Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

November 19, 2007

Praying for a livelihood, or “The Spirituality of Retail”

Filed under: — Different River @ 3:35 pm

The traditional Jewish prayers recited daily include a couple of prayers for a livelihood. This sounds reasonable — after all, if you don’t at least have food and shelter, you can’t do much of anything spiritual or helpful. But modern life has a way of making daily prayers for this sort of thing seem kind of anachronistic. I mean, in a society in which most people are farmers or merchants, it makes sense — every day can bring good or bad weather, many or few customers, and so on. Even if you are generally successful, you never know whether you’ll make money or lose it on a given day.

Yet, nowadays most people work in jobs with fixed hours and fixed paychecks — I get paid the same amount every two weeks, regardless of how the week goes. Sure, in the long run people get laid off or fired, employers go our of business, raises are given (and could be high or low), and so on — but a typical person does not experience these events on a daily bases. Most employers give raises no more than once a year or less, and even most people who get laid off experience this no more than a few times per lifetime, not every day.

Still, there are a few professions in which one’s income is subject to day-to-day fluctuations in factors that appear beyond one’s (apparent) control, as Rabbi Yaakov Salomon noticed, in “The Spirituality of Retail”:

Want to feel God’s loving involvement in your every day life?

Open a store.

That’s right. One of the most spiritual things you can ever do with your life is to go into retail.

I went to school on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. In the late 60′s and early 70′s …

But my favorite location was actually a rather obscure street — Allen Street. It was known for only one commodity — neckties.

Now I was no tie freak when I was a teenager. So what drew me to that unsung boulevard? It wasn’t the ties at all.

I never actually counted, but there must have been 20 little shops on Allen Street, and all of them sold neckties. All of them! I kid you not. Not only that, they all sold the SAME neckties! Same colors, styles, fabrics, patterns — and all for pretty much the same price.

I remember times when I would walk over to Allen Street from my high school and just stand on the sidewalk and watch, as people sauntered by the shops and occasionally entered and made a purchase. I would wonder to myself, “What made someone choose to walk into one store rather than another?”

There didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason for it, since they were all pretty much the same. When it dawned upon me that perhaps the ‘x’ factor was the service people received, I personally visited some of these establishments and found no perceivable difference from one store to another — same grouchy and grumpy reception.

That’s when I felt a Heavenly Presence. Who else could be guiding those tie-less customers into each store? Although we all possess free will and each customer did indeed choose the store he wanted to patronize, there seemed to be no compelling reason to select one store over another! To me, the only plausible explanation was that they were being personally herded by the Almighty’s invisible hand.

So anytime I needed a spiritual lift, I just zipped up my parka, headed over to Allen Street, found a good spot, and waited. Invariably, I saw God quietly at work.

One Response to “Praying for a livelihood, or “The Spirituality of Retail””

  1. mrsfish Says:

    Great Post! I have often reminded myself that its not the job that provides, but God who provides the job.

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