Matching the importance of work as the crucible that tests our mettle is its role as the material basis of existence, the tool with which we earn our living. But people – Jews and non-Jews alike – grope in the darkness as they forge their financial lives. They know not how to go about it. Yet the Torah provides guidance on this topic.
Once again, it is the Rambam, the great codifier of Jewish law, who spells out for us the practical details of how to go about pursuing a livelihood, by resolving a logical order for major life milestones. The halachah begins:
The way of the wise is to first establish for oneself an occupation to provide for himself, and afterwards he should acquire a residence, and afterwards he should marry a wife. As it is said: “Who is the man who has planted a vineyard and not redeemed it? … Who is the man who has built a house and not dedicated it? … Who is the man who has betrothed a woman and not married her?”
The Rambam is saying that planting a vineyard, the field from whose produce he will sell wine, logically precedes the purchase of a home, which a man should in turn have the wherewithal to build as a qualification for marrying. The Rambam continues:
However, fools begin by marrying a woman, and then if he can afford it, he will buy a home, and then at the end of his days he will go about seeking a trade or support himself through charity. And so it says in the curses [the tochechah or the imprecations for neglecting the mitzvot]: “You will betroth a woman…you will build a house…you will plant a vineyard.” That is to say, your deeds will be in reverse order so that you will not succeed in your pursuits. But as to blessing, it says: “And David was successful [maskil] in all his ways and God was with him.”
The word maskil used in the final verse quoted has two meanings: successful, and intelligent. The ambiguous wording seems to be adduced as a subtle hint that success in affairs is dependent on an intelligent arrangement of them.
In short, this halachah states that there is a logical sequence in financially ordering one’s life, and it begins with earning a living and then builds up to other lifecycle milestones such as acquiring a home and marriage.
Each individual’s path will differ depending on his unique circumstances. In fact, a mishnah in Pirkei Avot – “the age of eighteen is for marriage, the age of twenty is for pursuing” – may be interpreted as placing marriage prior to seeking a living. Maybe a certain career option is foreclosed by a quirk of geography, such as the young couple’s moving to a community where housing is affordable, but where a desired career path is less practicable. It is through such individual choices that people meet their destinies. Fortunately, when it may seem that every door is closed to you, experience shows that there’s always at least one that is indeed open and beckoning you forward.
In the next installment, the Rambam offers what may be the most precise and concise statement of financial planning ever given.
 Hilchot Deot 5:11.
 Devarim 20:5-7.
 Devarim 28:30.
 1 Shemuel 18:14.
 Avot 5:23.