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Talmud Torah - Chapter Three

Talmud Torah - Chapter Three

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Halacha 1

Three crowns were conferred upon Israel: the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood, and the crown of royalty. Aaron merited the crown of priesthood, as [Numbers 25:13] states: "And it will be an eternal covenant of priesthood for him and his descendants after him."

David merited the crown of royalty, as [Psalms 89:37] states: "His seed will continue forever, and his throne will be as the sun before Me."

The crown of Torah is set aside, waiting, and ready for each Jew, as [implied by Deuteronomy 33:4]: "The Torah which Moses commanded us is the inheritance of the congregation of Jacob." Whoever desires may come and take it.

Lest you say that the other crowns surpass the crown of Torah, [Proverbs 8:15-16] states: "By me, kings reign, princes decree justice, and nobles rule." Thus, you have learned that the crown of Torah is greater than the other two.

Halacha 2

Our Sages declared that even a Torah Sage who is a mamzer deserves precedence over a high priest who is unlearned, as [implied by Proverbs 3:15]: "It is more precious than pearls." [That verse can be interpreted:] more precious than the High Priest who enters the innermost chambers.

Halacha 3

None of the other mitzvot can be equated to the study of Torah. Rather, the study of Torah can be equated to all the mitzvot, because study leads to deed. Therefore, study takes precedence over deed in all cases.

Halacha 4

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

Halacha 5

The first aspect of a person's judgement [in the world to come] will center on Torah study. Only afterwards will his other deeds [be considered].

Accordingly, our Sages would say: "A person should always occupy himself in Torah study, whether for God's sake or even if not for God's sake, for from [the study of Torah which] is not carried out for God's sake will come [the study of Torah which] is carried out for God's sake.

Halacha 6

A person whose heart inspires him to fulfill this mitzvah 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. If you have acquired much Torah, you have acquired much reward, and that reward is commensurate with the difficulty [invested].

Halacha 7

Perhaps, one will say: "[I will interrupt my studies] until after I gather money, and then I will return and study, [I will interrupt my studies] until after I buy what I need, and then, when I can divert my attention from my business, I will return and study." If you consider such thoughts, you will never merit the crown of Torah.

Rather, make your work secondary, and your Torah study a fixed matter. Do not say: "When I have free time, I will study," for perhaps you will never have free time.

Halacha 8

It is written in the Torah [Deuteronomy 30:12, 13]: "It is not in the heavens....It is not across the sea...." [This implies:] "It is not in the heavens" - i.e., it is not found in the proud spirited. "It is not across the sea" - i.e., it is not found in those who travel across the sea.

Therefore, our Sages said: "Not everyone who is involved in business will become wise." Our Sages also commanded: "Minimize your business activities and occupy yourself with Torah."

Halacha 9

The words of Torah can be compared to water, as [Isaiah 55:1] states: "Behold, all who are thirsty, come to the water." This teaches you that just as water does not collect on an incline, but rather flows from it and collects in a low place, similarly, the words of Torah will not be found in the arrogant or in the hearts of any of the haughty, but rather in the humble and lowly, who sit in the dust at the feet of the Sages and remove the desires and pleasures of the times from their hearts. They do only a minimal amount of work each day [to earn] their livelihood if they have nothing else to eat. The rest of their days and nights are involved with Torah study.

Halacha 10

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 them 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.

Halacha 11

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 [Psalms 128:2] states: "If you eat the toil of your hands, you will be happy and it will be good for you."

"You will be happy" - in this world. "It will be good for you" - in the world to come, which is entirely good.

Halacha 12

The words of Torah will not be permanently acquired by a person who applies himself feebly [to obtain] them, and not by those who study amid pleasure and [an abundance] of food and drink. Rather, one must give up his life for them, constantly straining his body to the point of discomfort, without granting sleep to his eyes or slumber to his eyelids.

The Sages alluded to this concept, [interpreting Numbers 19:14:] "This is the Torah, a man should he die in a tent..." [to mean that] the Torah cannot be permanently acquired except by a person who gives up his life in the tents of wisdom.

Similarly, Solomon said in his wisdom [Proverbs 24:10]: "If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small." He also said [Ecclesiastes 2:9]: "Also, my wisdom remained with me." [This can be interpreted to mean:] The wisdom which I learned in anger, this is what remained with me.

Our Sages declared: A covenant has been established that anyone who wearies himself in Torah study in a house of study will not forget it quickly. Anyone who wearies himself in Torah study in private will become wise, as [Proverbs 11:2] states: "To the modest will come wisdom."

Whoever raises his voice during his studies will permanently acquire the subject matter. In contrast, one who reads silently will forget quickly.

Halacha 13

Even though it is a mitzvah to study during the day and at night, it is only at night that a person acquires most of his wisdom. Therefore, a person who desires to merit the crown of Torah should be careful with all his nights, not giving up even one to sleep, eating, drinking, talk, or the like. Rather, [they should be devoted to] the study of Torah and the words of wisdom.

Our Sages declared: "The song of Torah can [be heard] only at night, as [Eichah 2:19] states: 'Arise, sing out at night...’“

Whoever occupies himself with Torah study at night will have a strand of [Divine] favor extended over him during the day, as [implied by Psalms 42:9]: "During the day, God ordains His kindness and, at night, His song is with me, a prayer to the living God."

