Rabbi's Weekly Article

One Man's Thoughts


As a quick review or if you are reading this for the first time, the Rabbis in the Talmud discuss the seven things that were withheld from earth, and are only known to God. The first four were as follows. 1. The day we pass. 2. The day we can stop grieving and move forward. 3. The ways of God’s judgement. 4. What another person is really thinking. All of these aforementioned have been withheld so as not to allow mankind to abuse them.

The fifth one concerns business and livelihood. The Talmud states that God withheld from us the ability to know which commodity will turn a profit, guaranteed.

While we may not know which trade craft will make us wealthy, the Talmud does discuss some trades that are guaranteed to not allow one to become wealthy. The Talmud quotes Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi who states that one such trade is Scribes who write Torah scrolls, phylacteries, and mezuzot. Scribes will not become wealthy from their craft, as were they to become wealthy, they would no longer write these sacred items, and they would no longer be available to the public.

I wonder what Rabbi Yehoshua would say about Orthodox Rabbis in suburbia as far as a guaranteed no path to wealth.

One could argue that we see empirically that certain professions are better than others, and some do create profits. How does this fact jive with the above statement that we do not know what professions/commodities will bring a profit?
There are a number of viable responses to this question. I will just bring forth a couple of them.
I often say that you could have two attorneys who both went to the same school at the same time. They both did great on their exams and both passed the bar easily. Yet, one got hired by a large firm with an astounding starting salary, while the other did not. The other guy was forced to go into private practice and struggle to build his company. Will his company succeed? Who knows?
Another thought. There are these huge conglomerates which at one time ruled the business world. Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., as an example, was a global financial services firm founded in 1850. Before filing for bankruptcy in 2008, Lehman was the fourth-largest investment bank in the United States. Lehman was operational for more than 150 years from its founding. Who would/could have predicted that they would go out of business?
Another prime example is Sears Roebuck, a company with 50,000 employees just in the catalogue side of the business. The company is pretty much defunct. Sears went from 3,500 stores in the country to only 33, and these paltry few are hanging on by a fraying thread.
I am sure that the builders of the Titanic would never have believed that their success could dissipate in a matter of seconds.
The bottom line is that no one knows who will be on top of the world today, and on the bottom tomorrow. And this is exactly the Talmud’s point. Success and failure, growth and decline, profit and loss and riches to rags are relegated to God and God alone.

In the words of Fiddler on the Roof, would it ruin some eternal plan if I were a rich man? Dear God, please guide me as to how I can earn a good living. Is it really too much to ask? Why is this knowledge hidden from us?


God abhors arrogance (so do I). One of the greatest attributes a human being can have is humility. By not giving us insight into where the guaranteed profits are, it makes us more reliant on God and on others, and therefore creates humility. This is the same reason as to why the manna that fell from heaven when the Jews were in the desert fell every day and not just once a week or month. We need to understand that blessings for our livelihood need to be prayed for every day and not just once a month. In the Amidah prayer that we recite thrice daily, we implore God to sustain us physically and financially.

The Ben Ish Chai, a Rabbi who lived in Baghdad (1835 – 1909), has some very practical thoughts on the matter. He explains that if every person alive was told that there is guaranteed money to be made in a certain industry, there would be such a demand on this industry and all others would be abandoned. This would result in abject poverty, as the field would be so crowded that there could not possibly be any profit to be had.

Another Rabbi, the Maharsha who lived in Poland (1555-1631), explained something very similar. He clarified that if everyone bought the same commodity/product due to it being lucrative, the price would rise to unattainable heights, and then no one would be able to afford it. The commodity would then have no value, and many people would get hurt. (The NYC taxi medallions come to mind).

In the Socratic "Republic," Plato famously wrote: “Our need will be the real creator,” which was changed over time into the English proverb, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” There is no question that human beings are motivated to work because they have monetary needs. One of the most debilitating things parents can do to their children is to give them everything they desire without necessitating their children work for it. We are all God’s children and He wants us to sing for our supper.

