My Son Works

After a recent speech on chinuch banim (child-rearing) in Lawrence, someone approached me and asked, “Your children are all matzliach, all in learning?” I suppose I could have let slide the implied assumption of the question – success is exclusively determined by whether, and how long, one stays in learning. But I decided not to.

“Yes, Baruch Hashem, my children are successful,” I told him. “But I do not view my son who learns in kollel in the morning and repairs major appliances afternoons and evenings as any less successful.” My response probably took my questioner aback a moment, but I was still not done: “True, this son will probably not be as big a talmid chacham as his brothers. But I do not see him as less of an eved Hashem – not in the way he davens or his dikduk in mitzvos. And I can always count on him to say a dvar Torah at the Shabbos table.”

I was still not done enumerating the reasons I’m so proud of this particular son. Chief among them is the way he took responsibility when it became clear that the money was simply not there to put food on the table. He did not whine or bemoan his fate; he went out and acquired a skill with which he could support his family. Now, he can even aspire to one of the Gemara’s definitions of a full adult – i.e., one who is not dependent on his parents for support.

I’m also delighted to see the satisfaction Yechezkel derives from what he is doing. Yes, there can be as much satisfaction in fixing machines, or plumbing, or electrical work, as in crafting an essay, perhaps more. Both involve forms of problem solving, and as one gains experience one is able to solve increasingly difficult and diverse types of problems. But with the manual labor, there is the added bonus of providing instant benefit to someone and being able to see the beneficiary of one’s labors.

When one fixes the washing machine of a frantic mother whose eight kids have nothing to wear or the dryer during prolonged winter rain storms, the gratitude of the owner of the machine is an added bonus to the payment received. An honest exchange has taken place. It’s not like trading futures, or various forms of financial manipulation, which while potentially far more lucrative, offer no satisfaction apart from the money earned.

And finally, there are the lessons learned that are applicable for every aspect of life. Yechezkel tells me that a number of times, he was close to giving up on a particular machine, when he decided to try one more time or rethink the problem, and that extra effort resulted in a solution.

Most fundamental of all are the lessons in bitachon that anyone in business must learn. No matter how skilled one becomes, one cannot determine how many major appliances will go on the blink in a given week or how many owners of such machines will happen to have the particular flyer in which you advertised at hand.

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13 Responses

  1. Bob Miller says:

    When we lived in Oak Park, MI, our electrician, auto mechanic, washer/dryer repairman, and handyman were all Jews. Two of these were Orthodox and one was also a rabbi.

  2. yitznewton says:

    Something gnaws at me about this post. Perhaps it seems to me as apologetic; as if the notion of working has to be defended. When can we return to the notion that work is a normal part of life? “Even” those of us who are not in kollel, no? And even more so – in my experience we (the 8-hour professionals) have a harder time finding challenging learning opportunities. Relocation (to Passaic, FTW) was the only way I was able to do this and feel like I was still advancing. From my armchair: let’s see more serious programs for nine-to-five’ers.

  3. Ori says:

    Now, he can even aspire to one of the Gemara’s definitions of a full adult – i.e., one who is not dependent on his parents for support.

    Where in the Gemara is this?

  4. David says:

    What troubles me about this post (similar to yitznewton’s comment)is the fact that it is necessary, and that people find this approach a chiddush. When did this happen? When did working hard to support a family become a source of shame rather than a basic, self-understood duty?

    I was once taken out to dinner by a client whom I worked for via internet and was visiting my area with her family. She introduced me to her older son, and told me that he learns in the morning and works in his father’s business in the afternoon. She then immediately added that he’s looking for a girl who will be a stay-at-home mom, so he needs to work. I wondered to myself at the time, why does she have to apologize for her son’s decision to work? I’m all for learning, I spent several years in yeshiva/kollel before, during and after college and am very glad I did. But why does devotion to talmud Torah have to translate into a taboo against working for a living?

    I applaud Rabbi Rosenblum for this post, but it disturbs me that this needs to be said.

  5. Joseph Cazes says:

    Kol hakavod to your son and also to you for your healthy appreciation of a learning Jew who supports himself. Unfortunately, too many in learning expect and demand that someone else provide them with their parnassa or that their wives should support them.

    It’s time that we all realise that providing a parnassa for wife and family is the man’s obligation. If others are able and willing to help, that’s a great mitsva for them, especially if it will allow the man to sit and learn.

    What is wrong, in my opinion, is the prevalent attitude of many bachurim who demand an apartment and full support before even considering a shidduch.

    They would do well to learn from your son.

  6. Dr. E says:

    Yitz makes an asute comment. Obviously, Yechezkel found is tafkid and is doing well. But, as a product of the Chareidi chinuch experience, was he ultimately successful BECAUSE of the System or IN SPITE of it?

    I’d be curious if a leaders within the System would evaluate this result as a l’chatchila or a b’dieved (unless of course, he is the one with the 10 kids whose washing machine went down right before the 9 Days).

  7. lawrence kaplan says:

    Great and, unfortunately, a much needed article–at least in some circles. Perhaps you might have also noted that the questioner did not think it significant to refer to daughters. Or is their success to be solely measured by their marrying men who are “in learning”?

