I once asked a very successful businessman who was dedicated to his business, in addition to many passion projects, how he doesn’t get pulled into the passion projects full-time. I guess the answer is in the question. One must prioritize their financial soundness and only then give time to their passion projects. Differentiating between bread and butter and other pursuits makes one think about how priorities work.
I recently read a thought proffered by Rav Scheinberg, zt”l. He asks why the king of Israel had two sifrei Torah, one that went out to battle and one that remained in the palace. He says that a pure and clean Torah is needed at home, as it’s the model one. The tattered one that comes from war must be put back into shape, but the one in the palace is always sterling and pristine. Rav Scheinberg, zt”l, used this idea to explain the vicissitudes of life: We go out in the world and get bruised and battered. But we must always come back to a spiritual home—to the beit midrash—to restore our purity.
With the bread-and-butter approach, I would posit the following regarding the Mishkan. The Mishkan had a basic bread-and-butter tzibur aspect that asked for a giving from everyone, and everyone who gave was part of a collective whole. However, there were those who wanted to volunteer their skills as well, though they couldn’t possibly have learned the needed ones, as they were slaves in Egypt. These people experienced attaining miraculous chochma by God to have skills they never had before. Was this volunteering required? No. But was there room for someone to give more of themselves to the Mishkan? Yes, and with it came God’s wisdom. Imagine in real life, if you go the extra mile, what kind of miraculous divine assistance you can receive.
My late relative, Rav Avrohom Genecovsky, zt”l, was the previous rosh yeshiva of Tshebin. Upon his parents’ request he attained a law degree and finished at the top of his class with Moshe Dayan. He never had to tap into this bread-and-butter degree, but it serves as an example of the idea of bread and butter. In no way am I advocating any approach to degrees. Some people make millions without going to college, whereas others set up solid professions through the college track. The counterargument to this would be the mishnah in Avot that proclaims without Torah there’s no bread, meaning the learning secures the income.
One must always protect his bread and butter and make sure he is responsible with his main profession. His other passions are just as important but are not basics. When discussing the outside world and learning, as Rav Scheinberg, zt”l, says, one must protect his Gemara seder and make sure the outside world doesn’t dominate his spiritual condition. The Mishkan showed that if you want to go beyond bread and butter there are new, creative worlds waiting for you. When it comes to education, the typical bread and butter comes by way of a college degree. But in this realm there is really no definite model anymore: With a skill or other self-propelled business you can succeed even without the college track.
Steven Genack is the author of “Articles, Anecdotes & Insights,” Genack/Genechovsky Torah from Gefen Press.