Can Commerce Trump Torah?
Does the Divine Presence dwell more in the House of Torah or House of Commerce? This seems like one of those trick questions, for surely it must favour the House of Torah! Yet the fact that we are asking the question implies that in fact, the opposite is true, and we can prove it from this week’s Sedrah.
A major section of Vayeitzeh details the birth of 11 of Yaackov’s sons and his daughter Dinah. Each time a child is born, its mother decides on a name that reflects their current desire and captures the mood of the moment. For example, when Leah’s first child is born, she calls him Reuven. This is a composite of Re’uh-Ben, meaning ‘see, a son’. Leah was delighted that she had now given birth and hoped that it would elevate her in Yaackov’s eyes after he was tricked into marrying her instead of Rochel. Similarly, when Rochel’s maidservant Bilhah has her first child, Rochel names his Dan, representing judgement. She felt that her previous judgement which had caused her to be barren had been lifted and she now had a new judgement; one that she could celebrate.
By the birth of the tenth child, a sixth one for Leah, she calls him Zevulun. This alludes to the word ‘zevul’, meaning abode or dwelling place. Rashi explains that Leah was now convinced that Yaackov would make her tent his main dwelling place for she had now given birth to six sons, equal to all his other three wives combined.
The problem though is that Zevulun is the polar opposite of Yaackov. Both Yaackov and Moshe bless Zevulun for his entrepreneurial attitude. He made a pact with his brother Yissachar, whereby Zevulun would work and pay Yissachar to learn and in return he would get half the reward of the Torah study. Zevulun, in essence, was the architype of the person who paid someone else to learn for him, whereas Yaackov was the epitome of one who never strayed from the Tent of Torah. How could Leah get it so wrong? How could she think that specifically the son who would work and not prioritise his learning, would be the child who would inextricably tie her to Yaackov who diligently prioritised his learning over work?
Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad Chassidus explains that in truth we can only make the Divine Presence a permanent and real part of this physical world when we attempt to attain this consciousness whilst being engaged in the pragmatic lifestyle of Zevulun. If we remain aloof from the mundane world, if we lock ourselves exclusively in the Tent of Torah, then the spiritual strength and resilience of our souls remain untested.
If however we take the Zevulun approach and make the effort to set aside time for the study of Torah, then the true ability inherent in our soul, the power to assert itself even outside the natural environment is revealed. And that is how we create a permanent home, a true dwelling place for the Divine in this world. For it must be pointed out that Zevulun did not excuse himself from learning, he did not buy his freedom, he put his time and effort into learning and becoming a better person. But he knew that he needed more, he knew that he had to infuse the bulk of his day, his working hours, with Torah and Judaism as well. That is why he made his pact with Yissachar.
Our challenge is to emulate Zevulun. To set aside time for learning Torah and improving our Jewish character, but we must also bring that into our workplace. When we work just to earn money then there is no sanctity in it; we are simply in a rat race. If however, we are able to infuse our workplace with sanctity by partnering with those who are able to dedicate more of their time, then not only do we elevate our work, we actually create a true dwelling place for the Divine in this world.