ESSAY: A Day in the Life of a Jew
A Day in the Life of a Jew
A productive life requires an awareness of times inexorable
flow and a system for time management. To this end, we consult
a variety of paper or electronic grids in which the days
expanse is segmented into hours and minutes and appropriately
color-coded into time-allotments for work, meals, leisure
The reliance on calendar, clock and appointment book is one
we share with all hour-conscious inhabitants of planet time.
As Jews, however, we are also guided by a more subtle calendar,
a more spiritual clock: the calendar and clock of history.
As Jews, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are as central to our concept
of morning, noon and evening as the suns arc across
the sky; Adam, Moses and King David mark our year as
prominently as the turning of the seasons; and the twelve
sons of Jacob, progenitors of the twelve tribes of Israel,
are as basic to our daily schedule as the twelve numerals
etched on our clock-face or the twelve spiral-bound pages
hanging on our wall.
The Twelve Sons of Jacob
As related in the Book of Genesis,
the twelve sons of Jacob were born from four different wives
and are divided into three general categories:
a) The six sons of LeahReuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah,
Issachar and Zebulun.
b) The two sons of Rachel, Jacobs primary wife and
the mainstay of the house of IsraelJoseph and Benjamin.
c) The four sons of the two handmaidens, Bilhah
and ZilpahDan, Naphtali, Gad and Asher.
A similar division defines their roles as signposts in our
daily lives: the sons of Leah embody the activities on our
daily schedule, the sons of Rachel represent the primary modes
of Jewish life, and the sons of the handmaidens
run as the auxiliary themes through our day that accompany
our every action and endeavor.
Synagogue, Study Hall and Marketplace
A day in the life of a Jew begins with prayer, the service
of the heart. The first conscious thoughts of the day, and its first uttered
words, are of our awareness of G-ds presence in our
lives and our indebtedness to Him for our every living breath. And though formal prayer must by necessity wait
until one has gotten out of bed, washed, dressed and rushed to the synagogue, it is the very first item on
our daily agenda. In the words of the Shulchan Aruch
(Code of Jewish Law), The time for reciting the morning
prayers begins at sunrise.... From the onset of the time for
prayer, a person is forbidden to visit ones friend ...
to attend to ones personal affairs, or to embark on
a journey, before praying the morning prayers.
After the morning prayers, the Jew proceeds from the
synagogue to the study hall for a daily set time
for Torah learning.
From there he ventures out into the secular world
to attend to his material affairs and the business of earning
These three activities are chronicled by the sons of Leah:
Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah represent the various phases
of prayer and its service of the heart; Issachar
represents the study of Torah; and Zebulun represents the
Jews foray into the marketplace.
The Service of the Heart
Prayer is a ladder set upon the earth whose head touches
the heavens. This ladder consists of four rungsReuben, Simeon, Levi
and Judah; or love, awe, integration and self-abnegation.
The heart of man is home to hundreds, if not thousands, of
identifiable emotions. But in a most general sense, we recognize
two primary drives: the impulse to approach and come near,
and the impulse to recoil and withdraw. To the first category
belong such emotions as love, yearning, and kindness; to the
second category, feelings such as awe, fear, reverence and
The repertoire of the heart also includes emotions that combine
both these motions of self. A mature emotional relationship
will include feelings that are both loving and reveringfeelings
that integrate a striving for closeness with a restraining
Indeed, such a synthesis of love and awe is the hearts
highest form of emotional expression. But an even greater
achievement of the heart is the negation of emotion.
For all emotions, whether of the self-extending, self-contracting
or integrating sort, are a form of self-expression;
and to truly relate to someone or something that lies beyond
the self, one must divest oneself of every vestige of self-interest
These are the four rungs in the ladder of prayer. In the
first phase of the service of the heart (which
culminates in the first section of the Shema), the
objective is to develop a feeling of love towards G-d, a yearning
and craving to draw close to Him. The second phase (coinciding
with the second section of the Shema) is the development
of feelings of reverence and awe toward G-d. The third phase
(associated with the blessing True and Enduring,
recited between the Shema and the Amidah) is
the fusion of love and awe in our relationship with G-d. In
the fourth phase (attained during the silent recitation of
the Amidah) we transcend emotion itself, abnegating all feeling
and desire to achieve an utter commitment and unequivocal
devotion to G-d.
