Researchers tell us that, on average, we spend 8.8 hours at work each day. Yet, for many of us, our work lives are often divorced from our spiritual pursuits. In a seminal article in the pages of Jewish Action in the spring of 2002, entitled “Finding G-d 9 to 5: The Spiritual Challenges of the Workplace,” Rabbi Yitzchok Breitowitz elaborated on this theme—and this constant challenge:
While we meticulously observe the highest standards of Shabbat and kashrut, we conduct our professional lives blithely unaware of, or perhaps even indifferent to, the tremendous and indeed frightening spiritual challenges we face. Our motto seems to be “Man/Woman of the world from 9 to 5; Torah Jew on evenings and weekends.”
Chaim Yosef Yaakov Weinberg (or Jeff, as he’s known in the business world), in collaboration with Rabbi Yisroel Simcha Weingot, has penned an inspiring volume, a collection of divrei Torah on parashat hashavua, designed to challenge us to confront our often schizophrenic approach to the spiritual dimension of our lives, and to find constant sources of emunah and bitachon in our parnassah-facing activities.
Faith at Work is an effort to explore how ordinary balabatim can transform mundane pursuits into holy endeavors. By placing our work lives into proper perspective—as yet another meaningful opportunity to connect with the Almighty—we can add profound meaning and purpose to our everyday activities. Weinberg analyzes each week’s parashah, weaving throughout the insights of tzaddikim through our history, and a storehouse of personal vignettes drawn from his experiences as a successful entrepreneur.
But before delving further into this thoughtful volume, a disclaimer is appropriate. I have known Jeff Weinberg, a genuine ba’al tzedakah, for a number of years as a fellow congregant of Aish Kodesh in Woodmere, Long Island. Jeff Weinberg is neither a rosh yeshivah nor a rav. Rather, he is a distinguished businessman—a co-founding partner of Meridian Capital Group, one of the nation’s leading mortgage companies. And it is through this lens—indeed, as a result of his enormous success in the world of finance—that Jeff has written this very personal work. Faith at Work is not—and does not purport to be—a scholarly exposition of halachic issues encountered in earning a livelihood. There is no treatment of the halachic dynamics surrounding the myriad obstacles and challenges routinely faced by the Orthodox Jew in the workplace: Shabbat and yom tov observance; kashrut issues when dining out with clients, suppliers or co-workers; lashon hara (whether in describing competing businesses or engaging in “water cooler” gossip); stealing from one’s employer (whether the theft takes the form of time, supplies, et cetera); geneivat da’at (misrepresentation); or the encounter with immodest dress or speech. Nor does this book purport to cover substantive halachic questions relating to the conduct of business or professional behavior, such as wills and inheritance; copyright and intellectual property; unfair competition; oaths; contracts; or the payment of wages to employees and contractors, to name just a few. Rather, this book is about our approach to the workplace and how each encounter with the mundane can elevate our spirit and draw us closer to G-d.
While Faith at Work is not organized thematically, there are several yesodot that permeate many of the parashah insights. One pervasive theme of Faith at Work is the need to recognize that whatever success we achieve in our parnassah endeavors stems from the bounty and beneficence of Hakadosh Baruch Hu—and that the need for such a constant recognition multiplies as our financial and professional successes multiply.
“V’amarta bilvavecha ‘kochi v’otzem yadi asah li et hachayil hazeh’—And you will say to yourself, ‘My strength and the might of my hand has accumulated this wealth for me” (Devarim 8:17).
The concern that man will attribute his success to his own doing is so prevalent, says the Saba of Kelm, that the pasuk doesn’t say, “maybe you will say,” but rather, “you will say”. . . .
The Meilitz Yosher [Weinberg notes] shares an amazing insight. We wash our hands in the morning to cleanse our body of the residue of impurity that leaves its mark on our hands. Why the hands and not any other limbs? He explains that man ascribes his success in the material world to the prowess of his hands—kochi v’otzem yadi. There is no greater impurity than this sort of mindset (Faith at Work, pp. 175-177).
