Investing in Torah—You Can Bank on it
This is how the Menorah was made: Hammered out of one piece of gold,
from its base to its flower, it was hammered out. [8:4]
In the city of Vienna about two-hundred years ago lived a wealthy and
famous banker, R’ Shimshon Werthheimer z”l. In the secular world, he was
known for his great wealth and uncanny business acumen. Among Jews, he was
famous for his love and support of Torah foundations, yeshivos, and
generosity towards those less fortunate than him. Everyone knew: Those who
knocked on R’ Shimshon’s door would not be turned away empty handed.
A short while after he passed away, the holy Rabbi Chaim of Sanz zt”l
gathered his disciples. “Let me tell you,” he began, “what transpired in
Heaven when the neshama (soul) of R’ Shimshon arrived, and the time came
for him to give his ultimate reckoning:
“‘Let me tell you how I spent my day,’ R’ Shimshon began his testimony
before the Heavenly Tribunal. ‘More or less, my days were always the same.
I got up early, and went to shul to pray shacharis (morning prayers).
After praying, I returned home for breakfast. After breakfast, I had a
coffee and cigar as I read the daily newspapers. A banker, after all, must
always be well informed. I recited Birkas Ha-mazon (Grace), and went to
“‘In the late afternoon, I returned home for lunch, and after eating a
healthy meal and bentsching, I had a small rest. When I arose, there was
invariably a line-up of collectors waiting for me. I gave each one of them
my time, and tried to always give as generously as I could.
“‘At this point, it was already time to daven mincha. Between mincha and
ma’ariv, I attended a shiur (Torah lesson). After praying ma’ariv, I had
yet another shiur before going home to eat supper with my family. After
supper I usually relaxed by playing some chess; it helped me overcome some
of the day’s stresses.
“‘Before going to bed, of course, I recited the bedtime k’rias Shema, and
that, give or take, was my schedule.’
“R’ Shimshon, as we all know, was a righteous man of great integrity, and
after bearing witness, he was immediately ushered into Gan Eden among the
righteous of Israel.
“It just so happens,” continued R’ Chaim, “that another banker, an
associate of R’ Shimshon, also passed away that very day. After escorting
R’ Shimshon to his exalted spot in Gan Eden, the Heavenly Tribunal once
“Not having been much of a shomer Torah u’mitzvos (Torah-observant Jew),
he was quite terrified of having to bear testimony. Hearing R’ Shimshon’s
testimony, and the Tribunal’s reaction, though, seems to have calmed his
“‘I was also a banker,’ he began. ‘In fact, my schedule was in many ways
identical to that of my contemporary, R’ Shimshon. I too arose early. I
ate breakfast, and read the dailies while savouring a hot coffee and
smoking a cigar. I went to the bank, where I worked hard all morning, and
returned home in the afternoon for a late lunch and a rest. I usually
spent the rest of the afternoon keeping fit with some sports. After
supper, I also liked to play a round or two of chess, and then I went to
sleep. So you could say that, for perhaps four-fifths of our days, our
schedules were identical.’
“Of course,” said R’ Chaim, “it takes no genius to realize that the
Heavenly Tribunal did not view the second man’s daily schedule as being
worthy of the reward given R’ Shimshon.
“‘Tell me something,’ the soul of the poor man protested, ‘my friend, R’
Shimshon, is he being rewarded for a lifetime of good deeds, or only for
the few hours a day he spent studying Torah, praying, and giving charity?’
“‘R’ Shimshon was a righteous man,’ they said, ‘of course he will be
rewarded for a lifetime full of righteousness.’
“‘Yet is it not true,’ he persisted, ‘that twenty out of the twenty-four
hours of our days were identical? We slept, we ate, and we worked. If he’s
being rewarded for all twenty-four, why shouldn’t I get my reward for at
“An original argument, no doubt, yet a foolish one all the same. The Beis-
din shel ma’alah had no problem answering him.
“‘Suppose a farmer sells raw wheat at the marketplace,’ they told him. ‘To
separate the straw and stones is too difficult, so he sells the wheat by
the wagonload, ‘as is.’ Of course, all of this is taken into account when
calculating his price, so his buyers know what to expect.’
“‘One day, he is struck by a brilliant idea. He goes around gathering lots
and lots of stones and straw, and puts them in big sacks. He takes them to
the marketplace, placing them alongside his regular wagonloads of grain.
To his shock, no one seems the least bit interested in buying them.
“‘Tell me,’ he asks one of his regular buyers, ‘why is nobody buying any
of these bags of straw and stones I prepared—I spent lots of time
“‘But who on earth would pay money for straw and stones?’ he replied. ‘And
to boot, you’ve priced them identically to your grain! Who ever heard of
“‘Yet you do pay me for straw and stones all the time,’ he replied. ‘You
know that; there’s not a single wagon load of grain that I sell that
doesn’t contain tens of pounds of them. When you pay me by weight, don’t
you realize you’re paying me for the straw and stones too?’
“‘Of course I realize that. When I buy grain, I know there is invariably
going to be some straw and stones too. I take that into account. I don’t
need the chaff, but who ever heard of grain without it? When you buy
grain, you’re always going to accept some straw and stones. But without
the grain? It’s useless! Please don’t waste my time.’
“’A G-d-fearing Jew,’ they told him, ‘who lived a life of Torah and
mitzvos, and used his business not only for his personal well-being, but
to support Torah study and aid the poor, is rewarded for his whole day—all
twenty-four hours! His work, his leisure time—it’s all part-and-parcel of
the life of a dedicated Jew and philanthropist. The chaff, so to speak,
joins the grain on the scale of life.
“‘But you lived a life void of Torah, of mitzvos, and of charity. Your
days, so to speak, were all chaff and no substance. For what shall we
reward you?’” [Ma’yan ha-shavua]
The Menorah, explains the holy Chafetz Chaim zt”l, alludes to the Torah.
It’s lamps radiate the Torah’s light, and its oil, which our Sages say
symbolizes wisdom, represents the Torah’s pure and infinite wisdom. Its
intricate flowers, buttons and carvings allude to the intricate halachos
(laws) of the Torah—so detailed yet so precise. Here, though, the Torah
adds one detail. It was all hammered out of one piece of gold—even its
base. Its base, says the Chafetz Chaim, is what supports it. Aside from
holding the rest of the Menorah up, it serves no holy function. Yet
precisely because of this, because the Menorah can’t stand without it, its
base is hammered out of the same piece of gold as the rest of it.
When we work to ignite the flame of the Torah in our own hearts and the
hearts of our fellow Jews, we sanctify not only the precious moments we
spend studying Torah and lovingly performing its mitzvos, but even the
mundane moments that make up such an otherwise large portion of our lives.
Attaching ourselves to the light of the Torah is an investment that yields
exponential dividends—and you can bank on that.
Have a good Shabbos.
Text Copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann and Torah.org