Something I learned in the talmud in Ta'anit 22:
R. Beroka Haza'ah often visited the market at Be Lapat (a note in Soncino says this is in Khuzistan during the Sasanian period) where Eliyahu ha-Navi would appear to him. Once he asked the prophet: is there anybody in this market who merits a place in the world to come? None, replied Eliyahu. But then he saw a man wearing black shoes who had no blue thread on the corners of his garment (tzitzit), and Eliyahu said: that one has a share in the world to come. R. Beroka approached the man and asked: what is your occupation? The man replied: go away and come back tomorrow.
The next day he asked again and the man said: I am a jailor and I keep the men and women separate, placing my bed between them so they do not come to sin. If I see a Jewish girl that the gentile men are interested in I risk my life to save her. Once there was a betrothed girl they wanted, and I took red wine and spilled it on her garment and told them she was ritually impure.
R. Beroka further asked: why do you have no blue thread, and why do you wear black shoes? The man replied: so they will not know I am a Jew, so that when the gentiles make a harsh decree against the Jews I am able to go and tell the rabbis so they can pray to God that the decree be anulled. And, R. Beroka asked, yesterday why did you tell me to go away and come back today? Because, the man replied, I was on an errand to tell the rabbis about a decree.
While they were talking two men walked by and Eliyahu said: these two have a place in the world to come. R. Beroka asked them: what is your occupation? We are jesters, they said; when we see men depressed we cheer them up, and further, when we see two people quarrel we try hard to make peace between them.
I love Eliyahu stories. I don't always understand them, but I love them. This one raises some questions:
Elsewhere we're told that almost everybody has a share in the world to come. Is Eliyahu saying "no, not so much", or is this particular market full of people who are especially undeserving, or what? (And what about R. Beroka?) There's one commentary that says this is about who would gain immediate entrance to Olam HaBa, and another points out that most people in the market were not Jews.
R. Beroka seems to think that one's place in the world to come is tied to one's occupation, but my understanding from other rabbinic writings is that it's more about personal traits (which transcend one's job). And, in these cases, it seems that the merit comes from how these people use their jobs to do good, rather than the jobs themselves. I wonder if this is meant to be a teaching moment, or if it's really about occupations as much as anything else.
What's wrong with black shoes? A note in Soncino implies that they are characteristic of gentile dress.