Written by Nechama Dina Shur
Moishy, a young married man, is about to become a father. He recently finished his first year of marriage and is learning in kollel. Despite help from the parents in paying the rent, he is about to get into the cycle of loans, gemachs, and debts. He would like to follow what Chazal say, “Skin a carcass in the marketplace and don’t come onto people” and go to work, but how? Any respectable position requires a degree, which means spending a lot of time in school and this costs a lot of money. What will he do in the meantime? How will he pay his bills?
Many young people in Lubavitch are facing a crisis when it comes to parnasa. Those who choose to get a degree have to find a job in addition to the hours they spend on their studies, so they can pay their bills including their schooling. It’s not easy to work after a day in school or the other way round. Where will they have the emotional energy to devote to their new marriage? And what about parnasa for the soul in the form of shiurim, mivtzaim and the other inyanim of the Rebbe?
Under the chuppa, the man committed to supporting his household honorably. It is a commitment in writing. In Lubavitch we never saw denigration for going out to work, for Hashem created the world for us to rectify it, and the tikkun is accomplished by being involved in worldly matters according to the dictates of the Torah. The Rebbe writes in numerous letters about the imperative to take action, “‘and Hashem your G-d will bless you in everything you do,’ specifically in your doing.”
Chabad history is full of stories about generations of Chassidim who were businessmen, farmers, builders, weavers, butchers, accountants, postal clerks and all sorts of other work. Our Rebbeim, starting with the Alter Rebbe, established settlements for Chassidim in White Russia so they could provide for their families through farming and the trades. The Rebbe Rayatz and the Rebbe started Kfar Chabad under the designation “Workers Settlement” of the national labor union of the State of Israel.
True, the Rebbe encouraged Torah study even after marriage, but under specific conditions, such as those who were suited to regular, continuous learning.
I heard firsthand from a young man who finished his first year of marriage and kollel and was about to become a father. He had yechidus and asked the Rebbe what he should do next. The Rebbe told him, “Kollel in Lubavitch is my chiddush but you need to go out and work with others, unlike others who sit in kollel all their lives and do nothing with themselves or others.” Then the Rebbe suggested a number of options in holy communal work for him to look into.
There are those who sit at home idly and wait for a Torah position with an honorable title or who prefer a quarter or an eighth of a Torah position with a paltry salary so as not to accept “just any position” which they don’t think is respectable enough. And the burden often falls on their wife (and parents) who works full time while somehow trying to raise her children.
Chassidim of previous generations never despised work, and any work that was provided honestly was honorable to them. In fact, when they worked, they looked for an opportunity to accomplish their Chassidic mission. For example (HaYom Yom 16 Iyar), the Rebbe Maharash said to his Chassid, Eliyahu Abeler, “Elyeh, I envy you. You travel to various fairs, you meet many people. Sometimes, in the middle of a business transaction, you get into a warm discussion about a Jewish saying, a saying from the Ein Yaakov etc., and you arouse the other fellow’s interest in studying Nigleh (Talmud, halacha etc.) and Chassidus. This causes joy On High, and G-d rewards such ‘trade’ with the blessings of children, health and sustenance; the larger the fair the more work there is and the greater is the livelihood earned.”
Of course, in the role of T’mimim, the Rebbe asks everyone to be an “illuminating light” and therefore, first priority in parnasa are roles in shlichus, rabbanus, chinuch, and hafatzas ha’maayanos. But this is not to say that you can only work in these fields and if you don’t find jobs like these then you should remain idle. Even someone who learns another profession needs to be an illuminating light both in the place where he is learning the profession and later, at his job.
The topic of schooling after marriage is complicated. Some of Anash complain that they weren’t taught English language skills, math and computers when they were younger. They maintain that the job market today is different than it was years ago. Back then, you needed a pair of good working hands. Today you need degrees and diplomas.
The Rebbe spoke about this many times. In a sicha on 10 Shevat 5713 the Rebbe said:
Regarding the necessity for yeshiva students to learn Torah without thinking about “tachlis,” calculations that come from the Evil Inclination, I heard that some have commented that I don’t care about the gashmius of the talmidim; that the main thing to me is that they become scholars and G-d fearing and that I don’t care about their material circumstances.