Likewise, it is our purpose to recognize—to internalize—that the gifts bestowed on us are not ours. Parnassah is but a means to an end—the ability to engage in chesed; to improve the lot of others and, in the process, to better serve the Borei Olam. (Parnassah, Weinberg notes, has a gematria of 395—the same as neshamah). The corollary is the equally important recognition that faith can propel us to prioritize our time and our efforts to lead a more meaningful and elevated life. Weinberg illustrates this point in his devar Torah on Parashat Shemot, and the enigmatic command by Pharaoh that the Israelites produce more bricks with less straw:
The Torah is teaching us that the generally accepted notion of “working harder equals producing more” is not necessarily true . . . .
There is a reasonable amount of time and effort that each individual can put into his work, each using his wisdom and Torah guidance. When we step out of our narrow space and acknowledge that, ultimately, our parnassah comes from Hashem, then we can lock up and go home when the time arrives; we can also shut off our phones when it comes time to daven and for family time, as well.
When the Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh was Rav in Morocco, he instituted a three-day work week. The rest of the week was for Torah study. Surprisingly, it “worked out” very well, and the community flourished. When the Ohr Hachaim moved to Eretz Yisrael, the people in Morocco slowly began adding days to the work week until they found themselves working six days a week. However, they realized their financial situation hadn’t grown along with their added work days; rather, they still made the same amount as before! (Faith at Work, pp. 49-50).
In a similar vein, the devar Torah for Parashat Matot illustrates the futility of the endless pursuit of greater and greater material reward at the expense of the development of our spiritual dimension and mission:
Someone once came to Rav Chaim Kanievsky with a real concern. He had just won the lottery and was nervous that his friends and neighbors would be jealous of him. “What should I do?” he asked. Rav Chaim asked him if he had a chavrusa in the morning. “I leave to work too early,” he answered.
“How about in the evening?” Rav Chaim then asked him.
“I work too late, and by the time I get home, I must get to bed.”
“So, I do not understand,” said Rav Chaim. “What would anyone be jealous of?” (Faith at Work, pp. 155-156).
A second pervasive theme interspersed throughout Faith at Work is the obligation to act al kiddush Hashem. As Jews, regardless of our professional pursuits, we are duty bound to be mekadesh Shem Shamayim—to sanctify G-d’s Name through our actions, our deeds and our behavior in the workplace.
Commenting on Parashat Pekudei, Weinberg distinguishes between avodah and melachah. Avodah is an act of doing a specific job, but remaining emotionally distant from it. Melachah, on the other hand, connotes doing a task, but connecting with it in a way that leaves our personal imprint. Treating our workday as an exercise in melachah rather than avodah allows us to leave lasting spiritual fingerprints; how we act and how we speak can not only profoundly impact others but can create ongoing opportunities to be mekadesh Shem Shamayim in all our interactions.
It is our obligation to live “b’kerev ha’aretz”—in this world, not apart from it. As Weinberg notes in his consideration of Parashat Va’etchanan, holy speech and conduct should not be reserved for what we may characterize as spiritual endeavors. “We don’t leave G-d at the train station and pick Him up when we arrive back at home. He comes with us ‘in the midst of the land’ and we have opportunities to seek Him out wherever we find ourselves.”
As Rabbi Breitowitz noted in the article referenced above, “we are slaves both to our work and to the negative emotions that work engenders within us including envy, possessiveness, materialism, arrogance and the like.” Sapped of time, energy and focus by the pressures of earning a livelihood, it is all too easy to lose sight of life’s ultimate purpose and of our very reason for being. Faith at Work is a potent vaccine against the virus of spiritual atrophy and the often debilitating preoccupation with our daily routine.
The gemara in Masechet Shabbat 31a instructs that when we come to give Hashem a final accounting of our earthly accomplishments, one of the questions we will be asked by the Beit Din shel Ma’alah is: “Nasata v’natata b’emunah—Have you comported yourself in business endeavors with faithfulness and integrity?” The question implies not only honesty in our dealings, but whether we imported faith—emunah—into the “secular” aspects of our lives.
Rabbi Breitowitz offered the following suggestion for infusing our workday with spirituality: perhaps, he mused, we should begin our workday with a prayer to Hakadosh Baruch Hu that “what I’m going to do for the next eight hours is with the intention of serving You.” In Faith at Work, Jeff Weinberg has crafted an inspiring reminder—week by week, parashah by parashah—that kedushah can extend to every aspect of our lives.
Allen Fagin served with distinction as the executive vice president of the OU from 2014 to 2020.