Halacha Date: 4 Kislev 5776 November 16 2015
Within the series of requests at the end of Birkat Hamazon entitled the “Harachaman”s, it is customary to pray for Parnassah (one’s livelihood). Ashkenazim customarily recite, “May the Merciful One provide us with our livelihood honorably.” On the other hand, the prevalent text among Sephardic and Middle Eastern Jews is, “May the Merciful One provide us with our livelihood honorably and not with shame, through permissible means and not forbidden ones, and through satisfaction and not suffering.” Hagaon Rabbeinu Yosef Haim questions this text in his Ben Ish Hai (Parashat Chukat), for how can one turn to Hashem and request that He provide one with livelihood and sustenance and then to add that the livelihood Hashem sends should be through permissible means and not through forbidden ones? Does is make sense that Hashem would send someone Parnassah in a forbidden manner?
The same text of requesting livelihood from Hashem in a permissible manner and not a forbidden one can be found in the prayers of the High Holidays as well. Rabbeinu Yosef Haim questions the text of these prayers as well and concludes that one should omit these words, for Hashem will certainly only provide our livelihood through permissible means.
Nevertheless, the same request of livelihood “honorably and not with shame, through permissible means and not forbidden ones” can be found in the texts of great luminaries. Indeed, the Sefer Seder Ha’Yom (authored by Rabbeinu Moshe ben Machir, one of the greatest scholars of the generation who lived approximately five-hundred years ago in the generation of Maran Ha’Bet Yosef and the saintly Ari z”l and whose writings are constantly quoted by many Acharonim) states that one should always pray to Hashem that He provide one with livelihood “honorably and not with shame, through permissible means and not forbidden ones”. We find similar texts in the works of many great Acharonim.
Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l questions this ruling of Rabbeinu Yosef Haim (in his Halichot Olam, Volume 2, page 73) and writes that the Gemara (Sukkah 52b) states: One’s Evil Inclination overcomes one every day and if not for Hashem’s assistance, one does not stand a chance to defeat it.” Based on this, we must request that Hashem grant us the ability to be able to withstand the temptations of our Evil Inclination. It is for this reason that our Sages enacted that we recite in one of the morning blessings: “And do not bring us to sin and not to iniquity and force our inclination to be subjugated to you.” Thus, there would be no issue with requesting that Hashem grant us livelihood “through permissible means and not forbidden ones.”
Maran zt”l proceeds to quote the words of Hagaon Rabbeinu Yaakov Emdin who writes that there are those who say not to recite the words “And do not bring us to sin” in the morning prayers and Hagaon Harav Emdin replied, “These are bewildering words, completely null and void; who is it that has the courage to erase this text?” Therefore, Maran zt”l writes that the same applies regarding the text of “through permissible means and not forbidden ones” and one may recite this without any concern.
Although there is room to differentiate between these texts, for any prayer that we ask Hashem to aid us against the Evil Inclination, this is a request for Hashem to assist us in fighting the Evil Inclination whereas within the “Harachaman” series, we are requesting that Hashem himself provide us with a livelihood in a permissible fashion (which is slightly perplexing since Hashem will certainly not send His goodness in a forbidden manner), nevertheless, since this can be understood as two different request, firstly, that Hashem provide us with a livelihood and secondly, that we earn our livelihood in a permissible fashion, this text is therefore halachically acceptable. This is indeed the custom of most Sephardic Jews to recite this text without any concern.