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This week’s parashah begins with the mitzvah of lighting the menorah in the Mishkan. Later in the Torah (Vayikra 24), the mitzvah is repeated together with the instructions concerning the preparation of the breads which were placed on the table. The Rashbam points out that the light of the menorah shined on the table, upon which was the bread, since they were both opposite each other in the same room in the Tabernacle.
The symbolic significance may be that the Torah wants to teach us that a good parnassah (sustenance, which is symbolized by the bread on the table) is only one which goes hand in hand with the light of the Torah (symbolized by the menorah).
This has two connotations. First of all, it means that one must earn his living solely according to the laws and constraints of the Torah. There are many, many halachos which pertain to business matters. These include the prohibition of taking interest, except under specific conditions; the situations which bind a person to an oral or written commitment and even the limit of the amount of profit one is allowed to make. Reb Yisroel Salanter ztvk”l used to say that he cannot understand how someone can go out to work without being a proficient scholar in Choshen Mishpat (the section of Shulchan Aruch, the Jewish Code of Laws, which deals specifically with monetary issues).
Second of all, it means that one who works, too, must have a strict seder (set time), every single day, to learn Torah. The seder may be several hours; one hour; half an hour or ten minutes; each according to his own busy schedule, but it must be permanent and constant, never broken except for an emergency, which, by definition, does not come too often.
The Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 9:3) tells about an ignorant man who accused Rabbi Yanai. “My inheritance is by you,” he said. Startled, the Rabbi asked him, “What do I have to do with your inheritance?” The man answered, “I once passed by a cheder (school for young children) and I heard the youngsters reciting, ‘The Torah that Moshe commanded us is the inheritance of the Congregation of Ya’akov.’ It doesn’t say the inheritance of the Congregation of Yanai but of the Congregation of Ya’akov, which includes me!”
In the wonderful sefer, Lulei Sorasechah, Parashas Balak, it is brought that Rav Shach zt”l would say that batei midrash (houses of study) are not exclusively for Torah scholars but for all Jews alike. He told of study halls in Europe where hundreds of working men would gather to learn daily, many, like the water carriers, after a day of back-breaking labor, even in the sweltering summer days and the freezing winter nights. There were groups of tailors, bakers, builders and shoe-makers who kept their seder “religiously,” never missing a day.
Chassidim came up with a novel idea. Realizing how difficult it is to stay awake and learn at the end of a hard day’s work, they instituted learning “fartugs,” before dawn. They trained their students, while still in yeshiva, to get up and learn before Shacharis (the morning prayers) so that when they become working men they will continue to do so. In this manner, they start off the day on the right foot, learning Torah, and then they go on to work as many hours as they have to.
There are stories of businessmen who were approached by potentially big clients during their learning time but adamantly refused to deal with them until they finished learning. To them, it was the same as working on Shabbos chas veshalom. Just as none of us would even consider violating the Holy Day for any amount of profit, so they would not do business during their learning time. They did not even feel that they were sacrificing anything, for they believed with all of their heart that their parnassah would be blessed in the merit of the Torah they learned just as the light of the menorah shined upon the bread on the table in the Mishkan.
I remember when Reb Shalom Shvadron zt”l came to the USA and said that, “A guest for a while, sees for a mile,” meaning that there are things that we overlook due to familiarity which a stranger notices right away. One of his observances concerned the Sunday off which is a major part of our life and daily routine. Reb Shalom brought to our attention that Sunday is not a Jewish holiday but a Christian one, and it is not celebrated by Jews in Israel. However, he argued, if it does exist in the States, then at least the spare time should be utilized properly. It is not a day to be spent in leisure; for that we have Shabbos and our Jewish Holidays. It is a day that every shul should look like a yeshiva, with a full day of learning for ba’alei batim just like for yeshiva bachurim!
If we don’t understand what Reb Shalom said, it’s because we have a grave misconception. We think that a ben Torah (a Torah student) has to learn all day while a ba’al Habayis (a working man) only has to learn some time each day just like he puts on tefillin and davens a short part of the day. But that is a wrong calculation. Really it starts from the other direction. A person is obligated to learn 24 hours a day, non-stop, as it says (Yehoshua 1:8), “This Book of the Torah shall not depart from your mouth, and you shall meditate on it day and night.” However, it is quite understandable that if one were to take this literally, then Jewish boys wouldn’t live too many days past their bar mitzvah. Upon becoming obligated to obey the commandments, the youngster would sit and learn around the clock, neither eating or sleeping, until he would die over his sefer. Therefore, the Torah modified that extreme demand by writing (Vayikra 18:5), “You shall observe My decrees and My laws, which man shall carry out and by which he shall live.” The Talmud interprets this command as instructing us to live by the mitzvahs and not to die because of them (except in certain exceptions, such as idolatry, when one is commanded to even sacrifice his life for Hashem’s honor). This allows the Jew to take off time from his learning to eat, drink and sleep and do whatever else he has to in order to keep his body alive and healthy.
Then, according to Rabbi Yishmael (Berachos 35b), the Torah gave one permission to earn a living as it says (Devarim 11:14), “…that you may gather in your grain, your wine, and your oil.” Consequently, a person can take off time from his learning to support himself and his family. Of course, a person must also take off time to apply his learning practically by performing the commandments of the Torah and the Sages.
BUT EVERY REMAINING MOMENT OF THE DAY AND NIGHT SHOULD BE SPENT LEARNING TORAH!
Therefore, as Reb Shalom said, the days that one has to work full time, he may fulfill his obligation by learning an hour or so. But a day that he has off from work, he must learn full time just like every yeshiva bachur who does not yet have the burden of parnassah on his shoulders. At the very least, everyone should learn every Sunday morning from after Shacharis until Minchah at midday.
And you will undoubtedly find that as the light of Torah shines on the bread on the table, that bread will be blessed and you will see Hashem’s blessing in your parnassah and every aspect of your and your family’s daily life, and you will all be happy in this world and the World-to-Come, amen.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network