a Meaningful Life with Simon Jacobson
Radio Show Transcript - July 30, 2000
Rabbi Simon Jacobson: Welcome to Toward
a Meaningful Life. This week were going to deal with
a popular topic: WorkMaking a Living, Making a Life.
Now it may sound like a non-controversial and
non-provocative topic, but Ill try to infuse it with some
type of challengein a way, some of the most challenging
things in our lives are ones that are beneath the surface or
invisible, not the in-your-face type of challenges,
but things that are just part of our lives and seep into our
rituals and habits.
Work is part of that; we all need to work and
we all need to make a living. Some call it a career, others
call it a profession, still others call it a hassle. Everyone
has a different name for it, but to most, its a necessity.
Some see it as a necessary evil; some see it as the most fruitful
activity that we do.
Theres an expression, You are what
you eat. The question is the same with work: Are you what
you do? Are you what you work at? Or not? These are important
questions because, especially in America, work takes up so much
of our time. If you compare it to European countries and other
cultures, work has never been as dominant a presence there as
it is in our own country, both with the number of work hours
as well as the focus on developing a career and becoming prosperous
(if G-d so wishes).
So work has become a very prominent part of our
lives, to the point where we have a challenge and battle between
work and home, work and vacations, and the general oppression
(as someone called it) of economy or capitalism.
I know people who cannot distinguish between the
work they do and who they are as human beings; between their
souls and their bodies; between their souls and their activities.
Often we hear the expression: my soul has died, or my soul has
been compromised, in the workplacewhether because of the
need to conform to marketplace standards or just simple resignation
(as Thoreau put it, a life of quiet desperation). Regardless,
we simply go to work day after day and it becomes a monotony
Work can kill something inside each of us. The
meraglim, the scouts in the Bible, put it best. When
Moses sent them to scout out the Promised Land before the Jewish
nation entered the land, they came back with a report in which
they summed up the challenge of the workplace in three words.
They said, Eretz oycheles yoishveoh, It
is a land that consumes its inhabitants.
Now who of us cannot say that we have experienced
at least a taste of being consumed by work, by our employers,
by the general oppression, by clients, by the pressures or the
need to rely and depend on others?
How far will we go to make a sale? How much will
we compromise ourselves? Some even question whether work is
fundamentally ethical, because, for example, when you negotiate,
you cannot be up front about everything, you cant expose
all your cards. And a big part of work is negotiationnegotiation
with your boss, negotiation with other clients, negotiation
Theres a statement in the Talmud about work,
even the healthiest form of work, and even the healthiest worker,
has an element of idolatry in it. Not idolatry in the
overt sense, but refers to not being up front about everything
or being completely sincere about all your intentions.
That doesnt mean you have to be insincere
or a crook, or unethical, but the fact is, work is an environment
that is conducive to a form of psychological manipulation where
you convince someone of something. And we all are subjective
in that environment. What damage does that do to our souls?
What damage does that do to our standards? To our personal lives?
Now, given the above, is it reversible, is it
inevitable, is there a way to avoid it?
I said before that work is an inevitability in
the world we live in. As a kid I always used to wonder what
would happen if they just abolished moneyif there were
no such thing as money and everybody could just buy whatever
they wished. I asked my economics teacher what would happen
if they just printed as much money as everyone would need. What
would be missing?
That was my na´ve attitude as a kid, and the answer
I got was that no one would be motivated to do anything. No
one would be motivated to keep their store open, for example.
If you could buy anything you want, why open the store at 8:00
in the morning? You might as well sleep late and open at 11:00
and close at noon. There would be no motivation.
Growing up and hearing that, that on a very basic
level money motivates people, I still grapple and struggle with
the issue. Does that mean that if we were motivated some other
way, we wouldnt need to work? Or is making money only
part of the motivation?
The truth is, in Jewish philosophy, theres
an expression, Adam lamol yevaled, Man
was created to toil. So its not just that theres
no other way to motivate people and the only way to make money
is to work. Theres also a certain area of work that is
part of our fundamental and inherent need as human beings to
produce, to bear fruit. Gratification comes from bearing fruit,
and work allows us not just to take but to give.
