Nissan Reisner loved traveling the country and taking in the sights of every city. He left home with an abundance of cash, and for most of the trip he had the wherewithal to pay for all his needs, but somehow, he miscalculated and had nothing left for the last lap of his journey. He was tired and hungry and desperate for a meal and a warm bed. Arriving at a strange city and not knowing a soul, he was pleasantly surprised to see a Jew walking in the street. He approached the man and asked him, “Reb Yid, do you perhaps know if there is a hachnosas orchim in town?”
The man smiled and warmly said, “Sure. Go straight for a couple of blocks, where you’ll see a large house on your right. It is the home of Reb Boruch, where guests are always welcome and are treated royally.”
Nissan hurried to his destination, but by mistake he knocked on the wrong door, the house right next to Reb Boruch’s. The owner of the house was the exact opposite of his kind neighbor. He was a miserly grouch who abhorred guests. He opened the door, and when Nissan asked if he could have a meal there, the man answered with a fiendish smile. “Sure,” he said. “If you’ll agree to do some household chores for me, I’ll be happy to provide you with food.”
Thinking that this was customary in this city, Nissan agreed to do some work despite his hunger. He worked for a few hours, doing odd jobs around the house. When he was finished, the rascal said to him, “Now you can go next door and they will supply you with room and board.”
The wayfarer eagerly hurried to the next house, where he was ushered in and greeted with smiling faces. He was seated at a long table laden with delicacies and was invited to eat to his heart’s desire. After he finished eating, the host asked him where he was from and how he got here. He described how he first went next door and that he worked hard for this meal. Upon hearing this, the hosts started laughing.
“Why are you laughing?” asked Nissan.
“Because the miser pulled a nasty prank on you. Your work in his house was not the cause of your getting food here. And your receiving food here had nothing to do with your work there. You would have been treated hospitably without doing a stitch of work.”
With this moshol, Rav Yisroel Rizhiner taught that we tend to make the same mistake. Working hard for our parnassah, we begin to think that it is our hishtadlus that brings us our sustenance. Because of this, we tend to overinvest time and effort into our work at the expense of fulfilling our obligations in avodas Hashem. Of course, after the sin of the Eitz Hadaas, Adam Harishon was cursed, “By the sweat of your brow shall you eat your bread” (Bereishis 3:19). But the real source of our sustenance is the Hand of Hakadosh Boruch Hu. In reality, it is not our work that brings home the food and our support does not reach us solely because of our efforts. Parnassah is a gift from heaven, and our toil is necessary merely as hishtadlus.
We find this lesson in our sedrah. Yaakov Avinu invested an incredible amount of work in tending to Lavan’s sheep. As Yaakov himself described it, “These twenty years that I have been with you, your ewes and she-goats never miscarried, nor did I eat the rams of your flock. This is how I was: By day, scorching heat consumed me, and frost by night. My sleep drifted from my eyes” (Bereishis 31:38-40). One would think that such honesty and devotion would earn him a decent salary, but it got Yaakov nothing. At first, when he wanted to leave Lavan right after the birth of Yosef, he asked for permission to depart.
“Give me my wives and my children for whom I have served you and I will go” (ibid. 30:26). He was ready to leave without receiving any payment at all, relying totally on Hashem for support.
Seeing that he was about to lose a loyal worker and the source of his blessing, Lavan tried enticing Yaakov to stay by asking him what payment he wanted. Knowing that the conniving Lavan would never agree to pay him what he was really worth, Yaakov suggested a farfetched deal that, under natural circumstances, would gain Yaakov very little. It was a deal that Lavan would be thrilled with.
“Let me pass through your whole flock today. Remove from there every speckled or spotted lamb, every brownish lamb among the sheep and the spotted or speckled among the goats – that will be my wage” (30:32). Such animals were hard to find, and Lavan must have gleefully thought to himself, “My son-in-law is pious, holy, and a great worker, but fortunately a businessman he is not.”
The odds were against Yaakov having much gain from this arrangement. Yet, through ingenuity and great siyata diShmaya, he was able to impact his pattern of livestock to reproduce similar offspring to which Lavan could have no claim. His sheep miraculously multiplied more so than regular sheep. One would think that now the matter was settled and Yaakov was amply compensated for his efforts. But the devious, conniving Lavan would not allow this to happen. In the words of Yaakov to Rochel and Leah: “Now you have known that it was with all my might that I served your father. Yet your father mocked me and changed my wage a hundred times, but Hashem did not permit him to harm me” (ibid. 31:6-7).
