The Way of Torah
Sichos HaRan 308,abridged
It is written, "For man is born toil" (Job 5:7). The Midrash
remarks, "Man is born to toil - fortunate is he who toils
in the Torah." Whether you
are rich or poor, your life will be filled with toil and frustration; for the
lot of all humankind is suffering and pain, as it is written, "For his
days are vexation and pain" (Ecclesiastes 2:23).
In the holy Shelah
we find a rhyme:
Ein Rega Belo Pega,
Ein Sha'ah Belo Ra'ah,
Ein Yom Belo Reses Vi'Ayom.
There is no moment without its torment,
There is no hour that is not sour,
There is no day without dismay.
Happy is the man who flees from the struggles of this troublesome world
and struggles to comprehend the Torah. Surely he will be "happy and
prosperous" (Psalms 128:2) - happy in this world, and
prosperous in the future world.
One who says, "The old days were better than these,"
accomplishes nothing. His attitude causes him to struggle more and more to earn
a living and to waste his days in worry and vexation. He neglects both Torah
and prayer, due to his worries and complaints and foolishness. Regarding his
end it is written, "He takes away nothing for all his effort"
(Ecclesiastes 5:14). It is also written, "For in vanity he comes, and in
darkness he goes" (ibid. 6:4).
If you have eyes to see and a heart to understand the truth, you will
perceive that there was as much suffering and hardship in former times as in
the present. Look in books written hundreds of years ago, and you will find
that their authors often in their introductions that they went through all
sorts of difficulties and endured poverty and struggled most bitterly to earn a
livelihood. However, this did not deter them, and they still wrote many holy
It is written, "For what was, that is what shall be ... there is
nothing new under the sun."
Life was difficult even in the "good old days." King Solomon
declared of man's lot, "Also all his days are vexation and pain." The
book of Job similarly states, "Man is born to struggle; his days are few and
full of vexation" (Job 14:1).
Scripture described all this long ago. Even then, many people felt that
they must invest all their heart and soul into matters of livelihood. On this
they spent all their days, departing from this world without joy or pleasure.
However, each generation also had Tzaddikim and G-d-fearing
and upright men. They paid no attention to this, and escaped the struggles of
the world in order to toil in Torah and Divine service. They brought merit to
themselves and their descendants. Happy are they.
Even today, we certainly have free will. Without a doubt, even today
each person has the power to escape from these worries and painful discussions.
You can flee from them and trust in G-d, abandoning the bitter toil of
this world, and taking upon yourself the toil of the Torah.
G-d surely will sustain you - for G-d sustains the whole
world constantly, then and now.
Moreover, G-d improves the world all the time.
This world always was filled with worries and suffering, then and now.
"In pain you shall eat… by the sweat of your brow you shall eat
bread" (Genesis 3:17-19). This was decreed since the time of Adam's sin,
and there is no place to escape from these worries and pains, which shorten and
destroy a man's life. The only shelter is G-d and His Torah.
"This is the way of the Torah," says the Mishnah. "Bread
with salt shall you eat, water by measure shall you drink, on the ground shall
you sleep, a life of discomfort shall you live, and in the Torah shall you
toil. If you do this, 'You will be happy and prosperous' (Psalms 128:2) - happy in this world, and prosperous in the
World to Come."
Most people find this difficult to understand. If we must endure such
difficulties for the sake of Torah, "bread with salt shall you eat,"
how can the Mishnah conclude: "You will be happy in this world"?
Homiletic explanations are offered in various works, but these answers remain
forced and unconvincing.
In truth, there is no question. If you have eyes to see and a heart
that understands the nature of this world, if you have absorbed the truth
contained in our holy Rebbe's awesome teachings and stories, you know that the
Mishnah means exactly what it says. Moreover, you can to communicate this truth
to any intelligent person who is the least bit familiar with the "good
things" of this world.
The wealthiest men will tell you that the world is full of suffering
and grief. The rich constantly worry and suffer as much as everyone else. As
our sages observe, "The more property, the more worries."
The poor may not realize this. They may think that if they were
wealthy, they no longer would have problems. However, they are mistaken, as we
can see with our own eyes. The truth is as our sages taught. Whether you are
rich or poor, you cannot avoid worries. The world is filled with pain and
suffering, and there is no place to escape.
If you are a man, you must worry about earning a livelihood. You may
suffer concerning your wife and children. If you are a woman, you may feel that
you are troubled by your husband. No matter who you are, you will find the
world abounding with real suffering and pain. How many people suffer because of
severe sicknesses and injuries, may Heaven spare us?
From all these sufferings there is no escape except the Torah.
If you desire the pleasurable things of this world and wish to live at
ease without troubles, you will be constantly frustrated. The more you seek the
"good life," the more you will find the opposite. Even the modicum of
good you manage to gain will be mixed with suffering. Look with a truthful eye,
and you will see this yourself.