In the terminology of Kabbalah and Chassidism, love and awe
are the eyes and the ears of the heart. Sight is the most
intimate of the senses; hearing, the most distant and detached. Hence lovethe hearts
yen to draw closeis its faculty of sight,
and awethe hearts impulse to retreat and withdrawis
its sense of hearing.
Reuben, whose name derives from the Hebrew reiyah,
sight, and who was so named by his mother because
G-d has seen my suffering; now my husband shall love
thus represents the first stage of prayerthe element
of love in our service of the heart. Simeonfrom
shemiah, hearing, so named in response
to the fact that G-d has heard that I am rejectedrepresents
the second stage of prayer, the hearts recoil in reverence
and awe. Levi, meaning attachment and cleaving
(his birth prompted Leah to say, Now my husband shall
cleave to me, for I have borne him three sons)
represents the union of love and awe in the third stage of
prayer. And Judah, whose name means he who concedes
(This time I shall concede thanks to G-d,
proclaimed Leah upon Judahs birth) represents the fourth
rung in the ladder of prayerthe self-abnegation to G-d
we express in the silent Amidah.
Before his passing, Jacob summoned his twelve sons and spoke
to them ... and blessed them, each according to his blessing.
Two hundred and thirty-three years later, Moses did the same
with the twelve tribes of Israel, who now each numbered several
tens of thousands of souls. Jacobs and Moses blessings
express the individual character of each tribe and its distinct
role within the community of Israel.
Jacobs blessings to Zebulun and Issachar were:
Zebulun shall dwell at the shore of the sea; a harbor for
ships shall he be.... Issachar is a strong ass,
couching down between the fences....
Moses parting words to the two tribes were:
Rejoice, Zebulun, in your excursions, and Issachar in
Our sages explain:
Zebulun and Issachar made a partnership between them. Zebulun
dwelled at the seashore, and would go out in his ships to
engage in trade and make a profit, and support Issachar, who
sat and occupied himself with the study of Torah.
Issachar and Zebulun thus represent the other two major items
on the Jews daily schedule. After climbing the four
rungs of the heart to serve G-d in prayer, the Jew moves from
the synagogue to the study hall to bind his mind to
G-d through the study of the Torah, G-ds communication
of His wisdom and will to man. Following that, the Jew goes
out into the world as a businessman or professional, to know
Him in all your ways
and do all your deeds for the sake of Heaven.
For every Jew, whether by vocation a Zebulun
or an Issachar, includes both activities in his
daily schedule. The most involved businessman or laborer is
not free of the obligation to study at least one chapter
in the morning and one chapter in the evening.
And even the most faithful occupant of the tents of Torah
and its most ardent beast of burden is also a
citizen of the material world: by necessity and design, he,
too, participates in the give-and-take of economic life, and
is told that this, too, must be made part and parcel of his
life as a Jew and his relationship with G-d.
Joseph and Benjamin
All the prophets, says the Talmudic sage Rabbi
Yochanan, prophesied only regarding [the rewards of]
the baal teshuvah. But regarding the perfect tzaddik
No eye has beheld it save Yours, G-d.
Rabbi Yochanan, remarks the Talmud, is expressing an opposite
opinion from that of another sage, Rabbi Abbahu, who stated:
In the place that the baal teshuvah stands, the
perfect tzaddik cannot stand.
Tzaddik means righteous one; baal teshuvah
means one who returns. In the most literal sense,
a tzaddik is a person who lives his entire life in
complete conformity with the divine will, while a baal
teshuvah is a penitenta person who has digressed
from the proper path but subsequently repents his failings
and returns to a life of goodness and obedience to G-ds
In a broader sense, tzaddik and baal teshuvah
are two modes of existencetwo approaches to everything
one does in the course of ones day, from prayer and
its service of the heart, to the study of Torah,
to ones dealings in the marketplace.
