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Avraham Tzvi Schwartz

     A Special Blessing

While one’s mazal may entitle a person to wealth, still it does not exempt him from making his own efforts and exerting himself. On the contrary, even good mazal may require special input before its owner realizes his fortune. Also, a person by exerting himself may change his mazal. A change of residence or name already changes his mazal. (Rosh haShana 16b) How much more is this so when, through his own efforts, he changes himself! This is part of the special blessing that comes from hard work ...

Greater is the merit of ones own labors, than the merit of the forefathers. (Tanchuma, VaYeitzei 13)
Rebbi Chiya bar Abba said in the name of Ulla: Greater is one who enjoys the labor of his own hands,[1] than one who regards Hashem with awe (Yiras Shamayim). While he who regards Hashem with awe is fortunate in this world ... he who toils, enjoys this world, and also delights in the goodness of the world-to-come. (Brochos 8a)
Better is the person who lacks honor, but has a servant,[2] than the refined man who has no bread. (Mishle 12.9)

Must We?

Hashem created the world with kindness; He did not put people in this world that they might suffer. Still all around us, we see much distress. How can this be?

The answer is in the verse, “Man was born to toil” (Iyov 5.7). When a person works hard and thinks hard, converting his conclusions to action and effort, he fulfills his task in the world. For Hashem created him to toil, and this is what he is doing. Moreover, Hashem in turn, rewards him by filling his many needs.

However, when a person avoids working hard, when he refuses to think before acting, Heaven deprives him of his needs. This causes him to suffer, which is another type of ‘toil.’ The Heavens substitute the trouble and pain he avoids by not working, with external trouble and pain. If he will not afflict himself, problems and worries from the outside world will pursue him.

Thus we see that hard work is one of the best antidotes to suffering.

“With the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread.” (Breishis 3.19)
Rebbi Avahu taught: While the upper ones, the angels and other celestial beings, are nourished by the sheen of Hashem; lower beings, those who live in this world, must toil[3] – if they don’t, they don’t eat! (Breishis Raba 2.2)
To the man who says, “I will eat, drink and enjoy all that’s good without toiling, for I trust that Heaven will take mercy on me,” the Rabbis say, you are wrong!” The verse expressly states that, “You [Hashem] bless the deeds of his hands.” (Iyov 1.10)
A person needs first to labor[4] and work with his two hands, only then does Hashem send His blessing. (Tanchuma, VeYeitzei 13)

   Only with Toil

The effort a person must make is vital. Even though his livelihood comes from Hashem, he must give his whole self, heart and all, to his labors. Otherwise, his efforts will produce very poor fruits.

Rav Assi taught: Earning one’s livelihood is twice as hard[5] as bearing a child. (Breishis Raba 20.9)
Wealth that comes without toil,[6] diminishes; but he who gathers in gradually, constantly, increases his wealth. (Mishle 13.11)
One who works his land, will be satisfied with food. (Mishle 12.11)
There is much produce with the strength of the ox.[7] (Mishle 14.4)
Rebbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: Today is for doing, tomorrow is not for doing ...
Today is for doing, tomorrow is for receiving reward.[8] (Eiruvim 22a)
Whatever your hand can do, do – with all your strength – for there is no deed, calculating, knowledge, or wisdom in the pit you travel to. (Koheles 9.10)
Ben Hei-Hei said: According to the pain[9] is the reward. (Pirkei Avos 5.23)


What occupation then should a person choose? While our Rabbis teach that the person who works should do so with all his strength, this does not mean that a person must work physically. Buying and selling[10] of goods is also work, and as we learn here, may be a very profitable pursuit.

Rava said: Invest a hundred zuz in business, and you eat meat and wine everyday; invest a hundred zuz in ground, and you eat salt and hay; moreover you sleep on the ground.[11] (Yevamos 63a)
Rav Yitzchak said: A person should always have ready cash, [that when a bargain comes his way, he may buy it[12]Rashi]. (Baba Metzia 42a)
All who occupy themselves in building,[13] become poor. (Sota 11a)

... and Trades

However, a person should only choose ‘business,’ if he has some talent in this field. If not, he may just starve, or worse, he may steal.

