Shiur #34: Torah Study (8) Torah Study and Derekh Eretz (Part II)

  • Harav Baruch Gigi

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L'iluy nishmat Yosef ben Aharon Shmuel H"YD, Grandpa Joe.
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I. The Complexity of the Positions of Rabbi Yishmael and Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai

            In the previous shiur we saw the difficulty in understanding the positions of Rabbi Yishmael and Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai regarding the possibility of combining Torah study with a worldly occupation.

            We can attempt to resolve the difficulty in light of the Tosafot in Menachot, which was cited in the previous shiur. According to the Tosafot, Rabbi Yishmael allows for worldly occupation, meaning that there is no obligation to study Torah all day long. However, one is permitted to interrupt his Torah study only for the sake of occupation that enables his physical existence. That is, one is only permitted to engage in a worldly occupation for the sake of "gathering in one's corn." There is no allowance for a person to study Greek wisdom (as mentioned in the example in Menachot).

            According to this understanding, the obligation is that Torah study should not depart from one’s mouth at all, with a limited exception based on "And you shall gather in your corn." The Chida in the Birkei Yosef (Yoreh De'a 246) suggests a similar understanding.

            The difficulty with this is that according to the passage in Berakhot, Rabbi Yishmael does not interpret the verse, "It shall not depart" in its plain sense. The expected understanding would be that one is obligated to study Torah both in the day and in the evening, but not all day and all evening, as was proposed by the Tosafot.[1]

            I therefore wish to suggest that indeed Rabbi Yishmael understands the verse, "It shall not depart," as obligating a person to study Torah during the day and the evening. Thus, the possibility exists for a person to devote time to matters of worldly occupation. Rabbi Yishmael was disturbed by his nephew Dama ben Netina's request because of the root of his desire, and not because of the desire to study Greek wisdom itself.

            According to Rabbi Yishmael, the study itself of Greek wisdom is permissible as part of the permission to engage in worldly occupation. This seems to be said by the Tosafot in Menachot:

There is no obligation upon you to engage exclusively in their study, but at the same time you are not at liberty to desist from studying them altogether. Rather it is proper to combine Torah study with a worldly occupation. (Tosafot, Menachot 99b)

            A person is not obligated to engage exclusively in Torah study, but rather he is allowed to combine Torah study with worldly occupation in an appropriate manner. But Dama ben Netina wished to study Greek wisdom because he thought that he had exhausted his Torah study. As Dama put it: "May someone such as I, who has studied the whole Torah, now learn Greek wisdom?"

            Rabbi Yishmael therefore answered him that the fundamental aspiration of any Torah student must be to study Torah whenever he can. This assertion, according to which a person must make every effort to study as much Torah as possible, is undisputed. Had Dama ben Netina been interested in studying Greek wisdom because he felt a desire to master it because of its importance due to it being part of God's world, this would have been permissible. But if someone wishes to study Greek wisdom because he already "finished" studying the entire Torah, we inform him that he is mistaken. We explain to him that there is no point in time when a person is finished studying Torah, and therefore one must find a time that is neither day nor night to study Greek wisdom.

            Support for this understanding may be brought from the words of the Ran in Nedarim. The Ran has a difficulty with the Gemara which states:

Rav Gidel also said in the name of Rav: He who says: I will rise early to study this chapter or this tractate, has vowed a great vow to the God of Israel. But he is under a perpetual oath from Mount Sinai, and an oath cannot fall upon another?[…] This is what Rav Gidel said: The oath is binding, since one can free himself by reading of the Shema morning and evening. (Nedarim 8a)

            According to the Gemara, if one takes a vow to study a particular tractate, the vow is binding, because he can free himself from Torah study by reciting the Shema in the morning and in the evening, and therefore he is not considered under a perpetual oath from Mount Sinai to study all the time.

            The Ran raises an objection:

We said in the first chapter of Kiddushin (30a): Our Rabbis taught: "And you shall teach them diligently" [means] that the words of the Torah shall be clear-cut in your mouth, so that if someone asks you something, you should not show doubt… and reciting the Shema morning and evening does not suffice for this. (Chiddushei ha-Ran, ad loc.)[2]

            According to this, a person is not only obligated to study Torah, but also to know Torah., A person can fulfill the mitzva to study Torah with the recitation of the Shema in the morning and in the evening, but this does not fulfill  the mitzva to know Torah, surely not at the level where the words of the Torah are "clear-cut in your mouth."

