Maintaining One’s Moral Compass in the Workplace

Dear Mentor:

I don’t know who you are or where you live, but I really need your guidance and inspiration at this stage in my life. Please get back to me ASAP.

Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Shmuel (I’m called Steve at work), and I am a junior partner in a prominent law firm in New York City. I’m happily married, and we have 3 lovely children, Baruch Hashem.

So why am I writing to you? Because as I have grown professionally and personally, I find myself faced with a set of nisyonos far different than those I had a few short years ago when I was a bachur in yeshiva. My nekudas habechirah has shifted dramatically, and I need someone who can regularly touch my neshama in a way that will enable me to maintain my spiritual compass. My soul needs to be uplifted, as there are so many temptations that beckon.

A few short years ago, my wife and I were living hand-to-mouth. Now, I am invited to dinner meetings in $150-a-plate restaurants and all I do is rearrange the salad and sip soda while my business associates dine on $70- steaks and drink from $100 bottles of wine.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am certainly not complaining. Quite to the contrary, I am humbled by my financial success and I hope that it will last. But sometimes I find myself worrying that things are moving too quickly. I almost feel like I am being propelled along a super-speed moving sidewalk, like the ones that they have in the airports. My friends who entered the workforce recently and did not (yet, hopefully) enjoy the level of success that I do, have different challenges. But their neshomos are also reeling – in other ways.

As I see it, there are three basic sets of nisyonos that we, twenty-and-thirty-something’s face these days. Maintaining our level of spirituality (davening and learning), conducting our business affairs with integrity (creating a kiddush Hashem), and maintaining the moral standards of a frum Jew (our commitments our marriages) in a very challenging environment.

The more that I think about it, the more I am coming to realize that I need two spiritual anchors nowadays – a rebbi and a mentor. My ideal mentor would be a frum businessman, someone in his forties or fifties, who has managed to accomplish success in these three areas despite the challenges. Why a mentor? Because I need someone who understands – really understands – my current life and the challenges that I face.

Years ago, I remember hearing a beautiful vort from my rebbi that I think about often these days. Rebbi asked why Yaakov Avinu needed to spend fourteen years in the Beis Midrash of Shem (and Ever) after spending the first sixty-three years of his life learning Torah from his father Yitzchak. My Rebbi pointed out that the two rebbeim of Yaakov, Yitzchak and Shem, had very diverse backgrounds. Yitzchak had the luxury of growing up in the protective environment of his father Avraham. He never left the land of Cannan and was not exposed to the immorality of the broader world to the extent that his father and son were. Shem, on the other hand, was raised during the generation of the Flood, where he was witness to the depravity of that era – and the Divine punishment that was administered as a result of that decadence. As Yaakov was leaving the shelter of his father’s house, he felt that he needed ‘The Torah of Shem’ – lessons on how to retain his spiritual compass – while living in the company of Lavan.

Well, that really describes me these days. I loved my years in yeshiva and I was fortunate to have developed a close relationship with my rebbi. I spend two hours each Sunday morning in the local Yeshiva just to maintain my ties to the world of Torah lishmah that I respect so much. I even make it my business to spend Yom Kippur in the out-of-town Beis Midrash that I once attended to give me a spiritual boost. But I feel that I need another – and different – layer of protection these days. I need to spend some time with you, my mentor, my Shem ben Noach. I would like to find our how you were able to pull it off – success in the secular business world, time for your family, and all the while maintaining the moral compass that make you a walking kiddush Hashem, respected by all those you come in contact with.

I know how busy you are, but, please get back to me.



2 comments on “Maintaining One’s Moral Compass in the Workplace

  1. Can’t really add much to that those 6 points of solid chizuk. Would add to point (2) my personal preference of Rabbi Avigdor Miller zt’l – each tape is a sefer of wondeful etzos, chochma and Daas Torah for the twenty first century such as how to spot the infinite chochma of a leaf or the chesed in an apple in the middle of rushing around in our crazy lives.

    I would add one more point. Hisbodedus – personal prayer which several Chassidishe seforim emphasise esp. Breslov, for a taster try:

    Hatzlacha rabba.

  2. Shmuel-

    Here are some tips that have worked for me. By way of background, I learnt several years in advanced yeshivos and in kollel. I have spent the last eighteen years in the workplace. I’m currently working at a medium-sized Midwestern company. I am the only frum employee in the company.

    1. I’m not sure if you wear a yarmulka at work or not, but doing so provides a wonderful shemirah. Your co-workers will automatically understand that you do things differently. In my experience they will refrain from using course language in your presence. In addition, you will be very conscious of being on your toes with your “ambassador” status, which is a good thing.

    2. For years I have commuted to and from work listening to inspirational tapes. It’s important to find tapes that hit your “spiritual spot”, rather than tapes that you listen to just for the sake of listening to a tape. After a while you’ll feel that the respective maggidei shiurim are your close friends; you’ll be able to finish their sentences for them. My favorites are tapes are those of Rabbis Reisman, Frand, and (yibodel l’chaim) Yitzchak Kirzner.

    3. Make a point of davening with a minyan as much as you can. Even if you’re exhausted still do it. Realize that you’re an eved Hashem. In the military nothing is optional. Don’t sneak out of shachris after krias haTorah, or chazoras haShatz. Be moser nefesh on this point. After a while you’ll feel a sense of pride. You will feel a part of the kehilla you’re davening with.

    4. Learn before shachris something that will stretch your mind, such as a blatt gemorroh. The mental calisthenics of a warm-up at this time of the day, before the daily grind has begun to make itself felt, gives your shachris a lot more octane.

    5. Stop off on your way home from work at your local Yeshivah or Kollel for an hour. Open a gemorroh and think of a kushya, even a klutz kushya, to ask the kollel yungeleit. Get excited about it. Think of yourself as role model for other baaleibatim, because that’s what you’ll become. When you step into your home that evening, your wife will see a gentle smile on your face, not the harried bitter look of someone who’s endured yet one more day at the office.

    6. Now an admission: While my family and yeshiva backgrounds are purely Litvish, I think Chassidishe seforim provide a certain warmth and chizzuk for the working baalhabos that are difficult to find elsewhere. In particular, the extensive writings of the Slonimer Rebbe (Nesivos Sholom) on themes such as Kedusha, Ahavas HaShem, and Yiras Hashem, Devaikus are mezmerizing. If you learn these seforim consistenly you will notice a lot of positive changes in yourself.

    Keep well and Hatzlocho

Comments are closed.