כ״ד באייר ה׳תשע״ו (June 1, 2016)

Kiddushin 82a-b: In Accordance With One’s Merit

On the closing daf of Massekhet Kiddushin we find the following teaching in the name of Rabbi Me’ir: a parent should teach his son a clean and simple profession, and should pray to Him that all wealth and valuables belong, since every profession has both poverty and wealth . Thus we recognize that neither poverty nor wealth stem from the profession itself, rather all is according to one’s merit (zekhuto). In response to this the Mishna quotes other opinions about the need to work and learn a profession, closing with Rabbi Nehorai who said that he put aside all worldly professions and taught his son only Torah, whose rewards allow a person to benefit from them in this world, while leaving over capital for use in the World to Come.

Many question the meaning Rabbi Nehorai’s teaching, since in the first perek of Massekhet Kiddushin (29a) the Gemara quotes a baraita that a father is required to teach his son a trade, and Rabbi Yehuda comments that a father who does not do so effectively teaches him to be a thief. One approach is to recognize that Rabbi Nehorai did not present this as a general ruling, rather he described a personal choice that he made for his family, something that is possible for a small minority of people to do. The P’nei Yehoshua suggests that Rabbi Nehorai’s son showed unique promise as a child, which is why his father chose to dedicate his son’s education solely to Torah.

With regard to Rabbi Me’ir’s statement that an individual’s monetary success is the result of zekhuto (his merit), Tosafot argue that it cannot mean the merit of his mitzvot, since do not connect mitzvot to worldly success, rather they suggest that it depends on a person’s mazal (what we usually translate as “luck”). The approach of some of the Ge’onim is that in this case zekhuto should be understood to mean the effort and exertion that a person puts into his work, and that Rabbi Me’ir is championing the promise of hard work in making someone successful.