Life Decisions the Jewish Way

Dear Rabbi Fried,

I’m wondering, what does the Torah say about how to make major decisions concerning such categories as: job, love, employment, major purchases, etc.? Is there an application from the Torah that can be applied to these and other situations in life?

Seth

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Dear Seth,

I will attempt to answer your question in a general way, although the applications will change based upon the situation, the individual, and the exact questions that will arise.

A question of employment may be a question of business ethics, meaning that there are some jobs that may be unethical for a variety of reasons, too numerous to outline in this column. In general, if you feel that there are unscrupulous dealings going on in that business, then it’s not for you.

At times the job itself may be ethical but it doesn’t allow one the time needed to spend with family – to develop the critical relationships with spouse and children that one so much needs to invest in and foster. You may be fulfilled in your bank account but unfulfilled in life’s real goals. There are wellsprings of Torah to draw on for this and related questions, which we could discuss when the question becomes more specific.

With regards to love, numerous stories in the Torah as well as the rabbinical writings define the meaning of love. Love is such a broad term, which could be describing the emotions of a husband and wife, a parent and child or vice-versa. Love could be referring to a love of G-d and, for a fellow Jew, love for the Jewish people and for the Land of Israel. 

The Biblical work “Song of Songs” (Shir Hashirim),written by King Solomon, describes a passionate love of G-d for the Jews and the Jews’ love for Him. 

The Hebrew word for love is ahava, which comes from the root hav, meaning “to give.” Love – for all of the above – doesn’t just happen, but is an emotion which grows through giving to and investing in the beloved. 

The concept of “falling in love” is anathema to Judaism and Torah. One often needs to base a decision whether or not to enter into a specific love relationship not only on what they can get from the connection, but if he or she has what to give to the other person as well, because only in that case can a person grow in their love. So much more comes into the picture — such as personality, chemistry, looks, and more — which all have sources in Torah and are by no means insignificant in the Torah outlook of fulfillment and happiness through love.

There are categories of forbidden realationships in the Torah, most relevant for our generation are those between Jew and gentile. All of the above are only applicable when the relationship itself is permitted by the Torah.

Major purchases are judged, from a Jewish perspective, on what one seeks to accomplish through the purchase and what is the need. 

We look at the physical world as a means to an end, not an end in itself. Unlike other religions, Judaism does not view materialistic items as innately negative or sinful. On the contrary, the Talmud says that a beautiful home gives one the inner peace and tranquility to be better able to focus his mind on Torah study. 

Judaism teaches, however, that materialism can become negative when you are consumed by it. Regarding such a person, the Talmud says that “when he leaves the world, not half of his desires will have been fulfilled.” One leading sage explains this person does not seek material possessions because he needs them, rather because he or she doesn’t have them. As soon as he gets the next thing on his list, then there’s the next thing he doesn’t have. The items he doesn’t have only grow as he attains more.

The Torah is referred to by the sages as Toras Chayim, or the teaching of life. It is not a stale, musty document of laws unrelated to real life. Rather, it is a living, breathing wellspring of knowledge that provides for us the guidance and direction we need in the most subtle nuances of our lives. 

The Rabbis say, “asei lecha rav,” appoint for yourself a rabbi. This doesn’t mean just to have to turn to when one loses a loved one or to listen to his speech on Yom Kippur. It means to forge a connection with a Torah scholar who can help advise you on every aspect of life. 

This is what it means to live as a Jew: to be a Jew every day and every moment, with every breath of our lives. It means to live every aspect of our lives in accordance with G-d’s will as reflected in the Torah.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried

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