What does the pauper know about property and business?
What then should he do, sit idly? Rather, let him learn a trade,[14] and Hashem will sustain him. (Koheles Raba 6.8)

The Rabbis taught: One is obligated to teach his son a trade.

Rebbi Yehuda taught: Anyone who doesn’t teach his son a trade, teaches him to be a robber. (Kidushin 29a)

“How does Rebbi Yehuda’s view differ from the Rabbis’?” asks the Gemara, “surely they say the same thing?”

“The Rabbis understand,” the Gemara answers, “that one who teaches his son to do business, also fulfills his obligation, whereas Rebbi Yehuda holds that this is not sufficient. His son may not succeed in business, and without a trade to fall back on, he may resort to theft.[15] (Kidushin 30b and Rashi there)


For work to conform with a Torah life-style, there are certain rules a person must follow. Likewise, for work to succeed practically, there are certain rules he must follow. If we study the teachings of our Rabbis, we will see that these two sets of rules, are really the same – the very rules that fit into a Torah life-style, are the rules that lead to practical success.

The most important of these rules is to know that while a person must plan and labor intelligently, ultimately his success comes only from Hashem. He must recognize that (1) it is really Hashem who supports him, and (2) it doesn’t really matter which occupation he chooses. If he has the merit and the mazal, Hashem will support him generously.

Rebbi Meir said: A person should always teach his son an occupation that is clean[16] and easy,[17] and pray to the One who owns all wealth and possessions;[18] for a person’s occupation affects neither his poverty nor his wealth, rather all depends on one’s merit.[19] (Kidushin 82a)

Or according to a different version ...

Rebbi Meir said: A person should always teach his son an occupation that is clean and easy, and pray to the One who owns all wealth and possessions; for a person’s occupation affects neither his poverty nor his wealth, rather all depends on He who owns all wealth, as the verse says, “Mine is the silver, and mine is the gold, says Hashem, Lord of the Hosts.” (Chagai 2.8) (Kidushin 82b)

A person should therefore, seek out the most pleasant occupation.

Rebbi said: The world cannot be without a perfumer, nor without a tanner; fortunate is the one whose trade is making perfume; woe to the one whose trade is tanning.[20] (Kidushin 82a)

Don’t Worry

A person should not be afraid to pursue the profession that really appeals to him. The Divine Presence can feed him just as well, no matter the path he chooses.

Rebbi said: There is no trade that disappears from the world[21] ... (Kidushin 82a)
In all toil there is profit. (Mishle 14.23)
Those who sow with tears, reap with joy.[22] (Tehillim 126.5)
He who walks, crying, carrying the bag of seeds, returns in joy, carrying his sheaves.[23] (Tehillim 126.6)
Hashem does not withhold the reward of anyone – no matter the field a person toils in, he produces heavenly rewards; as the verse says, “He who plants the fig tree,[24] eats its fruit.” (Mishle 27.18) (Tanchuma, Naso 13)


[1] Greater is one who enjoys the labor of his own hands – When one labors himself, he reaches a clearer recognition that the source of wealth is only Hashem. Daily he sees that while he toils on one project, his income comes from another source. With his every venture he has an opportunity to learn that it is Hashem who enriches him, and not the work of his own hands. Thus, he is greater than the one who, while regarding Hashem with awe, cannot reach this understanding. (Rav Chaim Shmulewitz z”l, Sichos Mussar 31.20)

A broader explanation of the above teaching goes as follows: One who lives only from his Yiras Shamayim, who relies on his reputation as a holy man to support him, eats from the rewards of his world-to-come. Thus while he may live well in this world, ultimately, he will suffer for this. When he sees how his table in the next world lacks that which he consumed here, he will be bitterly hurt and ashamed. On the other hand, one who toils in this world, eats from the fruit of his own labors, and not from his ultimate reward. (Maharsha)

But, we may ask, surely the Kohanim of old, as happens with many Torah scholars today, were supported by the community? Surely they received financial assistance explicitly that they may serve Hashem?

