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Beit Midrash Jewish Laws and Thoughts Torah Study

The Hundred Keys – Torah and Livelihood

When a person chooses a field of work such as business, medicine, carpentry, or any other profession, he finds a way to reveal to all that the Torah is part of his life. Magnifying God's honor in this way halts divine retribution and brings long life.
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1. "To Do the Sabbath"
2. Shaking Off the Slave Mentality
3. The Weekdays and the Sabbath - Mutually Complementary
4. Do Not Kill Time
5. A Hundred Keys a Day
6. "God Blessed Abraham in All Things"

"To Do the Sabbath"
Every Sabbath morning during Kiddush over the wine there is a custom to recite verses that relate to the Sabbath. Among these is the verse "Remember the Sabbath day to sanctify it; work for six days and do all of your labor" (Exodus 20:7-8). On this verse the Midrash comments: " 'Work for six days' - this is the commandment of Sabbath." This is puzzling. What connection is there between the work a Jew performs in some office on the one hand, and the observation of the Sabbath on the other?

Another verse we recite as part of the morning Kiddush is "And the Children of Israel kept the Sabbath to do the Sabbath for all their generations, an eternal covenant" (Exodus 31:16). What is the meaning of the expression "to do the Sabbath"? After all, the existence of the Sabbath is not dependent upon us at all; it is time-bound! Whether we prepare for it or not, whether we observe it or not, the Sabbath enters at sundown and exits the following evening. It is impossible to prevent the Sabbath from entering or exiting.

Sensing this difficulty, Sforno comments: " 'And the Children of Israel kept the Sabbath' - in this world, 'to do the Sabbath' in the World to Come." That is, a person who keeps the Sabbath here will merit doing the Sabbath there.

Nevertheless, the plain meaning of the verse relates to this world alone. How, then, is it possible "to do the Sabbath" here in this world as well seeing that the Sabbath is bound to time, not human action.

Shaking Off the Slave Mentality
In order to answer these questions, let us go back to the encounter between God and Moses at the burning bush. When the Almighty speaks to Moses from the bush on the first occasion and sends him to Pharaoh in order to take the Children of Israel out of Egypt, Moses says "Who am I that should I go to Pharaoh and that I should bring forth the Children of Israel out of Egypt?" (Exodus 3:11).

Here Rashi comments, " 'Who am I' - Of what importance am I that I should speak with monarchs? 'That I should bring forth . . . ' - And even were I sufficiently important for this, how has Israel merited that a miracle should be wrought for them and that I should bring them forth from Egypt?"

How are we to understand Moses' words, "How has Israel merited that a miracle should be wrought for them"? Can we even conceive of Moses speaking negatively of Israel? Of course not. Rather, we can explain that Moses says to the Almighty:

"The Children of Israel are a nation with a slave mentality. If I take them out of Egypt too quickly, they will not know how to handle their new-found freedom. They might even need a greater miracle in order to save them from the catastrophe that is liable to result from their slavery-to-freedom transition.

"Therefore, it might be better that they stay in Egypt a little bit longer in order to prepare for freedom! That is my own opinion, but since you are sending me, I of course accept the divine command. However, when I speak with Pharaoh, I will request that he grant us three days wherein to worship the God of our faith. Then we will see - if after three days the nation learns what freedom is, we will not return; and if not, we will return to Egypt."

God gives Moses the "green light": "You can tell Pharaoh what you think and feel. Then see if the nation knows how to change its mentality from one of slavery to one of freedom in a short period of time. They do not need a year to prepare themselves for freedom."

And sure enough, the nation receives its freedom. They are somewhat worried and hurried at first. A few days later they become worried again when the Egyptians pursue them. The first time the nation really becomes calm is when the Egyptians drown in the sea. The Torah does not say "Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the sea." It says, "Israel saw Egypt dead on the sea," and the Natziv explains that Israel saw the essence of Egypt on the sea. The story of Egypt was finished. "Then Moses and the Children of Israel sang ..." Only then did they feel like a free people.

