What do you do when you’re a forty-something CEO whose business is going downhill?
When Aaron Rose saw the revenue of his English cosmetics company falling month after month after years of only growth, he decided to cut back on his working hours and spend more time in yeshiva learning. He found that this was exactly what his company needed to turn around.
In our previous two columns, we followed the journey of Aaron (Anthony) and Rivka Rose, as they trekked the world searching for meaning before finding it at home in Judaism. They then passed a major test in their religious growth, as they decided to skip an important industry tradeshow on Shabbos, even though it meant a significant loss of revenue.
At the beginning of their teshuva journey, the Roses lived in Edinburgh, Scotland and ran their natural makeup company, Faith In Nature, from their home. As they grew in their Jewish observance, they longed to move to a community where they could learn the ropes of Judaism and connect with rabbis and mentor families.
They became close to Rabbi Mordechai Bamburger, who oversaw an outreach kollel in nearby Glasgow. He advised them to move to a more established Jewish community and suggested either London or Manchester.
While they were deciding where to move, they called a rabbi in Manchester with whom they had become acquainted to ask if they would be able to spend Shabbos that week with him and his family.
“We would love to host you,” the rabbi said, “but we’re going away for Shabbos. I’ll try to find another family you can stay with. I’ll call you back in 20 minutes.”
As Aaron hung up the phone, he turned to Rivka and said, “How can he find someone in 20 minutes?”
The phone rang just minutes later. It was the rabbi saying that he had found a family, the Adlers, who said they would love to host them. That Shabbos was the first of innumerable, memorable times that the Adler family hosted Aaron and Rivka, and they soon became their guides and close confidantes throughout their journey.
With the warm reception they had received in Manchester, and with both Aaron and Rivka preferring quieter areas and smaller communities to the hustle and bustle of London, they decided to move there.
In 1988, Aaron and Rivka packed up their life, home and business in Edinburgh. They reveled in the opportunity to finally live a proper frum life in an established community with the resources to sustain their growth.
There were only two problems.
First, almost immediately after they moved to Manchester, the market for natural cosmetics products began to turn downhill. That year, for the first time in its 16-year history, Faith In Nature lost money.
Over the next three years, revenue dropped each month. Though there are constant fluctuations in every market, in their case both the general business environment and the future of the company looked very bleak. Their overdraft was right up to the limit.
A question gnawed at them. They had realigned their life for Hashem, changed their priorities and had even physically moved their entire life for their new religious observance. How could it be that just when they were doing everything right in their religious commitments their business future looked so uncertain?
Following their move, Aaron became aware of a second difficulty: Because he had become observant later in life, he never had the opportunity to properly learn Gemara and other texts. He had learned how to live a proper Jewish life from attending seminars and reading Jewish books, but he was unable to delve into the texts on his own. Now that he was living in a community with innumerable shiurim and with neighbors who had deep learning backgrounds, he longed for the chance to learn as well.
A close friend of Aaron’s in Manchester had taken a three-month sabbatical from his medical practice and spent it learning in yeshiva. Another friend, Dr Nissan Ebbing, who had also become frum later in life, was just about to retire from his own successful medical practice.
One day in 1991, Nissan shared with Aaron his uncertainties of what to do in the next stage of his life. Aaron’s head was still swimming with hearing about his friend’s experience learning in yeshiva.
With his trademark warm smile and his bubbling exuberance, Aaron asked, “Why don’t we go to yeshiva together?”
Nissan loved the idea. Following in the path of Rabi Akiva, who at 40 years old joined a kindergarten class to learn the Aleph-Beis for the first time, the two men, ages 43 and 70, joined the morning shiur of a local yeshiva high school. Surrounded by 16 year-olds, the two men got their first taste of true Gemara learning and absolutely loved it. They were finally receiving a deep immersion in the fundamentals of the Mishnah, the fiery arguments of the Amoraim and the life-changing teachings of mussar seforim.
They learned for a full seder together every morning. In the afternoons, Aaron returned to the office to oversee his company.
That initial month in the yeshiva was the first time in three years that the business did not go downhill. The following month, as he continued to learn, business held steady once again.
“The next month I carried on learning, and it was the first time it went up in three years,” Aaron recalls. “I have continued learned every morning, and every month the business has gotten better and better without fail.
“Our business never went down again. It always fluctuated, but the trend has never gone down.”
To compound the supernatural turn of events, during that period in 1994 their only child was born, and Rivka also began working part-time to raise him.
Despite having two part-time captains at the helm of the ship, their business continued to grow.
“I always say that I cannot afford to stop learning,” Aaron says. “What will keep the business going? Learning Torah is the same as keeping Shabbos. It supports you.”
Rabbi Meir Novack, the Mashgiach of Yeshivas Ohr Eliezer in Ramat Beit Shemesh, recently shared with me a chidush, a novel idea of his own.
Throughout the Jewish people’s journey in the desert, we were sustained miraculously by mahn. The mahn ceased falling when the nation entered Eretz Yisrael.
Where did the mahn go? Rabbi Novack suggested that this is the miraculous support that Hashem grants to people who are engaged in Torah study. Throughout the world, tens of thousands of men of all ages spend the entire morning or the full day learning. Miraculously they find the means to survive even without working typical 9 to 5 workdays. In most cases, their income cannot be explained through the lens of nature. But like the mahn from Hashem, their parnassah descends miraculously each day, in exactly the amounts and means that they need.
“I feel tremendously blessed to have these things in our life. It has been very clear to us where our success has come from,” says Aaron.
As his peers atop other companies compete to see who can work the hardest and spend the greatest number of hours in the corner office, Aaron has taken a different route for the past thirty years, trying to see how many hours a day he can spend plumbing the depths of the Torah. His parnassah has followed. He cannot explain it logically, other than to say that he is doing Hashem’s will.
Mahn is the bread of emunah. And if it is true that a Torah learner’s parnassah comes through the heavenly mahn, it is because people like Aaron and Rivka have put their belief in the true Chief Executive Officer of the world, trusting Him with their finances and their wellbeing.