Question:

I have a problem in that my entire source of pride is from my work. I'm not talking about a negative, destructive pride, but rather a sense of purpose.

You see, the last two years of my life have been a roller-coaster. I'm set on a career in a law firm, but rarely do I manage to get full-time hours. Staff comes and go, even the partners keep changing. And now, with the market the way it is...

You might tell me, so great, you get lots of time for studying Torah and doing community work. But that's just the problem: It's only when I have full hours regularly that I can get myself to do those things. The rest of the time, I feel like such a dork, I can hardly get out of the house. It seems like my entire being, all my self-esteem and self-concept is tied up with my success in the business place. I would like to transfer that dependency to my worth as a Jew doing mitzvahs and studying Torah, but how?

Why is my 'sense of security' dependent on work? Is it because I am a man and therefore I feel the need to provide, and thus my life does, rightly, revolve around work? Rabbi, if you have any advice for me, or if you can even understand my rambling, then please let me know.

Response:

Yes, you are fighting a deeply ingrained instinct. A man is a provider—does he have any instinct stronger than this? For pleasure, power and honor a man will make sacrifices and take risks, but to provide for his family and to protect them he will put his very life on the line without a second thought. It's no surprise, therefore, if our self-esteem is so wrapped up with our success as providers.

If G‑d designed us this way, it is good and it is healthy. Your wife and children will certainly agree that it is a good thing. For yourself as well—it is this instinct that provides you with dignity. As the Talmud puts it, "They depend upon you and you depend on He who spoke and brought the world into being." That "He who spoke" could provide directly for them, yet He gives you the privilege to partner with Him and be the active channel for His blessings.

No, it's not the only measure of a man. We are placed on this earth to do more than make money. We are here to give money to others who need it more, to do the mitzvahs, to find a G‑dly purpose in every human activity and to learn Torah wisdom and apply it to this world. And yet, Rabbi Moshe Cordevero wrote, a man must always see himself as the delivery mechanism "between the Divine Presence above and the Divine Presence below"--meaning, between G‑d and his wife.

"G‑d made mankind upright," Solomon observes, "but they found ways to complicate everything." It's not the G‑d-given instinct to provide that messes men up, it's how we evaluate our prowess as providers.

Now take a little l'chaim so I can break the hard news: Like the rest of us, you are letting the world write your report card. You know and G‑d knows that you are doing your best job. You know and He knows that you have fixed times to learn Torah, you do lots of mitzvahs, give lots of tzedaka and keep the Shabbos holy. And you are, after all, bringing home a paycheck—sufficient for your family's needs and some extras. So what is there to fret about? That there are people more successful than yourself? That you don't yet have everything you imagined when you were in Law School? Every day the Master of the World gives you the privilege to go to work and be His partner in feeding your family. Every month, you receive a paycheck from His open and generous hand. And He lets you receive it with dignity, since you know you studied hard to be where you are and worked equally as hard to service your clients and provide them the best counsel you know to provide. Are you to blame for the financial climate and the whims of your associates? Are you G‑d, that everything that happens in your little world should be a measure of your success as a lawyer and a man?

Take a reasonable look, just somewhat objective, at who you are and what is expected of you. Don't let anyone else measure you and don't measure yourself against them. Undoubtedly, you'll find room for improvement. But, if you are really honest, you will also find much to be proud of and grateful for. "Some people think," the Rebbe wrote in a letter, "that the only way to get more from G‑d is by kvetching about all that is missing. The truth is that when we are thankful for what we have, and express that gratitude openly, that is when He provides even more."

Take pride in your work and thank G‑d for giving you your bread with dignity. Say thank you, and He will provide from His full and open hand.