Rabbi Yose says, “Let your colleague’s money be as precious to you as your own. Prepare yourself to study Torah, for it will not come to you as an inheritance. And let everything you do be for the sake of Heaven.”
Pirke Avot 2:17
My assumption is that each teaching of Pirke Avot contains a life lesson from the rabbi who shared it. So what is Rabbi Yosi trying to teach us?
- That it is your responsibility, not your colleagues, friends, family, or government, to put forth the effort to earn a living.
- That nothing worthwhile comes without effort; there is no such thing as a free lunch.
- And that the effort you expend in order to potentially acquire something valuable is worthwhile, even if ultimately you receive nothing.
I don’t mean to say that as a society, we ought not provide a safety net to support those who otherwise would not have enough money for food or shelter. People do have legitimate reasons for not being able to find a job that pays a living wage. But when we accept public resources or loans from Jewish institutions, we may not forget that the funds are precious gifts of tzedakah or taxes, and we are obligated to use them responsibly for the intended purpose.
Lottery winners and trust fund babies aside, we earn a living, literally or metaphorically, by the sweat of our brow. Unless we’ve been blessed with unearned funds, acquiring enough wealth to retire in comfort demands effort. Acquiring the precious gift of knowledge also demand effort. For this acquisition, there is no shortcut, no way to inherit knowledge from parents.
We’ve all had the experience of working hard for something, only to have the deal fall through at the last minute. Were our efforts entirely in vain? No – we learn something from the experience that will help us in the future. If we failed because of our own mistake, we can learn from that. If we failed because we could have worked harder or smarter or produced a better product, we can learn from that. The bottom line is that we created something, learned a new skill, gained valuable experience, or learned a lesson that might help us in the future. Imagine all of life’s challenges as opportunities to learn potentially valuable lessons in and of themselves, so any financial benefit becomes an additional unexpected reward.
Of course, Rabbi Yosi is applying this lesson to the acquisition of Torah in particular. So here is an additional lesson:
- Treat the wisdom of your colleague with the same honor as your own, even if you come to different conclusions.
- Work hard to acquire the wisdom of Torah. It is an inheritance that comes no other way.
- And the highest form of learning is to study Torah for no reason other than the pure joy of learning.
Hebrew Words of the Month:
- mamon – money
- kesef – silver
- zahav – gold
- yahalom – diamond