Who is rich?one who is satisfied
with his lot. As it is written [in Psalms]: If you eat
of the toil of your hands, fortunate are you, how good it
is for you!
Ethics of the Fathers, 4:1
Does this mean that only carpenters and porters can taste
fortune and goodness? Is the Psalmist advising all businessmen,
lawyers and university professors to abandon their offices
and classrooms and eat of the toil of your hands?
But our mishnah simply states, Who is rich?one
who is satisfied with his lot, and then proceeds to
quote the verse from the Psalms. Obviously, the concept of
gaining ones living by the toil of ones hands
applies to every individual, regardless of vocation.
In Genesis 28 the Torah describes the first night in Jacobs
journey from the Land of Israel to Charan. When darkness fell,
he took from the stones of the place and placed them
about his head in order to protect himself from wild
beasts as he slept. But if Jacob was concerned with the threat of physical beasts,
why did he shield only his head, exposing his body to the
dangers of the wild?
But the Torah is telling us of a deeper, internal barrier
that Jacob was erecting. Jacob knew that he was leaving behind
his earlier life as a wholesome man, who dwells in the
tents of study, for the cannibalistic world of
commerce and materialism. After decades of secluded study
in the Holy Land, he was to spend twenty years in the company
of the corrupt and manipulative Laban, in order to build his
family and amass the material means to support it. During
this time he labored round the clock (in the day the
heat consumed me, and the frost by night; and my sleep departed
from my eyes)
until he was exceedingly successful, and gained
much cattle, maids, servants, camels and donkeys.
Yet he only devoted his body, his external self,
to this necessary but spiritually barren aspect of his life,
while jealously reserving his head, his innermost
mind and choice talents, for his higher priorities.
So after twenty years in the jungle of Charan Jacob could
look back at a fortune created by much genius and skill and
refer to it as but the toil of my hands
If you wish to be truly rich, our mishnah is saying, expend
only the toil of your hands, the more external
elements of your talents and faculties, in your material involvements,
reserving the toil of your head for the more lofty
things in life. Save the best of your mind, heart and self
to gain true wisdom, serve your Creator, and fulfill your
mission in life.
Based on an address by the Rebbe, Kislev 9, 5711 (November
This is an excerpt from "Beyond the Letter of the
Law" by Yanki Tauber published by The Meaningful Life