Monday, July 30, 2012

Choosing a livelihood, By Moshe Teitelbaum

This essay was taken from a book my uncle, Moshe Teitelbaum, published for the family. Here is the intro by Rabbi Nosson Scherman The Teitelbaums – Indomitable and Triumphant By Rabbi Nosson Scherman
Menachem Av, 5769

Choosing a Way of Life Part 1. Choosing a livelihood , By Moshe Teitelbaum.

While the following was written primarily for our children at their request, there is much of general benefit contained here as well.

In “Lessons From Our Past”, I mentioned the importance of absorbing lessons from our family background. As the ideas expressed in these lessons are stated briefly, without details or background, some of the children have asked me to expand upon some of the items mentioned. I start with the following, as they relate to making a living, something we are all faced with at some point in our lives. “Al korchoch ato chai, al korchoch ato meis”, v’al korchoch must one find some sort of livelihood to sustain one’s self. Various options will be explained, but doing nothing is not one of them.

As much as possible, a person should strive not to be dependent upon others (“Lo liday matnas bosor vodom, ki im l’Yodcho”), yet by the same token, it takes ten people to make a minyan, so one needs at times to come onto other people.

Each age has its own unique challenges and, while as noted, life has changed drastically and dramatically over the recent past, timeless values remain. We therefore need to know, under our changed circumstances, how to apply these values in today’s world. We also need to recognize that people’s natures are different, and that we are not all created the same, and therefore we need to allow for individualism rather than a cookie cutter, one size fits all approach, i.e. the same for everyone, and it’s therefore important to encourage each individual according to his ability and interest.

The issues to be discussed are really not controversial, and therefore one should not expect any great new insights, yet explaining these concepts, and putting them into perspective, will hopefully shed some useful light. There is no one size fits all, with the best approach being very much dependent upon the person, yet this write-up is not meant to hem and haw, nor to diplomatically white wash a most difficult topic.

The options for how to choose to make one’s living is discussed in Gemora Brachos 35b, where it is noted that the approach of Rebbi Shimon Ben Yochai is that if a person works, what will become of Torah learning, and therefore one should not combine Torah study with earning a livelihood. Rebbi Yishmael on the other hand, feels that Torah study must be combined with the need to earn a livelihood. As is well known, the Gemora concludes that the way of Rebbi Yishmael is for most people, while the way of Rebbi Shimon is limited to select individuals.

The contemporary major halacha sefer, Mishne Berura, points out in his Biur Halacha 156,1, and he elaborates in more detail in the Biur Halacha 306,6, that a person has the choice to follow either path, the one that is most suited to him. (Note: The explanation of the Biur Halacha 306,6 of the position of Rebbi Nahorai, who said, “I teach my son only Torah”, which appears to be in accordance with the position of Rebbi Shimon Ben Yochai, seems to contradict the words of Marasha in Meseches Kidushin 82a. The Marasha states that Rebbi Nahorai merely means to say that by teaching his son only Torah, it does not mean a person is not obligated to find himself a trade. Perhaps therefore, the Mishne Berura will also agree that Rebbi Nahorai is not necessarily in accordance with Rebbi Shimon Ben Yochai.)

Practically speaking, the mode of making a living and the options one has, are very much dictated by and dependent upon the times and location. In years past, Jews were very constrained by the government in what they were allowed to do, and the type of fields they could enter. On the other hand, prior to World War II, the concept of kollel learning was practically unknown, i.e. non-existent, with full time learning as a lifetime pursuit not being an option, except for select individuals. Besides time and location, the available opportunities are also dependent upon the type of circle in which one lives. We are dealing with the world of today, and the growth of a kollel lifestyle, which while spearheaded in yeshiva circles, has relatively recently been adopted also by Chassidic circles and others, and has now become rather widespread, thus a viable option. Again, this is a function of the times, and the circumstances in which we live.

