The Only Difference

An elderly gentleman who lived abroad once came to Hagaon Harav Elazer Shach, zt”l, seeking advice. He informed the famed Rosh Yeshivah that he had been blessed with considerable wealth, baruch Hashem, and was seriously considering giving up his business and spending his final days learning Torah in Eretz Yisrael. But his heart was torn. Should he really give up his highly successful business and remove himself from a world he had been part of for so long?

“I will tell you a story,” Rav Schach replied, “based on which the answer will become clear.”

The Rosh Yeshivah proceeded to tell his visitor about Zalman, a Yid who ate each Shabbos at the home of Zevulun, a wealthy philanthropist. Everything about Zalman spoke of terrible poverty: his clothes were bedraggled, his shoes torn, and his face haggard and worn. All week he subsisted on vegetables that were left over in the marketplace after the shops had closed for the day. The only real meals he ate were at the home of Zevulun the philanthropist.

Week after week, as Zalman devoured every last bit of food on his plate, his eyes feasted on the magnificent candlesticks that graced the table. Judging by Zalman’s obvious pleasure in the exquisitely engraved silver pieces, one might have assumed they were his own.

One week Zevulun’s curiosity got the better of him, and he asked his guest why he took such pleasure in staring at the candlesticks. “After all, they aren’t yours,” he pointed out reasonably.

Zalman was unfazed by the question. “Indeed, they aren’t mine. But in reality, why does it make any difference if they are yours or mine?”

“What do you mean?” a baffled Zevulun sputtered. “I am the owner of the silver, and you are a guest at my table.”

Nu, nu,” Zalman calmly replied. “That isn’t such a large difference. On Shabbos, we both equally enjoy looking at them, and we equally benefit from the light they give. After Shabbos, when I go home, the candlesticks are in any case taken off the table and put away until the next Shabbos. During the week you don’t have any enjoyment from them, either.

“The only difference that exists between us,” Zalman continued, “is that I can’t pawn or sell these candlesticks. If you, however, lose your wealth, chas v’shalom, you can pawn or sell them. But if your sole enjoyment is the fact that you can sell them in a time of crisis, woe to such enjoyment!”

“This is the answer to your question,” Harav Shach told his visitor. “Your material wealth doesn’t really belong to you. After 120 years, all your belongings will stay here.

“The only use you have for your money is that it allows you to purchase your day-to-day needs. The amount of money you have put away until now will more than suffice for you to live a comfortable life. Your concern, however, is that perhaps an investment will go wrong and you will lose what you have and therefore need to make even more money. If this is your reasoning, you really are in a bad situation…

“You have more than fulfilled your obligation as far as hishtadlus,” Harav Shach advised. “Trust in Hashem and dedicate your remaining years to Torah and mitzvos, the only real wealth.”

* * *

Within days of issuing a call for donations to the Mishkan, all the necessary materials had been donated. The Torah informs us, “V’hamelachah haysah dayam — the work had been enough.”

The Baal HaTurim points out that the word “v’hamelachah” appears only two other times in all of Tanach. In Divrei Hayamim I, (29:1) in reference to the building of the Beis Hamikdash, it says, “And the work is great,” and in Ezra (10:13), “And the work isn’t for one day or for two days.”

The Ben Ish Chai gives a fascinating explanation about the passuk in Ezra and the passuk in our parashah.

There are two types of work in the world. One is the spiritual work of Torah and mitzvos, and the other is work that is physical, with the intent to earn money. While we are obligated to undertake the requisite hishtadlus in order to support ourselves, we must be careful only to spend as much time as is necessary in materialistic pursuits.

There are three days a year, the two days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, when we manage to put away our temporal work and devote ourselves solely to serving Hashem. In preparation for these days, we find the time to learn more Torah and spend more time in shul, and we find more money to donate to tzedakah. These days prove that it is possible for us to spend more time pursuing spirituality and less time on material pursuits.

This is hinted at in the passuk, “And the work isn’t for one day or for two days,” referring to the one day of Yom Kippur and the two days of Rosh Hashanah.

This concept is also hinted at in our passuk, “V’hamelachah haysah dayam, the work had been enough.” The physical work was limited to the amount that was needed. In previous generations, wise men worked only as much as they needed to pay for their basic expenses. Instead of working longer for unnecessary luxuries, they spent their time learning Torah.