My Son Works


After a recent speech on chinuch banim (child-rearing) in Lawrence, someone approached me and asked, “Your children are all matzliach, all in learning?” I suppose I could have let slide the implied assumption of the question – success is exclusively determined by whether, and how long, one stays in learning. But I decided not to.

“Yes, Baruch Hashem, my children are successful,” I told him. “But I do not view my son who learns in kollel in the morning and repairs major appliances afternoons and evenings as any less successful.” My response probably took my questioner aback a moment, but I was still not done: “True, this son will probably not be as big a talmid chacham as his brothers. But I do not see him as less of an eved Hashem – not in the way he davens or his dikduk in mitzvos. And I can always count on him to say a dvar Torah at the Shabbos table.”

I was still not done enumerating the reasons I’m so proud of this particular son. Chief among them is the way he took responsibility when it became clear that the money was simply not there to put food on the table. He did not whine or bemoan his fate; he went out and acquired a skill with which he could support his family. Now, he can even aspire to one of the Gemara’s definitions of a full adult – i.e., one who is not dependent on his parents for support.

I’m also delighted to see the satisfaction Yechezkel derives from what he is doing. Yes, there can be as much satisfaction in fixing machines, or plumbing, or electrical work, as in crafting an essay, perhaps more. Both involve forms of problem solving, and as one gains experience one is able to solve increasingly difficult and diverse types of problems. But with the manual labor, there is the added bonus of providing instant benefit to someone and being able to see the beneficiary of one’s labors.

When one fixes the washing machine of a frantic mother whose eight kids have nothing to wear or the dryer during prolonged winter rain storms, the gratitude of the owner of the machine is an added bonus to the payment received. An honest exchange has taken place. It’s not like trading futures, or various forms of financial manipulation, which while potentially far more lucrative, offer no satisfaction apart from the money earned.

And finally, there are the lessons learned that are applicable for every aspect of life. Yechezkel tells me that a number of times, he was close to giving up on a particular machine, when he decided to try one more time or rethink the problem, and that extra effort resulted in a solution.

Most fundamental of all are the lessons in bitachon that anyone in business must learn. No matter how skilled one becomes, one cannot determine how many major appliances will go on the blink in a given week or how many owners of such machines will happen to have the particular flyer in which you advertised at hand.

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lawrence kaplan
4 years 5 months ago

Mark; Now that you have criticized all the commenters, without offering any substantive reasons, perhaps you will favor us with your opinion of the article. What would have liked the commenters to say?

Jonathan Rosenblum
4 years 5 months ago

Please forgive a proud father for posting this letter as an example of why I’m so proud of Yechezkel.

To R’ Yonason Rosenblum,

I meant to write you this email right after you wrote a while back in the Mishpacha outlook column about your son the appliance repairman. I am a mother of a large family B”AH and a few months ago my American washing machine broke down which for me was a major disaster. Since it is not such an old machine, most of the American appliance repairman never dealt with this particular issue. Most suggested… Read more »

4 years 5 months ago

“‘True, this son will probably not be as big a talmid chacham as his brothers. But I do not see him as less of an eved Hashem…’ Now, he can even aspire to one of the Gemara’s definitions of a full adult – i.e., one who is not dependent on his parents for support.”

Are talmidiei chachamim, by contrast, expected to remain dependent on their parents for support?

Avraham Yosef Follick
4 years 5 months ago

I would have said, “If my son turns out to be only as great a Torah Scholar as some others who have worked for a living such as Yaakov Avinu, Moshe Rabbeinu, Hillel Hazaken, Rashi or the Rambam I won’t be dissapointed.” :) Truthfully there are many different approaches to balancing learning Torah and working for a parnassa. Not everyone is cut out to be R’ Shimon Bar Yochai, nor would that be a good thing.

I find the story of R’ Yochanan and Ilfa instructive. When they were studying in yeshiva they were so poor that they were starving… Read more »

4 years 5 months ago

Whenever I read an article like this, I know in advance what every single comment will say. They’re so predictable and more than slightly triumphant in their tone.
What’s funny is that so many of the very same commenters accuse the Hareidi world of “triumphalism” of all things.

dovid landesman
4 years 5 months ago

In my teaching/principaling years, I often was faced with situations in which I needed to engender a lively group discussion. One of the strategies I often used was to challenge students to identify someone with whom they had contact who they considered to be most worthy of emulation. My point was to impress upon them that when they created role models it was important to make these models real people whose laudatory actions and/or characteristics were achievable.
Often they would turn the tables on me and ask that I provide them with an example of someone who I felt was… Read more »

lawrence kaplan
4 years 6 months ago

Great and, unfortunately, a much needed article–at least in some circles. Perhaps you might have also noted that the questioner did not think it significant to refer to daughters. Or is their success to be solely measured by their marrying men who are “in learning”?

Dr. E
4 years 6 months ago

Yitz makes an asute comment. Obviously, Yechezkel found is tafkid and is doing well. But, as a product of the Chareidi chinuch experience, was he ultimately successful BECAUSE of the System or IN SPITE of it?

I’d be curious if a leaders within the System would evaluate this result as a l’chatchila or a b’dieved (unless of course, he is the one with the 10 kids whose washing machine went down right before the 9 Days).

Joseph Cazes
4 years 6 months ago

Kol hakavod to your son and also to you for your healthy appreciation of a learning Jew who supports himself. Unfortunately, too many in learning expect and demand that someone else provide them with their parnassa or that their wives should support them.

It’s time that we all realise that providing a parnassa for wife and family is the man’s obligation. If others are able and willing to help, that’s a great mitsva for them, especially if it will allow the man to sit and learn.

What is wrong, in my opinion, is the prevalent attitude of many bachurim who demand an… Read more »

4 years 6 months ago

What troubles me about this post (similar to yitznewton’s comment)is the fact that it is necessary, and that people find this approach a chiddush. When did this happen? When did working hard to support a family become a source of shame rather than a basic, self-understood duty?

I was once taken out to dinner by a client whom I worked for via internet and was visiting my area with her family. She introduced me to her older son, and told me that he learns in the morning and works in his father’s business in the afternoon. She… Read more »

4 years 6 months ago

Now, he can even aspire to one of the Gemara’s definitions of a full adult – i.e., one who is not dependent on his parents for support.

Where in the Gemara is this?

4 years 6 months ago

Something gnaws at me about this post. Perhaps it seems to me as apologetic; as if the notion of working has to be defended. When can we return to the notion that work is a normal part of life? “Even” those of us who are not in kollel, no? And even more so – in my experience we (the 8-hour professionals) have a harder time finding challenging learning opportunities. Relocation (to Passaic, FTW) was the only way I was able to do this and feel like I was still advancing. From my armchair: let’s see more serious programs for… Read more »

Bob Miller
4 years 6 months ago

When we lived in Oak Park, MI, our electrician, auto mechanic, washer/dryer repairman, and handyman were all Jews. Two of these were Orthodox and one was also a rabbi.