[In contrast], any house in which the words of Torah cannot be heard at night will be consumed by fire, as [implied by Job 20:26]: "All the darkness is hidden away from His treasures; a fire that need not be blown will consume him."

[The verse, Numbers 16:31,] "He scorned the word of God," applies to someone who pays no attention to Torah at all. Similarly, anyone who has the potential to occupy himself with Torah study and does not, or who has studied both the Written and Oral Law and turned away to the vanities of the world, leaving behind his study and ignoring it, is included in the category of "those who scorn the word of God."

Our Sages declared: "Whoever neglects Torah study when wealthy will ultimately neglect it amidst poverty. Whoever maintains the Torah in poverty will ultimately maintain it amidst prosperity." This concept is explicitly mentioned in the Torah [Deuteronomy 28:47-48], which states: "Because you did not serve God, your Lord, with happiness and good feeling when there was an abundance of everything, you shall serve your enemies," and [Deuteronomy 8:16] states: "so that you shall suffer...so that ultimately He will make you prosper."

Commentary Halacha 1

Three crowns were conferred upon Israel: the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood, and the crown of royalty. - A similar expression is found in Yoma 72b. However, there the Talmud uses the expression: "There are three diadems (zirin)."

The expression "three crowns (ketarim)" is found in the Sifre (Korach) and Avot D'Rabbi Natan, Chapter 41. It may be explained that the Rambam chooses to employ this expression because of the significance of the word ketar. That term also means "encompass." In the three halachot in this chapter in which the Rambam mentions the expression, "the crown of Torah" - Halachot 6, 7, and 13 - the Rambam describes an all-encompassing commitment to Torah study. Hence, he uses the term "crown" to allude to this quality of service (Likkutei Sichot, Vol. 27).

Aaron merited - The Sifre, ibid., states: "Aaron merited and took it." The Rambam omits the latter term, since priesthood (and, similarly, royalty) are not attributes that can be acquired by human effort, but rather must be conveyed by God.

the crown of priesthood - This includes two aspects:
a) that his descendants alone will serve as priests;
b) that one will be chosen as the High Priest."

as [Numbers 25:13] states: "And it will be an eternal covenant of priesthood for him and his descendants after him." - See Hilchot Klei HaMikdash 4:1.

David merited the crown of royalty, as [Psalms 89:37] states: "His seed will continue forever, and his throne will be as the sun before Me." - In Hilchot Melachim 1:7, the Rambam writes:

Once David was anointed, he acquired the crown of royalty. Afterwards, the kingship belongs to him and his male descendants, forever.

It must be noted that in the present halachah, the Rambam quotes a different verse from that in Hilchot Melachim and in Avot D'Rabbi Natan.

The crown of Torah is set aside, waiting, and ready for each Jew - The Sifre, ibid., uses the expression "for all inhabitants of the earth." Though some manuscript copies of the Mishneh Torah read "for all," rather than "for each Jew," the printed text can be explained on the basis of Hilchot Melachim 10:9, which states: "A gentile who studies Torah is liable for the death penalty." Similarly, on the verse from Deuteronomy quoted below, Sanhedrin 59a comments: "It is our inheritance and not theirs."

[Nevertheless, it must be pointed out that the same passage in Sanhedrin also describes the high levels which a gentile can attain by studying the rules of the seven general laws of human behavior given to Noah and his descendants. All Jews are obligated to assist the gentiles in this study. (See Hilchot Melachim 8:10.)]

as [implied by Deuteronomy 33:4]: "The Torah which Moses commanded us is the inheritance of the congregation of Jacob." - and thus becomes the property of every Jew as soon as he is born. Because of the fundamental message implied by this verse, the Rambam chooses to quote it, rather than the verse mentioned in Avot D'Rabbi Natan, ibid. Similarly, the message conveyed by this verse is so important that it is taught to every Jewish child as soon as he learns to talk (Chapter 1, Halachah 6).

Nevertheless, although, as the above verse implies, each Jew has an inherent connection to Torah, effort must be expended in order to reveal and develop that connection. In that vein, Avot 2:15 counsels: "Prepare yourself to study Torah, for it is not an inheritance." Therefore, the Rambam continues...

Whoever desires - In his Commentary on the Mishnah, Avot 4:17, the Rambam relates the content of this halachah and uses the expression: "Whoever desires to be crowned with the crown of Torah."

may - fulfill the directives mentioned in this chapter, and thus...

come and take it.

Lest you say that the other crowns surpass the crown of Torah, [Proverbs 8:15-16] states, "By me, kings reign, princes decree justice - the latter clause is omitted in many manuscript copies of the Mishneh Torah.

and nobles rule." Thus, you have learned that the crown of Torah is greater than the other two. - The Sifre, ibid., states: "Who is greater, the one who conveys the crown or the one who is crowned!" Thus, we can appreciate that the crown of Torah surpasses the crown of royalty. Since a king is given greater honor than the High Priest, we can also assume that the crown of Torah is greater than the crown of priesthood (Lechem Mishneh).

Commentary Halacha 2

Our Sages - Horayot 13a

declared that even a Torah Sage who is a mamzer - a child born from certain forbidden sexual relations. See Hilchot Issurei Bi'ah, Chapter 1.

deserves precedence over a high priest who is unlearned - Though such a phenomenon was undesirable, it often occurred in the Second Temple period, when the High Priests were appointed by the Romans in return for excessive bribes. (See the Rambam's Commentary on the Mishnah, Yoma 1:3.)

as [implied by Proverbs 3:15]: "It is more precious than pearls." - Because of the similarity between the Hebrew for "pearls," peninim, and the Hebrew for "inner," p’nim.