A young child, a newborn, is provided for by its
parents, so you cant call a young child a worker. As we
grow older and begin to produce, whether first through work
at school or at a part-time or summer job, and then finally
going out into the workplace, we are essentially producing,
bearing fruit. We begin to give. And that giving element of
work is an extremely great blessing; as a matter of fact, its
how we become G-dlike: that were not just on the
receiving end, but were G-dlike in the sense that we create.
We create as G-d creates. We have the ability to initiate, to
pioneer, to tread new ground.
Thats work in its optimal sense. Yet, theres
also the other element where we work because we need to make
money. It is in that context that work can become very much
a necessary type of evil, as I said, one that just consumes
Theres a story that always comes to mind
about this topic about a fellow in old Russia who was a great
scholar and diligent student who went into business after he
married. He went into the galoshes manufacturing business and
made a killing, because in those days, the streets werent
paved, and so the unpaved streets were very muddy. Galoshes
saved many shoes and it was a very opportune and lucrative business.
The more he developed his business, the moreas
King Solomon says, Marbeh nechasim, marbeh daageh,
the more possessions, the more anxietythe more consumed
he became to the point that his whole life was consumed by this
Years later he came to visit his Rebbe, his great
teacher, of whom he was such a special and dedicated student.
His Rebbe took one look at him and realized that he was not
the same person. He said to him, You know, I have seen
feet in galoshes, but Ive never seen a head in
The Rebbe saw that his head, his mind, and his
whole spirit were consumed by the galoshes. So its one
thing to walk with your feet in galoshes, but its another
thing to have your head in them to the point where theres
nothing else besides those galoshes.
That captures, in essence, the balance between
the two. Perhaps the reason that some of us are so overwhelmed
and so consumed by work is that we dont have another side.
Once we become identified with our work and our job, it becomes
increasingly difficult to pull back and say, what else do I
have in my life? And the way we balance it is usually through
vacation and other things.
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Jacobson: Okay, were back. Some people
use the expression Get a life, which often means,
get a job. Are our lives our jobs or are our jobs our lives?
In talking about the galoshes story and distinguishing
between where you put your mind and your feet, it requires self-appraisal
to determine what exactly are your priorities. If someone were
to ask you, What exactly are you here for? work
is often what provides us with the strongest reason to be. With
your work and your pay, whether in a white-collar or blue-collar
job, if you feel youre making a contribution and you feel
valued there, that usually becomes the dominant factor in your
life. We tend to gravitate to where were valued.
Thats where our souls can get lost. In general,
were drawn by the forces around us and often climbing
the career ladder of success becomes the compelling voice that
defines who we are. After the passage of years, you suddenly
stop and reflect and say, Is this all there is to my life?
Is this how I define myself?
There is one type of situation where someone is
blessed to have a job which is spiritually gratifying and ideologically
invigorating, which of course is the rare instance.
Even there, one can question whether that satisfaction
is generated by the work or generated from within. In other
words, is it initiated by the fact that you yourself found a
job that satisfies that inner drive, or is it just circumstances
that just led you that way.
But its a very special gift to be blessed
to have a job that in some way allows your soul and spirit to
But I think Im correct in saying that most
of us dont have that type of position. The work we do
is usually somewhat dichotomized or even divorced of who we
really are and sometimes who you really are is lost and swallowed
up and is submerged in what we do. Its when work becomes
our identity that we lose our identity.
On the other hand, not to have a job and just
to focus on your inner spirit is often self-destructive as well.
The fact of the matter is, we do live in a material world and
we do need to have galoshes on our feet, and so being, that
becomes the battle and the conflict between the need to find
inner purpose and the need to survive.
Im a working man myself, but I must say,
Ive been pretty pleased that Im able to do a radio
show like this and be the host. Its very gratifying because
though its work, its work that is secondary to the
spirit of the work. In other words, to just sit here and gossip,
for me, is not the objective. The objective is to be able to
share words, to use these airwaves to be able to share something
spiritual, something meaningful, something that can bring some
solace, purpose, meaning, comfort to you out there and to myself.