When all was said and done, all of Yaakov’s hishtadlus, his hard work, devotion, and ingenuity, would gain him nothing. It was only the special siyata diShmaya that brought him exceeding prosperity. “Abundant flocks, maidservants and servants, camels and donkeys” (31:43). Yaakov himself said it best when Lavan first asked him, “What shall I give you?” He answered: “Do not give me anything” (30:31). The Seforno explains: You will not be giving up a thing. If Hashem will be gracious to me, you will not be losing anything, for what is coming to me and will be provided for is straight from Hashem, and no one takes away from another that which is designated for them.
Rav Shlomo Cohen, a close talmid of the Chazon Ish, not wanting to use Torah as a source of parnassah, opened a print shop in Bnei Brak. The business was successful, as there was no competition, and he received orders from all around. One day, another Yid decided to open a print shop on the opposite corner of the very same block where Rav Shlomo’s shop was located.
His family and friends were up in arms. How dare this interloper come and infringe on another Jew’s parnassah? He was clearly in violation of massig gevul, overstepping the boundaries of his friend. They were hoping that Rav Shlomo would take him to a din Torah. But Rav Shlomo did not display the slightest bit of angst or worry. To the contrary, when his competitor passed him in the street, he always greeted him with a smile.
Shortly after the competitor moved in, on an Erev Shabbos right after closing time, Rav Shlomo walked over to the next corner and entered his competitor’s shop. “Would you mind coming over to my house on Motzoei Shabbos?” he asked. “I would like to discuss some matters with you.”
The family, hearing about this appointment for Motzoei Shabbos, was very pleased. Now, they thought, their father would finally have it out with his intruder.
Motzoei Shabbos arrived, and a short while later the man appeared at the Cohen home. Rav Shlomo warmly ushered him in and led him to his private study and closed the door behind them. The family members listened in to the conversation and were none too pleased by what they heard.
Their father began the conversation by excusing himself for not officially welcoming him into the community. Then he said, “I’ve been in the printing business for a while now and you are just a beginner, so I figured that I would sit down with you and teach you a few tricks of the trade that should come in very handy.”
He proceeded to tell him the ins and outs of the business, what the customers prefer, how to save money ordering materials, and other useful tidbits. The meeting lasted for over an hour and the man left thanking Rav Shlomo profusely for his help.
After the man was out the door, Rav Shlomo was accosted by his family with complaints that not only was allowing himself to be taken advantage of, but he was literally giving away business to his competitor by helping him. Their father, totally unfazed, opened a Gemara and showed them, “All a person’s sustenance is designated for him on Rosh Hashana” (Beitzah 16a). Furthermore, Chazal say that no person can take away parnassah that was designated for his friend (Yoma 38b). Everyone knows these Gemaros, but few internalize them and literally live by them. If we really believe in the words of our chachomim, then we have absolutely nothing to worry about.”
With that, he calmly returned to his learning.
Indeed, if we lived with this emunah peshutah, our lives would be much calmer, with a lot less worry, and we could attain simchas hachaim much easier.
But there is another aspect of truly believing that all of our parnassah comes directly from Hashem. What is our attitude when we are approached by a poor man seeking a donation? The Chofetz Chaim said, “We tend to think to ourselves, ‘Why doesn’t this man go out and find a job? Were he old or sick or crippled, it would be understandable why he must resort to begging. But he is young and physically capable of doing work. Why should I share with him money that I worked so hard for?”
This is a mistake, says the Chofetz Chaim. First of all, we never really know what a man’s personal issues are. Furthermore, Chazal say that before a child is born, heaven decrees if he will be a wise man or a fool, strong or weak, rich or poor. If one is destined to be poor, it could happen because he is physically unable to work or because he can’t find a job. Or it could be that he doesn’t have the ambition to work. But that, too, is decreed from heaven and is just as much Hashgachah from Above as being physically incapacitated.
When we are approached by a poor man, we should be merciful and realize that his situation was the Will of Hashem and that we are being given the opportunity of helping him. At the same time, we must be grateful that only by the grace of Hashem are we not in that same situation.