            What emerges from his words there is that the direct obligation of Torah study relates to the day and the evening, but alongside this there is another mitzva to know the Torah. It suffices to read the Shema in the morning and in the evening to fulfill the direct mitzva of Torah study, but the mitzva to know the Torah is an obligation with no precise time frame. This obligation is perpetual, as a person must constantly improve and enhance his knowledge and mastery of Torah.

            According to Rabbi Yishmael, this obligation must be integrated into the general framework of life, which in his opinion includes engaging in a worldly occupation.

            Having come this far, we can now explain, at least at the level of principle, the position of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai in this manner as well. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai concedes that the verse, "It shall not depart," teaches an obligation to study Torah in the morning and in the evening, an obligation which is fulfilled with the reading of the Shema in the morning and in the evening. He maintains that the second level, the obligation to know the Torah, demands all of man's resources, because "the measure" of the Torah "is longer than the earth and broader than the sea" (Iyov 11:9).

            The Birkei Yosef writes something similar:

In fact Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai maintains that as for "It shall not depart," a person fulfills his obligation by reading the Shema in the morning and in the evening. However, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai maintains that the mitzva of Torah study is like a lion lying on a person's head, day upon day, night upon night, to study the Torah in order to know all of its general rules, its details, and its minutiae, its judgments, its laws, and all its ways and traditions, Aggadot and Halakhot, Mishna and Baraita, that which is deep and that which is concealed, of the Bible and of all the Oral law… like water that has no end.

And if at the time of plowing, a wise man will seek a plow, and at the time of harvest, the Rabbis will come and harvest, and the like, when will one fill his belly with the holy things from heaven and learn the entire Torah? This is what Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai said in Berakhot: "What is to become of the Torah?" He didn't come to this because it is written: "It shall not depart," but only because he said: "What is to become of the Torah?" (Birkei Yosef, Yoreh De'a 246)

            To summarize, the great, wide sea of Torah does not allow for time to be devoted to other matters. If a person spends time on other things, his ability to master this enormous world of Torah will be impaired, and "what is to become of the Torah?"

            This can also be formulated in a slightly different manner. The mitzva of Torah study has two levels: the basic mitzva and an additional level. The basic level of the mitzva is fulfilled by reciting the Shema in the morning and in the evening. But the second level does not see the mitzva of Torah study as merely a mitzva, because this mitzva involves occupation with God's word, which is great, profound, broad and infinite, and a connection to God by way of His word that had come down to us. A limit cannot be set on this connection: "Though our mouths were full… we would still be unable…" (Nishmat Kol Chai prayer).

            Therefore, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai argues that there is no room for plowing or sowing or any other worldly occupation. The aspiration to connect and cleave to the word of God, to His Torah, demands total dedication and abandonment of all of one's mundane affairs.

            It may be recalled that the Gemara's conclusion in Berakhot is:

Abaye said: Many have followed the advice of Rabbi Yishmael, and it has worked well; others have followed Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, and it has not been successful. (Berakhot 35b)

            It turns out then that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai's approach is not designed for the masses, and that we must follow the approach of Rabbi Yishmael. For this reason, Rava says later on in the passage in Berakhot:

Rava said to the Rabbis: I would ask you not to appear before me during Nisan and Tishrei so that you are not anxious about your food supply during the rest of the year. (Berakhot ibid.)

II. The Disagreement Between Rabbeinu Elchanan and Rabbeinu Tam Concerning the Proper Way to Combine Torah Study with a Worldly Pccupation

            Even after the Halakha has been determined in accordance with the opinion of Rabbi Yishmael, there is still room to discuss the nature and scope of the combination that he proposes:

            In tractate Avot it is stated:

Rabban Gamliel the son of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi says: Excellent is the study of the Torah with a worldly occupation, for the energy [taken up] by both of them keeps sin out of mind; and [as for] all [study of the] Torah where there is no worldly occupation, the end thereof [is that] it comes to naught and brings sin it its train. (Avot 2:2)

            This Mishna speaks of the importance of the combination of Torah study and derekh eretz. This Mishna proves that "derekh eretz" refers to the work that a person must perform to support himself and fill his worldly needs.

            However, the Rishonim disagree about how to understand this Mishna. The Rosh writes:

And the Ri[3] would say that a worldly occupation is the main concern, more than Torah study, for we learned in tractate Avot: "Excellent is the study of Torah with a worldly occupation," implying that a worldly occupation is the main concern… But this does not seem right to Rabbi Elchanan, for we say here: "The earlier generations made the study of the Torah their main concern and their ordinary work subsidiary to it."