Thus, a young man starting out in married life can choose to stay in kollel, learning for a number of years, more or less, or he can choose to enter the chinuch field, or something related to Meleches Shomayim in some fashion, or enter the business world. He can choose a change of direction at any time, so long as it is practical to do so. Of course, this does not mean that a person is first faced with deciding what it is that he wishes to do only upon entering marriage. Often, this is a decision that should be acted upon, or at least thought about earlier in life, but in practice that is often what happens for better or worse, as that is the time when a person is faced with the need to support a family. Marriage is also a time when a person’s circumstances change, and he has a lifetime partner to factor into the equation, and with whom to agree upon a direction in life.

Well known is the Gemora Sotah 44a, which states a person should first find a source of livelihood and build a home, and then marry, which the Rambam mentions in Hilchos Dayos 5,11. We see, however, that times and conditions change, as we find already in Kidushin 29b, that whether to obtain a livelihood first, or to marry first, is very much dependent upon the circumstances and the nature of a person, and was different in Eretz Yisroel and in Bavel. This difference is also noted in the Rambam Hilchos Talmud Torah 1,5, and in Shulchan Aruch Yorah Daya 246,2.

Clearly, it is a matter of individual choice, and is dependent greatly upon what a person is best suited for by factors such as one’s skill, temperament, nature, and most important, interest. One must always enjoy, or at least find satisfaction in what he does, else he is destined for a troublesome life.

It is well known that the Rambam greatly stresses the concept of “V’lo kardom lachpor bohem”, based on the Mishne in Meseches Avos 4,5, that one is required to teach Torah without accepting a fee, and he therefore forbids making a living from the dissemination of Torah. However, all the other rishonim stress that whether or not the Rambam is inherently correct, in today’s world this is impossible, and by necessity one is permitted to support himself by teaching Torah. This is discussed at length by many, including the Kesef Mishneh in Rambam Hilchos Talmud Torah 3,10, where he points out that today is an “Ais Laasos L’Shem”, and it would be impossible for Judaism to survive otherwise.

In Mishne Torah Hilchos Talmud Torah 3,11, and in Matnos Aniim 9,18, the Rambam notes the importance of one earning one’s livelihood and not to come onto other people. This is based upon the Gemora Baba Basra 110a, and P’sachim 113a, which says “Pshot Nevelto Bashuk, V’al Titztareich L’brios”. “Better skin an animal (non-appetizing work) and do not rely on other people.” The above Gemora says, “A person should rather hire himself out to Avodah Zarah (which is interpreted as work that is foreign to him), than rely on others”.

It needs to be pointed out that this is not at all like a Yissachar-Zevulon agreement, which is clearly sanctioned by the Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Daya, Hilchos Talmud Torah, 246, 1.

Putting one’s self into a situation when one needs to come from Eretz Yisroel, collecting in America and elsewhere, to make weddings and the like, is literally, “Adam Ki Yomus B’Ohel”, and should be avoided at all costs, as that is an awful situation to be in. It is surely not sanctioned anywhere for a person to allow himself to be put into such a situation, l’chatchila. If one has no choice in the matter, b’dieved, that’s another matter. Largely, this is the situation today in Eretz Yisroel, because of the economic situation, difficulty in finding work, lack of proper training, and the desire of many to avoid army service. All this I believe is a major problem, but this article is not the forum to suggest general solutions.

As to an ideal situation, the Rambam points out in Hilchos Dayos 2,7, “Mema’at B’Aisek, V’Osek B’Torah”, “Limit your work, and concentrate on Torah study”. In other words, Torah should always be your primary emphasis, and that your work should be a ‘Taful’, minor aspect. This he stresses again in Hilchos Talmud Torah 1,12, where he states that ideally, “A person should work three hours a day and learn for nine hours”. Clearly, in today’s environment few people can meet this objective.

No person should fool himself into believing that he can imitate the Rambam, who was both the greatest of physicians in his time, and also among the greatest of the rishonim. Few, if any, are capable of imitating the Rambam in this manner. This is like making an example of the most unusual exception, akin to Shimshon Hagibor’s ability to overpower a lion. Human beings as a rule are not capable of overpowering a lion, Shimshon Hagibor being an exception. So too, one cannot, except in rare cases, excel in both Torah and in a commercial profession, to the degree that the Rambam did.

