August 15, 1998
"And it will be, if you hearken diligently to My commands that I command you today to love Hashem your G-d and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul. Then I will give the rain of your land in its time--the early rain and the late rain--and you will gather in your grain and your wine and your oil."
These verses indicate that our service of Hashem "with all our heart and soul" will cause our agricultural efforts--and by extension, all our financial toil--to be blessed with success.
The mishnah in Avos emphasizes this ideal: "Pleasing is Torah with derech eretz [a worldly occupation], for the efforts of both causes sin to be forgotten. And any Torah that is not accompanied by work will become nullified in the end and lead to sin."
In the Talmud, Rabbi Yishmael champions this position. "Hanheig bahem minhag derech eretz. Combine them [words of Torah] with a worldly occupation." This simple strategy presents an incredible challenge. For Torah study, according to Rav Chaim Volozhin, must be your pursuit during all free moments, and Torah ethics must be reflected in all of your conduct as you are pursuing your livelihood.
Nonetheless, Rabbi Yishmael's view is forcefully challenged by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. "Is it possible," he asks, for one to be beholden to the agricultural cycle of plowing, sowing, harvesting, and processing and still have time to study properly? "What will become of Torah?!" cries Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.
Which view do we accept? Abaye remarks that many followed Rabbi Yishmael and succeeded, while many followed Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and did
not succeed. And Rava, the Talmud informs us, told his students to look after their livelihoods during the planting and harvest seasons and not report to the study hall.
The Rambam, as interpreted by many sages, maintains that the view of Rabbi Yishmael is the approach for the majority of people. Nonetheless, a select few, who understand the sacrifices and responsibilities entailed, may opt for the view of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and expect to be supported by the community as they dedicate themselves to the study of Torah.
That is our situation today: a majority of working Torah Jews combined with a cadre of Torah scholars.
It behooves us to stress to the world of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai how much respect is needed for the world of Rabbi Yishmael. As one of the greatest sages of Eretz Yisrael commented to one of his contemporaries after listening to him tell a group of yeshiva students that their studies during the war put them, too, on the front lines, "Richtig, aber ich bin zecher az ze dafen nit goimel benchin nochen milachamah."
It is also our obligation to educate and persuade the world of Rabbi Yishmael to appreciate how crucial it is for Klal Yisrael to have the world of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. The phenomenal growth of kollelim across the country has strengthened each and every community by raising the general level of observance and learning.
Moreover, we must reject any camp that sees only its own point of view and refuses to acknowledge the validity of other positions. Our Sages recognized and appreciated both points of view.
Rabbi Raphael Marcus
Rabbi Marcus is rabbi of Congregation B'nai Torah in Toronto, Canada.
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