And we learned [in the Mishna]: "The Torah is acquired [in the form of] forty-eight things… with moderation in worldly occupation" (Avot 6:5). And we learned in the Mishna: "And [as for] all [study of the] Torah where there is no worldly occupation with it, the end thereof [is that] it comes to naught, and it brings sin in its train" (Avot 2:2). We must infer from the fact that it says "with it," that the Torah is the main concern. (Tosafot Rosh, Berakhot 35b, s.v. Ve-asafta)

            Regarding the Gemara in Yoma, the Rosh brings the following in the name of Rabbeinu Tam, and states his disagreement:

As for what Rabbeinu Tam ordinarily says that Torah study is subsidiary to worldly occupation, based on what we learned in the Mishna: "Excellent is the study of the Torah with a worldly occupation," which implies that a worldly occupation is the main concern… Nevertheless, it seems not to accord with Rabbeinu Tam, for the Torah is the main concern, for it also says there: "All [study of the] Torah where there is no worldly occupation with it." From this one can infer the opposite, that the Torah is the main concern.

And we also said in Chapter Keitzad Mevarchin that "the earlier generations made the study of the Torah their main concern and their ordinary work subsidiary to it." And we learned in the Mishna: "The Torah is acquired [in the form of] forty-eight things… with moderation in worldly occupation." (Tosafot Rosh, Yoma 85b. s.v. Teshuva).

            It would appear that Rabbeinu Tam and Rabbeinu Elchanan disagree about the very foundation and scope of the mitzva of Torah study. The underlying assumption of both is that man is a creature of flesh and blood with earthly needs, who must maneuver his life between Torah and a worldly occupation.

            Rabbeinu Elchanan maintains that the mitzva to study Torah is a mitzva which falls upon a person to fulfill at all times, but he is granted a special "allowance" when he is engaged in a worldly occupation, to enable his physical survival. It is therefore clear that Torah must be his main concern and his ordinary work must be subsidiary to it, and that he must keep his worldly occupation to a minimum.

            This would seem to accord with the Rambam's ruling in Hilkhot Talmud Torah:

[The following rules apply] when a person is confronted with the performance of a mitzva and the study of Torah: If the mitzva can be performed by another individual, he should not interrupt his studies. If not, he should perform the mitzva, and then return to his studies. (Hilkhot Talmud Torah 3:4)

            When Rabbeinu Elchanan speaks of the Torah as "the main concern," he means that fundamentally a person is obligated to study Torah all the time and must not interrupt his study even to perform a mitzva. He may only interrupt his study if the mitzva cannot be performed by another individual, and only for as long as is necessary to perform the mitzva, but as soon as he is finished, he must return to his study.

            The same applies to a worldly occupation. A person may only engage in such an occupation in order to meet his minimal physical needs, and he must occupy himself in Torah study the rest of the time.

            Rabbeinu Tam, on the other hand, maintains that the mitzva of Torah study applies only during a person's free time. According to this, a worldly occupation does not set aside Torah study, but rather it stands on its own as something that a person must engage in, in order to fill his worldly needs.

            It is in this sense that Rabbeinu Tam says that "a worldly occupation is the main concern, and Torah study is subsidiary to it." That is to say, every individual must engage in a worldly occupation in order to satisfy his needs. It stands to reason that the scope of such an occupation will range from person to person in accordance with his capabilities, needs, desires and aspirations. The obligation to study Torah enters the picture only after a worldly occupation. In this sense Rabbeinu Tam rules that a worldly occupation is the main concern.

            Of course, even according to Rabbeinu Tam there is room to limit one's engagement in a worldly occupation, by defining one's minimal needs and being content with these. In this way, a person can clear time for himself, and during that period of time he will be bound by the obligation to study Torah.

            Rav Elchanan Wasserman writes in a similar fashion in his Kovetz He'arot:

Regarding cancelling Torah study for the sake of performing a mitzva, the reason is not that the mitzva of Torah study is set aside by the performance of a mitzva, for surely the mitzva of Torah study is greater than all other mitzvot. Rather, just as one is permitted to cancel Torah study for the sake of a worldly occupation and all of a person's essential needs, and this is because the obligation of Torah study only falls upon a person when he is free from doing his necessary work, as it is written: "And you shall gather in your corn," but when he must perform his work, he is not at all obligated in Torah study; so too here if he must occupy himself with a mitzva, this is no worse than other human needs, and he is not at all obligated then in Torah study.