In the tzaddik approach to life, a person focuses
wholly upon the good in himself and his world. He sees his
mission in life as the endeavor to cultivate his own positive
traits, the goodness he sees in others, and all that is pure
and holy in G-ds world. Anything negative is to be suppressed
and rejected, and utterly disdained. When evil must, by necessity,
be combated, this is to be achieved not by engaging it, but
by rising above itby increasing the goodness in oneself
and in the world so that the evil simply dissipates as darkness
melts away before a great light.
The teshuvah approach is to deal with the negative
in oneself and ones environment: to struggle with it
rather than reject it, to transform it rather than transcend
it; to uncover and extract the kernel of goodness implicit
within every object and force in G-ds creation.
As the diverse opinions of Rabbi Yochanan and Rabbi Abbahu
convey, each approach has its advantages over the other: the
approach of the tzaddik attains heights which no
eye has beheld save G-ds, while the approach of
teshuvah achieves a place on which the perfect
tzaddik cannot stand.
The tzaddiks service of the heart,
undisturbed by any negative emotions and drives, unleashes
the hearts holy passions with a purity and perfection
that the baal teshuvah cannot even hope to approximate.
The baal teshuvahs prayer, on the other hand,
is a wara war between the good and evil strivings in
his heart, between its G-dly and animal passions. But this
war, this struggle, fires his love, awe, attachment and self-abnegation
to G-d to an intensity unparalleled by that of the tzaddik.
And the process of this struggle offers the opportunity to
ultimately vanquish the enemy and transform it into an allyto
strip the hearts profane strivings of their profanity
and redirect them as holy strivings.
The tzaddiks Torah study, unclouded by erroneous
suppositions and false leads, assimilates the divine wisdom
with a purity and perfection that the baal teshuvah
cannot know. On the other hand, the teshuvah mode of
learning, which struggles through a maze of fallacies and
misunderstandings in its pursuit of truth, attains a depth
of knowledge and a degree of identification with its subject
which cannot be achieved by a mind that follows an unobstructed
path to the core of every idea. Indeed, in the teshuvah
approach to Torah, the refuted arguments and the dispelled
falsehoods themselves reveal dimensions of the divine truth
that cannot be accessed by the tranquil study of the tzaddik.
When the tzaddik deals with the material world, he
focuses directly and exclusively upon those resources which
he enlists in his service of G-d; everything else simply does
not exist for him. Thus the tzaddik achieves a perfect
sublimation of material aspects of his existence, and remains
unsullied by his involvement in the give and take of material
life. For the baal teshuvah, on the other hand, the
marketplace is a minefield of negative influences and temptations,
which invariably taint him and, at times, even overpower him.
But his struggle with these alien elements, and his ultimate
triumph over them, means that they, too, become part and parcel
of his knowing G-d in all your ways. Hence, the
baal teshuvah achieves a broader, more comprehensive
service of G-d in his material life than the tzaddik,
for his relationship with G-d includes elements of G-ds
creation which remain outside the sphere of the tzaddiks
The name Joseph means he shall addupon
Josephs birth, his mother expressed the hope that G-d
shall add to me another son.
The deeper significance of these words is that Joseph represents
the endeavor of teshuvah to add another sonto
transform all that is other and alien in oneself
and ones world into a son, thereby adding
it to the positive and holy realm of ones existence.
Benjamin means son of the rightJacob
so named Rachels second child because this was the only
one of his sons to be born in the Holy Land.
Benjamin thus represents the utter righteousness and pristine
holiness of the tzaddik.
The four sons of the handmaidensDan, Naphtali,
Gad and Asherare four motifs that accompany the daily
life of the Jew: judiciousness, engagement, blessing and saturation.
G-d gave me justice, proclaimed Rachel upon the
birth of Jacobs first son by her handmaiden, Bilhah,
and named him Dan, Hebrew for judgment. 
Dan shall be the judge of his people, said Jacob
in blessing him before his passing. 
If you meet a person, says the Talmud, who is forever insisting
on justice, this is a sure sign that he is from the tribe
Naphtali means engagement and connectionBilhahs
second son was so named by Rachel to signify the fact that
I have engaged my sister, and I have prevailed.
Both Jacob and Moses blessed Asher with the blessing of oil.
His bread is saturated with oil, said Jacob; He dips his feet in oil, blessed Moses. In Torah law
and Chassidic teaching, oil signifies the quality
of saturation: the nature of oil is that when it comes in
contact with something, it permeates it in its entirety.
