THE SECRET OF SUCCESS

by Rabbi Mordechai Wollenberg [1]

The story is told of Hymie, who was desperate for success in business.

He went to the synagogue and prayed devoutly, “G-d, if you’ll only help me somehow, I’ll give you 10% of everything I make.”

Nothing happened.

The next day, Hymie prayed, “G-d, I’ll give you 25% if you help me.”

Still nothing.

The next day, “G-d, I’ll make you my 50-50 partner if you just help me out a little.”

Just then his wife came running in to the synagogue, “Guess what, Hymie, we won five million dollars in the lottery!”

Hymie turned to the Heavens, “Oh, don’t worry about it, G-d, it’s okay, I got the money someplace else!”

[Parshah Eikev] describes how a person may “say in [their] heart that ‘My strength and the might of my hand made me all this wealth’ [2].” The Torah counsels us to “remember… that G-d was the One Who gave you strength to generate wealth.” [3]

The story is told of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, who saw a man running breathlessly through the market place.

“Why on earth are you running so fast?” asked the Rabbi.

“What do you mean, why am I running so fast? I am hurrying in pursuit of my livelihood!”

“How do you know that your livelihood is in front of you and you are running to catch up with it? Maybe it is behind you and you are actually running further away from it!”

Jewish tradition emphasizes toil, pursuit of livelihood, supporting one’s family, going out into the world and not living a monastic lifestyle. At the same time, we strive to remain cognizant of the higher power that guides our life, to realize that ultimately it is not “our own handiwork” but really it comes through blessings from Above. We are merely fashioning channels for these blessings to flow through and vessels to receive them.

It is this recognition that helps us to remain a little detached, to maintain a certain spirituality even whilst being totally immersed in materialistic concerns.

In truth, all too often we are unable to be absolutely sure whether we are onto a good thing in our working lives or whether we are on the wrong track, whether a particular opportunity or project will yield fruit or not. Nonetheless, when we realize that there is a higher power involved, that our efforts will be successful if that is what G-d wants, we can feel assured that we are more likely to be running in the right direction.

If anyone ever needed proof of this, look at how unpredictable the world is. A top executive could be earning millions one day and fall from grace, losing everything, the next. Somebody else, with no experience, comes up with a brilliant idea and becomes a millionaire overnight. The world is described as a wheel which is constantly turning, like a Ferris wheel. Sometimes we find ourselves on the top, other times on the bottom. When we are on the top, we have to remember how easy it is to end up on the bottom and that it is due to G-d’s providence and kindness that we are prospering, not just through the “strength and might of my hand.” This also enables us to appreciate more that but for the Grace of G-d we might be on the bottom, and to help those less fortunate than ourselves.

In this manner, may we enjoy true success and prosperity in all matters.

(I, too, wrote posts on a similar theme:
https://rabbielimallon.wordpress.com/2011/01/12/blessing-g-d-%d7%90/
https://rabbielimallon.wordpress.com/2011/04/25/reading-pirkei-avot/)

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[1] http://www.chabad.org/parshah/article_cdo/aid/409289/jewish/The-Secret-of-Success.html
[2] Devarim/Deuteronomy 8:17
[3] ibid 8:18