Thoroughly exhausted from traveling all day, Shimon strained himself to reach his destination, a small town known for the incredible hospitality of one of its residents. Famished and thirsty, he anxiously looked forward to a nourishing meal. When he finally arrived, he knocked on the door of the house he believed was that of the famed machnis orchim.
When he asked if he could have something to eat, Shimon was shocked when the proprietor of the house informed him that he was first obligated to chop up the logs of wood lying in the courtyard, and then he would be given to eat. Desperate for some food, with his last bit of energy Shimon did as he was told, wondering all the while how this request matched a reputation of famous hospitality. Perhaps he wants his guests to feel that they earned the food, and therefore won’t be embarrassed to take, he reasoned.
When, at last, Shimon finished the strenuous work, the owner of the house told him to go next door, where he would be given his meal. There, Shimon was warmly welcomed and invited to wash for bread. He sat down at a long table, alongside numerous other guests, and was served a delicious repast. As they sat and ate, the guests began to lavishly praise their host’s extraordinary generosity.
Shimon agreed — but with a caveat. “Indeed the meal is generous,” he said. “But the custom of first forcing a guest to chop wood isn’t appropriate. After all, a guest who is weak from hunger may be putting his life in danger by having to do such difficult labor before eating.”
The other guests looked at Shimon with bafflement. “What are you talking about?” they asked.
After Shimon related what had occurred, they informed him that he had been taken advantage of by an unscrupulous neighbor seeking a free laborer. “You chopped logs for a man who did nothing for you, and the person who gave you this meal doesn’t ask anything from you for it.”
The Ruzhiner Rebbe, zy”a, used this parable to describe unwarranted efforts for parnassah. Contrary to what many erroneously believe, it isn’t the hishtadlus that brings the parnassah. Our livelihoods come directly from Hashem. Like “Shimon” in the story, an individual who spends his days and nights pursuing wealth is actually working for naught, serving someone from whom he has nothing.
Rabi Meir says (Kiddushin 82): “One should teach his son a clean and light trade, and ask for mercy from Him to Whom the wealth belongs, for poverty does not comes from the [type of] trade, nor does wealth come from the trade, but solely from Hashem.”
The fact that we must earn our living “by the sweat of our brow” is part of the punishment mankind received following the sin of Adam Harishon. According to some views, under certain circumstances a lack of parnassah may indicate that more hishtadlus is needed — but this is not what brings parnassah.
Rabi Shimon ben Elazar says (ibid.), “I never saw a deer cutting firewood, a lion serving as a porter, nor a fox as a storekeeper. They — who were created to serve me — merit a livelihood without pain; shouldn’t I, who was created to serve Hashem, merit to earn my livelihood without tzaar? It is only because I sinned, and thus I deprived myself of my parnassah.”
The son of the Ruzhiner, the first Rebbe of Sadigura, explains this Chazal to mean that it was the “I” that deprived a person of parnassah. When an individual deludes himself into thinking that “I” made the right business decision, it is “my” actions that will decide how much profit “I” will earn — this runs counter to the fundamental concepts of emunah and bitachon — and therefore actually deprives him of his livelihood.
The Alshich once stated in a drashah that someone who has total bitachon in Hashem need not do any hishtadlus at all for parnassah; he can stay in shul and spend all his time davening and learning Torah, and Hashem will provide him with a comfortable parnassah.
Among the listeners was a wagon driver who was so impressed by the Alshich’s words that he sold his horse and wagon, stopped working, and sat all day in shul and said Tehillim. Within days, a chest full of gold coins miraculously came into his possession.
Talmidim of the Alshich who had been present at the drashah came to complain to their great Rebbe: They, too, had done what the wagon driver had done, yet they did not succeed.
The Alshich replied that this lofty level applies only to someone who has emunah peshutah, without any consideration or analysis. According to this view, the amount of hishtadlus a person is required to make is in direct proportion to the level of his bitachon.
Another view is that a certain amount of hishtadlus is required even by someone who does have the requisite amount of bitachon.
This week we learn how Hashem instructed Moshe Rabbeinu to tell Aharon Hakohen to take a jar of mann and place it before the Aron for safekeeping.
Chazal teach us that when Yirmiyahu Hanavi rebuked Klal Yisrael by saying, “Why do you not engage in the Torah?” they replied, “Shall we leave our work and engage in the Torah? From what will we support ourselves?”
Yirmiyahu brought out to them the jar of mann. “With this, your ancestors supported themselves. Hashem has many agents to prepare food for those who fear Him.”
Prior to the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, the jar of mann was hidden. But the lesson it teaches is just as pertinent to us today as it was in the days of Yirmiyahu.