Torah without Work
How a teaching of Chazal was erased from Judaism
It’s commonly stated that Orthodox Judaism believes in being loyal to Chazal’s teachings, whereas other denominations reject whatever they don’t like. Unfortunately that’s not true; in many parts of Orthodox Jewish society, while they pay lip service to the idea of being loyal to Chazal’s teachings, in practice they simply ignore that which they don’t like. One example is the following Mishnah in Pirkei Avot:
רַבָּן גַּמְלִיאֵל בְּנוֹ שֶׁל רַבִּי יְהוּדָה הַנָּשִׂיא אוֹמֵר, יָפֶה תַלְמוּד תּוֹרָה עִם דֶּרֶךְ אֶרֶץ, שֶׁיְּגִיעַת שְׁנֵיהֶם מְשַׁכַּחַת עָוֹן. וְכָל תּוֹרָה שֶׁאֵין עִמָּהּ מְלָאכָה, סוֹפָהּ בְּטֵלָה וְגוֹרֶרֶת עָוֹן.
“…Wonderful is the study of the Torah when combined with derech eretz, for toil in them both keeps sin out of one’s mind. And Torah which is not combined with work, in the end comes to be neglected and becomes the cause of sin.” (Avot 2:2)
I came across a creative explanation of this Mishnah in which “work” (melachah) does not actually refer to work in the conventional sense. Irving Bunim, in his legendary commentary Ethics From Sinai, explains that it refers to melacha in the sense of creation, and it refers to creating something with Torah:
“…A person should “make” something with his Torah. His learning should be applied to his life in all its various activities. If he is a rabbi, let him lead, let him judge. Torah was meant to see the light of day, to enter the world of reality as a living force, influencing, shaping and transforming.”
Now, Bunim’s interpretation is certainly a valuable and correct insight into what Torah study should accomplish. Torah is not just about learning in the contemporary Torah Lishmah practice of sitting in kollel for years on end, with the study of Gemara serving merely to sharpen one’s mind and to allegedly create metaphysical energy. It’s supposed to actually change a person and society.
But is this what the Mishnah is saying here? Surely not. Certainly this phrase is related to the previous phrase, and refers to work in the conventional sense.
But here’s where it gets really interesting. In the new 2002 edition of Ethics from Sinai, the above is what is quoted:
But if you check out the original 1964 edition, there are some crucial additional sentences which were censored from the new edition!
“Furthermore, the person who simply sits and studies will have a problem of earning a living. He may be reduced to receiving support as a public charge. This will certainly bring him no dignity and reflect no glory on the Torah; and ultimately sin will result.”
This is, of course, the plain and clear meaning of the Mishnah, and the traditional interpretation. But it was deleted from Bunim’s treasured work, because such things have no place in certain circles today.
(Thanks to Robert Levene for drawing my attention to this.)
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I think Noson and most of the commenters are missing an important point. Divre Chazal, constitutes Torah Sh'Baal Peh. That means it is guidelines, not an exact code of law or exact instructions. A talmid chochom, is a person who has absorbed a vast knowledge and understanding of Torah Sh'bichsav and Torah Sh'Baal Peh. As such his OPINIONS have credibility when making a decision in Halacha or offering advice. When an individual asks a talmid chochom for a psak, he is bound to listen and do what he was told. Often there is a consensus of the same opinion rendered by numerous talmidei chachomim on the same question. In that case a MINHAG of how the Jewish community acts could be established. However if an individual asks his Rav the same question and gets a different answer in his specific case, he must listen to his rav.
The entire issue of learning full time or leaving full time learning in our day and age has a certain consensus of great talmidei chachomim, who are fully aware of everything written in Avos, Talmud, all Chazal, Rishonim and Acharonim. Their opinions on this matter are significant, not the individual nit-picking opinion of a brilliant zoologist, who became embittered after he was shafted by some of these talmidei chachomim (but far from all). Unfortunately, by becoming so embittered, he himself has given credence to his opponents, who now say, "You see, were right about him in our original condemnation. His reactions and turning away have proved we were right about him all along!"
It is my understanding that the Kollel concept since the end of WWII has been very beneficial in general for Klal Yisroel, but it is not perfect for every individual. The Holocaust heavily degraded Torah Knowledge in the world and it had to be restored quickly. Sort of like a person who was terribly injured in an accident, you first work on keeping him alive, then you work on his rehab; you do not worry about where the money to accomplish these things will come from. Once he's on his feet and recovered to a certain level, he can get back to work. This is happening, many former kollel fellows are becoming millionaires and billionaires. Lakewood is slowly but surely becoming a rich city. Frum Jews have in recent times dominated the diamond business, now they are taking over the nursing home business, as well as many other real estate interests.
I have lots of problems with people not keeping Mishnayos in Avos.
For example, אל תהיו כעבדים המשמשים את הרב על מנת לקבל פרס.
Or, how about this one אל תרבה שיחה עם אשה, באשתו אמרו קל וחומר באשת חבירו. Does it bother you when you see couples chatting easily with each other? When a couple is walking in the street and the husband and wife are shmoozing? How could a teaching of Chazal be forgotten like that?
Tell the truth. Chazal is not your problem. You don't care whether they listen to Chazal or not. You don't have a 'job' (using the word as liberally as possible) because of Chazal, and Chazal's injunctions are only helpful suggestions to you.