Finally, Gad means blessing and good
fortune. Good fortune has come, said Leah upon giving this name to Zilpahs
As the Jew prays (Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah), studies
(Issachar) and deals (Zebulun), whether with the perfect holiness
of the tzaddik (Benjamin) or the transforming struggles
of teshuvah (Joseph), the four sons of the handmaidens
attend his every deed and endeavor: a judiciousness that measures
everything against exacting standards of right and wrong (Dan);
a sense of connectedness to G-d and perpetual engagement with
Him (Naphtali); a holistic approach
to life, in which one is fully invested in what one is doing
so that it saturates ones thoughts, feelings, and every
nook and cranny of ones being (Asher); and
the recognition that we cannot do it on our ownthat
everything we achieve must be aided by G-ds blessing
our efforts with success (Gad).
Based on the Rebbes writings and talks, including
a reshimah (journal entry) entitled The Daily
Adapted from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe by
. Genesis 29:31-30:25; 35:16-26; 33:1-2, 6-7.
. Midrash Rabbah, Bereishit 71:2.
. Deuteronomy 11:12, as per Talmud, Taanit 2a.
. Shulchan Aruch HaRav (earlier version), Orach Chaim
1:4-6; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 1:2.
. Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 90:12.
. Ibid., 155:1, after Talmud, Berachot 64a and Shabbat
. Shulchan Aruch, ibid., 156:1.
. Genesis 28:12; cf. Zohar, part I, 266b; Midrash
Rabbah, Bereishit 68:12.
. In sight, thousands if not millions of details
are grasped as a single imprint upon the retina;
the mind then proceeds to process all this information,
drawing from the all-embracing image imparted by the eye.
The faculty of hearing functions in the opposite manner:
the ear hears an idea word by word, syllable by syllable;
or it hears a musical composition note by note. From these
sounds, each of which is meaningless on its own, the listener
recreates the idea or the composition in his
mind, piecing it together bit by bit.
It is for this reason that sight is the most convincing
of our facultiesonce we have seen something with
our own eyes, nothing will dissuade us from the truth
of this intimately-held truthwhile something heard
is a more objective and impersonal reality.
. For a detailed discussion of the four stages
of prayer and their connection to the first four sons of
Jacob, see Torah Ohr, Vayechi 45a-d.
The four stages of prayer are preceded by three preparations,
alluded to by the three ancestors of Reuben, Simeon, Levi
and Judah: 1) the giving of charity, alluded to by their
great-grandfather, Abraham, the exemplar of lovingkindness;
2) immersion in a mikvah, alluded to by their grandfather
Isaac, who is described by the Torah as a digger of wells;
and 3) the study of mussar (inspirational and moralistic
teachings), alluded to by Jacob, who embodies Torah and
. Persevering in the burden of Torah, like
strong ass who is burdened with a heavy loadRashi,
. Genesis, ibid., vv. 13-14.
. Rashi on Deuteronomy ibid.; Midrash Tanchuma,
Vayechi 11; et al.
. Ethics of the Fathers 2:12.
. Talmud, Menachot 99b.
. There are two basic ways in which this is achieved,
corresponding to the two maxims quoted above: All
your deeds should be for the sake of Heaven means
that everything one does is done as a means to the end of
serving G-d (e.g., one engages in business in order to earn
money to give to charity); Know Him in all your ways
means that ones everyday activities are not only a
means to a G-dly end, but are themselves ways of experiencing
G-d (e.g., observing the hand of G-d in the dozens of lucky
coincidences that add up to a single business deal,
thereby gaining a deeper appreciation of His providence).
. Talmud, Berachot 34b.
. These two modes of Torah study are exemplified
by the different methodologies followed by the Babylonian
and Jerusalem Talmudssee The Inside Story (VHH,
1997), pp. 275-278.
. Ibid. 35:18; Rashi on verse.
. Talmud, Pesachim 4a.
. Genesis 30:8; see Rashi on verse.
. See Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De'ah 105:5; Likkutei
Sichot, vol. I, pp. 102ff.
. Genesis 30:11; Rashi on verse.