The Gemara (Berachos 18b) tells of a certain chassid (pious man) who once gave a significant sum of money to a poor person on Erev Rosh Hashanah, during a period of drought. When he arrived home, his wife became very angry that he had given away their money.
The chassid left his home and went to sleep in the cemetery. (Rav Yisrael Salanter explained that the chassid felt himself harboring resentment toward his wife for her angry reaction, and he thus decided to undertake this drastic measure of sleeping in a cemetery to rid himself of his arrogance and negativity.) As he slept, he heard two spirits conversing. One went to find out what Hashem was decreeing upon the world for the coming year, and returned with the report that anything planted at the beginning of the planting season would be destroyed by hail. Armed with this information, the chassid planted later than everybody else, and became wealthy.
Rav Matisyahu Salomon explained that this chassid was slated to receive great blessing, but in order to receive it, he needed to first overcome tests and challenges. He first gave charity to help a needy person despite his own hardship, and then overcame the test posed by his wife’s angry reaction. By overcoming these challenges, he became worthy of the great bounty that G-d wished to give him.
Life presents us with many challenges, and by withstanding them and passing our tests we prepare ourselves for receiving Hashem’s blessings. This is especially true about Shabbos, which is mekor haberachah — the source of all blessing. In order to access all the blessings that Shabbos makes available to us, we need to pass the difficult tests that Shabbos observance poses.
Rabbi Shaul Semah of Lakewood told a story that he heard firsthand from the person involved. Rabbi Shalom Sklar, a Chassidic rabbi, emigrated to the United States from Russia, and the agency that facilitated the resettlement of Jewish immigrants at that time decided to send him to Chicago. Rabbi Sklar explored many different employment possibilities, but could not find a job. Every prospective employer said in no uncertain terms that if he would not work on Saturday, he would not have his job on Monday.
He was intelligent, hardworking, and talented, but no one wanted to hire someone who would not work on Saturday. Finally, he was hired to pluck feathers from geese to stuff blankets and pillows. This was menial labor, but he worked diligently and managed to keep the job for several months. But one Friday, his boss called him over and said that he had just received a very large order, and needed extra
hours of work. As Rabbi Sklar was an exceptionally diligent worker, the boss wanted him to come into work on Saturday to process the extra volume of merchandise. But Rabbi Sklar refused.
“Why can’t you be like the others, who attend the early prayer services and then come into work?” the boss asked. “What’s the problem with that?”
The Rabbi still refused, and he was fired. A short while later, whatever money he had ran out, and he did not even have food. Finally, he stumbled upon a job shoveling coals into a furnace of an apartment building. He would go into the basement of the building each morning, clear out the furnace, and then shovel coals into the furnace. This entailed backbreaking work, but the Rabbi had no choice.
A wealthy Jewish lawyer lived in a penthouse on the top floor. One day, he mistakenly pressed the wrong button in the elevator, and ended up in the basement of the building, instead of the lobby. When he arrived at the basement, he saw a Chassidic rabbi shoveling coals into the furnace.
“Rabbi,” the attorney asked, “why are you shoveling coals?”
Rabbi Sklar explained that this was the only job he could find.
“Clean yourself up and come into my office,” the lawyer said. “I want to speak with you.”
Rabbi Sklar did as the man told him. When he arrived, the lawyer’s secretary was told to bring him in. He sat in the lawyer’s office, and the lawyer told him to look out the window at the Chicago skyline.
“You see that building over there,” he told Rabbi Sklar, pointing. “I am planning to buy that building soon. I want to make you my 5-percent partner in this venture. You are a rabbi, so you will be my ‘good luck charm’ in this enterprise.”
“But I have no money,” the rabbi said.
“Don’t worry,” the lawyer assured him. “I will lend you the money, and you can pay me back with your profits as a 5-percent partner after we sell the building.”
The rabbi agreed, and became this man’s partner. They embarked on numerous ventures together, and were very successful. Finally, they purchased a large piece of property on the outskirts of Chicago, which ultimately became the site of O’Hare International Airport. Practically overnight, Rabbi Sklar became extraordinarily wealthy. He moved to Lakewood where he was a bastion of charity, extending generous assistance to all who needed it.
Rabbi Sklar had to endure several grueling challenges, losing his job because of Shabbos, and then having to perform backbreaking work, but these challenges paved the way for Hashem’s blessings.
Another story is told of a man named Mr. Friedman who opened a simple drapery business, and later expanded it into a wholesale business. One day, at a trade show, he made an appointment with representatives from a major hotel chain. This was an opportunity to make a very large deal that would generate a huge profit. The meeting took place on Friday afternoon, and as the parties were negotiating, Mr. Friedman kept his eye on his watch to ensure that he would leave in time for Shabbos. Finally, as the hour drew late, he apologized to the hotel representatives, and said he needed
“We are leaving at the end of the trade show,” they said. “If you leave now, the deal is over.”
The man explained he had no choice, and he left. He was not prepared to compromise Shabbos observance for the sake of a profit. On Monday, he received a call from the head of the hotel chain.
“After you left we reconsidered,” they said. “We realized that anyone could take advantage of us, which would cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars. But if you are so honest that you were prepared to lose all this money for the sake of your religion, then we can trust you.”
They closed the deal.
Before Hashem brings us blessing, He first has us withstand tests. Shabbos, the mekor haberachah, offers special tests for us to withstand, whereby we become deserving of great reward and the unlimited blessings that Hashem has in store for us.
Reproduced from Living Shabbos by Rabbi David Sutton
ArtScroll / Mesorah Publications Ltd. Reprinted with permission.