By Rabbi Aron Tendler
How Much Is Enough?
The Rambam in the Laws of Torah Study 1:11 & 12 discusses the proper division of time between work and Torah study.
In Law #11 the Rambam states that the time for Torah Study should be divided into thirds: 1/3 studying the Written Torah, 1/3 studying the Oral Torah, and 1/3 applying Torah knowledge to practical and theoretical situations.
In law #12, the Rambam gives an example of this schedule. He states, How is the above (law #11) expressed? A businessperson or artisan should spend three hours a day involved in his work and devote nine hours to Torah study. In those nine hours, he should spend three reading the Written Torah, three, the Oral Law; and three meditating with his intellect to derive one concept from another.
The Rambam generally presents practical examples of Halacha intended to reflect reality, not theory. Can you imagine following such a schedule of work and study? Did G-d really intend that we should work only three hours a day and spend the rest of the time studying Torah?
The answer is obvious. Yes! The Rambam is describing practical Halacha and not idealistic philosophy. Working three hours a day and still having enough to support our families is the intended scenario! How can this be?
The schedule described by the Rambam is a prescription for maintaining the proper balance between providence and initiative. That balance is predicated on understanding what we think are our needs, and how we think those needs should be met.
How much is, or should be, enough? Understandably, that is a very personal and difficult question. Is a 1,500 square foot home enough, or must I have 6,000 plus? Is it necessary that I have a new car every two years, or, should a 10-year-old car be ok because it gets the job done? Must I eat on the finest china, or is the bargain basement porcelain equally sufficient?
I do not have an easy formula for answering those questions; however, they are questions that few of us ask even though they are questions that we should all ask. In fact, we are far quicker to ask that question about others than to reflect the very same concern back on ourselves.
I remember the discussion around the table at a very affluent wedding reception. The wedding was tasteful and beautiful, and clearly, money had not been an issue. Nothing was missing. Every possible appointment and detail had been furnished for the comfort of the invited guests in celebration of the Simcha. The guests were wined and dined and everyone seemed to be having a wonderful time. Inevitably, the question of, How much do you think they spent? came up. The next comment was, Why did they have to spend so much? They could have made a perfectly lovely Chasunah (wedding) for half that amount and donated an entire wing to (just name any local institution ) in honor of their children's wedding? (sound familiar?)
How do we determine what is enough, and do we ever ask ourselves if we should do what we want just because we can afford to do so?
During the Pesach Seder we speak of the son Who does not know how to ask. The commentaries explain that this son is not a child too young and intellectually immature to ask questions. This is the son who is bright, creative, self-assured and convinced that he has no need to ask because he already knows all the answers. This is the child who must be taught that knowledge, scholarship, and wisdom are the consequences of questions. He must learn to appreciate that true intellect and genius is measured, first by inquisitiveness and only second by answers.
When it comes to how we perceive our personal needs and how much time should we spend attaining those goals, very few of us ever ask, Just because we can should we? The Rambam's prescription for working only three hours a day assumes that we have assessed our own needs and realized that its up to G-d whether or not we will accomplish them. It assumes that we have asked the question of, How much is enough? and have accepted that we play only a small part in fulfilling those needs.
In this week's and next week's Parshios the balance between providence and initiative is clearly established. Eretz Yisroel is a living example of how much is enough and who is responsible for meeting those needs. The laws of Shemitah, Yovel, the return of ancestral properties, Tzedaka, and the freeing of Jewish slaves, are examples of G-d's control over all aspects of Jewish national life. For six or fifty years, a Jew can be indentured to another person. Regardless of how much was paid for the Jewish slave, or how valuable a slave he might be, he must still be set free after six years or at the Yovel.
The redistribution of wealth resulting from the return of ancestral lands to their families of origin established G-d's control over the economy.
Ultimately, the Tochecha Rebuke stated in next week's Parsha Behaloscha established the cause and effect relationship between G-d, Eretz Yisroel, and the Jewish people.
Our purpose is to serve G-d and follow His commandments. If we do so, G-d will take care of us, personally and nationally. If we do not fulfill His Mitzvos, we will suffer the consequences of personal failure, illness, and national exile.
Our needs should be determined by our purpose and responsibilities, not simply our desires. In other words, we should desire to fulfill our purpose and our responsibilities. If we do so, G-d assures us that all our physical needs will also be satisfied. What will we eat in the seventh year (Shemitah)? I will ordain My blessing for you and it will yield sufficient for the three year period! (25:21-22) Perform my decrees and you shall dwell securely on the land.
Is working only three hours a day enough to maintain our standards of living? It could be, but first we must honestly and critically assess our assumed needs and standards of living. Do we truly trust G-d and His promises; or, do we feel the need to initiate our own destiny?
I have no doubt that G-d can and will provide for our every need, so long as we embrace our personal and national responsibilities. However, the first step toward living the ideal life prescribed in Sefer Vayikra, and specifically in the last two Parshios of Vayikra is to ask the critical questions, How much is and should be enough?
Copyright © 2000 by Rabbi Aron Tendler and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation, Valley Village, CA.