Success and Happiness

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

Rabbi Nehorai says: “I leave aside all the trades in the world, and I teach my son only Torah, as all other trades serve one only in the days of his youth, when he has enough strength to work, but in the days of his old age, he is left to lie in hunger. But Torah is not like this: It serves a person in the time of his youth and provides him with a future and hope in the time of his old age. With regard to the time of his youth, what does it say about a Torah scholar? “But they that hope in God shall renew their strength” (Isaiah 40:31). With regard to the time of his old age, what does it say? “They shall still bring forth fruit in old age, they shall be full of sap and richness” (Psalms 92:15).

What was Rabbi Nehorai’s strategy for his son’s success? Isaiah’s full context: 

Youths may grow faint and weary, and young men stumble and fall; But they who trust in the Lord shall renew their strength As eagles grow new plumes. They shall run and not grow weary, they shall march and not grow faint. (Isaiah 40:30,31).

Rabbi Nehorai saw that tradesmen enjoyed success only while working. Apparently in his generation, income was limited to labor input. Back then, profits were directly commensurate with one’s wares, farming, flock, etc. Physical property is limited, and therefore so was profit. But today, a person can make a few clicks in his trading app and secure great wealth to outlast his years. Today, profit does not depend on physical property, but even projected growth can skyrocket a stock’s value..

Rabbi Nehorai understood that more than a trade, man’s mind is the primary driving force behind success. Teaching his son a trade does not teach him knowledge outside that sphere of business. But teaching one Torah provides one with cunning, analytical and strategic thought, resourcefulness and far more skills that one can apply to all situations. A tradesman will starve when old, but a skilled Torah scholar can explore other opportunities when physically weak in old age and will find ways to sustain himself. More than this, one dedicated to Torah also earns God’s providence.  

But Rabbi Nehorai understood even more. Isaiah said God gives strength to the young. Strength for what? It is the strength to labor onwards. While other youths weary and tire, a youth dedicated to Torah does not. Why? It is because youths who seek money as an end eventually find dissatisfaction with money alone: “One who loves money is not satisfied with money” (Koheles 5:9). God designed man to be dissatisfied with the physical as an ends. Man is designed to find happiness only in wisdom. Therefore, youths seeking success alone become frustrated. But a youth who is dedicated to Torah and wisdom will be invigorated by the excitement of Torah study; he will not weary in his physical labors as he performs them eagerly in order to support his return that day to his Torah studies. Philosophically and psychologically the person dedicated to wisdom is always excited about the adventures he will encounter in his next Torah study session. And when he grows old and his body weakens, Isaiah does not say God gives him strength, but he is creative producing “fruit in old age” and he is lucid and full of vigor.

God supports our two stages of life with what is needed in each stage: in youth man is designed naturally to find renewed strength, provided to his focuses on wisdom. And in old age Torah wisdom again invigorates one's mind and psyche with creativity and complete happiness. 

This is not providential, but it is the natural human design working properly, offering man success and happiness as is God’s will for one dedicated to Torah.