I must clarify that this is outright falsehood. I care about the material circumstances of every single student and how he will manage in his material life in every respect.
The Rebbe, my father-in-law, is the one who previously led and still leads the yeshiva and therefore, when speaking contrary to what was said at a farbrengen on Shabbos Mevarchim about the Rebbe’s approach, this is, G-d forbid, “second-guessing one’s teacher,” the Rebbe, my father-in-law!
The Rebbe cared previously and cares now too about every little detail regarding every student. The Rebbe is concerned for every student regarding a shidduch and about parnasa, and specifically an ample parnasa. The Rebbe would say that the strength of the body is the strength of the soul, i.e. the body needs to be strong for the sake of the strength of the soul. Nevertheless, the Rebbe demanded that the talmidim not think about plans for parnasa as long as they were in yeshiva.
I hereby repeat and reiterate so there will be no room for error: of course I care how every student will manage materially, but we cannot forget the statement of the Sages that a person’s livelihood is designated on Rosh HaShana. Parnasa is not what a person does himself but what Hashem gives him. The nations of the world are under the dominion of nature, but with Jews, the manner of conduct is above nature. Drawing down gashmius is through Torah. Therefore, no benefit will accrue to the yeshiva students if while they are in yeshiva they will think about tachlis. On the contrary, when they completely devote themselves to Torah and the service of G-d, expansive parnasa will be drawn down to them when the time comes, without worries and concerns that confuse and interfere with the service of G-d.
One of the motifs which the Rebbe encouraged throughout the years was to be a shliach and role model even in the workplace and to use one’s time there to be a good influence. A good example of this is the mashpia, R’ Reuven Dunin, who operated a tractor in the digs of Haifa, and with his long beard was a role model to many. The mashpia, R’ Mendel Futerfas, had a textile business when he left Russia. The mashpia, R’ Berish Rosenberg, worked as a postal clerk in Lud. The askan, R’ Shlomo Maidanchek, operated a train at night, and by day worked on the Rebbe’s matters. The Rebbe did not allow him to support himself through his communal work. The Rebbe told him to continue working as a train conductor.
The reality over the decades has been that aside from those who went on shlichus or took various Torah related jobs, those who went out into the world, if they approached it properly, were able to find respectable jobs with prior studies or not, and they use their place of work to spread knowledge of G-d.
Yanky Osher is a sales rep who says: “Although I sent my resume to various places, I got this job through knowing someone who works in the company. The salary is minimum wage plus commissions. What I make depends on my effort and of course, on G-d’s blessing.
“I definitely consider my workplace as a place of shlichus. I have my own work station where I take customers and behind me is a big picture of the Rebbe. When I bring customers to my work station, they will often talk about Moshiach even before I open my mouth. A Chassidic appearance speaks for itself and therefore, the topics of conversation are directed towards holy matters.”
Yosef Hillel works in the field of law. “After I learned for smicha at Heichal Shlomo, and consulting with my mashpia, I began studying law at a frum campus in Kiryat Ono. At first it was hard for us to manage financially with school and work. We had some family support but then I got scholarships and we were able to breathe a bit easier. I held on until I got my degree.
“At first I considered chinuch, but I came to the conclusion that I am not suited to it and therefore, I am not allowed to work at it.”
Yosef is interning at a courthouse in Beer Sheva for a local female judge and has not encountered anything that clashes with Jewish or Chassidish living. On the contrary, he thinks that everyone can turn his workplace into a place of shlichus:
“A person needs to work with the talents that Hashem gave him. When a religious person works in an irreligious place, he automatically becomes the person people turn to with questions about Judaism. We grew up valuing shlichus and we need to preserve this value even when we are not official shluchim.”
Tzvika Neiman works in computers for the Court Administration of the Ministry of Justice where he has been working for seven years. He has also started his own business but, upon his mashpia’s advice, did not leave his job. “The job at the courthouse involves shlichus work on the scale of an average Chabad House. I can’t leave it even though my business needs more of my time.
“I work in a Leftist, irreligious atmosphere. These are people who have no mezuzos at home and who eat chametz on Pesach, r”l. Now they stand on line to put on t’fillin and complain if I don’t come. Many of them write to the Rebbe and are amazed by the answers they open to.”