Thats ultimately the most gratifying thing that a teacher
or educator can do, and I feel humbled and honored to be in
that type of position.
Okay, lets go to Philip on the line.
Caller: Hello Rabbi. You and I have spoken
about this so many times, but what about people who have to
work 50 weeks out of the year just so they can have a life for
What about people who have jobs to support their
families? It may be the most important thing for them, its
what they do to get some gratification maybe, but most of the
time they just cant wait until they get home, though they
put in their time at work, and then they wait for those two
weeks to get their vacation. How are they to get meaning out
of their lives? They cant just quit. Not everybody is
as lucky as maybe you are, to be able to do what you like, or
like some songwriters or people you know.
What about the majority of people? How are they
going to bring meaning to their lives while they have to do
these jobs that they have to do?
Jacobson: Well, you know, I honestly wanted
to hear that dilemma described in different types of terms,
from different people calling here, because to address it properly
requires looking at it case by case. But the point I was beginning
to address was, how do you battle the challenge ofto use
the language its a land that consumes its inhabitants,
and your higher values?
The problem I find is that if you ask them, many
people cannot really articulate, Who are you? Most
people would define who they are by the activities or work that
theyre involved in, and we havent really been trained
or educated in our society to be able to speak about ourselves
independent of what we do or work at.
Try it out with this exercise. The next time you
go out with or speak to a friend, talk about life and say, Lets
not mention at all the work or the job that we do. Youll
find that there wont be that much to discuss, because
the fact is, work is a major factor in our lives.
Ultimately, my answer has to be, going back to
the Meaningful Life theme, is that you have a soul,
and your soul has to be nourished and nurtured as much as the
body. Work can become completely a body effort, but the key
is understanding that theres a soul inside of you and
more important, theres a soul inside of your work. Every
one of us, by somehow identifying the work that we do with some
type of spiritual energy or spiritual benefit that comes out
of it, whether a physician or attorney, whether a plumber or
a computer programmer, every one of us can in some way spiritualized
the work that we do. If you dont do that, the tension
between these two poles will always tug at you and create the
dilemma that youre describing.
Caller: But would you also say that since
most of us start working very young and we dont find out
who we are until later, its even worse? Wouldnt
it be better if we could have gone to work knowing who we are?
I know for myself Im still trying to find
out who I am, but I know more and more as time goes by so I
can look for certain types of things. So people find out later
in life. They get set up in a career, and they think that thats
whats meaningful to them, and then along the way they
have certain experiences where they find out who they are and
then theyre in conflict because they understand more than
they understood earlier.
Jacobson: I appreciate your call and Ill
discuss that in a moment. Lets go to Daniel on the line.
Caller: I should give you my experience.
Im a scribe
Jacobson: In other words, you write religious
Caller: Tefillin and sefer
Torahs and mezuzahs. I find my place in my job somehow.
Jacobson: Does your job ever conflict with
your home life? Do worries of making a living and getting the
bills paid interfere?
Caller: Well, so far so good, as they say!
Im quite independent and I try to do besides my job some
kiruv work, I try to do outreach to people, and Boruch
Jacobson: Where do you live, Daniel?
Caller: Brooklyn. Ocean Parkway.
Jacobson: So let me explain this to the
listeners. Daniel is a scribe, someone who actually writes sacred
scrolls, whether Torah scrolls, mezuzos that we hang
on the wall, or tefillin, phylacteries. When you actually
sit and work as a scribe, a scribe has to sanctify himself as
he sits and writes, he cant just be distracted
cant have the television or the radio on.
Caller: G-d forbid!
Jacobson: Even if youre listening
to my show, you cant do that and write those sacred scrolls.
Do you do the actual writing?
Caller: Not now this minute.
Jacobson: But did you ever do the writing?
Caller: Yes, I do writing. Just not when
youre on the radio!
