Brachot 61: For a Worthy Cause

By: Rabbi Jay Kelman |

The story of the martyrdom of Rabbi Akiva is well known. Defying the orders of the Roman government not to engage in Torah study, Rabbi Akiva literally had his flesh ripped off with steel combs – yet was relieved to fulfill the command to love G-d with “all one’s soul”, dying with the shema on his lips.

What is perhaps less well known is the discussion he had before his death with Papas ben Yehuda. The latter’s warnings to Rabbi Akiva as to the danger of teaching Torah were ignored, and Rabbi Akiva was arrested and imprisoned as he awaited trial. Shorty thereafter, Papas ben Yehuda was also imprisoned. Rabbi Akiva asks him, “What brought you here?”

Papas responds, “Blessed are you, who was seized for teaching Torah; woe unto Papas, who was captured for devarim b’teileem, meaningless activities”.

The life of a Torah scholar or Jewish professional worker is not always an easy one. Pay that may not adequately reflect the crucial work they perform, the fact that they are often viewed as unsuccessful by others, little job security, and lack of privacy are part and parcel of working conditions. Yet blessed is one who dedicates his or her energies and talents to the continuation of the Jewish people.

The recent economic uncertainty has led to a world in which many highly talented people who work in other areas have faced salary cuts, have little if any job security and fear for their future success. Woe to the one who chooses a profession for the material benefits, only to discover that the benefits are much less than anticipated.

We all face frustration, disappointment and unmet goals in our careers (and those who do not have set their goals too low). May we be blessed that such frustrations are for causes that are most worthy – and that our careers can meet both our material and spiritual needs.