Thus, "there is neither wisdom, understanding, nor counsel"
to find contentment, except by resolving to live as simply as possible. As the
Mishnah states, "Bread with salt shall you eat… a life of discomfort shall
you live." Accept upon yourself a life of privation in order to labor in
Torah, as the Mishna continues: "And in the Torah shall you toil."
Only then will you live a true life, even in this world. "If you do so,
you will be happy... in this world." This is certainly true. No longer
will you suffer from the numerous misfortunes that are every person's lot in
this world - you already have accepted
them upon yourself for the sake of the Torah. All your life, all your good, is
the true good. Thus, your life is a true life. Happy are you, even in this
One who seeks pleasure and wishes to live at ease in this world will
find only bitterness. "Even the slightest breeze will upset him."
As soon as something contrary to his will befalls him, he will suffer.
You may be immensely rich and powerful. You may be a lord or a king. It
is still impossible for everything to conform to your desires in a world filled
The only way to escape this suffering is through the Torah. Accept the
way of the Torah, contenting yourself with little. Then you will be happy and
The truth of these words is evident to anyone familiar with the
troubles of this world. The Rebbe discusses this further in the teachings
printed together with the Sippurei Ma'asios,
and especially in the Tale of the Wise Son and the Simple Son.
Even non-Jewish philosophers acknowledge that the world is filled with
suffering, discussing this at length in their works. They conclude that the
only solution is stoic forbearance. One must resolve to endure with dispassion
all that happens to him.
However, all their words are of no avail in a world without Torah. No one can
stoically endure a seemingly pointless existence in this world and remain
unscathed by its suffering. Only the Torah can provide this strength.
If you think things through, you will realize that of itself, this
world has absolutely no purpose.
Imagine a world filled with good and riches. Imagine a world without
pain or suffering or worries. It would still be empty and devoid of purpose;
for time passes like the wink of an eye, and "our days are like a passing
shadow" (Psalms 144:4) - less permanent than the
shadow of a palm tree,
as our sages state.
It also is written, "The days of our life are seventy years… most
of them spent in toil and travail, for they pass quickly and fly away"
(Psalms 90:10). If a perfect world would be empty and devoid of purpose, what
shall we say about the world we live in, that is filled with pain, sorrows and
suffering without end?
This is the lot of every man, from the greatest to the smallest, from
the richest of the rich to the poorest of the poor. Everyone is trapped by his
limitations. The greatest emperors and kings and aristocrats are afflicted with
worries and fears without measure. Even the non-Jewish sages realized this.
The only way out is to choose the holy Torah and its commandments.
Resolve to be content with an absolute minimum in order to immerse yourself in
the Torah. Spend your days in Torah and Divine service, and you will be immune
to the world's travail. You will shake off the toil and struggle of worldly
concerns and no longer taste the bitterness of soul they have to offer. Through
devotion to G-d and His Torah, you will live a true life - for this is the essence of life, both in
this world and the next.
You then will know that the words of the Mishnah are correct, even in
their plain meaning. You will have chosen to live such a life, "eating
bread with salt, drinking water by measure, sleeping on the ground and living a
life of privation." You must be willing to accept a life of suffering, for
at times even bread with salt and water may not be easy to obtain.
Nevertheless, you accept all this in order to immerse yourself in the Torah,
fulfilling the dictum of our sages: "In the Torah you shall toil."
If you do this, you certainly will be "happy and prosperous - happy in this world..." You will have
accepted all the suffering the world has to offer, and been found worthy of
You then will be granted a perception of the truth that this world was
not created for ease and enjoyment. You will realize that on the contrary,
those who seek the delights of this world will only find pain and vexation.
However, the Torah is "our life and the length of our days."
If you flee the toil of pursuing mundane desires in order to toil in the Torah,
you will be worthy of the Eternal World, in comparison to which this entire
universe is like the blink of an eye. Beside this, you also will live a good
life in this world.
The best thing in this world is forbearance. This cannot be attained
without total immersion in the holy Torah and its commandments.
Open your eyes to the truth and you will see this.
Ridicule these words and you only ridicule yourself.
If you wish to reject our advice and turn your back, preferring to
remain immersed in the deep quicksand of this world,
there is no one to prevent you. "Let each man go his own way, but we will
call out in G-d's name."
These were the Rebbe's words to a man who spoke with him at length.
The Rebbe knew that this man was drowning in the "endless
waters" and sought
to rescue him. However, the man hardened his heart and turned a stubborn
accepting the Rebbe's advice. He knew that the Rebbe spoke the truth, but refused
to take his words to heart.
The Rebbe said, "He is like a drowning man who is about to die. A
rescuer comes along and extends a hand to lift him from the water. However, the
drowning man turns a stubborn shoulder and turns his back in arrogance, not wanting
to grasp the helping hand. He flees from the one who comes to save him."
Heed these words!
You will find pleasure both in this world and the next.
Translated by David Sears © 2001 The Breslov Center