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by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
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May the angel that redeems me from all evil, bless the lads; and let them carry my name and the name of my fathers Avraham and Yitzchak; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.
When the Chofetz Chaim was in Bialystok for a meeting he was approached by two brothers, timber merchants who cut down forests for a livelihood. They asked the Chofetz Chaim for some advice.
"Recently we bought a forest for timber," said one of the brother "and we are making a nice profit from it. While we were still busy with this forest, along came another deal for a forest which could really make us rich. I say we should grab the forest before someone else gets it."
"And I say," spoke up the other brother, "that now, when we a busy with one thing, we should not get involved in something else but we should rather do things one by one." "What? And let a fortune just float by?" complained the first brother.
The Chofetz Chaim said, "I am sorry, but I am not acquainted with the timber business."
"Please, Rabbi," pleaded the brothers. "This is a crucial dispute between us which affects not only our livelihood but also our relationship. You must help us to settle it."
"Very well," answered the Chofetz Chaim. "I am not a prophet, but let me tell you a story, and you can draw your own conclusions from it.
"A man had a large barrel of wine. He was able to fill a bottle of wine from the barrel's faucet in about ten minutes. A wise guy came along and told him that he would greatly benefit if he made another faucet in the barrel.
"'Thanks said the owner of the barrel. 'Your advice would come in handy if it would help me get more wine out of the barrel. But since ultimately I'll get the same amount anyway, I've got time to wait another ten minutes."'
The brothers understood that the Chofetz Chaim was telling them not to take the new deal. It was like making a second faucet in their current barrel, which would not be worthwhile [for their extra effort would in the end bring them no more wealth than they currently stood to gain]. They took his advice and did not buy the second forest.
Two years later, Rabbi Shemuel Greineman, who had witnessed the whole discussion, met one of the brothers on the road. "What ever happened to that second forest?" he asked.
"What good advice the Chofetz Chaim gave us. It was almost like a miracle!" exclaimed the brother. "Someone else bought that forest and lost all his money."
The Chofetz Chaim taught us an important lesson about parnassah. Our wealth is all planned by G-d and we do not have the power to alter what is destined. In marriage, where the financial responsibility is shared, this limitation must be kept in mind.
"The angel that redeems me." 1 Rabbi Elazar said, "The Torah compares redemption to parnassah. just as redemption is miraculous, so is parnassah. just as parnassah comes every day, so does redemption." Rabbi Shemuel ben Nachman said, "[Parnassah] is greater than redemption, since redemption comes through an angel, as it is written, 'The angel that redeems me,"2 whereas parnassah comes directly from G-d, as it is written, 'He opens his hand, and satisfies...' "3 Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said, "[Parnassah] is greater than the splitting of the sea, as it is written, 'To He Who cuts the Red Sea into pieces,'4 and nearby it is written, 'He gives bread to all living flesh.' "5
What is so miraculous about parnassah, when it seems that hard work is generally enough to give a person a nice parnassah? What do our Sages mean by their comment that redemption comes every day, when we know that we are all waiting for the redemption, but have not yet seen it? What difference does it make that redemption comes through an angel, whereas paranassah is from G-d himself? How could parnassah be greater than the splitting the Red Sea?
Even though it seems that a person earns his parnassah through hard work, the truth is that what a person earns is decreed from Heaven. That is what our Sages say in the Talmud, "All one's parnassah is budgeted out from Rosh Hashanah until Rosh Hashanah."6 In other words, our yearly budget is decided on Rosh Hashanah, and it cannot be decreased or increased by extra exertion in our toil or talent throughout the year.
Since the quantity of our parnassah is determined on Rosh Hashanah, it obviously depends on the judgement we receive on that day, and on our actions. Since we know how unworthy we really are, it is quite miraculous that G-d decides to sustain us throughout the year. If we will reflect upon the matter, it will become clear that our deeds do not deserve such kindness. That is what our Sages mean when they call our parnassah "miraculous." G-d sustains us when we really are not worthy.
"Just as parnassah comes every day, so does redemption. Here our Sages are referring to the many horrible things that a person is saved from on a daily basis. If a person drives a car, it is possible for him to get hurt or killed at any moment, and yet he constantly travels safely back and forth wherever he has to go. If he has a business, it is possible for him to be injured, robbed or killed at work. A person is also vulnerable to any number of fatal illnesses, such as cancer, a stroke, a heart attack, etc. He could injure himself even at home, breaking a leg or arm, or even falling and becoming paralyzed. The fact that these things can and do happen regularly, cause our Sages to say that when a person remains alive and healthy, this is called "redemption every day." This is also the meaning of the words of the Modim prayer of the Amidah, "And on Your miracles that are with us every day, and Your wonders and kindness at all times." So many terrible things happen in the world around us, while only rarely affecting us personally. We live with miracles every day, and our lives are filled with G-d's kindness and protection at all times.
"[Parnassah] is greater than redemption, since redemption is through an angel." The idea of something coming about through an angel means that it is a delegated activity, which does not receive personal attention from G-d Himself. When our Sages say that G-d himself gives a person his daily sustenance, this indicates that He personally supervises the process. This shows the importance of parnassah. It is not a mundane matter, but rather a constant personal bond between every person and the Creator.
Each day that we have bread on the table, it is a result o G-d's personal attention and care for us. When we think o this, even bread takes on a new and deeper meaning. It is a individual gift from Him to us, and we should express our heartfelt gratitude for this Divine gift.
"[Parnassah] is greater than the splitting of the sea." Despite the great wonder of the splitting of the sea, the miracle was one-time occurrence which happened in the past. But the miracle of receiving our sustenance is being renewed every day. We experience this miracle over and over again, and thus we can understand in what sense it is greater. This midrash teaches us an important lesson about parnassah. Wealth is not in our hands but is decided in Heaven. Hence, we cannot complain if our spouses do not earn enough, since it is not in their control. Of course, we must put forth our best effort, work hard, and do what we can to support our families, but if we want more parnassah we must turn to G-d Who is in charge of parnassah, and ask for His mercy.
we must be careful not to spend too much money since we receive an annual budget from G-d, and we exceed our budget before the year is over, we will be without any means of support. 7 This concept is very Important for maintaining domestic peace, since it will largely prevent either spouse from spending too much money and will also eliminate the arguing which might follow this mistake. In general, what one buys is really unimportant and not worth arguing over. A married couple must rather focus on what they can do to have a happy marriage. This, of course, will include determining how to use their money wisely, live modestly, and give tzedakah in the most optimal way within their means. Another lesson we can learn from the above midrash is not to take anything for granted. Rather we should realize that G-d's hand is always at work, and be full of gratitude for all His kindness towards us.
This lesson can be applied to married life. A person receives countless kindnesses from his spouse. A wife serves her husband constantly by shopping, preparing food, serving it, cleaning up afterwards, taking care of clothes, the house, the children, etc. A woman receives her husband's financial support, protection, love, help, etc. Sadly, we often accept the wonderful things that we are constantly given by our spouses without expressing or even feeling gratitude for them.
We should try to become aware of all the great and small things our spouses do for us, and frequently express our gratitude with sincerity. One way to work on our awareness is to try every day to notice something done for us that we had not noticed previously. When our spouses begin to realize how much we appreciate their efforts, the love between us will grow stronger and stronger. But this does not come automatically; it must be worked for together by developing mutual respect and love, and gratitude freely expressed.
1. Beresbis 48:16
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network