. Was Divine Providence responsible for his success (in addition to his using a rational plan, of course)?
I guess what I am asking is, did Divine Providence give him the certainty that he would prevail? If yes, and the Divine Providence helped him succeed, did the Divine Providence let him know that Hashem would give him help in this situation? (Then Divine Providence is the sense that a rational plan WILL succeed with Hashem's help) Or was the Divine Providence just a certainty that he had the ability to succeed against the lion & bear? (In which case he didn't need Divine Providence to prevail over them. So how did he know, based on this case, that he could succeed against Goliath?)
I got the feeling when I was reading your answer that Divine Providence does NOT give a certainty regarding Providential assistance, rather, a certainty of his rational abilities. I don't understand exactly where the Divine Providence fits in, then. It seems like without a certainty of Divine assistance (which was necessary for his success against the lion & bear), it would still be foolish to fight with them. Is this false? Are you saying that as long as a person has a rational plan, and is doing something "l'shaim shamayim," (for true Torah purposes) that he is justified in entering a dangerous situation and praying for Divine assistance?
Rabbi Mann: I don't think that a person, no matter how perfected, acts with the assurance that the Divine Providence will work for him. There is always the possibility that he will fail. However he has the right to undertake complicated and risky tasks provided that he is acting on the highest level the intellectual faculty. Yosef had a right to risk interpreting the dream of the chief baker because his knowledge and understanding dictated that it was the correct thing to do.
Man is obligated to perfect his divine faculty to the greatest extent possible and to make accurate assessments of his capabilities. A great talmid chocham (wise person) who has the knowledge to paskin (rule) the most difficult question but refrains from doing so because of fear or insecurity, is liable to punishment. He must have a clear awareness of his ability and the courage to act on it. Similarly a great surgeon who has the ability to perform a complicated operation but shrinks from it because if insecurity, is lacking in perfection.
David had an obligation to respond to the chillul Hashem (Heavenly desecration). It entailed a great danger and a great risk. But he approached with pure and objective wisdom and he had a sense of absolute conviction which stemmed from his perfected intellect - not any egoistic impulse - that he could prevail. Thus he had an obligation to act. He did not know for certain that G-d would help him and that he would certainly succeed. However, insofar as he was acting in accordance with the appropriate Divine guidelines for human behavior, he had every right to hope and pray for divine assistance. This is true trust in G-d. Avraham too took great risks in launching the rescue mission against the four mighty kings. But he acted in accordance with inspired wisdom and for the most appropriate motivations. He therefore had a right to take the risk and act in accordance with his faith. However without a specific prophecy, no one knows with certainty what the outcome will be. Life demands that we take risks.