Personal Fulfillment: Not Physical

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

Reader: I recall reading on an essay quoting Rabbi Chait: “One cannot find fulfillment in the physical.” How does that square with the Gemara that Hashem made everyone's craft appear beautiful in his eyes? Are you going to say that the feeling stems from the yetzer harah?

—Alex Kahgan

Rabbi: Rabbi Chait means that fulfillment—“true happiness”—cannot be found in the physical world alone. While we require and enjoy food and sexual gratification, these alone do not address man's non-physical element—his soul—which is the source of true happiness. If the soul/mind is disengaged, no other pursuit will compensate to provide happiness. We simply are not designed to be happy from purely physical pursuits, as this ignores our intellect which requires activity for man to find satisfaction throughout life. Conversely, even a poor Torah scholar finds the deepest happiness in his studies. Certainly a Torah scholar who is not poor will have less stress, but the poor and rich man both find the greatest enjoyment in wisdom. This addresses why pure physical existence does not provide fulfillment.

But this speaks nothing about enjoying one’s trade. The saying above indicates that in God’s kindness, He designed man with varying personality types. Based on his personality, man seeks a livelihood and pursuits complying with his nature. Since a certain man selected one trade over another, this indicates his preference of activity, which naturally complies with his psychological make up, and this compliance produces an easier and happier existence. That's what it means that “everyone's craft appears beautiful in his own eyes”: the trade he chose is due to his personality leanings, and is what he favors. And yes, this preference stems from man’s instinctual element. We must not belittle our instincts since they are God’s creations. And when used properly like any other creation, they contribute to man's well-being. 

Physical pursuits alone do not provide happiness. But as man needs to provide for himself, God was kind in creating man where he selects a trade that complies with his unique personality. Labor alone will not provide happiness, but as it is needed, God was kind to man by creating him with a sense of satisfaction in activities he prefers. Man's selection and satisfaction are both instinctual and are a good when combined with a Torah lifestyle: “Rabban Gamaliel the son of Rabbi Judah Hanasi said: ‘Excellent is the study of the Torah when combined with a worldly occupation, for toil in them both keeps sin out of one’s mind’” (Avos 2:2). 

A second kindness is that as God creates people with varying interests, this sustains the world. For if every man preferred silversmithing, and there were no farmers, shepherds, carpenters, shoemakers, or weavers…man would perish as there would be no crops, homes, or clothing. God's plan of man being diversified in his preferences sustains the world.