Jacobson: I understand. Im not a
sofer myself, but when youre sitting there
and working diligently writing those letters, youre actually
doing the physical work using ink and parchment, theres
a certain sanctity that you feel, like youre transforming
the world in a small way. Youre taking a physical parchment
and in some way making it sacred, turning it into something
that can be used, whether to read a Torah on Shabbat, or in
some other holy activity. Do you feel that?
Caller: Youre asking me if I feel
like Im a tool in the hand of Hashem?
Jacobson: Yes. In other words, what does
it do for your personally, and how does it feel to be active
in that way?
Caller: Ive been doing this for 15
years. I become completely nullified.
Jacobson: So you have no ego, Daniel?
Caller: No, Im lying! No, I mean,
I try to be a vehicle. Its very hard to explain but I
feel like a tool.
Jacobson: Well, I thank you for your call
Daniel. I think that part of working, and thats what I
alluded to earlier, is not just about the necessary thing as
a means to another end, which is making money, but its
also a way to create, to produce.
However, the production can overwhelm us if we
dont recognize what the means are and what the ends are.
The scouts made an error when they said, Its a land
that consumes its inhabitants, because they thought that
the physical, material world was an end in itself and they just
couldnt handle that.
We need to be able to see our work as a way of
bringing G-dliness into this world, in whatever it is that you
do in the world. Lets take a physician. You can
say that being a physician is, on the one hand, a very well-paying
job but it deals with illness and with death (G-d forbid). On
the other hand, a physician is someone who heals the body. If
you were to add to that dimension that he doesnt just
heal the body but that the body is a sacred object (because
each of our bodies is created in the Divine image), then a doctor
is not just healing a body, in a way hes repairing the
world in a microcosm. Hes putting things into place where
there may have been (G-d forbid) an accident or a natural illness,
or something that puts your body out of whack. If someone has
his arteries blocked and a doctor comes and does a procedure
that clears them out, even though that blockage may have come
through eating the wrong foods or behaving in the wrong fashion,
the doctor is in a sense cleansing the passages, making the
body work the way G-d intended it to work.
Did you ever see how a newborn healthy child breathes
in a perfect pattern? Its just a pleasure to see. And
then as we go through life, whether through the toxins in the
environment or eating habits, or smoking, or whatever we do,
our bodies become out of sync with the way they were intended
So in a way, a doctor is doing sacred work. Hes
trying to help the body return to the way G-d intended it to
be. Its the same thing with a scientist. Its the
same thing with each of us when we take the many different elements
in our lives and we create organization. Any profession, then,
can be viewed as an opportunity to align ourselves with the
Divine picture of how G-d created the world. In that way, each
of us then becomes a vehicle: were not just working, the
work becomes a sacred act.
So its interesting that its not just
about going to a house of worship and praying and studying and
doing a mitzvah or a good deed that makes us Divine, its
also our workthe place where we spend most of our time
becomes a vehicle for who we are, if we allow ourselves to see
it that way. Obviously, that requires the ability to view it
in that light.
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Jacobson: We have Cathy on the air.
Caller: Hi Rabbi. Well, I just want to
say that Im in real estate and mortgage banking and its
a profession, unfortunately, based on money, how much youre
going to make. Sometimes people take advantage of a lot of people
in this profession, but I really try to look at it as helping
someone and helping people afford the American dream. It really
is rewarding to me to help someone who may not have a lot of
money to buy a house. I just wanted to say that I think Ive
found meaning in what I do and it is very important not to get
caught up in, like you said, the ends, which is money. Theres
more than that.
Jacobson: I appreciate it and commend you
Cathy. How would you distinguish why you are different from
the people in the company that you work for, I mean, do you
think the people that one might consider unethical at their
work are ethical in their own personal lives? Or do you think
it spills over?
Caller: I dont think that theyre
happy with themselves. I dont think they find the deeper
meaning in what they do, either.
Jacobson: If we had more people like Cathy
Caller: Well, Im not saying Im
this wonderful person, but, you know, I like understanding people.
I look at it as helping the person, finding out their goals
and what they want to achieve instead of saying, Okay,
Im going to make this much money from this one, and this
much commission from this house.