We may understand this as follows: A person who serves the community by performing a religious function, or if he is a scholar, by enriching the generation’s Torah knowledge, fulfills a role no less than a president or a prime-minister, a policeman or a street-cleaner. Just as such civil servants require suitable wages, so should those who help the community fulfill its religious duties, receive generous salaries. No one will begrudge them such payment. However, insofar as such a person takes from others without offering a service in return, he will indeed find that his table in the next world is lacking. For instead of taking funds from his heavenly expense allowance, he has drawn instead, on his heavenly rewards.

[2] A servant – Who is the person who lacks honor, yet has a servant? It is the person who is prepared to be a servant to himself, i.e., to accept even lowly work for his livelihood. He is far better off than the refined man who will not engage in menial labor, and starves. (Rashi)

From here we learn that one who is willing and eager to undertake any type of task, is like the man who has his own slave.

[3] Lower beings must toil Even if a person is the greatest tzaddik, and lives with the utmost trust in Hashem, still he is obligated to toil.

[4] A person needs first to labor – Every person must work. If he wishes to live a good, healthy life, he must toil. The effortless path does not exist, and if a person persists in searching for it, he will end up only with Gehinom.

[5] Twice as hard – After Adam and his wife sinned, they were both punished. Adam was told that “with the sweat of your brow, you will eat bread” (Breishis 3.19) while Chava (Eve) was told, that she would “bear children with grief and pain” (ibid.). Of the two, Adam’s curse was the harsher one.

One reason for this is that the essential hardship a man suffers is the worry, the torturous thought that accompanies one who has responsibili­ties. This itself adds a great weight to the toil he must suffer. (Yefei So’ar)

[6] Wealth that comes without toil – With labor, a person’s efforts produce healthy, constant fruit. Without labor, it is a case of easy come, easy go. (Vilna Gaon)

[7] The strength of the ox – It is not the ox itself that produces food, but rather the strength of the ox that does so – the toil, effort and continuous push of doing a little bit more. Similarly, it is a person’s toil and effort, and not his natural talents, that bring him to riches.

[8] Tomorrow – While tomorrow here refers to the next world, a world where the righteous bask in the golden sheen of Hashem, it also refers to the tomorrow of our every day. The Rabbis warn us here not to push off the obligations of today to another day.

[9] According to the pain – This is Hashem’s golden rule; you get what you pay for. We must note also, that ‘toil’ means more than straining ones physical muscles. A person must use his other faculties too. Moreover, the greatest successes come when a person employs every talent he has. This is especially true when he dedicates the excellence of his thought to prayer and Torah study.

[10] Buying and selling – See Rebbi Yehoshua’s teaching on the connection between business and prayer on p.152.

[11] You sleep on the ground – for he needs to watch his property constantly that no one steals its fruits. (Rashi)

What may we learn from Rava’s teaching? What is it that makes business better than farming? One thought is that farming entails investing much money and energy into a piece of land, i.e., property of a permanent nature. Business on the other hand, is flexible, and often even portable. Thus, since we live in a passing, temporary world, business is the activ­ity that more readily matches the world’s make-up and spiritual thrust. For this reason it succeeds more readily.

[12] He may buy it – When a person is employed by others, he leaves little room for Hashem to enrich him. His salary is already set, and there is no place for Hashem’s blessing to take effect. However, when he works for himself, the field is more open. There are 101 areas through which Hashem may send his blessing, if he will only find a little favor in Hashem’s eyes. (The Skverer Rebbi; heard from Rabbi Eliezer Medwed, shlita)

[13] All who occupy themselves in building – Building seemingly, is a relatively straightforward trade; surely a person can rake in fine profits here. However, it requires a lot more experience and expertise than even an intelligent person would first assume; and without this a person is heading for trouble.

