18. Introduction to Developing a Torah Personality

18.6. Torah Personality Part 2 D


I’ve addressed myself here to one major question, namely, the sense of a person’s existence in the service of God, and the responsibilities and obligations which attend upon that existence: obligations vis-a-vis God, the world and oneself. The importance of work, and of constructive contribution through involvement in the world and society, is very, very clear, and is a cardinal element in our basic worldview. There is, though, another aspect to this question, which at this point I will simply mention. The Rambam said above that a person should engage in only two things divrei chokhma and yishuvo shel olam. What he does not describe there is the breakdown between these two.

Surely, this is a very major question for us, and it is a significant and legitimate question at a universal level as well. To what extent should one engage in work—and by work I mean not simply making money, but rather constructive activity—and to what extent should he pursue wisdom? A gentile, too, has a certain dimension of talmud Torah: “Rabbi Meir says: Even a gentile who occupies himself with the Torah is like a High Priest” (Sanhedrin 59a). The gemara later understands this in terms of more universal wisdom, the Seven Noachide Laws. Even secular advocates of the work ethic have had to deal with the relation between work and other cultural, aesthetic or moral values. How much more so for us, for whom Torah study is so central—“You shall meditate upon it day and night” (Yehoshua 1:8). Thus, while our position is clear regarding work versus hedonism, the question of work versus Torah study is entirely different, and will be treated independently in the next lecture.