We really do not know what level of knowledge had to be amassed in the Rambam’s time in order to become a physician, and what level of training one had to undergo. Perhaps, if the Rambam had to undergo the type of training that is necessary today to become a top notch physician, even the Rambam himself, could not have become the greatest of physicians, as well as be among the greatest of rishonim.

The Rambam himself writes in a letter in his later years, that he has to spend much of his time in being the physician to the sultan, and he has little time left for himself. Imagine, if he would have had to devote comparable time in his youth to his medical studies. Would he really have been able to become what we know today as The Rambam? Therefore, one cannot compare those times to today’s times.

Our father, as I understood him, felt that the ideal approach is to follow the advice of the Rambam, and while the Rambam’s goal is quite difficult to attain, at least one should today ideally learn half a day and work half a day. Even that goal, except for some individuals, is today difficult to accomplish for most people.

One option, while seemingly different from the before mentioned Rebbi Shimon Ben Yochai approach, is quite appropriate for one who is so suited, that is to make a Yissacher-Zevulun arrangement as mentioned in Tur and Shulchan Aruch, based upon Chazal, and expanded upon by the Chofetz Chaim in Shmiras Halashon, Shaar Hatorah, Perakim 5 & 6. Unquestionably, this puts a great onus and responsibility on the Yissacher to properly fulfill his part of the partnership.

However, it is not necessary for a person to feel, that in order to be a Yissacher, he has to be a masmid on the level of Rebbi Akiva Eiger, or the like. Certainly not, each person can accomplish what he can at his level, to the best of his ability, and a life of Yissacher is not only for the person who is at an extraordinary level, and is capable of applying himself to learning Torah without wasting a minute. Not at all. One must, however, take his learning seriously and recognize the enormous responsibility he has. Then, if he feels he is up to that level of responsibility, and has that level of dedication, then he can certainly choose this approach for as long as he so wishes and can do so.

In reality, in our circles, almost everyone is at one time or another in every sense a Yissacher, even a yeshiva bachur. True, it is an institutionalized Yissacher-Zevulun arrangement, rather than an individual arrangement, so he may not recognize it as such. One who is being supported by his parents or in-laws so that he can continue learning, is in the same position. Or, as today most people marry relatively young, and the life span is on the average far longer that it was in the past, and given that one must be well armed in order to successfully swim in today’s society, it is quite accepted today, that a young man continues learning for some time after his wedding in kollel. Thus, whether one relies on an institutionalized Yissacher-Zevulun arrangement, or an individual arrangement, I believe it’s all the same, and one must be cognizant of the above level of responsibility that he carries.

I am discussing the above only in concept, as in actuality, an official Yissacher-Zevulun partnership has to be agreed upon before, and may require a formal agreement. Conceptually, however, anyone supporting Torah learning, is in the position of Zevulun, as everyone who benefits from some else’s support is in the position of Yissacher. (This leaves open the question, as to what Zchus does one get for paying off a prior debt of an institution or an individual.)

In Hilchos Talmud Torah 3,11, the Rambam states, “Maalo gedolah l’mi hamefarnas mimaase yadov”, based on Gemora Brachos 8a, “Gadol haneneh myegio”. This is also mentioned in the Remo, Shulchan Aruch Yorah Daya 246, 21. Thus, we see the great emphasis placed upon the importance for one to be self-sufficient.
Yet the Mishne Berura in the Biur Halacha (231,1) quotes another sefer in response to a question, “A person who has the opportunity to study Torah and teach students Torah all his life, even though he has to rely on others for support, that he should do that even according to the Rambam, rather than choose to be self sufficient, which will give him little opportunity to learn Torah. Thus, we see that being self sufficient, no matter how lofty a goal, is not the end all.

