We begin with a saying from the Talmud familiar to all Chabad children; If a person says, “I strived and failed” don’t believe him. “I didn’t strive and succeeded” don’t believe him. “I strived and succeeded” believe him.1

The Rebbe has explained and the whole of this section is based on that explanation the concept of parnossah (financial sustenance). Jewish parnossah appears at first glance to contradict this section of Talmud. We will see however that this is of course not so.

The wording of the Torah in relation to work and Shabbos is that “in six days your work shall be done and the seventh day will be for you a holy day, a Shabbos on which to withdraw from mundane pursuits.”2 An important distinction needs to be understood; a Jew’s parnossah and a non-Jew’s parnossah is entirely different and this section is restricted to Jewish parnossah.

The wording does not say, “you will work.” It says, “your work shall be done” in a passive sense.3 The Hebrew word, “your work shall be done”, is a passive word. Can we therefore say that all we have to do is to exist, and we will have parnossah? Clearly this cannot be true because the world is so designed that everything in nature requires the participation of man. The first statements in Torah make clear that the world is created, and we are put on the world to complete the work of creation. There are various worlds, as we shall see elsewhere but in this, the physical world, the lowest of all possible worlds, there is a partnership between Hashem and mankind. Clearly, therefore, one cannot simply sit believing what will be will be and what won’t be won’t be. We know this is wrong because Torah directs our intervention into that partnership. As far as work is concerned although the word is passive, involvement is required passive involvement. Six days a week, the work has to be done but the perspective of a Jew is that that work is passive, that he is as it were grudgingly doing it.

Now the Torah also says:

“Strive with hands in order to be able to eat, and you will be happy and it will be good for you.”4

The simple meaning of this is the directive not to be a beggar. Man should work for himself and be independent and not be a burden on the community.

The deeper level is that one is required to work with one’s hands not one’s head or one’s heart. A Jew’s head is his seichel, his intellect, and his heart is his middos, his emotion. These must be reserved for Torah and mitzvos. Only then can he be truly happy. One must strive with the hands, and then he will eat and then he will be happy and it will be good for him. When will he be happy and it be good for him? Only when working with the hands, not with the head, not with the heart.

No stress. Why no stress? No head, no heart. Where is the head and the heart? Learning Torah, doing mitzvos. What is the primary job? The primary job is to be a Jew who learns Torah and does his mitzvos. What is the secondary begrudged job? Earning a living with the hands. Reserve seichel for Talmud. Reserve middos for learning to be good to others, loving and being kind to a wife and learning to be good to enemies and all those irritating people who keep treading on one’s feet which may be too big.

Incidentally, the second quote lists two happinesses; happy and good for you. This means happy in this world and it will be good for you in the World to Come.5 If one does not work with one’s head and one’s heart, not only will there be more happiness here but life will be easier in the World to Come in Gan Eden.

This is what the notion of passivity about the work being done means. For six days there is no question that a Jew must work. But only that which is necessary.

What is necessary? Unfortunately, there is no fixed measure for this. Everyone has to manage this calculation alone.

How can a person approach his business like that? Let us understand that we have all grown up in a host society where parnossah is a sacred cow. The Torah is eternal and applies in all aspects to every generation. Egyptians worshipped the Nile as a false god. Pharaoh threw Jewish children into the Nile. Chassidus teaches that the modern Pharaoh throwing Jewish children into the Nile is society throwing Jewish children into a pursuit of parnossah which eclipses any real perspective of life.6

The Torah also says that Hashem your G‑d will bless you in everything that you do.”7 Now, who is doing the blessing? It is that Hashem will bless you in everything you do. Does the berochah (blessing) of parnossah come from us or from Hashem? Every Jew must make this decision.

If a man believes that parnossah comes from him, he has an excellent reason for throwing his head and his heart into the process of earning it, and earning more. How does he obtain more? by working harder.

He will lie awake at night, he will worry and he will plan, calculating and artfully dodging. People fall in love with this disease until their life is wasted. The head and heart is involved to the exclusion of everything else.

When the words of the Torah are understood for what they say, namely, that the berochah comes from Hashem, your G‑d, and who “will bless you in everything that you do”, there is a whole and dramatic change in perspective. If the berachos come from Hashem and not as the product of one’s effort, a man would be a fool for investing his head and heart into the labor. What a waste of energy this is! Would a man guaranteed
1,000.00 next week irrespective of his effort, work? Even if so, how hard? Would he kill himself? He may work but only to establish a connection between himself and being paid.

How much more so would this be true if he knew he would not earn any more by investing emotional effort. Who would kill themselves for nothing if their parnossah was anyway fixed?8

Here is a secret of Torah;

What brings parnossah to a Jew is the berochah from Hashem. Therefore, the question becomes only, what needs to be done in order to obtain that berochah? This becomes the only concern. Clearly, one of the things not necessary is to put the head and the heart into the enterprise.