If you are fortunate to have extra monies, The Chai Center could use your help.
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In my previous writings, we dissected the first three items that were withheld by God that we are not made privy to. The basic reason is that if this information were available, it could create havoc and cause the world to be in total chaos and disarray.

The first item we discussed was death. We are not told the day we are going to die, as this would lead to us taking advantage of this knowledge and abusing it. A person could do bad all his life and then repent a day before his demise, and dodge the bullet. The only ones who definitely do know the day, hour and minute, are the ones who are on death row, and even then the Governor could suspend or postpone the execution.
The second was grief. We discussed that the reason for denying us the knowledge of when our particular grief will end is because God wants us to work on our grief. We need to muddle through it and come out of it with a new perspective on life. If grief were to magically disappear, it would stunt our growth.
The third was how the inner workings of divine judgement operate. We have no clue as to how God views things. Is it the quality of the good deed or quantity? Since God is the sole judge, this should prevent us from judging others, as we simply have no clue.

There is no way to truly know what a person is thinking. We can guess, predict and presume, but ultimately it is completely hidden from us. Even though there are no mind readers to be found, there are people who have an uncanny skill in being able to size up a person’s character in literally minutes. I am not talking about the easy-to-read people like the auto warranty telemarketers as even my phone tells me it is a scam. I am referring to a consummate con man. Most of us have unfortunately been duped more than once. However, there are people who literally have a sixth sense, and masterfully avoid bad people.

The Talmud’s comment that we have no clue as to what is in someone’s mind has a number of commentaries postulating differing reasons as to why knowing what is in someone’s mind is impossible.

One commentary posits as follows, if we could read someone’s mind, we could then insert ourselves into their lives where we clearly do not belong and ruin someone’s design. We have been given a gift of free will, meaning that we are the ones who decide what we should do in any given situation. We are free and clear to make our own decisions and not because someone is nudging you to do it, or not do it for that matter. This gift, by the way, was not imparted to animals, faunae or cherubs, seraphim or any other type of angel. It is only human beings who have the ability to choose to do something, even against its very nature. Therefore, someone knowing our inner thoughts and directions can disturb our free choice, and cause a disruption in the master plan. On a side note, the free will element is why prison is so fearsome. In addition to being surrounded by unsavory people, your free will has somewhat been marginalized.

Another commentary focuses less on knowing someone’s plans and designs and rather focuses on motivation. What is the motivation of the person you are interacting with? If someone does you a favor, you may ask yourself is the courtesy wholly altruistic or do they expect reciprocity of some kind, a quid pro quo? The fact that we do not know the motivation behind the favor is very human and allows us to act as a human. If we knew a person’s motivation, it could, and most likely would, lead to excessive friction and major dysfunction.
In fact, as far as motivation goes, it is pretty low on the totem pole. You see, a major principle in Judaism is that we stress the deed way more than the creed. In other words, it is less important what one thinks or believes, and it is far more significant what one does. It also does not matter what your motivations are, as long as you act properly you are in good shape. As an example; it is really of no consequence whether you believe in keeping kosher, and likewise it does not matter that you struggle with the reasons behind keeping Kosher. The main thing is that you keep kosher. The bottom line is this. Someone did you a solid. Therefore, regardless of the reason, just say thank you and mean it. They did you the kindness, so they deserve the gratitude.

Another problem with reading someone else’s mind is that it is an invasion of privacy. This is another fundamental principle. I cannot begin to explain the great lengths Jewish law goes into respecting someone’s privacy. Did you know that according to rabbinic law, by simply opening another person’s mail one can be severely punished by excommunication as it is considered a vile invasion of privacy? Likewise, when a woman makes an appointment to go to the Mikvah (ritual bath after menses), no one else is privy to the name and time except for the Mikvah attendant. Privacy is a virtue to be pursued.
If you want to know what I am thinking, give me a shout at [email protected]. Otherwise, you will never know.

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In my previous thoughts, we have attempted to dissect the Talmud’s first two of seven things withheld from human beings by God.
As a reminder, the first two were 1. We do not know the day we will pass and 2. We do not know the day we will recover from mentally suffering from loss or trauma.
This article will focus on the third item on the Talmud’s list. Namely, human beings have no true understanding of judgement or opinion.

Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (1040–1105), best known as Rashi, is world renowned for his comprehensive commentaries on the Bible and the Babylonian Talmud. In fact, all editions of the Talmud published since the 1520s have included Rashi’s commentary in the margins. His annotations on the Bible have become a foundational element of Jewish education to this day.

Rashi offers two explanations on what this vague line in the Talmud actually means.
His first analysis is that the Talmud is referring to fake news due to lack of humans verifying the information given. I believe that this is the first time that term fake news has been introduced.
He posits that most people judge matters erroneously. When we hear someone opine on a matter, we often accept that opinion as fact, and we have no interest in further verifying if it is indeed true. For whatever reason says Rashi, most people do not plumb the depths of a statement to assess its veracity.
This is now truer than ever.
As someone who has become politically independent, I was always amazed when I used to check out the various news stations. I found it fascinating (and repulsive) that the differences in the reporting (being offered as actual and factual news) was diametrically opposite from one another. It was hard for me to fathom that the news outlets were even talking about the same country, let alone issue!
To be honest, I have a hard time blaming God for our gullibility. I believe that God created us with this flaw not to revel in, but rather work on ourselves to remove our naiveté. 

The second explanation that Rashi offers is more of a strictly Godly phenomenon. Rashi explains that how the heavenly court judges a person/soul, whether while in a physical body or after our bodies are interred, is completely withheld from us. We have no concept of how Godly judgement is determined.
While it is true that we do have a semblance of a justice system, and we have somewhat figured out how to dispense justice to mortal beings, it is far from perfect. Aside from the fact that a judge, jury and attorneys can make mistakes, or worse, pervert justice, we still have no clue how to adjudicate cases that are not the run of the mill or are extremely hard to judge due to the complex, intricate and multifaceted issues that arise. The very fact that there was slavery in the world is a miscarriage of justice. The very idea of anti-Semitism is because our judgement went awry.

God’s justice is perfect. However, the workings and mechanisms of the heavenly justice system have been withheld from us. An example the Ben Ish Chai gives is as follows. There may be 10 people who commit the same trespass against God, and yet the punishment/correction meted out is completely different. This is so because God knows the thoughts lying in the deep recesses of a human’s brain, and therefore knows the nuances that led up to this trespass. In other words, it is not only about the actual infraction, but rather, more importantly, what led up to this that caused this person to act contrary to what is proper.

Another fundamental reason as to why God’s sense of justice is vastly different from ours is because God is the final and ultimate arbitrator of which acts are greater than others. Our human brain gravitates to larger acts being greater than smaller deeds. God, however, has a completely different notion of what that means. I once heard an example of this. A poor person who is down on his luck on public assistance who gives $5 to charity is way more impressive than a million-dollar donation from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. (Hey Jeff, The Chai Center will be very impressed though). Why is this so? Because the $5 is way more meaningful to God as this poor person has literally given his life, blood, sweat and tears to charity. While it is true that The Chai Center can accomplish much more with a million than with five dollars, this fact does not negate the incredible lofty level of sacrifice of the five dollar donation in the eyes of God.

In this world, you only have so many ways to correct the wrongs that a person did. A judge can give probation, a fine, suspend a license, and sentence jail time or capital punishment. God, on the other hand, has more items at His disposal. God’s toolbox is limitless. In addition to physical punishments/corrections mentioned above, God has control over body, soul, health, happiness, life and death and livelihood. Of course, God has reincarnation, transmigration, as well as heaven and purgatory at His disposal. There are more wrenches in God’s toolbox than all of Matco’s, past, present and future sales.

In conclusion, God’s justice is true justice as God is infallible. A human being, even a judge on a bench for 40 years, can be duped, conned, bribed or cheated. Not so the “big guy.”  God is above reproach and therefore cannot be induced or persuaded. The Mishna tells us that God will not overlook anything, and time does not change anything. The Mishna also says that just one minute of true remorse, regret and resolve is a game changer as far as consequences are concerned.
Ultimately, we live in God’s country and abide by His rules.

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