If a Jew wins the lottery, should he continue working?
Or should he quit his job and study Torah all day?
Over the years I’ve been asked a very similar question by numerous people who are able to retire early and learn all day. My standard answer to them is:
Keep your day job – because while it’s certainly true that the greatest mitzvah in the world is limud haTorah, it’s the rare individual who can learn all day. It’s even rarer for a person who’s been in the workforce to go back to learning all day and be engaged and productive.
If a person is the unique type who can really do that, that’s wonderful and great. But the average person would be far better off increasing his Torah learning and community involvement but keeping his basic 9:00-5:00 job or at least part-time work.
— Rabbi Ben Zion Shafier, founder of The Shmuz
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The real question is: If a Jew – male or female – is extremely wealthy, what is the ideal way to spend one’s life? The answer is:
There is no one ideal path, not even studying Torah all day. Each person is endowed with particular talents and inclinations and must find the best path forward based on his/her realities.
Some may find their fulfillment by devoting full time to Torah study. Others may find different ways to serve Hashem based on the gifts Hashem has given them. It is obviously desirable for everyone – whether employed or so rich as not to need a job – to spend time each day studying Torah. But it’s also important to follow one’s own path in life.
Should a wonderful rabbi, Torah teacher, kiruv professional quit his/her job and thereby abandon all those he/she is influencing for the good?
Should a gifted research scientist abandon scientific work that can improve the lives of millions of people?
Should a successful business owner close his/her business and thereby deprive employees of their livelihoods?
Should people who genuinely find satisfaction in their work be told to quit their jobs in order to study Torah full time for the rest of their lives?
“If I were a rich man,” couldn’t I do wonderful chesed work, make massive improvements in yeshivot and day schools, finance Torah publications, support the needy here and in Israel etc.? Couldn’t I devote time and resources to art, music, medicine, environmentalism, social justice, world peace?
Suggesting one ideal road for all people is inherently misguided – and unjust.
— Rabbi Marc D. Angel, director of the
Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals
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There are two legitimate paths in Torah Judaism: Some – “Shevet Levi,” as the Rambam refers to them (Hilchos Shmittah V’Yovel 13-12, 13) – should devote themselves to Torah study exclusively and be supported by Klal Yisrael, while others should combine Torah learning with a mundane occupation, thus fulfilling the dictum of “Yafeh talmud Torah im derech eretz.”
The Sforno in the beginning of Behaalosecha says the former are represented by the right three branches of the menorah while the latter are represented by the left three branches of the menorah. The wicks of each side face the middle, signifying that when each fulfills their role properly for the sake of Heaven, G-d’s light (presence) emanates from both.
I like to add that when they look towards the center, they also face each other. In other words, when each group respects the other – those who learn do not look down on those who work, and those who work do not consider those who learn to be parasites – G-d’s presence emanates from both.
As with every question in life, the answer to this question depends on many factors. Basically, if the person who won the lottery is capable of devoting himself to full-time learning and the only reason he was working until now was necessity, he should devote himself now to full-time learning.
If, however, he would not be capable of learning full-time for various reasons, he should continue to work in an area that will benefit Klal Yisrael and society and keep him busy, protecting him from sinning due to inactivity.
— Rabbi Zev Leff, rav of Moshav Matisyahu,
popular lecturer and educator
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As with most questions, there is no answer that applies to everyone.
Clearly learning Torah is a primary Jewish value. It is also true that only a limited number of people have the ability to concentrate on learning all day. Each individual has to know his own nature, strengths, and weaknesses. To stop working to study Torah all day is laudable if the person will actually do so.
For others, though, using the lottery money to set up a foundation to support Torah learning or other chesed projects is a realistic alternative. Enabling those who can become great Torah scholars and will teach Torah can be a greater contribution than learning full time.
In addition, continuing to work may prove to be the best way for some to maintain a healthy balance in life. Idleness can be dangerous.
— Rabbi Yosef Blau, mashgiach ruchani at
YU’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary
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The question presupposes that the only reason one works is to earn money, so if that’s no longer a concern, Torah study should be the total focus. What, then, of the many people who are blessed with wealth and, theoretically, no longer need to work? Should they all put down their tools and engage in Torah study instead?
Our psyches thrive on work and productivity. The Mishnah (Kesuvos 5:5) states that inactivity leads to madness as well as lewdness. We feel most content and fulfilled when we are productive and contributing to mankind. It makes us feel alive – and, in a sense, it is what gives us life.
For this reason, G-d wishes for us to be busy and productive and does not permit us to free ourselves from this fate. Winning the lottery and “dropping out” of life is generally not permitted.
Thus, even if someone wins the lottery, what comes next is purely a subjective decision dependent on the mindset of the individual. If he harbored a lifelong yearning to engage in full-time Torah study, so be it. But if he wants to keep working – to continue being productive and creative – that should be his focus.
— Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet, popular Lubavitch
lecturer, rabbi of London’s Mill Hill Synagogue