[That verse can be interpreted] - Horayot, ibid., to mean:

more precious than the High Priest who enters the innermost chambers. - i.e., the Holy of Holies.

In the introduction to this text, the Rambam explained that he structured it to be halachot, halachot (law after law), implying that he would include only statements of Torah law. In contrast, other concepts, though ethically or philosophically significant, were not included.

Accordingly, this halachah and the others in this chapter which praise Torah study must be understood as behavioral directives applicable with regard to:
a) the arrangements of one's own priorities and goals in life;
b) the order in which people must be given honor and respect.

Commentary Halacha 3

None of the other mitzvot can be equated to the study of Torah. Rather, the study of Torah can be equated to all the mitzvot - The Kessef Mishneh cites Pe'ah 1:1 as the source for this statement. That Mishnah lists a number of mitzvot whose "benefits are enjoyed in this world, though the principle [reward] remains for the world to come" and concludes "the study of Torah is equivalent to them all."

However, the Lev Shlomo notes that the antecedents of the phrase "them all" are the various mitzvot which are mentioned previously in the mishnah and not "all the mitzvot of the Torah." Hence, he refers to the Jerusalem Talmud (Pe'ah 1:1), which states: "All the mitzvot of the Torah are not worth one word of the Torah."

because study leads to deed. - for without study, one will never know how to fulfill the mitzvot properly.

Therefore, study takes precedence over deed - See Chapter 1, Halachah 3, and the commentary on it.

Though there is a similarity between the halachah cited above and the present one, the two are not redundant. That halachah deals with the course of action proper for a person whose father has not instructed him in Torah study. Thus, the Rambam tells him that rather than ignore Torah study and devote himself to the performance of good deeds alone, he should study.

This chapter centers around the principle that Torah study is the highest rung a person can reach. Accordingly, the advice in this and the following halachah applies to even a person who has established a basis of Torah knowledge. It teaches him to seek personal fulfillment in study rather than in deed. Similarly, it advises us that the most propitious way to use each moment of spare time is to devote these moments to Torah study.

in all cases - with the exception of the instance mentioned in the following halachah.

Commentary Halacha 4

Because of the supreme importance of Torah study...

[The following rules apply] when a person is confronted with the performance of a mitzvah and the study of Torah - and the performance of the mitzvah would cause him to interrupt his studies.

If the mitzvah can be performed by another individual, he should not interrupt his studies. - The Kessef Mishneh cites the following narrative from the Jerusalem Talmud (Pesachim 3:7):

Rabbi Abahu sent his son to study in Tiberias. When he came to visit him, the local people praised his son for his piety in burying the dead. When he heard this, Rabbi Abahu rebuked his son severely, "Is it because there are no graves in Caesarea that I sent you to Tiberias?"

Mo'ed Katan 9b derives the priority of study over the performance of mitzvot as follows:

Proverbs 3:15 states: "None of your desires can be equated to it [the Torah]," implying that "your desires" - i.e., things which man wants - cannot be equated to Torah study, but "God's desires" - i.e., the mitzvot - can be equated with it.

In contrast, Proverbs 8:11 states: "No desire" - seemingly implying even God's desires, the mitzvot - "can be equated to it." How can the two be resolved? When it is possible for the mitzvah to be performed by another individual, nothing takes precedence over Torah study. However, if there is no one else to perform the mitzvah, the performance of the mitzvah is given priority.

If not - If there is no way the mitzvah can be performed by another person - e.g., paying honor to a deceased person or collecting for charity, when one's position will cause one's words to have a greater effect than those of other people...

he should perform the mitzvah - Berachot 17a teaches: "The ultimate of knowledge is Teshuvah and good deeds." Similarly, the Jerusalem Talmud (Berachot 1:2) states that it would be preferable for a person who studies without performing the mitzvot never to have been created. Thus, the Jerusalem Talmud (Shabbat 1:2) relates that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, who would not interrupt his studies even for prayer, would stop studying to build a sukkah and to bind his lulav.

The rationale behind the above statements can be explained as follows: As explained in the commentary on Chapter 1, Halachah 3, the ultimate level of fulfillment man can reach is to step beyond his humanity and fulfill God's will, as revealed in the mitzvot. Nevertheless, priority is given to Torah study, because it possesses a twofold advantage over the other mitzvot: first, it leads to their fulfillment; second, it allows for an internalized connection to be established between the person and God.

However, when the person ignores the fulfillment of the mitzvot, both those advantages are lost. Obviously, the study does not lead to deed, and, furthermore, his intellectual activity appears to be a matter of personal interest and not a process of connection to God.

and then return to his studies.

Commentary Halacha 5

Since Torah study is of such primary importance...

The first aspect of a person's judgement [in the world to come] will center on Torah study. Only afterwards will his other deeds [be considered]. - The statement is based on Sanhedrin 7a. Other sources (Shabbat 31a) state that the first question posed to a person in the world to come will be: "Did you deal faithfully in business?"