Jacobson: Do you follow any religion or
do you have any spiritual part to your life?
Caller: Well I am Catholic but I dont
Jacobson: So this attitude of yours is
something that you feel youve picked up from homeyour
parents are this wayor is it just who you are? I mean,
you are the rare breed so Im just wondering, is it something
connected to your childhood or do you just feel that way?
Caller: Well, I do believe in G-d and I
do feel that G-d will never give you more than what you can
handle on one day. I kind of feel like its our duty, since
we all live on this planet together, to pretty much help each
other out, not by making it harder but by making it easier for
each other, and I implement that in my work.
Jacobson: And youve never had the
personal dilemma of maybe not being unethical, but maybe being
on the borderline when it came down to your benefit as opposed
to someone elses benefit?
Caller: Sure. I have that struggle a lot.
Jacobson: Because you are in a business
where sometimes theres that thin line.
Caller: Right. Im a firm believer
in what goes around comes around.
Jacobson: I appreciate your call, Cathy.
Keep it up and make sure you influence others as well in that
Well, real estate and mortgage banking is definitely
an industry that requires a pretty good imagination to figure
out how to spiritualize it. But I must say, in an interesting
way, besides the fact that we spiritualize the work that we
do through being ethical and charitable, and not just thinking
about ourselves, we can also find innovative ways of introducing
spirituality and deeper meaning into our work and workplace.
I know a guy who has a charity box on his office
desk. He is a high-powered executive, and even though hes
a strong negotiator and he does tough business dealings, the
presence of the charity box, he tells me, sublimates and in
some way has taken off the edge. In some way its a reminder
that theres more to life than your success and your gain.
Cathy touched upon something that I want to address,
that people are basically insecure, so their money and their
amassing of possessions and winning is the only thing that really
matters and they forget about the other part of them. But I
wanted to say that in addition to being charitable and ethicalwhich
is a way to spiritualize the work that we dowe can also
see our work as a metaphor for the Divine, for the sacred.
Lets take real estate as an example since
were talking about it. When we work in construction or
real estate, in buildings, in homes, its interesting that
the Midrash states that G-d created the universe because He
wanted a home for Himself in this world, a comfortable home,
in other words, that spirituality should be at home in this
difficult, material world.
So when we look at our homes, they are not just
comfort zonesoases and places to escape to and find sheltera
home is actually a microcosm and a model of what G-d wants the
entire world to look like.
G-d wants us to take an untamed, material universe,
tame the elements, and create a civilized environment. We do
that in our own individual homes, hopefully, where the home
becomes a reflection of warmth and comfort, and the people who
come into your home feel welcomed. Theres a certain vibrancy
and warmth in a home.
At the same time, we have to see that the home
should become reflective of what we want to accomplish in this
entire world. So when a person whos working in real estate
or mortgages thinks in that way, even though it may not be something
that comes to mind every moment youre at work, it gives
your work a sense of purpose.
Work is actually a metaphor for the Divine,
and this is true if youre an engineer on a radio station
or youre selling ice cream, or whatever work youre
doing. However, it requires that we change our thinking and
focus on how our work contributes to the Divine element.
I once spoke at a medical conference, and I spoke
about the Jewish belief that there will be a day when there
will be no illness and no death. With all the new developments
in technology in medicine and biology, that may be coming perhaps
even on a natural level. At the end of the talk, a doctor asked
me the question, Tell me, if thats the case, that
there will be no illness or death, what will we do? What will
be our job?
So after the requisite joke that perhaps thats
why doctors charge so much, in order to save for a long retirement,
I said, Well, you know, doctors then will do something
really beautiful. Its called preventive medicine. The
fact that they have an intimate understanding of human anatomy
and biology, they will be able to teach us the mysteries and
the secrets of the Divine as reflected in the bodyFrom
my flesh I behold G-d. Our bodies are considered
to be the most mystical of creations. The mysteries, the intricacies
of the human body all reflect on higher and deeper cosmic secrets,
because everything is created as a microcosm of the macrocosm.
