Making a Living

There was once a person who was hitch-hiking. He was carrying
a large bundle and before long someone picked him up. When the driver looked
back through his rear view mirror, he noticed that the hitch-hiker was still
carrying his bundle. “You can put it down,” the driver told him. The
hitch-hiker responded, “It was so nice of you to give me a ride. You don’t
have to carry my bundle, too.”

G-d brings us into this world, he keeps us breathing, he
keeps our hearts beating, he maintains all the many complex cellular functions
that keep us alive. After all that, do you think He wouldn’t make provisions
for our sustenance? All too often, the attitude we show regarding our livelihood
is just like the hitch-hiker’s. G-d tells us, let Me carry your bundle. Allow
Me to provide for your well-being, and we respond as though saying: You’ve
done so much for me, You don’t have to provide me with a livelihood, too.

Everything is in the hands of G-d except yiras Shamaim.
Yiras Shamaim is the only thing G-d wants from us. And that’s for the
simple reason that our yiras Shamaim – our spiritual life – is the only
thing for which we are responsible. All the rest is up to Him. All the rest
comes from Him. The only thing G-d wants from us is the only thing that comes
from us: Yiras Shamaim. But we live as though it were just the opposite,
as though the only thing that is up to us is how much money we make. We forget
that wealth and remuneration has no direct correlation to our labors. There are
many who work hard their whole lives without achieving wealth, and there are
many who become wealthy putting out hardly any effort at all. G-d sets the
material conditions of our lives just as he fixes a persons size and strength,
just as he molds his nose and the shape of his forehead, just as he confers
native intelligence and natural talents. G-d confers the material resources that
are required for a person to fulfill his life according to the purpose for which
he was created. Those resources are an integral part of his life. A person
cannot live without food (spiritual as well as physical), clothing, and shelter,
and he will not prosper unless he gets the kind and quantity of food, clothing
and shelter that are right for him. It’s not just a matter of trusting G-d.
That, it might be argued, is an exalted virtue. “What, after all, can be
expected of a an ordinary person like me?” It’s also a matter of taking a
more truthful and holistic view of life—and even ordinary people like you and
me can do that. Life is not lived in isolation: not in isolation from people and
not in isolation from the world. Indeed, life is inconceivable without a world,
for life—and especially human life—is different from the inanimate existence
of a stone in just the fact that life involves a constant active interaction
with the world. The living body is shaped to act in its environment, and the
environment in which it acts is programmed and prepared to provide that living
body with the resources it needs to prosper. So when G-d creates a human being,
He doesn’t think of him as an individual object, separate from the environment
and the resources it provides which are so essential to his existence. On the
contrary, His concept of the individual includes that environment and those
resources as essential features of the person He has in mind. That is why the
Torah teaches us that a person’s livelihood comes from G-d and that, indeed,
the manner and extent of that livelihood are preordained. You and the resources
you need to be you – to be the person G-d intended you to be – are a single
package.

So our livelihood comes from G-d, but not without our doing
our part. G-d helps those who help themselves. The effort and even the worry and
the dangers involved in making a living are also an integral part of the idea
G-d had in mind when he made us. G-d wants us to realize that we are dependent
on Him. Through our efforts we discover the uncertainties, the contingencies,
the accidents and unforeseeables that drive the lessons home: 1) we are not in
charge of this world and 2) our successes are not of our own doing. Besides
that, we don’t appreciate things unless we put ourselves into them. If we didn’t
have to work for a living, we wouldn’t appreciate the material benefits G-d
provides. Paradoxically, the efforts we make to earn a livelihood, the efforts
which require us to act as though our livelihood depended upon us, deepen our
recognition of how much we owe to G-d. That, in fact, is the main reason that
man works. G-d created the world because he is good and wants to give. To
achieve that end, he had to create man in a way which would make him receptive
to His gifts. The curse of Adam which required him to work is part of the story
of creation. It happened on the sixth day. Adam enters history as a working man.
Adam’s work—man’s work—makes it possible for G-d to achieve the purpose
of His own work. For it makes man realize how much He owes to G-d and that what
G-d gives him he could not take for himself. It makes him receptive to the
goodness G-d bestows. Because G-d created the world in order to give, and to
give, G-d needs us to receive—to receive deeply, as can only be done when a
person sees the goodness in what he is getting—the work we do has a central
place in the purpose of creation.