But in the case of a mitzva that can be performed by others, and similarly if he can perform it later, the mitzva of Torah study has not left him, and since he is bound by the obligation to study Torah, he is exempt from the mitzva. This is certainly so, for when a person is bound by the mitzva of Torah study, it is not set aside by any mitzva, as it is the most severe of all the mitzvot. (Kovetz He'arot, Yebamot, Additions 1)

This appears to be the Rambam’s position. On the one hand, the Rambam rules that a person is obligated to support himself, and not to live on charity, as he writes in Hilkhot Talmud Torah:

Anyone who comes to the conclusion that he should involve himself in Torah study without doing work and derive his livelihood from charity, desecrates [God's] name, dishonors the Torah, extinguishes the light of faith, brings evil upon himself, and forfeits the life of the world-to-come, for it is forbidden to derive benefit from the words of Torah in this world.

Our Sages declared: Whoever benefits from the words of Torah forfeits his life in the world. Also, they commanded and declared: Do not make the words of Torah a crown to magnify oneself, nor an axe to chop with. Also, they commanded and declared: Love work and despise Rabbinic positions. All Torah that is not accompanied by work will eventually be negated and lead to sin. Ultimately, such a person will steal from others.

It is a tremendous advantage for a person to derive his livelihood from his own efforts. This attribute was possessed by the pious of the early generations. In this manner, one will merit all [types of] honor and benefit in this world and in the world to come, as it is stated: "If you eat the toil of your hands, you will be happy and it will be good for you" (Tehilim 128:2) - "You will be happy" - in this world; "it will be good for you" - in the world-to-come, which is entirely good. (Hilkhot Talmud Torah 3:10-11)

            At the same time, the Rambam emphasizes an individual's obligation to minimize his engagement in worldly occupation for the sake of immersing himself in Torah study. This appears in several places in chapter 3 (see also halakhot 7-8) of Hilkhot Talmud Torah:

A person whose heart inspires him to fulfill this mitzva in a fitting manner and to become crowned with the crown of Torah should not divert his attention to other matters. He should not set his intent on acquiring Torah together with wealth and honor simultaneously. [Rather,] this is the path of Torah: Eat bread with salt, drink water in small measure, sleep on the ground, live a life of difficulty, and toil in Torah. The task is not incumbent upon you to complete, nor are you free to desist from it. (Hilkhot Talmud Torah 3:6)

(Translated by David Strauss)

 


[1] See also below regarding the appropriate division of time between Torah and a worldly occupation. According to the Chida there is no room for such a discussion, because fundamentally a person must study Torah all day long, and stop only to gather in his corn. This approach, that even Rabbi Yishmael agrees that a person is obligated to study all the time, and that there is only a limited exception to ensure his physical survival, and with the restriction that even when engaged in such occupation he should not turn his heart away from the Torah, seems to have been adopted by Rav Chayyim of Volozhin, who writes in his book, Nefesh ha-Chayyim, that even Rabbi Yishmael agrees that one cannot go even a moment without Torah study:

"Rabbi Yishmael certainly does not maintain that a person is granted permission, God forbid, to refrain even for a short time from Torah study, and to occupy himself with earning a living, and to be completely idle during that period from studying Torah, God forbid. Rabbi Yishmael alluded to this in his holy wording: 'Combine the study of them with a worldly occupation.' That is to say, of them, together with them, with words of Torah. That is, even during that short period when you engage in earning a living, as is necessary for survival, nevertheless in your mind, contemplate only the words of the Torah.

And similarly Rava said to his disciples: 'I would ask you not to appear before me during Nisan and Tishrei.' To be precise, [he asked them] not to come to his Beit Midrash. But Rava's disciples were certainly not totally idle from Torah study on those days even in their homes. And they said there: 'Many have followed the advice of Rabbi Yishmael, and it has worked well; others have followed Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, and it has not been successful.' 'Many' is precise, as for the masses it is almost impossible for them to occupy themselves all their days exclusively in Torah study, not turning even for a short time to earning a living. About this they said in Avot: 'All [study of the] Torah where there is no worldly occupation, etc.' But an individual who can live occupied exclusively in His Torah and in His service, is certainly under obligation not to refrain even for a short period of time from Torah study and service in order to make a living, God forbid. This is like Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai." (Nefesh ha-Chayyim I, 8)

[2] His answer there does not directly relate to the issue at hand, but rather relates to the laws of being bound by a perpetual oath from Mount Sinai.

[3] Ri here seems to be Rabbeinu Yaakov, i.e., Rabbeinu Tam. See below.