And the same is true with scientists and technology.
The understanding of the inner workings of the universe teach
us about ourselves, and the ultimate frontier is when we can
find balance between our understanding of the world, nature,
the work that we do, and our own souls. Thats the ultimate
integration, the marriage between who you are and what you do.
As long as you do not connect the two, they are at battle: the
battle between body and soul, between matter and spirit.
Basically to sum up (taken from Jewish mysticism
as well as the practical side of things), whether we like it
or not, our lives consist of two parts: our bodies and our souls;
our work and our spirit; what you are and what you do. Initially,
they are somewhat dichotomous, and its our job to unite
and integrate the two.
We need to take the time to focus and create a
type of spiritual space which allows us to recognize that we
are not just what we do. But at the same time, and I think this
is the ultimate challenge, we have to enter and immerse ourselves
in our workplaceour feet need to be in the galoshesand
learn to integrate and elevate the work that we do with the
making of something spiritual.
This of course includes using the talents, the
connections, and the money youve made to advance different
causes. But Im going a step beyond that. Even your work
itself, the talents that you have developed, the experience
that youve earned, can itself be reflective of something
I know there may be skeptics out there who say,
We live in a rat race. Tomorrow the stock market opens
up. People are more worried about where Nasdaq is going and
I dont have time for this integration stuff.
But thats just the response of someone who
cant see the forest through the trees, someone who is
consumed with the here and now. And dont get me wrong,
all of us have that challenge. I sometimes also feel that way.
Sometimes youre involved in the moment, thats why
we have weekends, thats why we have Sunday evenings like
this and we have other moments where we can sit back and reflect
and really prepare ourselves to whether thats what we
want to have, is that what we want to gain with our lives, and
really create that type of balanced look at things.
Not that its easy at all. A lot of what
drives our lives is the insecurity of life itself. The fact
that we live in a material world, the fact that our psyches,
our subconscious, for that matter our conscious minds know that
materialism is impermanent, temporary, creates deep insecurity
in our lives. And when were insecure, we hold on to the
eggs in the basket, the possessions, and the pursuit of money
becomes a very strong driving force because it creates the illusion
The more we are immersed in that illusion of security,
the more difficult it gets to allow anything else in.
I find many people who are really kind people,
who may be ethical in their personal lives, who become sharks
at work to the point of being unethical and immoral. Their need
to win has a lot to do with security and insecurity and what
they think is important in life.
Lets go to Paul.
Caller: Hello Rabbi. The church has a teaching
of Boccachio (?) many years ago in history, teaching
people that work was good, but not with the same uplifting spirit:
it was partly manipulative. But I do share your value system,
and then you mentioned Jewish mysticism and I was wondering
if you could say what that means. I dont understand that
Jacobson: Okay, thank you, Paul. About
Jewish mysticism, some call it the Kabbalah, and many of the
teachings that I share with on this show are essentially universal
teachings of spirituality. My own roots take me to Jewish
mysticism, and its focus is the understanding of the inner workings
of what makes us who we are and what makes this world the way
In a way its a form of science except its
not science in the conventional sense. It deals more with the
mystical, psychological and spiritual forces. So to address
tonights topic, the importance of work and its place in
our lives, I gleaned some of what Im saying here about
the battle between the marketplace and our spirit, the battle
between matter and spirit, between body and soul, on the mystical
concept that theres a constant struggle or tension between
matter and spirit. Some call it the struggle between form and
function, between the outer and the inner, between the need
to survive and the need to perpetuate our value systems.
So we have a narcissistic or greedy side, and
a transcendental and selfless side, and in the battle between
the two, many of us succumb to one or the other. Many people
have chosen a life of escapism or asceticism, where they separate
themselves to just live in a spiritual environment and not have
to deal with these challenges.
Most of us cant really manage that and dont
even find it necessarily optimal, and we more or less resign
ourselves to assimilate and we fall into the trap of
our work. Mysticism deals with this struggle and battle because
it this struggle is essentially the heart of life itself.