The Pele Yo’etz writes: In general a person is able to calculate how much new acquisitions will cost him and then check his purse to see if he can afford it. In this way, he avoids poverty. This however, is not the case with building. What he thinks will cost him a hundred, ends up costing two hundred. Also, once he starts building, he cannot retract. Thus he impoverishes himself. Therefore, if a person wishes to build, he should first calculate if he can pay twice as much as he originally estimated. If he can, then he may build; if not, let him worry first about his store. As people say: The store builds the house (i.e., buying and selling brings profits), but the house does not build up the store.

[14] Let him learn a trade – Certain people are miserable failures when it comes to doing business. Still success does await them. There is a great rule that if a person does that which he knows how to do, that which his natural inclination leads him to do, he will succeed. The Divine Presence implants in him a potential to follow just such a route – and when he strives to reach it, Hashem will reward him with success.

[15] He may resort to theft – The Torah’s ruling however, follows the Rabbis’ view that when a person teaches his child to do business, he fulfills his duty.

[16] Clean – A person should pick not only that which is physically clean, but also that is spiritually clean – there should be no element of dishonesty or theft mixed-in with it.

[17] Easy – This means that it should not involve huge capital outlays and expenditures – neither financial, nor physical. (Tosephos Yom-Tov)

A person only picks an occupation that is difficult or messy, because he imagines that he will earn greater rewards. Still such reasoning is faulty – his livelihood comes only from Hashem. And while it is true that he must toil, he may still choose a clean and easy occupation. Moreover, a clean and easy craft will leave him with time and energy to learn Torah and fulfill mitzvos in an optimum way.

[18] And pray to the One who owns all wealth – While, in general a person’s prosperity is decided by his mazal, there are times when a person’s merits may change his mazal. Then there are times where only very extraordinary merits will override his mazal. And finally, there are instances where even such merits cannot undo his mazal. At such a time a person should turn to prayer. (Tosephos Yom Tov)

Still, we should know that ultimately Hashem is fair and executes His justice with precision. Each person will receive the rewards and punish­ments he deserves, whether in this world, or the next.

[19] All depends on one’s merit – including his prayers.

[20] Making perfume...tanning – When a person’s work is making perfume, he is surrounded with pleasantness; at work the scent surrounds him on all sides, after hours it clings to him even as he goes home. The tanning process on the other hand, involves working with smelly dog-droppings. The stench of this occupation likewise, becomes a part of his reality. Wherever he goes and whatever he does, it imprints itself into his entirety.

In the non-physical sense too, a person’s work affects his personality. There are crafts that fill a person with joy and even elation, while other occupations crush and depress him. For this reason our Rabbis advise us to look for occupations that are pleasant.

Sometimes however, Heaven arranges it that a person enters a profession that is difficult and unpleasant. For special reasons they force him into a certain job. If this is a person’s lot and he cannot avoid it, he must learn to accept it with joy. He should focus on the thought that Hashem only does that which is best for him, and accordingly, this too is for his benefit. Still, where he can avoid such an occupation, he should do so.

[21] There is no trade that disappears from the world – and so a person should not worry that his choice may become outdated and obsolete. The idea here is that while we do see such a phenomenon – machines and technology replacing people – still Hashem does not abandon any person. The training and preparation he invested into learning one trade will serve him just as well, if not better, in the occupation he eventually does practice. Just as Hashem guided him through his training, so Hashem guides him throughout his working life.

[22] Reap with joy – On the other hand however, those who sow with joy, i.e., they do not toil sufficiently and treat their work with disdain, end up reaping in tears. (Chafetz Chaim)

[23] Carrying his sheaves – The act of ‘carrying’ which at first, was so uncomfortable, so painful, itself becomes a source of great happiness. As he carried in pain, so he will carry in joy.

[24] He who plants the fig tree – A further idea here is that the fig tree produces figs, while a poison ivy produces poison. Similarly, the occupa­tion a person chooses determines its fruits. When a person engages in good, wholesome activities, he may expect to eat good, wholesome fruits. However, when he busies himself in deceitful, wicked activities, he will ultimately eat bitter, venomous foods.

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