New Year: God Fixes our Sustenance

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

 All of man's sustenance is decided for him between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, except for his needs for Shabbos, holidays, and his son’s Torah study needs. In these 3, if man spends more there will be added to his lot, and if he spends less it will be detracted from his lot. (Beitza 16a)

 What principle demands man’s needs be determined by yearly intervals? Certainly this is curious, as another talmudic discussion (Rosh Hashanna 16a) offers 2 alternative views: a) man is judged daily, b) man is judged every moment. The second question is what is the unique nature of the 3 exceptions; why aren’t man’s expenditures on other mitzvahs like tefillin and tzitzis also exceptions? And the third question is this principle that a person receives more when he spends more, and less when he spends less.

God’s determination of man’s yearly sustenance means that no matter how much he labors, man’s yearly sustenance has been fixed. God wishes man to depend on Him for his life, so He fixes our yearly bounty. However, if man’s relationship to his produce is an expression of his attachment to Torah wisdom, i.e., he uses more food on shabbos and holidays as he wishes to honor these days and for the principles for which they stand, then he is not abusing his yearly produce, but using it properly. In this case, God replenishes what he consumed. The same applies to needs for his son’s Torah study. 

These 3 areas relate to man’s sustenance, his food. Other matters like tefillin and tzitzis are not matters of food so they are not relevant to man subsistence. These other matters are purchased with silver or money, and do not affect man’s stores of produce. Man must be wise about his rations.

Regarding the 3-way argument over when man is judged, I suggest the following. One being judged yearly and then his fate being sealed 10 days later on Yom Kippur intends to offer man novelty, which translates into value. This view considers a yearly judgment as something infrequent enough to captivate man through its novelty. This position views frequency as that which belittles man’s estimation. So man’s judgment must be infrequent.

The second view says man is judged daily. This is because as man has many fleeting emotions and thoughts, he requires a full day’s span to allow decisions to brew, for his emotions to settle, and to consider all he has done during a full day. What he remains committed to at day’s end expresses his true values, for which he is judged.

The final view says that man is judged every moment, as this view says man is responsible for all his decisions and actions, which express his values. Yes, he may sin and repent, but at the time of sinning, man has expressed a value for which he is responsible. This view is not as forgiving as the previous view that allows man slack and time to recover or rebound from various decisions throughout the day. 

Regardless of the view, all agree that man requires knowledge that he is judged. For without a sense of responsibility and reward and punishment, very few people will act like Abraham our father and follow what is true and God’s will for its own value. Man initially requires fear of punishment, until he follows Torah laws and engages Torah wisdom for sufficient time to recognize its inherent good, when he would ultimately follow a Torah life without concern for reward:

Antigonus a man of Socho received [the oral tradition] from Shimon the Righteous. He used to say: “Do not be like servants who serve the master in the expectation of receiving a reward, but be like servants who serve the master without the expectation of receiving a reward, and let the fear of Heaven be upon you” (Avos 1:3).