Tosafot, Sanhedrin ibid., offers two possible resolutions to this apparent contradiction:
a) A person who never studied at all is judged first regarding Torah study. However, one who studied, but did not establish fixed times for study is judged first regarding his business affairs;
b) Even though the first question that the soul is asked centers on his business affairs, the first retribution he will receive will result from his neglect of Torah study.

Accordingly, our Sages - See Pesachim 50b, Sotah 22b, Sanhedrin 105b.

would say: "A person should always occupy himself in Torah study, whether for God's sake or even if not for God's sake - The Rambam elaborates further on the definition of these concepts in Hilchot Teshuvah 10:4-5:

The Sages of the previous generations declared: Should one say: "I will study Torah in order that I become wealthy, in order that I be called a Rabbi, or in order that I receive reward in the world to come?" The Torah teaches [Deuteronomy 11:13]: "[If you are careful to observe My commandments...] to love God;" [implying] that all that you do should be done only out of love.
The Sages also said: [Psalms 112:1 instructs:] "Desire His commandments greatly." [Desire His commandments] and not the reward [that comes from] His commandments...
Anyone who occupies himself with the Torah in order to receive reward or in order to protect himself from retribution is considered as one who is not occupied for God's sake.
[In contrast,] anyone who occupies himself with it, not because of fear, nor to receive a reward, but rather because of his love for the Lord of the entire earth, Who commanded it, is one who occupies himself for God's sake.

for from [the study of Torah which] is not carried out for God's sake - Rashi (Berachot 17a) and Tosafot (Ta'anit 7a) note that the Talmud is extremely critical of those who do not occupy themselves with the Torah for God's sake.

Ta'anit 7a declares that whenever a person does not study Torah for God's sake, the Torah becomes a deadly potion for him. Berachot 17a states that it would have been better for a person who does not study Torah for God's sake not to have been born. In resolution, the commentaries explain that there are two levels of occupying oneself with Torah that is not for God's sake:

a) to gain wealth, honor, or other benefits, as implied by the Rambam here;
b) in order to vex a colleague.

Our Sages suggest occupation with Torah study even if it is not intended for God's sake, if one has the former motives. However, if one's motives are the latter, then our Sages' harsh words of criticism apply.

will come [the study of Torah which] is carried out for God's sake. - The introduction to Eicha Rabbah (2) quotes God as saying: "Would that Israel abandon Me and keep the Torah...for its light would ultimately return them to the good." If a Jew frequently occupies himself with Torah, the inner Godly nature of Torah will eventually have an effect upon him and motivate him to serve God with the proper intentions.

There is a deeper aspect to this statement: The Hebrew mitoch, translated as "from," also can be interpreted as "from the inner part." Every element of a Jew's life is motivated by his Godly potential. Though he may think he is performing a mitzvah for selfish intent, the inner core of that service, its toch, is the Jew's desire to cling to God without any ulterior motive.

The Rambam elaborates on the principle that selfish desires can be used as motivation for involvement in Torah in his Commentary on the Mishnah, in his introduction to the tenth chapter of Sanhedrin:

When a young child is brought to a teacher to be taught the Torah, this is the greatest good for him, [allowing him] to attain fulfillment. However, because of his youth and underdeveloped intellect, [the child] does not comprehend this good...
Therefore, it is necessary for the teacher...to motivate him to his studies with things that he loves...
He should tell him: "I will give you nuts, figs, or a little honey." It is out of this motivation that the child [begins to] study. [The child studies] not because of the essence of the study, for the child has no comprehension of that, but because of the food. Eating these delicacies is more important to him than the actual study...
When he becomes older and his intellect grows to the point where he realizes the worthlessness of these items, he should be encouraged and motivated to learn by the promise of things he holds dear. His teacher should tell him: "Study and I will buy you nice shoes or beautiful garments." Thus, he will study, not for the sake of the study itself, but for the garment, the garment becoming more valuable for him than the Torah...

The Rambam continues mentioning other factors that may be employed to motivate older children - e.g., money or honor. He concludes:

All this is degrading. Nevertheless, because of the limits of a person's intellect, it may be necessary to make the goal of wisdom something other than wisdom.

In Hilchot Teshuvah (ibid.), the Rambam also emphasizes how a teacher must slowly mold a child's character and lead him, step by step, to an appreciation of the proper motives for the service of God:

As their knowledge grows and their wisdom increases, this secret [service of God for His sake] should be revealed to them [slowly,] bit by bit. They should become accustomed to this concept gradually, until they grasp it and know it and begin serving [God] out of love.

Commentary Halacha 6

A person whose heart inspires him to fulfill this mitzvah in a fitting manner - As explained in the commentary on Chapter 1, Halachah 8, the Rambam's statements imply that there are two aspects of Torah study:
a) The obligation to study Torah, which is incumbent on every individual: the establishment of fixed times for Torah study (Chapter 1, Halachah 8).
b) A commitment to devote oneself to Torah study that has no limitations.

The first aspect reflects a commitment that takes into consideration man's perspective, and, hence, is limited in scope. However, when a person views the Torah from God's perspective and appreciates its infinite nature, he will be inspired to make an unbounded commitment to Torah study. See also the commentary on the halachah mentioned above.

and to become crowned with the crown of Torah - Note the commentary on Halachah 1.

should not divert his attention to other matters. - On Deuteronomy 6:7: "Speak of them," the Sifre comments: "Speak of them, and not of other matters."

He should not set his intent on acquiring Torah together with wealth and honor simultaneously. - for it is impossible to devote oneself to two different goals.

