I recently received a phone call from an out-of-town friend of mine. His young adult daughter had been dating a yeshiva-oriented young man and it looked as if this might lead to an engagement. The young man wanted to study Torah and possibly pursue a career in chinuch (teaching) after several years. However, he had given no serious thought to how he might support his future wife and family. The families could not provide for the couple. When questioned about this, he idealistically responded, “Hashem will provide.” My friend asked for my feedback as to whether or not this was a realistic response. What do our Torah sources say about this?
In this week’s parsha we read about the first “shidduch” in the Torah. Eliezer, Avraham’s servant, makes a deal with Hashem. If a girl approaches and offers water to both himself and his camels, that will be the sign that she is the right match for Yitzchak (24:12). The Talmud in Taanis (4a) noted that in the case of Eliezer, things happened to work out for the best but he might have been “pushing his luck.” He was criticized by the sages for leaving such a serious matter to chance.
Toward the end of Parshat Mishpatim we are promised that if we worship Hashem “…He will bless your bread and your water and will remove illness from your midst” (Shemot 23:25). The Chidushei HaRim writes that the pasuk in Mishpatim is a blessing for success in our efforts to make a livelihood (parnasah). He posits that the illness that will be removed refers to the anxiety about making a proper living. This is something that occupies most of humanity—the fear that they will not be able to put bread on the table for their families.
The Talmud (Brachot 33b) tells us that everything is in the hands of Heaven except for the fear of Heaven itself. This implies that our parnasah (livelihood) is preordained. While there is a reference in one tractate of the Talmud (Sotah 49a) that we can only rely upon our father in Heaven, the context of that quote is that we should not rely on corrupt individuals. Other tractates of the Talmud (Pesachim 64b) emphasize that we do not rely on miracles. Rav Zeira (Megillah 7b) reminds us that “miracles do not happen every hour.” Do not depend on them. Finally R’ Yochanan (Kiddushin 29a) directly addresses our concern about studying Torah when getting married by questioning, “How can one do this while the responsibilities of providing for the family is hanging over his head?” The Gemara adds, “And the sages agreed with him.” In a separate tractate (Menachot 110a), R. Yochanan praised those who studied Torah at night in their spare time while working during the day. Lastly, Pirkei Avot (2:2) suggests that it is best to combine working for a livelihood with the study of Torah.
If failing to plan for a livelihood when first getting married is a matter of “bitachon” (faith in Hashem), then the best analogy for this is the topic of shemitah in the Torah. In Parshat Behar we read about observing the shemitah year: “The seventh year shall be a complete rest for the land.” There was not to be any sowing or harvesting done for business purposes every seventh year in observance of shemitah. The shemitah process was meant to remind us of our dependence upon God and on factors that are not within our human power to control. Rav Moshe Feinstein commented that the purpose of the shemitah year was to teach us a lesson that one need not overly worry about how he will be able to earn a living. If one is properly observant and had proper faith, Hashem will grant him enough of a parnasah to meet his needs.
However, Rabbi Berel Wein, the historian, comments that shemitah had always been a difficult test of faith for the Jewish people. Even in Temple times it appears that the commandment was never fully fulfilled. There were many reasons for this apparent laxity in observance, the most obvious one being the seeming impracticality of its observance. The Torah promised prosperity because of shemitah observance but the people feared the practicality of observing this commandment properly.
Various halachic bypasses to shemitah were created by the rabbis, including an “otzar beit din” (communal farming), “heter mechirah” (selling the land to a goy, much as selling one’s chametz before Pesach) and “prozbul” (assigning one’s loans to the beit din for collection). In our time the shemitah remains a contentious topic with various halachic solutions being advanced, all in effect circumventing the true basic observance of the commandment itself.
While we may not yet have the ultimate faith to take a year off of work, we should at least keep in mind the lesson of the shemitah year: That it is not through our efforts alone that we earn our livelihoods. We also need siyata dishmaya (heavenly favor) as well. In the case of the prospective shidduch, the reverse may also apply. The prospective couple needs heavenly favor to succeed but they also need to plan for their livelihoods and not take years off, hoping that somehow Hashem will provide.
May Hashem bless all prospective shidduchim with success and prosperity. May the prospective couples also lay the groundwork as well by realistically planning for their own futures.
Rabbi Dr. Avi Kuperberg is a forensic, clinical psychologist in private practice. He is president of the Chai Riders Motorcycle Club of NY/NJ. He leads the Summit Avenue Shabbos Gemara shiur and minyan in Fair Lawn, NJ, and is a member of the International Rabbinical Society. He can be reached at [email protected]