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The Business of Spirituality

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There is no free individual, except he who occupies himself (“osek”) with Torah.
Ethics of the Fathers, 6:2

The verb most often used by our sages to describe our pursuit of spirituality through the study of Torah is not study, learn, practice, observe or the like, but osek (“occupy oneself”) – a word usually associated with the act of doing business. Indeed, a life devoted to the study of Torah and implementation of its ideals much resembles a businessman’s occupation with his enterprise.

Consider this attitude: “I know that a crucial need exists for my product, and that my proposition constitutes the best value. I’ll be more than happy to deal with anyone who feels likewise and manages to get a hold of me.” Sounds like a nice guy, but not much of a businessman.

Concern for one’s fellow man is usually seen as something to be enlisted or, at the very least, appreciated. If someone needs and wants to be helped, lend a hand. Otherwise, what can be done?

But Torah insists that you relate to all your positive endeavors as a business. Your knowledge, your values, your talents – do not line your coffers with them (what businessman keeps his capital in a savings account?) or offer them only to those who seek them from you or at least recognize their worth. Instead, as any self-respecting businessman would, do everything within your power to convince your fellow that he stands to benefit from what you have to offer.

Mobile Man

Another area in which business mirrors life is the importance of mobility. To succeed in business, one must be on the move. Thus, when Moses blessed the Jewish people before his passing, Zebulun, a tribe of merchants, was given seaports in the land of Israel and blessed with the gift of mobility[1] – a property as vital to the merchant of 3,000 years ago as it is to the businessman of today.

Stagnation is anathema to business. Despite the tremendous advances in communication technologies, the 20th-century businessman still commutes, traveling to a place situated and equipped for business’s specific needs. From the office, he further ventures out to pursue business opportunities wherever they may present themselves.

In philosophy and temperament, the businessman must also be mobile and forward-looking. A person successful in business is one who has learned to continuously progress and develop, to constantly find new and innovative ways to optimally apply his talents and resources.

This is why commerce is a solely human endeavor. Of all G-d’s creatures, man alone has been blessed with the capacity for progress. Man alone strives upwards, forever seeking to improve upon his inborn traits, forever seeking to perfect himself and his world.

One who “occupies himself” with Torah, is one who applies this mobility to his moral and spiritual endeavors. To be osek with Torah is to commit oneself to the business of life.

This is an excerpt from “Beyond the Letter of the Law” by Yanki Tauber published by The Meaningful Life Center.


[1].  “Rejoice, Zebulun, in your excursions…” – Deuteronomy 33:18

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