A second option, is a life in chinuch, and this encompasses far more than only a teaching career. I’m also including in this, all fields related to serving as Klei Kodesh, including rabbanus, being a rebbe, administrative positions in a Torah Mosad or tzedaka organization, outreach activities, or any education related field directly related to Torah, and involvement in mitzvos, such as hashgacha, mila, shechita. As was noted, it is quite permissible and sanctioned today, to utilize all these fields as a livelihood, and it is indeed even a noble endeavor for one who is cut out for it.

A person must however feel that he is working for and serving the Ribono Shel Olom, and not that the Ribono Shel Olom is working for or serving him. There are those in chinuch who one can sense that they want the Ribono Shel Olom to work for them, and therefore are only interested in e.g., attracting the top students, who will make them look good. That is not a correct approach.

There is an important point that while sensitive, is a key point that a person needs to recognize when involved in any chinuch or Klei Kodesh role. It is for me personally one reason, I did not entertain entering this field, the only one in our family who did not enter the chinuch field, as it so difficult for one to attain. The taking of money, no matter in what kind of subtle format, potentially tends to influence a person. There is an axiom in being a judge, “Hashochad Ye’aver Einey Chachomim”. In any endeavor from which one earns a livelihood, one risks becoming brainwashed in some sense, thereby losing the ability to think with a free clear untainted mind. It takes a great person to overcome this natural inclination of being influenced by the nature of his business, and realize that he is completely an Eved Hashem, doing whatever needs to be done, not for his personal benefit, but solely for the sake of Hashem.

As the natural inclination is to want to excel in whatever happens to be the nature of the business, and one wants to be the best in the business, when one works for Hashem, one must always keep in mind, not what is best for my business, but what does Hashem want. To paraphrase a U.S. president, “Ask what it is that Hashem wants from you, not what you want from Hashem”. Only when you know what it is that Hashem wants, can you ask for Hashem’s help in reaching that goal, for without the help of Hashem, you cannot attain any goal. True, this idea is not limited to chinuch related endeavors, but it is certainly much more of a factor to consider in those fields, as it is easy to fool one’s self.

The third option is that of entering the world of business. Business options are varied, and today one has many more opportunities than in the past. Obviously, there are fields that are simply not an option, because of reasons of tznius, the need for special education, which is impractical for many to obtain, and those that would compromise one’s ability to perform certain mitzvos, e.g., Shmiras Shabbos or Kashrus.

We see today first hand the state of the economy, how quickly this changes. In the world of business, people learned this quickly when the textile industry moved to the Far East, and is now being followed by Information Technology. The Health Industry and related fields are forever growing, the accounting field is stable, business skills are always needed, and for a while, the Information Technology field was a boon for many. In general, skills acquired when learning Torah, general knowledge, and interpersonal skills are always useful.

Some fields such as being a doctor, lawyer, or an engineer, require university training. Our father discussed on numerous occasions, the practical problems related to attending college in this day and age. Primarily, there are two factors, one being, some of the curriculum is antithetical to Torah, and secondly, exposing youths just out of school at a young impressionable age to the college environment, is simply suicidal for many.

It is quite true that some of our best people today have come out successfully after going through college, and are today leaders, from whom we greatly benefit. The risk however is great, and one never knows the ones who will come out successful and untainted. We can compare this to a youngster being drafted into a major war, and as in any war, some will come out shining and successful, even attaining the rank of general. In the same vein, someone who spends a year or two in the jungle, overcoming the obstacles encountered and the dangers, will have gained a world of experience. However, which mother wishes that her child be exposed to the risks, and how many sleepless nights will she suffer, until that child comes back.

