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Pirkei Avot 2:2 – Torah and Work, Work and Torah


Pirkei Avot 2:2

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. וְכָל הָעֲמֵלִים עִם הַצִּבּוּר, יִהְיוּ עֲמֵלִים עִמָּהֶם לְשֵׁם שָׁמַיִם, שֶׁזְּכוּת אֲבוֹתָם מְסַיַּעְתָּן וְצִדְקָתָם עוֹמֶדֶת לָעַד. וְאַתֶּם, מַעֲלֶה אֲנִי עֲלֵיכֶם שָׂכָר הַרְבֵּה כְּאִלּוּ עֲשִׂיתֶם:

Rabban Gamaliel the son of Rabbi Judah Hanasi said: excellent is the study of the Torah when combined with a worldly occupation, for toil in them both keeps sin out of one’s mind; But [study of the] Torah which is not combined with a worldly occupation, in the end comes to be neglected and becomes the cause of sin. And all who labor with the community, should labor with them for the sake of Heaven, for the merit of their forefathers sustains them (the community), and their (the forefather’s) righteousness endures forever; And as for you, [G-d in such case says] I credit you with a rich reward, as if you [yourselves] had [actually] accomplished [it all].

Noahides have an obligation to observe the 7 Noahide Commandments, and its details. However, Noahides do not have the obligation to study Torah, although it makes sense to do so. After all, how else would you know what the 7 Noahide Commandments are, and how to observe them. Jews do have an obligation to study Torah in depth. For Noahides, the chances of going to study Torah alone without having a daily occupation are out of the question. What can we learn from this Mishnah?

It shows the importance of both, of leading a working life and learning Torah. You cannot have one without the other. We learn from the Torah that G-d wants a relationship with man and a habitable world. To make a habitable world we will have to work, it doesn’t happen by itself. The Torah also teaches what rules there are to make a habitable world. So, by learning Torah we know how to achieve that goal. We learn to respect G-d, our fellow human beings, animals, and the rest of creation.

When we stand with both feet in society, we encounter people. Now, we will not always be able to draw people’s attention (right away) to the 7 Noahide commandments. But we can make them curious by our attitude to life. By being modest in our words, behavior, and clothing. By helping others and give charity. Perhaps our behavior makes others curious, and they start asking questions, then they are open, and then we can teach them the 7 Noahide Commandments.

But even if we cannot make people curious, even if we are just doing our job, we must do our job knowing that we are doing what G-d wants. He has given us our work for a specific purpose and function. I once spoke to someone who had to put boxes into a big box all day behind the assembly line. He told me he was happy with his work because it allowed him to listen to G-d’s Word all day and even earn some money.

Let us learn Torah to know how to work, let us do our work in light of what we have learned from Torah, let our work lead to Torah.

By Angelique Sijbolts

See also the shiur: Torah Study

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