Ask The Rabbi

For the week ending 8 September 2012 / 20 Elul 5772

Low on Steam

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Menachem

Dear Rabbi,

I became observant, learned in yeshiva for a while, eventually got married, and ultimately had to go to work to support my family. I remember my time at the yeshiva so positively, and I felt that I was doing something really valuable and worthwhile. Now, I just don't feel that I'm really contributing much to the world, other people, or my own people for that matter. I work, earn a living, support and raise my family, but beyond that I'm lacking that spirit of idealism that I used to have. Do you have any advice?

Dear Menachem,

I'm sure you know that the ultimate purpose for learning Torah is to fulfill it. So much so that although one who is in the middle of performing a particular mitzvah is exempt from fulfilling other mitzvot, one who is in the middle of learning and is presented with a mitzvah that can't be fulfilled by others must stop his learning in order to perform it! This is because the whole purpose of learning is to live it. And that's what you're doing by being observant and also working!

In addition, may I also remind you that supporting your family is not just a mundane requirement – it's a spiritual obligation of the highest magnitude. It also helps ensure that your children receive the type of education and lifestyle conducive to perpetuating and conveying the Torah for generations to come. And rather than burdening the community to support you and yours, you surely help support others and theirs. So these are all great things!

Furthermore, as an observant Jew in the workplace, you have numerous opportunities to sanctify G-d's name — some of which you are probably aware. Yet there are many others that one is not even aware of. This applies to both fellow Jews, and also non-Jews. This is one of the ways in which you can fulfill the mandate to be "a light among the nations". Without going into all the details, just living a Torah-true lifestyle in every way makes you an emissary for G-d to the world and all people in all that you do.

Last, being where you are also places you in contact with Jews who are totally unaffiliated and may have no contact with Torah Judaism other than through you. That's a unique opportunity to either directly or indirectly share the beauty of the Torah, its teachings and its lifestyle with them.

There was once a student in our yeshiva whose situation was quite similar to yours. After learning and getting married, he went to work as a physical therapist in a nursing home. One day while helping maneuver an elderly patient he had been treating, he heard her say, "Oy". He thought that a bit odd because she didn't have a Jewish name. He asked if she was familiar with that word and where it came from. They had a long talk in which she revealed that she was actually from a Jewish family, but married a non-Jewish man, “converted” to his religion, and so raised her children. She expressed regret for having done so and seemed upset about her prospects for "the future".

The physical therapist told her that while he had no intention to criticize another religion, and that surely her husband and children were fine people, it is true that Jewishly speaking she missed out on a lot. But he encouraged her by saying that it's never too late and that G-d would welcome her attempt to find Him through the religion of her ancestors. He asked if she wanted to recite the "Shema". She said yes, and as she repeated after him word for word, he became so choked up that he had to pause in the middle, when, to his great surprise, he heard her finish off in Hebrew "the L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is One".

They continued to have ongoing discussions until one day he noticed that the cross which had been hanging over her bed had been taken down. He never mentioned anything to her about it. But one day not long after that, upon arriving to treat her, he found her bed was vacant – she had moved on. But not before he had managed to share his Judaism with her.

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