The Value of Money

There is an often-cited dispute between Rabbi Yishma’el and Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.

ת”ר ואספת דגנך (דברים יא:יד) מה ת”ל לפי שנא’ (יהושע א:ח) לא ימוש ספר התורה הזה מפיך יכול דברים ככתבן ת”ל ואספת דגנך הנהג בהן מנהג דרך ארץ דברי ר’. ישמעאל ר”ש בן יוחי אומר אפשר אדם חורש בשעת חרישה וזורע בשעת זריעה וקוצר בשעת קצירה ודש בשעת דישה וזורה בשעת הרוח תורה מה תהא עליה אלא בזמן שישראל עושין רצונו של מקום מלאכתן נעשית ע”י אחרים שנא’ (ישעיהו סא:ה) ועמדו זרים ורעו צאנכם וגו’ ובזמן שאין ישראל עושין רצונו של מקום מלאכתן נעשית ע”י עצמן שנא’ (דברים יא:יד) ואספת דגנך ולא עוד אלא שמלאכת אחרים נעשית על ידן שנא’ (דברים כח:מח) ועבדת את אויביך וגו’ אמר אביי הרבה עשו כרבי ישמעאל ועלתה בידן כר’ שמעון בן יוחי ולא עלתה בידן

The Rabbis repeated: “And you shall gather your grain” (Devarim 11:16) What does this come to tell us?

Because it says “Do not let this Torah book be absent from your mouth” (Yehoshua 1:8) Could it be that these words are to be understood literally [i.e., that one must study Torah perpetually]? No, since the Torah writes ‘And you will harvest your grain…’ (in other words) practice the way of the world (i.e., earn a living) alongside (the words of Torah) – these are the words of Rabbi Yishmael.

Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai says: Could a man plow when it’s plowing time, plant when it’s planting time, harvest when it’s harvest time, thresh when it’s threshing season and winnow while there’s wind? What would become of the Torah? Rather, at a time when the Jews do God’s Will, their labor will be done by others, as it says (Yeshaya 61:5): ‘And strangers will rise and shepherd your flocks…’ But at a time when Israel does not do God’s will, they will [need to] do their labor themselves, as it says (Devarim 11:14): ‘And you will harvest your grain’. And that is not all: they will be forced to do others’ labor as well, as it says (Devarim 28:48): ‘And you will serve your enemies…’

Abaya said: Many have acted like Rabbi Yishmael and it worked; like Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai and it did not work.

I think I just encountered a Yerushalmi (Sanhedrin 8:8, vilna 43b-44a) that might shed light on why Rabbi Shim’on was so reluctant to endorse working for a living. This is his opinion of human psychology when it comes to money:

תני רבי חייה במחתרת אין לו דמים חוץ למחתרת יש לו דמים תני ר”ש בן יוחי אפילו חוץ למחתרת אין לו דמים לפי שממונו של אדם חביב עליו כנפשו.

Rav Chiyah repeated: [If a burglar is killed while still] in a tunnel [to rob someone and possibly attack the people within and kill them], he has no blood [i.e. the killer is not held guilty of murder. If it is outside the tunnel [and the threat he poses to life subsided], he does have blood.
Rabbi Shim’on bar Yochai repeated: Even outside the tunnel he has no blood [a person isn’t guilty for killing him], because a person’s money is as dear to him as his living soul.

So, in Rabbi Shim’on bar Yochai’s eyes, money is so all consuming it is up there with threat to life, and a person could not be blamed for killing a potential burglar.

With that opinion of how much wealth can distract someone, is it surprising Rabbi Shim’on assumes that having a job would naturally lead to total neglect of the Torah?

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