How many people suffocated themselves and played Russian Roulette with poison shots rather than risk losing their job? This proved to be the most effective form of blackmail for the masses, with expulsion from overpriced indoctrination camps (otherwise known as universities, schools, and yeshivas) a close second.
What would Rav Moshe Feinstein have advised those who were faced with this seemingly excruciating choice (and, I must reiterate, it was a choice)?
The answer should be obvious, for the correct answer to this question hardly requires a posek of Rav Moshe’s caliber. Nevertheless, we are fortunate to have a teshuva (halachic responsa) from Rav Moshe in which he gives us important insight into such a dilemma.
In Igros Moshe Choshen Mishpat 1:4 Rav Moshe writes as follows:
ובדבר אחד שעובד באפיית פת של עכו״ם וכשלא יעבוד בפסח יפסיד פרנסתו איני רואה שום היתר דהרי הוא משתכר באיסור הנאה שאסור…וגם זה עצמו שאם לא יעבוד אצלו בפסח יסלקהו ויפסיד פרנסו הרי אין לך שכר גדול מזה שאסור להשתכר באיסור הנאה ולכן אין לו עצה אלא לשכור עכו״ם שיעבוד תחתיו בימי הפסח שזה מותר בפשיטות
Regarding one who works in baking bread of a gentile, and if he does not work on Pesach he will lose his livelihood, I don’t see any grounds to permit it, for he is profiting with something that is forbidden to enjoy, which is forbidden…and this very matter, that if he does not work by him on Pesach he will fire him and he will lose his livelihood, there is no greater profit than this, for it is forbidden to profit from that which is forbidden to enjoy. Therefore he has no recourse except to hire a gentile to work in his place during the days of Pesach, which is obviously allowed.
Not only does Rav Moshe make it clear that one must be willing to forfeit his job or a profit-making opportunity rather than transgress a prohibition, he adds that making this “sacrifice” is in fact the greatest profit of all.
In the early 1900’s many American Jews, impoverished immigrants who escaped the Holocaust, were desperate for work in the supposed land of opportunity. These Jews were typically warned by their employers that if they didn’t come to work on Saturday, they shouldn’t bother showing up on Sunday. Doing the right thing often meant searching for a new job not just once, but every week, with rent to pay, hungry mouths to feed, and no security net. Many Jews unfortunately succumbed to the pressure, but many stood strong, and produced generations of committed Jews after them.
Indeed, there is no greater profit than this.
In our days we were faced with a similar choice: take a potentially deadly shot or lose your job. It is not pleasant to face the specter of unemployment and all the uncertainty that comes with that, but no one should have needed more than two seconds to make the right decision.
I would posit that electing to take the shot was a more serious transgression than working on Shabbos or baking bread for a gentile on Pesach. Not only is taking the shot an act of possible suicide, a cardinal sin, but it strengthened our enemies in pushing their wicked, murderous agenda on others. We have no right to endanger the lives of others to save our lousy job.
It isn’t those who refused to take the shots who were selfish; it was those who caved to keep their job another day.
Ultimately it boils down to commitment to the Torah and bitachon in Hashem. Do you believe that Hashem runs the world? Do you believe that He decides on Rosh Hashana how much you will earn? Do you believe that you will profit by violating Hashem’s will? Do you believe Hashem will abandon those who stand firm? Do you believe all our ancestors who did the right thing under pressure, and paid heavily in the short term, were fools?
Do you really believe in Hashem, or do you just pay lip service?
Sometimes you have to prove it. Sometimes you have to make inconvenient decisions, and even give up a lousy job, to prove you believe in Hashem. That’s how you earn your stripes.
And, in the words of Rav Moshe Feinstein, that is the greatest profit of all.
[Also see this article: But what if I lose my job?]