[Rather,] this is the path of Torah - This statement and the others in this halachah are a combination of quotes from Avot 6:4, 2:17 and 5:23.

Eat bread with salt, drink water in a small measure, sleep on the ground, live a life of difficulty, and toil in Torah. - The Rambam does not advocate ascetic penances. (See Hilchot De'ot 3:1.) Nor does he necessarily stipulate that "a life of difficulty" is a prerequisite for complete involvement in Torah study. However, it is often the only path with which one can attain that goal.

Frequently, earning enough to live a life of comfort takes so much time that one will not be able to devote himself to Torah study in a fitting manner. Furthermore, indulgence in comfort often leads a person to preoccupation with his own needs and desires. Suddenly, he becomes faced with an entire host of "necessities," without which he cannot continue.

The task is not incumbent upon you to complete - If a person contemplates the totality of Torah knowledge which there is to grasp, he may be intimidated and unwilling to begin such an undertaking. Hence, he is counselled that he is not expected to complete its study. However,...

nor are you free to desist from it. - and must endeavor to accomplish whatever you can.

If you have acquired much Torah, you have acquired much reward - The Mishnah continues to explain that the reward for the righteous will be in the world to come.

It is difficult to understand why the Rambam emphasizes the aspect of reward, when in the previous halachah he stressed how one should not study Torah for ulterior motives. Included in the latter is also the reward in the world to come.

and that reward is commensurate with the difficulty [invested]. - In his Commentary on the Mishnah, the Rambam interprets this to mean: "Your reward will be commensurate with the effort invested in Torah study." See also Halachah 12, which elaborates on the nature of the effort a person must invest in his Torah studies.

In his introduction to Avot, Chapter 6, the Rambam offers a slightly different interpretation: "A person's reward will be commensurate with the effort necessary to overcome his natural inclination."

Commentary Halacha 7

The first clause of this halachah, as the previous halachah, refers to a person who wants to commit himself entirely to Torah study. The second clause - "make your work secondary..." - does not apply only to such individuals, but rather is relevant to every person within the context of his commitment to Torah study.

Perhaps, one will say: "[I will interrupt my studies] until after I gather money, and then I will return and study, [I will interrupt my studies] until after I buy what I need, and then, when I can divert my attention from my business, I will return and study." - Note Chapter 1, Halachah 5, which counsels studying Torah before marriage, so the yoke of financial responsibility will not interfere with one's studies.

If you consider such thoughts, you will never merit the crown of Torah. - The commentaries have offered two reasons why such an individual will never merit "the crown of Torah:"
a) Desire is never satisfied. "Whoever possesses one hundred, desires two hundred; whoever possesses two hundred, desires four hundred" (Kohelet Rabbah 1:34). Once a person has given his material concerns priority over Torah study, it is very difficult for him to reverse his pattern and devote himself completely to Torah study.
b) The time which he lost while involved in business cannot be recovered, and thus, he will never reach the heights of Torah knowledge that he could have attained beforehand.

Rather, make your work secondary, and your Torah study a fixed matter. - In his Commentary on the Mishnah, Avot 1:14, the Rambam writes:

Make your Torah study of primary importance and all your other affairs secondary. If they come your way, it is good, and if not, there is no loss in their absence.

Similarly, in Hilchot De'ot 2:7, the Rambam quotes Avot 4:10, "Minimize your business involvement and occupy yourself with Torah."

Nevertheless, a person need not fear that involvement in Torah study will prevent him from achieving prosperity. Berachot 35b relates:

The Sages of the previous generations made their Torah study primary and their business affairs secondary, and achieved success in both. We have made our business affairs primary and our Torah study secondary, and have not achieved success in either.

Do not say: "When I have free time, I will study," for perhaps, you will never have free time. - In his Commentary on the Mishnah, Avot 2:5, the Rambam also associates this statement of Hillel's with the statement of Shammai quoted above.

Commentary Halacha 8

It is written in the Torah [Deuteronomy 30:12, 13]: - Rav Kapach renders this: "It is written about the Torah," emphasizing that according to the Rambam, the antecedent of the pronoun "it" in the above verse is Torah study and not Teshuvah, as explained by the Ramban and others.

"It is not in the heavens....It is not across the sea...." [This implies:] "It is not in the heavens" - i.e., it is not found in the proud spirited. - and self-centered. Such an attitude runs contrary to the spirit of Torah and, ultimately, prevents one from grasping it, as explained in the following halachah.

"It is not across the sea" - i.e., it is not found in those who travel across the sea - for business purposes. In contrast, one is advised to travel to study Torah, as Avot relates: "Exile yourself to a place of Torah."

Therefore, our Sages said: - Avot 2:5

"Not everyone who is involved in business will become wise." - In his commentary on that Mishnah, the Rambam quotes the content of this halachah.

Our Sages also commanded: - Avot 4:12

"Minimize your business activities and occupy - The Hebrew, la’asok, is also used in the Ashkenazic text of the blessings recited before Torah study. In most contexts, that word is rendered as "business." Thus, employing it in the blessing implies that the manner in which a person applies himself to Torah study should resemble the way a businessman applies himself to his business, making it the central matter of his life.

yourself with Torah." - The practical applications of these concepts are found in the following halachah.