At this point God says to Moses, "How many days did you say you need in order to see if the nation is fit for freedom? Three? Now they begin. At the end of three days the Torah states, "There he made for them a statute and an ordinance, and there he tried them," and Rashi comments on this: "At Marah He gave them a few sections of the Torah wherein to engage themselves: [sections dealing with the commandments of] Sabbath, the Red Heifer, and the administration of justice." And so God says to Moses: "Via the first commandment you will see how this nation becomes free and knows what freedom is."

The Weekdays and the Sabbath - Mutually Complementary
The first commandment that the Children of Israel received as a free nation was the Sabbath. The Sabbath is not just a day of rest; it is much more than that. The Torah also refers to the New Moon (Rosh Chodesh) as Sabbath, calling it a "Shabbaton." Yom Kippur is likewise called "Shabbat Shabbaton," and the Shmitta year is also referred to as a kind of Sabbath. What is the meaning of this?

In the Hebrew calendar there can never be two consecutive "Sabbaths." Sabbaths are always separated by working days. Therefore, Rosh Hashanah cannot fall on a Sunday; neither can it fall on a Wednesday or a Friday, so that Yom Kippur will not fall on a Friday or a Sunday. According to the the Talmud this is so that "the vegetables not go bad and the dead not become putrid."

Rambam, however, does not cite these reasons, and from here we might conclude the there is also a concealed reason for this: There can never be a state of two consecutive Sabbaths because Sabbath receives its importance when it is combined with the working days. They give the Sabbath meaning.

The Talmud brings a Baraitha which teaches that the Almighty sheds tears daily on account of those who are able to study Torah yet do not do so, and also on account of those who are unable to study Torah yet do so. Clearly one who is able to immerse himself in the study of Torah all his days and engage in education and teaching must do so. However, one who decides to enter other more secular fields should not feel, heaven forbid, that he is second rate or that he should have done better in life.

According to Rabbenu Tam, a person who deals in merchandise, even if not out of financial necessity but for the sake of material comfort, is viewed as being occupied in the performance of a Torah commandment. Jewish law therefore permits him to set sail for business-related matters even on a Friday.

When a person goes to work he gives the Sabbath its meaning; and by the same token, when such a person reaches the Sabbath, he gives meaning to his work. This is what Rabbenu Bachya writes in his Torah commentary in the name of Rambam: " 'Work six days and do all of your labor' - it is possible for you to serve [lit. "work"] God all six days with the performance of all your labor, like the the patriarchs who would serve God through their shepherding and other physical tasks. 'But the seventh day is Sabbath' - it shall be dedicated entirely to the Lord your God. 'Do not do any labor thereupon whatsoever.' "

When these matters are understood, the words "to do the Sabbath" have meaning. We pointed out that this expression is puzzling, for it is impossible to prevent the Sabbath from entering or departing. We may now resolve this difficulty in the following manner. If a Jew rests all week, when the Sabbath enters he does not "do the Sabbath," but rather "observes" the Sabbath. Only by busying oneself during the six week days does the Sabbath receive meaning.

Do Not Kill Time
When Jacob leaves Laban he tells him, "Had not the God of my father, the God of Abraham, and the fear of Isaac, been with me, surely you would have sent me away now empty. God has seen my affliction and the labor of my hands, and rebuked you last night," and regarding this verse the Midrash states:

"Labor takes preference to the merit of the Forefathers, for the merit of the Forefathers saved property, while labor save lives. The merit of the Forefathers saved property, as it is written, "Had not the God of my father, the God of Abraham, and the fear of Isaac, been with me, surely you would have sent me away now empty," and labor save lives, as it is written, "God has seen my affliction and the labor of my hands, and rebuked you last night."

What saved Jacob from death was his hard work. Once a person grasps this and labors in the Torah joyfully when possible, the growth of one's entire family is influenced in a positive manner.

In the blessings that appear in the Bechukotai Torah portion it is written, "For I will turn myself to you, and make you fruitful, and multiply you, and establish my covenant with you" (Leviticus 26:9). The "Beit Yisrael" (the Gerer Rebbe) asks what blessing lies in the words "For I will turn myself to you."? He answers that the Almighty says to the Nation of Israel, "I will give you free time [from the same Hebrew root as 'turn'], and with this free time must know how to do the right things and not kill time."

