Rabbi Sessler D’var Torah

Earning Things on Your Own

Martha’s Vineyard is a gorgeous island, located just south of Cape Cod in Massachusetts. The island boasts great restaurants. In one of these restaurants, a seemingly regular high school student is currently manning the cashier and waiting tables during her summer vacation.

For several weeks, her work colleagues noticed nothing exceptional about this sympathetic and friendly colleague of theirs. But after several weeks, one of the girl’s co-workers noticed that each time that this girl comes to work there are always six robust men sitting at the back corner of the restaurant, discreetly watching every single person who walks in and out of the restaurant.

It was at this point that one staff member finally recognized his young co-worker as Sasha Obama, one of America’s two “first daughters”. Throughout the years, Sasha’s mother, America’s first lady, constantly stated that she wants her children to enjoy, as much as possible, a normal and independent upbringing.

In the book of Psalms, in chapter 128, we find the following verse: “When you eat from the labor of your own hands, you are blessed, and you feel content and satisfied.”

This verse captures a pivotal and essential truth about personal independence and self-reliance. Namely, that we appreciate and cherish so much more the things which we earn and merit by virtue of our own hard work and individual effort. When assets are simply handed over to us on a silver platter seamlessly and effortlessly, we simply do not value them as much.

And that’s why encouraging and instructing our children to earn things on their own merit empowers them with basic and fundamental tools and life-skills, and teaches them how to stand independently on their own two feet. It also builds our children’s self-confidence and self-esteem, provides them with a sense of true and enduring satisfaction and fulfillment, and it also prepares them to meet the challenges and exigencies of adult life. In the Kabbalah, we have a concept called “lehem bizayon”, which means: “Bread of shame”. This concept represents the weakening and undermining of the self which occurs when things are simply handed over to us without lifting a finger or exerting any effort.

Over the years, I have seen up close and personal the debilitating effects of unearned wealth. I know of children who come from families of incalculable wealth, sometimes in the hundreds of millions. I have seen some of these kids, not all of them, and even not most of them, but some of them, ultimately grow to become debilitated adults who are bereft of some basic life-skills, in terms of how to assertively push themselves hard, and honorably and fairly compete in the global market place.

These children, who were so sheltered by their loving and well-meaning parents, ended up inadvertently and unintentionally deprived of some crucial and imperative existential capacities.

So let us not make this same mistake in our families, and let us also continue to fortify and cement our children’s character, by refusing to accommodate and cater to each and every one of their desires, wants and “needs”, for their own good, and for their own future autonomy and success.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Sessler

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