Commentary Halacha 9

The words of Torah can be compared to water, as [Isaiah 55:1] states: "Behold, all who are thirsty, come to the water." - Ta'anit 7a mentions the ideas related by the Rambam as well as other dimensions of the comparison between Torah and water.

This teaches you that just as water does not collect on an incline, but rather flows from it and collects in a low place, similarly, the words of Torah will not be found in the arrogant or in the hearts of any the haughty - i.e., the nature of such a personality does not allow an individual to grasp the words of Torah. As obvious from the contrast with the humble, pride prevents one from grasping Torah for two reasons:
a) A proud person will be less likely to make the effort necessary to open himself up to the instruction of a master;
b) Pride often leads a person to material desire, whose pursuit will take a person away from devotion to Torah study.

but rather in the humble and lowly, who sit in the dust at the feet of the Sages - The Rambam borrows the phraseology of Avot 1:4. Others render the phrase: "Become dusty [pursuing] the Sages' feet" - i.e., follow them everywhere out of thirst to learn from them.

and remove the desires and pleasures of the times from their hearts - See Halachah 12.

They do only a minimal amount of work each day [to earn] their livelihood if they have nothing else to eat. - Note the narrative from Yoma 35b quoted in the commentary on Chapter 1, Halachah 8, which describes Hillel's daily activities.

The rest of their days and nights - See Halachah 13.

are involved with Torah study.

Commentary Halacha 10

The previous halachot explained how important Torah study is and how involvement in business can present a contradiction to it. Since many might reach the conclusion that, if so, it is proper to be involved solely in Torah study with no thought of worldly matters, the Rambam clarifies accordingly...

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 - In Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah, Chapter 5, and Hilchot Teshuvah 1:4, the Rambam mentions the severity of the sin of desecrating 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. - See the commentary on Chapter 1, Halachah 7, which quotes the Rambam's commentary on Avot at length, strongly decrying the deriving of material benefit from one's Torah knowledge.

These convictions are also expressed in Hilchot Matnot Ani'yim 10:18, which states:

Even a dignified Sage who becomes poor should work in a profession, even a degrading profession, rather than seek public assitance. It is better to skin the hides of dead animals than to tell the people, "I am a Sage, support me."
Our greatest Sages were wood-choppers, porters, water-drawers... They did not ask anything from the public and refused to accept anything that was given to them.

The Kessef Mishneh takes issue with the Rambam's statements and states that there is no prohibition against a Torah Sage receiving support from others. Though the Rambam quotes many examples of sages who performed simple labors to earn their livelihood, the Kessef Mishneh explains how none of them can be taken to be conclusive proof of the Rambam's position.

For example, the Rambam quotes Yoma 35b, which relates how Hillel would do simple work to earn his sustenance. The Kessef Mishneh explains that the Talmud's statements about Hillel were made before his greatness was appreciated. There is no proof that he continued working as a common laborer afterwards.

The practice of taking payment for Torah study has its source in Tosafot, Ketubot 106a, which relates that individuals who give up the opportunity to earn their livelihood in other professions so that they can teach Torah or serve as judges are able to receive remuneration, because, in essence, they are not receiving payment for their Torah, but for their time.

The Kessef Mishneh concludes:

It is possible to explain that our master's intention is that a person should not cast off the yoke of labor in order to receive his livelihood from others in order to study. Rather, first, he should learn a profession with which he can sustain himself. If that is sufficient for him, it is good. If not, he may receive his livelihood from the community...
Even if this is not our master's intention, as apparent from his Commentary on the Mishnah, whenever one is in doubt about the halachah, one should follow the custom. We have seen all the Sages of Israel, both before and after our master, accepting their livelihood from the community.
Furthermore, even if the halachah followed our master..., it is possible that all the sages of the [previous] generations agreed to do so because...if the livelihood of the scholars and the teachers were not available, they would not be able to labor in Torah as is fitting, and the Torah would be forgotten, Heaven forbid. Since it is available, they are able to study, "and Torah is magnified and becomes stronger."

These ideas are quoted as halachah by the Shulchan Aruch and the Ramah (Yoreh De'ah 246:5). It must be noted that even the Rambam (Chapter 6, Halachah 10, Commentary on the Mishnah, ibid.,Hilchot De'ot 6:2) allows a person to give a sage money to invest, or to afford him other benefits in commerce and trade.

Our Sages declared: - Avot 4:5.

"Whoever benefits from the words of Torah forfeits his life in the world." - The Kessef Mishneh quoted above refers to the Rambam's commentary on this Mishnah. Major portions of the Rambam's statements are cited in our commentary on Chapter 1, Halachah 7.

Also, they commanded and declared: - Avot, ibid. The Rambam reverses the order of the statements in the Mishnah, perhaps, because the first clause is more explicit. Alternatively, because chronologically, Hillel, the author of the latter clause, preceded Rabbi Tzadok, the author of the former.

"Do not make them a crown to magnify oneself - a source of honor,

nor an axe to chop with." - i.e., a means of deriving a livelihood.

Also, they commanded and declared: - Avot 1:10.

"Love work and despise Rabbinic positions." - In his commentary on that Mishnah, the Rambam writes: "Without work, it will be difficult for him for him, and he will steal and cheat. Seeking positions of honor will bring about challenges."

Similarly, Avot 2:2 teaches:

"All Torah that is not accompanied by work will eventually be negated and lead to sin." - That Mishnah begins: "Torah is beautiful when accompanied by work."