One who has an innate propensity to practice medicine, business, or any other field in life, and combines this with the study of Torah, merits the blessing "For I will turn myself to you." When he has free time, he uses it for studying Torah, and then he merits the continuation of the verse, "and make you fruitful, and multiply you, and establish my covenant with you."

A Hundred Keys a Day
When the Tur addresses the commandment to recite a hundred blessings each day, he cites R' Natronai Gaon. R' Natronai Gaon explains that in the days of King David the Nation of Israel was visited by a divine decree whereby a hundred people died each day in a mysterious manner. King David sought to understand why this was happening and what could be done to stop it. Finally, via divine inspiration, he manged to discover that the way to stop the plague was to institute the recitation of one hundred blessings each day.

This, however, is perplexing. According to the Talmud, the idea of a hundred blessings a day began as far back as Moses, for it is derived from the verse "And now, Israel, what [the word 'what' in Hebrew is numerically equivalent to one hundred] does the Lord your God ask of you?"

Another question arises from the words of Rambam on this subject. After Rambam writes that a person is obligated to recite a hundred blessings each day, he lists these hundred blessings - "birkot hashachar" (the morning blessings), the Amida prayer, etc. Why does the Rambam limit the hundred blessings to these specific benedictions? Why is the "She-hakol" blessing, which a person blesses so many times throughout the day, not included?

The reason for this is that, originally, Moses instituted the daily recital of a hundred chance blessings. Every Jew must "finish the day" with a hundred blessings to his name. However, King David announced that the hundred blessings that protect from divine retribution are the hundred blessings that follow a Jew's daily schedule. After all, what is the meaning of blessing? To magnify God's honor.

The Zohar (Lekh Lekha Torah portion) says that before a person enters the world, he is told: "Do whatever you are naturally inclined to do in life, but remember one thing: You receive one hundred keys of blessings. You will see many places in the world, and you must remember one thing: Wherever you go, open a door to me which has hitherto not been opened by somebody else, or widen a door previously opened by somebody else.

"God Blessed Abraham in All Things"
The first person to teach us how to make use of all hundred keys was the patriarch Abraham. He opened the door to God in Ur Kasdim, in Egypt, in places where the name of God had never penetrated. It is thus written of Avraham, "God blessed Abraham in all things." The numerical value of the Hebrew expression "in all things" can be calculated to equal one hundred; when reversed, the expression also connotes journeying.

Almost no "segulot" (mystical formulas for divine aid) appear in our prayerbooks. One of the few "segulot" which do appear in the prayerbook is found just after the Hallel prayer. Here, a person who desires long life recites the verse, "And Abraham was old, and well advanced in age; and God blessed Abraham in all things."

This verse embodies the task of magnifying God's honor in every sphere of life. When a person chooses a field of work such as business, medicine, carpentry, or any other profession, he finds a way to reveal to all that the Torah is part of his life. Magnifying God's honor in such a manner halts divine retribution, brings long life, and provides the strength necessary to stand up to Ishmael.

The Talmud asks how it is possible that on the one hand it is written "The earth and everything upon it belongs to God" (Psalms 24:1), and on the other hand it is written, "He gave the earth to humankind" (ibid. 115:16)?

It answers that the first verse refers to the state before a person recites a blessing while the second applies to the state after a blessing. According to a simple understanding of this explanation, it is the blessing which permits a person to eat and drink.

However, if we penetrate further, we can find a deeper understanding of this explanation. If we really wish to merit "He gave the earth to humankind," we must understand that the key to this lies in our magnifying the honor of Heaven. If we fail to do this, God will give the earth to "a wild man" whose "hand will be against everyone" (stated regarding Ishmael; see Genesis 16:12). It is precisely this - magnifying the honor of Heaven - that Ishmael seeks to foil.

If we succeed in building our lives in this manner, magnifying the honor of Heaven and even teaching others to do the same, we will merit reaching "the day that is altogether Sabbath" - life in the World to Come.
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Some of the translated biblical verses and Talmudic sources in the above article were taken from, or based upon, Davka's Soncino Judaic Classics Library (CD-Rom).
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