  8. dovid landesman says:

    In my teaching/principaling years, I often was faced with situations in which I needed to engender a lively group discussion. One of the strategies I often used was to challenge students to identify someone with whom they had contact who they considered to be most worthy of emulation. My point was to impress upon them that when they created role models it was important to make these models real people whose laudatory actions and/or characteristics were achievable.
    Often they would turn the tables on me and ask that I provide them with an example of someone who I felt was truly worthy of emulation. I would then describe the electrician who did the contracting on the home I built in Rechasim/Kfar Chassidim.
    Avi finished his work a few days before Rosh ha-Shana and came over in the evening to report that he was done. I told him that we should sit down and make the final cheshbonot of what I had paid and what I still owed. He looked at me and said: “At this point in time, I need to make cheshbonot with the Ribbono shel Olam; I’ll come back after Sukkot.”
    A few days after Simchat Torah, Avi called and asked if it would be convenient to meet the next evening. I assured him that the time would be fine. I was waiting for him outside my home and he showed up driving an old beat up pick up truck instead of the van in which he normally traveled. I asked him what was up with the jalopy and he told me that his van had been stolen that morning.
    Curiously – although it was really no business of mine – I asked him if was insured.
    “Yes,” he replied, “but the insurance only covers the van and not the equipment inside.”
    “That’s terrible,” I sympathized. “Did you lose a lot of money?”
    “Not a penny more than I was supposed to!”
    Reading Rabbi Rosenbloom’s posting, I thought about Avi and the level of emunah peshutah he had achieved as a working man. I too felt the sense of apologetics that YitzNewton mentions in his comment. “True, this son will probably not be as big a talmid chacham as his brothers” Reb Yonatan writes, and I cannot help but detect a sense of failure or at least a sense of compromise. In my humble opinion, this son, who I obviously don’t know, will face challenges because he is engaged in pursuing a parnasa that his brothers will never face in the ivory tower of the olam hayeshivot. Those challenges have the potential to develop one’s middot and ehrlichkeit in ways that are at best theoretical in the lives of kolelnikim.
    R. Yaaknov Kaminetsky zt”l would often comment in his Thursday afternoon shmuzzin that the meaning of v’asita hatov vehayashar was “ihr darf zein normahl.” Wouldst that the contemporary yeshiva world would set that as its criteria for success.

  9. Mark says:

    Whenever I read an article like this, I know in advance what every single comment will say. They’re so predictable and more than slightly triumphant in their tone.
    What’s funny is that so many of the very same commenters accuse the Hareidi world of “triumphalism” of all things.

  10. Avraham Yosef Follick says:

    I would have said, “If my son turns out to be only as great a Torah Scholar as some others who have worked for a living such as Yaakov Avinu, Moshe Rabbeinu, Hillel Hazaken, Rashi or the Rambam I won’t be dissapointed.” 🙂 Truthfully there are many different approaches to balancing learning Torah and working for a parnassa. Not everyone is cut out to be R’ Shimon Bar Yochai, nor would that be a good thing.

    I find the story of R’ Yochanan and Ilfa instructive. When they were studying in yeshiva they were so poor that they were starving to death. They decided to leave the yeshiva and look for work rather than die of starvation. On the road they slept by an old ruined wall. The young Yochanan had a dream that Malachim were saying that they should push the wall over onto him and kill him because he was forsaking eternal life for this world. Ilfa did not have this dream. Yochanan decided that this meant that he should go back and learn even to the point of mesiras nefesh but that Ilfa should continue and get a job. Yochanan became the great Rabbi Yochanan head of the yeshiva and editor of the Talmud Yerushalmi. Ilfa became wealthy. Years later when they told Ilfa, look you could have been the head of the yeshiva like your chavrusa R’ Yochanan he climbed up onto a tall mast and said he could show how any Braisa could be learned out of the Mishna and then did so.

    There are several points to learn from this story. It’s good to learn as long as you can afford to do so. For some it is good to learn full time no matter what and this path can lead to becoming great in Torah. For some it is better to get a job and support yourself and your family. This path is not likely to lead to becoming a Rosh Yeshiva, but you can still be an accomplished Torah scholar.

  11. Ahron says:

    “‘True, this son will probably not be as big a talmid chacham as his brothers. But I do not see him as less of an eved Hashem…’ Now, he can even aspire to one of the Gemara’s definitions of a full adult – i.e., one who is not dependent on his parents for support.”

    Are talmidiei chachamim, by contrast, expected to remain dependent on their parents for support?

  12. Jonathan Rosenblum says:

    Please forgive a proud father for posting this letter as an example of why I’m so proud of Yechezkel.

    To R’ Yonason Rosenblum,

    I meant to write you this email right after you wrote a while back in the Mishpacha outlook column about your son the appliance repairman. I am a mother of a large family B”AH and a few months ago my American washing machine broke down which for me was a major disaster. Since it is not such an old machine, most of the American appliance repairman never dealt with this particular issue. Most suggested I buy a new machine. Those who said they could fix it, were only willing to come after a week and charge an exorbitant price. I found your son’s number in the newcomer’s guide and called him. Never before had I dealt with a repairman who was such a mentsch. When I got off the phone, I immediately told my husband how impressed I was with his Middos. Your son offered to come very quickly and his charge was lower than everyone elses. When he came, he saw that the issue was a major one that he never had experience with and was afraid to start with. At the end, my husband has a very handy friend who was willing to try to fix it, but we didn’t have the part we needed. Your son did some research for us and then went to the store that supplies him with his parts and picked up the part for us, even though he already knew he was not going to be doing the repair. Then he came back to drop it off at our house. (we live in Ramot). His adelkeit and mentschliskeit made such an impression on both of us. When he left, my husband and I both noted his outstanding character, as well as his committment to learning. (on the phone, he told me he doesn’t start working until the afternoon when his first seder is finished). We wondered what type of family he had been brought up in to have that perfect blend of ahavas hatorah, middos tovos, chessed, and a sense of responsibility for parnassah. I only figured out that he was son after your reading your column and seeing the picture of him at work.
    You should continue to have much nachas from him.

  13. lawrence kaplan says:

    Mark; Now that you have criticized all the commenters, without offering any substantive reasons, perhaps you will favor us with your opinion of the article. What would have liked the commenters to say?

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