Ultimately, such a person will steal from others. - The commentaries cite Kiddushin 29a: "Whoever does not teach his son a profession is as if he taught him to steal," as the source for the Rambam's statements.

Commentary Halacha 11
The Rambam continues the theme begun in the previous halachah. Not only is it forbidden to derive benefit from one's Torah knowledge...

It is a tremendous advantage for a person to derive his livelihood from his own efforts - and not from charity.

and is an attribute possessed by the pious of the first generations. - Among the examples of sages who worked as craftsmen mentioned in the Talmud are Rav Huna - a drawer of water (Ketubot 105a), Rabbi Meir - a barber (Eruvin 13a), Rabbi Yehudah - a porter (Nedarim 49b), and Rav Yosef - a miller, Rav Sheshet - a porter (Gittin 67b).

In this manner, one will merit all the honor - One of the rationales given by many of the Rabbis who permit scholars to derive benefit from their studies is that performing menial work will cheapen the common man's appreciation of them, and thus minimize the honor given to the Torah.

The Rambam (see the Commentary on the Mishnah, ibid.) holds the very opposite. The common people will respect a person who honestly earns his livelihood and will look down on a person who derives his income from charity.

and benefit in this world - i.e., God will grant him blessing and he will be able to earn a respectable income through his efforts.

In Hilchot Teshuvah 9:1, the Rambam elaborates how God will grant material blessings to a person who dedicates himself to Torah and mitzvot. These blessings will, in turn, afford him the opportunity of continuing and increasing his service of God.

and in the world to come - Though the person will also realize benefit in this world, "the principle remains for the world to come" (Pe'ah 1:1). (See also Hilchot Teshuvah, ibid.)

as [Psalms 128:2] states: "If you eat the toil of your hands, - On this verse, the Rabbis commented: 'the toil of your hands,' and not 'the toil of your heads.’“ When a person works with his hands, his mind is free to think about Torah. When he returns home, he may be physically tired, but he has no pressures from his business. In contrast, those whose profession involves mental effort have more difficulty diverting their attention from these matters to Torah.

you will be happy and it will be good for you." - Berachot 8a interprets this verse to mean...

"You will be happy" - in this world. "It will be good for you" - in the world to come, which is entirely good.

Commentary Halacha 12

The words of Torah will not be permanently acquired by a person who applies himself feebly - i.e., does not devote his energies to study.

[to obtain] them, and not by those who study amid pleasure and [an abundance] of food and drink. - The pursuit of pleasure will prevent him from devoting himself to Torah study. During the time he is enjoying material benefits (how much more so if he has to work to earn the funds to obtain them), he could have been studying Torah.

Rather, one must give up his life for them - the words of Torah

constantly straining his body to the point of discomfort - As mentioned in the commentary on Halachah 6, the Rambam is not alluding to ascetic penances, but rather to the dedication of all one's energies to the acquisition of Torah knowledge.

without granting sleep to his eyes or slumber to his eyelids. - Note the following halachah, which describes the advantages of studying at night.

The Sages alluded to this concept - Berachot 63b; Midrash Tanchumah, No'ach 3

[interpreting Numbers 19:14:] "This is the Torah, a man should he die in a tent..." - Generally, the verse would be translated: "This is the law [when] a man..." However, the literal translation of the words was quoted to demonstrate the connection to our Sages' comments more graphically.

[to mean] that the Torah cannot be permanently acquired except by a person who gives up his life in the tents of wisdom. - Our Sages frequently associated the expression "tents" with houses of study. (See the commentaries on Genesis 25:27 and Deuteronomy 33:18.)

Similarly, Solomon said in his wisdom [Proverbs 24:10]: "If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small." - When you minimize your involvement in Torah because of difficulties, then "your strength" - your Torah knowledge - will be "small" - will not remain with you (Lechem Mishneh).

Others cite Berachot 63a: "Anyone who applies himself feebly to the words of Torah will not have the strength to stand in a day of adversity."

He also said [Ecclesiastes 2:9]: "Also, my wisdom remained with me." [This can be interpreted to mean:] The wisdom which I learned in anger, - The Hebrew word af can have both meanings - "even" and "anger."

this is what remained with me. - The commentaries interpret this as a reference to the anger displayed by the teachers during their instruction. (See Matnat K'hunah, Kohelet Rabbah 2:9.) This continues the theme that the dedication to Torah study beyond one's nature is the key to acquiring Torah as one's own.

In his commentary on Avot 5:19, the Rambam quotes this verse and interpretation, and associates it with the advice he gives teachers in Chapter 4, Halachah 5, to cast fear into the hearts of the students.

Our Sages declared: - Jerusalem Talmud, Berachot 5:1

A covenant has been established that anyone who wearies himself in Torah study in a house of study - Many manuscripts substitute "in a synagogue," as is the text in the Jerusalem Talmud.

will not forget it quickly - i.e., the fact that study is carried out in a house of study itself contributes to its retention by the students. Accordingly, our Sages highly recommend that one study in a house of study (or at least in a synagogue) whenever possible. (See Shulchan Aruch HaRav, Hilchot Talmud Torah 4:10.)

Anyone who wearies himself in Torah study in private will become wise, as [Proverbs 11:2] states: "To the modest will come wisdom." - It must be noted that Berachot 63b severely criticizes those who study Torah alone (when they have the opportunity to study with others). Similarly, in the following chapter, when the Rambam discusses the actual process of study, he continually refers to a teacher studying with many students.