I recall, that our father, once during a Chamisho Oser B’Shvat speech, pointed this out, and lauded his close friend, whom he did not name, who became a successful physician while remaining an outstanding Yiras Shomayim, whom our father envied in that regard, yet this person encouraged his own children to enter chinuch related fields. I was standing next to this person, Dr. Naftali Bursztyn, who trained in Vienna, as he was trembling, when our father discussed this subject. There are other professionals, who have a similar hesitancy about encouraging their children to train for entering the professional world, likely because they understand only too well, the potential risks.
It’s useful to have frum doctors, lawyers, and all the rest, but the risk of attending college is great. One can always use a non-Jewish doctor, and many have been successfully operated upon by a non-frum or non-Jewish doctor. Yet one area that does however pose a major problem, is the mental health field, where it is imperative to have frum psychologists, people who are truly Yerei Shomayim.

I will give one example. Our close friend, Rav (Dr.) Yaakov Greenwald, who was actually a close talmid of our father, is now a renowned psychologist, called upon for consultations from all over the Torah world. I recall when he was still a young man, living with a growing family in Kew Gardens. He was then trying to etch out a living, teaching English in Yeshiva in Mount Kisco. One could hardly make a living doing that, even if he was paid on time, which is questionable, and he was encouraged by Gedolei Torah, whose names he does not divulge, to enter the fields of psychology, for which one, of course, has to spend time training in university. He chose a Catholic college, Fordham University, as he felt that in that school he would not be influenced, and he was also not at a young tender age, as well as being a married family man. In any case, he was the first or among the first of frum psychologists, of which there are today many more, perhaps not all (if any) as capable as he, but nonetheless, they serve a highly necessary need. This is very important, but each person undergoing such training ideally needs individual consultation with Gedolei Yisroel.

This is not meant as a career guide overview, just to point out some of the considerations. Today, there are options such as being able to earn a degree by taking tests without the necessity of physically attending a university, although you cannot realistically master some fields, such as engineering, in this manner.

In chinuch or in any other field, one should only choose a field that he is skilled in and that he enjoys, as it’s important not to be put into a situation that one enters a field by default. It is always amazing and perhaps even tragic, as this happens too often in the chinuch field, that a person enters a field solely, or primarily, because his father or father-in-law is in that field. After all, everyone knows that the easiest way to become a Rosh Yeshiva is to marry the Rosh Yeshiva’s daughter. Being a son also helps, but that you have no control over. (While in business, one risks losing his business that way, in chinuch, one risks losing a lot more.)

Often, one has natural training and even an instinct to be good at what his family background is, however, would you trust a pilot or a doctor, just because the person’s father was a pilot or a doctor. Does a son automatically become an outstanding pianist just because his father or grandfather was?

Even where one has the necessary ability, it is imperative at all cost to avoid machlokes, the strife that we unfortunately encounter in all too many Mekomos Hatorah V’Chassidus, which leads to Chilul Hashem. While we cannot easily change the world, we can each do our little bit to avoid falling into this trap. Fortunately, our family has a good track record in this regard.


  1. Thanks for a very thought-provoking article.
    Two questions:
    The article mentions the Rambam’s view on making a living – noting Hilchos Talmud Torah 3:11. Why not recommend the previous halocho – Hilchos Talmud Torah 3:10, where the Rambam mentions the terrible things one does when he does not have a livelihood, depending on the goodness of others to support him (and, of course, his family)? The attempts of his nosei keilim to conciliate Rambam’s views with current practice are today unconvincing,
    2. The article points out how today the Yissachar-Zevulum arrangement is not only between two consenting individuals, but also instructional. But in any case, the arrangement has to be consensual. Can the Y-S cover acceptance of the Israeli taxpayer’s money, when most of the tax-paying public does not support use of their money to support people who refuse to work? Is not the political wheeling-dealing necessary for obtaining these funds a perfect example of what the Rambam said in Hilchos Talmud Torah 3:10?
    Kadish Goldberg

  2. It's funny how girls SPECIFICALLY want a guy who supposedly learns the whole day, while they (the girls) work. But if eh climb too high up the career ladder, they are seen as "too smart" for the boys. While it is admirable for women to enter the work force, the above shidduch arrangement is reverse sexism. Not everyone is cut out to learn the whole day, and EVERYONE should be bringing in some kind of money, even as a rebbi

  3. They want what is in. I don't think there is much more to it.


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