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Beit Midrash Series Ein Ayah

Was Man Made to Work?

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Gemara: Why does the Torah have to write, "You shall harvest your grain" (Devarim 11:14). Since the pasuk says: "The book of the Torah will not move from your lips" (Yehoshua 1:8), I might think that this should be taken literally. That’s why it says, "You shall harvest your grain," meaning that one should act in the way of the land [and take the time to harvest his crops]. The preceding are the words of Rabbi Yishmael. Rabbi Shimon says: Is it possible that one will plow at the time of plowing, sow at the time of sowing, reap at the time of reaping, thresh at the time of threshing, and winnow when there is wind? If so, what will become of the Torah? Rather, when Israel does the wishes of Hashem, their work will be done by others... Abaye said: Many followed Rabbi Yishmael and succeeded; many followed Rabbi Shimon and did not succeed.

Ein Ayah: One may raise the following dilemma: Is the intrinsic nature of man to be involved uninterruptedly in matters of the intellect, and his involvement in practical matters are just out of necessity but are really beneath his level? Or is it possible that man’s nature is made up of both practical and intellectual inclinations, in which case, involvement in physical matters in a reasonable proportion actually completes his natural essence?
The above dilemma is behind the disagreement between Rabbi Yishmael and Rabbi Shimon. The former holds that interruption from one’s learning for physical pursuits of making a living, in a manner that does not contradict his overall stress on Torah study, is not something lacking but something that complements his nature. That is why as a rule, following in a Torah lifestyle is to follow the "way of the land."
Rabbi Shimon, on the other hand, says that a person’s level should be so lofty that he will not be able to appreciate any pursuit other than intellectual ones. If not for sin, one would be able to fulfill the pasuk that the Torah will not move from his lips literally. Therefore, one should always strive and encourage others to be as complete a person as possible, and that whatever involvement one has in the external world is an unfortunate shortcoming. When Bnei Yisrael are on the proper level, others will do their work and they will be focused only on the knowledge of the Torah.
Rabbi Yishmael saw the phenomenon of people being tired out when they spend all their time on the intellectual as a sign that he was right. Rabbi Shimon saw it as an entrenched problem in man, whereby it is difficult for him to strive for his proper level. However, the solution is to work on improving himself.
The aforementioned disagreement is about the nature of man. According to Rabbi Yishmael, if one finds a great person who is drawn to only uninterrupted Torah study, he is beyond human nature. The rules of the Torah were given with more average people, not angels, in mind. The gemara understands that it is difficult to prefer one opinion based on considering each argument, but rather the matter should be determined based on experience, which shows what is normal. When we see those who found good benefit from their Torah and spirituality and also from their social life and their work, this is the proof. Rabbi Shimon’s approach is difficult to carry out because of internal opposition to intellectual pursuit without any physical outlet. This shows that Rabbi Yishmael is right and that Rabbi Shimon’s approach should be reserved for people who are beyond the norm.
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