Whoever raises his voice during his studies - The Jerusalem Talmud, Berachot 5:1, emphasizes that one should not raise one's voice overly loud.

will permanently acquire the subject matter. - II Samuel 23:5 states: "for He has made an everlasting covenant with me, ordered in all and preserved." Eruvin 54a interprets the "everlasting covenant" as a reference to the Torah, and states: "If it is ordered in all a person's 248 limbs" - i.e., if his entire body is involved in his study - "it will be preserved."

The Tanya, Chapter 38, explains that a person who studies out loud and invests his energy in Torah study elevates his body and natural life force.

In contrast, one who reads silently will forget quickly. - It is difficult to ignore the contrast between secular study, which is carried out in a silent library, and the study of Torah carried out in a noisy house of study, each person verbalizing the subject matter which he is studying.

Based on Berachot 15b and the Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 62:3, Shulchan Aruch HaRav (Hilchot Talmud Torah 2:12) states that the study of Torah is comparable to other mitzvot associated with speech. A person cannot fulfill his obligation through mere thought, and must either vocalize the words himself or hear from someone else who reads out loud.

Commentary Halacha 13

Even though it is a mitzvah to study during the day and at night - See Chapter 1, Halachah 8.

it is only at night that a person acquires most of his wisdom. - Eruvin 65a states: "The moon was created only for Torah study." The term "wisdom" is interpreted as a reference to those aspects of Torah study described as Gemara or Talmud (Chapter 1, Halachah 11). At night, when a person is removed from his daytime pressures, he is able to concentrate more on these abstract subjects.

Therefore, a person who desires to merit the crown of Torah - See the commentary on Halachah 1 with regard to the latter term.

should be careful with all his nights, not giving up even one to sleep - Hilchot De'ot 4:4 states that a person should sleep eight hours each night. The commentaries have questioned whether here, the Rambam is advising a person to strain himself beyond those limits, or whether the Rambam is merely stating that the nighttime hours a person has available should be devoted to Torah study.

eating, drinking - In Hilchot De'ot 5:1, the Rambam counsels: "A Torah Sage should not be a glutton. Rather, he should eat only the foods that are appropriate for his physical health and [even of those], he should not partake excessively. He should not pursue [food] after filling his gut."

talk - In general, the Rambam advises against excessive speech. Hilchot De'ot 2:4 states: "A person should also remain silent to a great extent, and speak only about words of wisdom or things he requires to maintain his existence."

or the like. Rather, [they should be devoted to] the study of Torah and the words of wisdom.

Our Sages declared: "The song of Torah can [be heard] only at night, as [Eicha 2:19] states: 'Arise, sing out at night..." - Note the commentaries on Deuteronomy 31:9, which describe the Torah as God's song.

Whoever occupies himself with Torah study at night will have a strand of [Divine] favor extended over him during the day, as [implied by Psalms 42:9]: "During the day, God ordains His kindness and, at night, His song is with me, a prayer to the living God." - Avodah Zarah 3b comments: "Why does 'God ordain His kindness during the day'? Because 'at night, His song (the Torah) is with me.’“

[In contrast], any house in which the words of Torah cannot be heard at night will be consumed by fire, as [implied by Job 20:26]: "All the darkness - i.e., the nights

is hidden away from His treasures - the Torah. Therefore,

a fire that need not be blown will consume him."

[The verse, Numbers 16:31,] "He scorned the word of God," applies to someone who pays no attention to Torah at all. - This is the opinion of Rabbi Natan, as quoted in Sanhedrin 99a, and in the Sifre, Sh'lach.

Similarly, anyone who has the potential to occupy himself with Torah study and does not - Sanhedrin, op. cit.) quotes Rabbi Nehorai for this definition of the above verse.

or who has studied both the Written and Oral Law and turned away to the vanities of the world, leaving behind his study and ignoring it, is included in the category - This definition is not mentioned in any of the opinions quoted in Sanhedrin or the Sifre in the definition of the above verse.

of "those who scorn the word of God." -The Lechem Mishneh emphasizes that this severe condemnation applies even when a person ignores his study out of laziness and idle tendencies, without any contempt or disrespect for the Torah.

Our Sages declared: - Avot 4:11

"Whoever neglects Torah study when wealthy will ultimately neglect it amidst poverty. Whoever maintains the Torah in poverty will ultimately maintain it amidst prosperity." - In his commentary on that Mishnah, the Rambam writes:

A person who studies Torah in poverty and need, straining himself to study despite these pressures, will ultimately merit to study amidst prosperity without any disturbances to his study.
[Conversely,] a person who neglects Torah study because he is prosperous and, therefore, is busy eating, drinking, and seeking pleasure, will ultimately become poor to the extent that the reason he neglects Torah study will be his pursuit of his daily bread.

This concept is explicitly mentioned in the Torah [Deuteronomy 28:47-48], which states: "Because you did not serve God, your Lord, with happiness and good feeling when there was an abundance of everything, you shall serve your enemies" - This interpretation of the verse resembles that of Rashi's commentary on the Torah. Note the conclusion of Hilchot Lulav, where the Rambam interprets the verse differently, stressing the importance of serving God with joy.

and [Deuteronomy 8:16] states: "so that you shall suffer...so that ultimately He will make you prosper."

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