Yakov Saacks

The 7 things that were withheld from humans: #5 How we will earn our money

As a quick review or if you are reading this for the first time, the Rabbis in the Talmud discuss the seven things that were withheld from earth, and are only known to God.

The first four were as follows. 1. The day we pass. 2. The day we can stop grieving and move forward. 3. The ways of God’s judgement. 4. What another person is really thinking.  All of these aforementioned have been withheld so as not to allow mankind to abuse them.

The fifth one concerns business and livelihood. The Talmud states that God withheld from us the ability to know which commodity will turn a profit, guaranteed.


While we may not know which trade craft will make us wealthy, the Talmud does discuss some trades that are guaranteed to not allow one to become wealthy. The Talmud quotes Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi who states that one such trade is Scribes who write Torah scrolls, phylacteries, and mezuzot. Scribes will not become wealthy from their craft, as were they to become wealthy, they would no longer write these sacred items, and they would no longer be available to the public.

I wonder what Rabbi Yehoshua would say about Orthodox Rabbis in suburbia as far as a guaranteed no path to wealth.


One could argue that we see empirically that certain professions are better than others, and some do create profits. How does this fact jive with the above statement that we do not know what professions/commodities will bring a profit?

There are a number of viable responses to this question. I will just bring forth a couple of them.

I often say that you could have two attorneys who both went to the same school at the same time. They both did great on their exams and both passed the bar easily. Yet, one got hired by a large firm with an astounding starting salary, while the other did not. The other guy was forced to go into private practice and struggle to build his company. Will his company succeed? Who knows?

Another thought. There are these huge conglomerates which at one time ruled the business world. Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., as an example, was a global financial services firm founded in 1850. Before filing for bankruptcy in 2008, Lehman was the fourth-largest investment bank in the United States. Lehman was operational for more than 150 years from its founding. Who would/could have predicted that they would go out of business?

Another prime example is Sears Roebuck, a company with 50,000 employees just in the catalogue side of the business. The company is pretty much defunct. Sears went from 3,500 stores in the country to only 33, and these paltry few are hanging on by a fraying thread.

I am sure that the builders of the Titanic would never have believed that their success could dissipate in a matter of seconds.

The bottom line is that no one knows who will be on top of the world today, and on the bottom tomorrow. And this is exactly the Talmud’s point. Success and failure, growth and decline, profit and loss and riches to rags are relegated to God and God alone.


In the words of Fiddler on the Roof, would it ruin some eternal plan if I were a rich man? Dear God, please guide me as to how I can earn a good living. Is it really too much to ask? Why is this knowledge hidden from us?


God abhors arrogance (so do I). One of the greatest attributes a human being can have is humility. By not giving us insight into where the guaranteed profits are, it makes us more reliant on God and on others, and therefore creates humility. This is the same reason as to why the manna that fell from heaven when the Jews were in the desert fell every day and not just once a week or month. We need to understand that blessings for our livelihood need to be prayed for every day and not just once a month. In the Amidah prayer that we recite thrice daily, we implore God to sustain us physically and financially.


The Ben Ish Chai, a Rabbi who lived in Baghdad (1835 – 1909), has some very practical thoughts on the matter. He explains that if every person alive was told that there is guaranteed money to be made in a certain industry, there would be such a demand on this industry and all others would be abandoned. This would result in abject poverty, as the field would be so crowded that there could not possibly be any profit to be had.


Another Rabbi, the Maharsha who lived in Poland (1555-1631), explained something very similar. He clarified that if everyone bought the same commodity/product due to it being lucrative, the price would rise to unattainable heights, and then no one would be able to afford it. The commodity would then have no value, and many people would get hurt. (The NYC taxi medallions come to mind).


In the Socratic “Republic,” Plato famously wrote: “Our need will be the real creator,” which was changed over time into the English proverb, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” There is no question that human beings are motivated to work because they have monetary needs. One of the most debilitating things parents can do to their children is to give them everything they desire without necessitating their children work for it. We are all God’s children and He wants us to sing for our supper.

If you are fortunate to have extra monies, The Chai Center could use your help.

Please feel free to share.

About the Author
Rabbi Yakov Saacks is the founder and director of The Chai Center, Dix Hills, NY. The Chai Center has been nicknamed by some as New York's most Unorthodox Orthodox Center.