But then why work at all? Why not go to shul and learn, daven and go out into the street and try to help people all day? In fact, can’t we say that working is a sign of lack of emunah (faith)? If the berochah is from Hashem and Hashem is going to sustain us, can’t we leave it to Him? We learn elsewhere in this book that the whole purpose of the neshomah being sent down into a Jewish body is to learn Torah and do mitzvos and to so make a dwelling place for G‑d in the lowest of all possible worlds. If Hashem designs this plan, He cannot allow us to starve, and therefore maybe we should not work at all?

It is the way of Hashem that His blessing must flow down in a natural way. For whatever reason, it is His requirement that, even when nature is suspended, the suspension is through nature and in a way which is apparently natural. In order to receive the blessing, man must make a keli (vessel) to contain that berochah.9 The vessel must be part of nature so that the berochah devolves through apparently natural means. The keli for parnossah is work. This is the reason, and the sole reason, a Jew is required to work.

The wording we referred to in the Torah also really connotes toil. When a person does what he loves to do, he does not get tired. A person tires quickly from what he hates. A Jewish neshomah, no matter how it is covered up, fundamentally desires to learn Torah and do mitzvos. A Jewish neshomah thirsts for Torah. Everything else becomes work, toil.

What about all those people who love work; they are successful making money and they love to work. Let us understand; there is nothing wrong with making plenty of money. Indeed only a fool denies this, so some people not only love work, they want to multiply the effort and the time spent working. Sadly, some successful people become so involved that when they have more money than they can spend in a thousand years, they still must work because otherwise they have nothing to do! In other words, what is basically a curse has become a consuming need. The tail has begun to wag the dog. Work is a curse given to us as a result of the sin with the fruit of the tree. The poor person who lives in order that he should work is to be pitied in his lack of understanding.

So what must a Jew do? Every man therefore must make a vessel according to his level. This vessel must begin with a Jew’s understanding of his identity. There was a Chassid of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe who was asked whether he was a lawyer. “Certainly not,” he replied, “I am a Jew whose parnossah comes to me through the vehicle of the legal profession.” The primary perspective is that a person is a Jew whose neshomah has descended into his body to fulfill his purpose in this world. If the purpose is being fulfilled, there is a guarantee; Hashem says it will be good for you and you will be happy. It will be good for you in this world, it will be good for you in the next world, you will have no worries, and will overcome all problems. As we have seen, every neshomah has just what it needs to do its job.

Does all the above mean a man can forget work and simply play? Then even the hands are not in it. The head and the heart are not there, but the hands are not there either. Hands need to be in the office, to pick up the telephone, to do the mail. Allowing parnossah to take over one’s being however and permitting it the central perspective of one’s life is throwing life away into the Nile.

Finally, as to the size of the vessel, there is a concluding aspect. The size of the vessel seems to vary with a man’s spiritual level. It is an incredible thing that for those people on a high enough level, the vessel may be extremely small. As we shall see in Chapter 7 on the Secrets of the Festivals, R. Shimon Bar Yochai, who wrote the Zohar, spent thirteen years in a cave with his son buried to their necks in sand.10

Theoretically, they should have died of exposure and starvation. But for a Tzaddik that cave happened to have a stream running past it and a carob tree outside. Being perfect Tzaddikim, they had almost no burden of work for their sustenance. On the other hand, men of lesser stature in the mistaken belief that they were Tzaddikim, refused to make a vessel and consequently starved to death.11

There is a conclusion however that can be calculated. A Jew fulfilling his purpose will be looked after by Hashem; the more genuine time he spends on this purpose, the lesser the vessel of work required. The more he ignores his function in the world, the greater must the vessel be.

What then of this section of Talmud at the beginning of this chapter? If a person says, “I strived and failed” don’t believe him. “I didn’t strive and succeeded” don’t believe him. “I strived and succeeded” believe him. How does this stand in the face of everything we have learned? This section of Talmud clearly suggests that the harder you try, the better is your edge at succeeding. This section of Talmud expresses spiritual endeavors.12 Learning Torah and doing mitzvos. Learning Torah and doing mitzvos is absolutely directly connected with a man’s effort. It is difficult. There are aspects of Yiddishkeit which are wonderful. Chassidus teaches a man to soar in the heavens and to see with new eyes but there are aspects of learning how and doing so which are very difficult. This is where the head and heart are required. Exertion with the head and heart in Torah and mitzvos take a Jew out of the realm of weariness and on to the mountain top of fulfillment. There if a man strives and succeeds believe him.