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Home » Economy, Noach

Noah: Money is Just a Tool

Submitted by on October 14, 2012 – 2:39 amNo Comment | 3,266 views

The Olive Symbol

The flood had lasted for forty days and forty nights. The rainfall and water surges were relentless, nothing and no one was spared, even the mountaintops were flooded. But the rains tapered off and the waters receded. The ark, adrift on an endless ocean, floated aimlessly for months.

Feeling restless and wanting to test the waters, Noah opened a window and released a raven. The raven refused to fly its mission and soon returned to the ark so Noah released a dove. The dove flexed its wings and, relishing its sudden freedom, disappeared from sight. Noah waited with bated breath and after several tense moments the dove reappeared. In its beak it held an olive branch.[1]

Noah and his family rejoiced. The olive branch informed them that the waters had receded to the tops of the olive groves and it was not long after that, that the ark’s hull scraped bottom and Noah released the hatch.

The olive branch and the dove would forever serve as symbols of peace and good tidings, but that is not the only symbolism they hold. Our sages offered a different insight. The dove, which represents the Jewish nation[2], was offering a prayer. May my nourishment be bitter as an olive, but by the hand of G-d, rather than sweet like honey, but by human hand.[3]


In discussing this teaching, one of the Chassidic masters posed the following question. Why does the dove assume that food delivered by G-d would be bitter? If food delivered by human hand could be sweet like honey, why must food delivered by G-d’s hand be bitter?

This led rabbi Yisrael of Modshitz[4] to propose that our sages weren’t addressing the nature of the nourishment, but the experience of accumulating the funds by which to procure nourishment.

There are those who love their work. They enjoy what they do, are excited to wake up every morning to go to work and actually look forward to the challenge that meets them at the office every day. They don’t mind the investment of time and energy; they love the game and live for the hunt. They enjoy the highs and the lows, the triumphs and the failures, the ebb and the flow. To them it’s exciting.

Then there are those who can’t stand their work. They hate what they do with a passion. They are far more interested in other pursuits and every moment spent at work is bitter torture. They come in every day, but they are only there in body; their spirits are elsewhere. It might be on the golf course, at the gym, on holiday or at home. They would rather be anywhere than at work.

Both these people go to work and sit side by side every day, but their work experience couldn’t be more different. For the first, work is sweet like honey, for the second it is bitter like an olive.

Now the question is how well do they succeed. There is no question that enthusiasm breeds success and it would stand to reason that the first person, who attacks his work with vigor, makes a wonderful impression and succeeds. The second person, the one who would rather be elsewhere, is lackluster and probably fails more often than he succeeds.

The first person depends on himself and his business partners for his income, the second person basically relies on G-d. He certainly doesn’t do enough to provide for his family.

As you read this description I’m sure you are more sympathetic to the one, who puts in an honest day’s work, is responsible and loves what he does. The other person wants to kick back and do nothing. He deserves to suffer the consequences; it almost wouldn’t be fair if G-d provided for him, right?

Work to Learn

Ah, but let me throw a little wrench into this wheel. Suppose that rather than the golf course this person would rather be at the Synagogue studying Torah. Many great sages through the ages followed a work to learn routine. They would run a business and go in every day, but not until they had first prayed and completed a course of Torah study. As soon as they had earned enough money for the day they would close shop, bring the money home and return to their studies.

These people were content with the little G-d gave them and weren’t hungry for more, but the fact that they were able to earn for their meager needs in the few hours they put in every day was a gift from above. They could have stood in their stores waiting all day for a customer, but somehow, they always managed to ring up enough sales in the first few hours to give them a chance to close up shop and return to their studies.

Their neighbors down the street stood in their stores all day and loved it. They brought in much more money and considered their experience sweet as honey. But their livelihood came by human hand. money is just a tool - innerstreamThese sages hated every second of standing in their store. Not because they didn’t like to work, but because it kept them from their beloved torah studies. Their experience at the store was bitter like olives, but their income came in every day like clockwork, it was by the hand of G-d.

Money Is Just a Tool

This was the dove’s message to Noah. As you leave the ark and return to the big world, where you have to provide for yourself, remember that your income is a means to an end, the end bring serving G-d. Money is not an end, as a good friend told me recently, money is just a tool in my toolbox.

If you view your income this way, your workday might be bitter like an olive, but your income will be by G-d’s hands and that is the best way to live. Your priorities will be right, your days will be meaningful, your needs will be met, your income will be steady and you will be content.

The other way you will never be satisfied. If your income is your end, you might very well enjoy the workday, but you will never have enough. You will always want and need more. The experience of accumulating will be sweet like honey, but there will be no meaning in it. It will be entirely by human hand and for gluttonous purpose. What point is there to such life?

[1] Genesis 8:11.

[2] See Song of Songs 2:1 and 4:2 among other sources.

[3] Babylonian Talmud, Eruvin 18b.

[4] Divrei Yisroel on Genesis 8:11.

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