Tzvika says that at one of the farbrengens he arranged at work, one of the participants gave him a dollar he had received from the Rebbe. He attributes the child he and his wife had after nine years to it. “I was the beneficiary of that story.”
“You need to know how to be a shliach at work,” said someone we interviewed for this article. “There are people who are nervous about being mashpia at work lest they get fired. On the other hand, I’ve known people who were actually fired because they took an ‘I’m the balabus around here’ attitude and did not show they were devoted to their jobs. This type of behavior is definitely a turn-off. A person has to be humble and dedicated at work, while at the same time permeated with the Rebbe’s inyanim, in a way that people will want to talk to him. I know that shlichus advances me at work and brings me bracha in parnasa and so there is no reason to be afraid to reach out at work; just do it the right way.”
R’ Menachem Ziegelboim is a coach for success and excellence, who does a lot of work guiding and counseling young men in finding the right field of work.
“It’s important to remember that a job is not just parnasa but a way to express the soul. You know the parable about having a person use a scythe to cut imaginary wheat in exchange for a lot of money and how he doesn’t last long. A person wants to see some benefit from the work that he does. No less important than the salary a person earns is a feeling of satisfaction from his work.
“The problem is that there are people who don’t know what they are good at. They feel they are missing out on something in life, but don’t know how to put their finger on the right thing. They can lose years until they find the profession that suits them. There is another category of people who are sure they have a talent in a certain area but they really don’t. These people waste their lives in unsuitable jobs. They generally feel frustrated after a while and their lack of suitability becomes obvious. If you were to ask them why things aren’t working out, they would blame their boss.
“Too many people get up in the morning and go to work at jobs that don’t suit them. People like this come to me. They go to work, do their job, but feel lost. The reason is simple. They are working at unsuitable jobs. I believe that the minute they find the right thing for them, that suits their nature and abilities, they will blossom. Not only that, but their psyches will be at peace and they will give their heart and soul to that work. When you enjoy what you do and find personal expression in it there is nothing like it.
“Someone who does not enjoy his work does it by rote. This affects his relationship with his employer, which directly affects his mood, and he brings this home, and this sets a negative cycle into motion which affects everything. A person who enjoys his occupation, puts thought into it, is creative and productive, is valued and usually rewarded by his employer, and this affects his mood and he wants to put in even more. He goes to work and returns home in a good mood which directly affects his household, thus creating a positive cycle.
“The first thing to do is to get to know yourself and your talents. Then try and find a job which fits with your natural aptitude. A sociable person who needs to mix with others will not survive for long in a position that requires him to sit alone in front of a computer screen for hours on end, like a graphic artist or accountant. A person who is more introverted or those with social limitations better not work at jobs like marketing, sales, public relations, etc. Many of the employment centers that are out there today help the person try out various occupations to see what suits his nature. It is a good idea to take advantage of these services.
“Then you need to decide to jump into the water. It’s not always easy. There are obligations, there is work, and you need to earn money, and it’s not easy to go to school at the same time. There is also a marital relationship that requires nurturing, and the need to invest in one’s role as a parent. But trying to hide your head in the sand is even worse. You need to find the right path for you.
“There are people who look for high-end professions with fancy titles but they are not suited to them. It’s more respected when call yourself an accountant than a refrigerator technician, even though a refrigerator technician often makes more money.
“I recently had someone here for coaching, one of the biggest contractors in Eretz Yisroel, who told me that a Chinese floor layer who works in Israel can make 20,000 shekels a month and a professional plasterer who is a foreign worker can make 18,000 shekels a month. He definitely surprised me with those numbers. ‘It used to be that someone who worked in construction was considered the salt of the earth, while today it is less respectable. Why? Why shouldn’t the money come into our own people’s hands?’ he wanted to know.
“I have also seen initiatives which ended in failure; young people with no experience and no money who tried to open a business without preparing for it properly.
“Most of the indecision about what field to go into has to do with self-image and what people will say. I’ve heard complaints from those who place religious people in jobs that every yeshiva graduate wants to be a principal from the get-go and not a lower level employee, G-d forbid.”
We have been taught the Chassidic saying that a Chassid creates an atmosphere. The Alter Rebbe in Tanya discusses the differences between “one who sits in a tent,” i.e. learns Torah and a businessman who sits in the marketplace. Going to work does not have to cause a spiritual downgrade.