We liken this to the analogy of the flame and
the wick, where the flame reaches upward and the wick contains
it and keeps it down. So theres a battle between these
two, and Jewish mysticism teaches that the ultimate is to integrate
the two. We dont need to compromise them, but to do so,
to relieve the tension between matter and spirit, we have to
learn how to spiritualize the material.
So its one thing to dedicate some time to
spirit, which we do whether through prayer, study, or repentance
(teshuvah) which is often done during the holiday season.
And I say this for all religions, that everyone has his time
But that still does not necessarily deal with
what to do when we have to go back to work. How do you bring
it back to the workplace with you? In Jewish mysticism, one
of the ways to do that is to look at everything we do in the
world, even the most material of activities, as being somewhat
of a metaphor, a channel, a vehicle, for G-dliness. Every persons
work has its different way. I spoke about medicine, and real
estate, and its the same in every given area.
If you are in a particular type of job and youd
like to know the spiritual metaphor for this, the meaningful
dimension in whatever you do, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us, and well
try to provide that insight.
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Jacobson: A friend of mine who works in
the stock market, in investments, called me a few weeks ago
and he said things are a little rough, times are down. He said,
I guess we got really spoiled because things were really
up in the market last year or earlier this year, and so
hes riding it through.
So I gave him a suggestion. Why dont
you make G-d your partner in your business by making charitable
gifts? Make G-d your partner, because then G-d is invested in
your business of being successful because you have invited Him
in. And as a good partner, G-d will do G-ds part in making
sure your business is successful.
And guess whatof course I wouldnt
tell you the story if it didnt workit worked! He
told me a few days later that it worked.
Now, there are no guarantees in life, but you
see from that that its not a question of the miraculous,
its a question of focus. The fact is, you need to have
optimism and a sense of confidence in what youre doing.
áNow work can be oppressive, and much has been
written about the oppression of work and what it does to us.
For it not to be oppressive, you need to be able to keep your
head above water, to keep your head in the clouds even when
your feet are firmly planted on the ground and in your galoshes.
There was a chassid, a great devout man, who had
a business. At the end of the year he was doing his accounting
and figuring his income and expenses. He wrote on each line,
in January we did this much in income/expenses, in February,
etc., and finally when it came to the total for the fiscal year,
he wrote: Total= Theres nothing besides G-d.
(In Hebrew, Ein od milvado.)
The question is asked, if he was such a spiritual
and devout man that the total was not about money but G-d, then
why didnt he write that on each of the lines: January
= G-d, February=G-d?
The answer is, because if he wrote G-d
on each of the lines, he wouldnt belong in business. He
would belong in a synagogue, in a yeshiva, in an academy. To
be a businessman, maaseh umattan bemunah,
he has to know his numbers. He has to know how to run his
But for him, these were only the means to the
end. The sum total, where all this led up to, January, February,
March, equaled a higher purpose. To keep that higher purpose
as a focus is not an easy thing to do.
Try this exercise. Take out a piece of paper and
try to draw a circle and tell me how perfect that circle is.
No matter how talented you are, even if youre an artist,
youre not going to draw a perfect circle.
Now, to get a perfect circle you need a compass.
A compass has a needle and you stick it in the paper, hold it
firmly, and then you draw a circle with a pencil around that
center. Whats the difference between that circle and the
one you drew without a compass? The difference is that one has
a center and one does not.
No circle can be complete if you do not have a
center. Even with a center, you have to have it firmly established
so it doesnt become jagged and incomplete. If your compass
is continually shifting, you will not be able to create that
The center of our lives is not our work. Our work
is the circle. The center is your spirit, your purpose, and
your vision. The work that you do should extend from
your center, not the other way around.
If you dont have a spiritual center
and the center you create around your work shiftsyou lose
your job or you get older, or you get bored with your workthen
your circle can never really be complete because it is being
driven by the means rather than by the ends.
This has been Toward a Meaningful Life with
Simon Jacobson. I want to wish you all that you are able
to integrate your matter and your spirit, your work and your
life, that they become one integrated spiritual whole, where
we make a home for G-d in the work and the activities that were
See you next week.