The Obligation to Go Out to Work
In Parshat Ekev, Devarim 11:13-22 we read the words that are very familiar to us from the second paragraph of the Shma prayer (Vehaya im Shamoah…).


The paragraph begins with the words: “It will be that if you listen to My commandments that I command you today, to love HaShem your God and to serve Him with all of your heart and with all your soul, then I shall provide rain for your Land in its proper time, the early and late rains, that you may gather in your grain, your wine and your oil.”


In Masechet Brachot 35b, the question is asked why the Torah needs to state the words “and you will gather in your grain.”


Rabbi Yishmael explains that since it says in the book of Yehoshua 1:8, “This book of the Torah shall not depart from your mouth”, some may think that one should only study Torah and not go out to work. Therefore, the Torah had to state: “you shall gather in your grain” to mean that an individual has an obligation to find a means of earning a livelihood in addition to their time set aside for Torah study. He should not devote himself so completely to Torah study that he must rely on Divine intervention to support him miraculously. Rather he should study Torah as much as possible but set aside a portion of his time to be able to support himself and his family.


In Yalkut M’Am Loez, The Midrash anthology, we learn that this philosophy follows the teaching from our Rabbis in Pirkei Avot 2:2: “Any Torah that is not accompanied by a livelihood will become void.” If one has no way to support himself, he will eventually have to resort to means which will completely remove him from the study of Torah in order to sustain himself.


Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai points out in the same Gemara that if we are busy throughout the year with agricultural work such as plowing, sowing, harvesting, threshing and winnowing then we will never have time to study Torah. He therefore concludes that if B’nai Yisrael do the will of God, then their work will be done by others as it says in Yishayahu 61:5 “Strangers will arise and shepherd your flocks.” At that point, B’nai Yisrael can fully focus on Torah study. However, at a time that B’nail Yisrael do not fulfill the will of God, they will have to do their own work and not only that, they will have to work for others as it says in Devarim 28:48 “and you will serve your enemies.”


We see from here that it is necessary to learn a trade which we can balance with Torah study and try to fulfill as many mitzvot as possible so that we can eventually reach the ideal and be blessed with others “shepherding our flocks” so that we will have more time to devote to Torah study.