Rabbi Meir Said: "Minimize Your Business Activities And Occupy Yourself With The Torah. Be Of Humble Spirit Before Every Person.
"If You Should Neglect The [Study Of] Torah, You Will Have Many Causes For Neglecting [It] Confronting You, But If You Toil Much In The Torah, There Is Ample Reward To Be Given You."
This teaching is directed at a person for whom earning a living requires activities other than the study of Torah. Although he is allowed to follow such a course, the mishnah
encourages him to minimize such activity and devote his energies primarily to the study of Torah. If he must choose to either devote his spare time to the study of Torah or to the performance of charitable deeds, he should choose Torah study.
A person who is productively involved in both the study of Torah and commercial activity is likely to feel pride. For after all, there are few who are successful in both fields. Therefore the mishnah continues...
Despite your own virtues, look for the virtue in others, and regard yourself humbly. Such a person is promised...
The word "toil" implies a struggle. In consideration of such efforts, the reward one receives is "ample" - above the limits of our world.
(Sichos Shabbos Parshas Eikev, 5728)
There are two reasons for approaching others with humility:
- The entire Jewish people is compared, by analogy, to a human body. No organ or limb can exist alone. Moreover, every limb complements the functioning of the others. Thus, regardless of the extent of an individual's virtue, every other Jew can contribute something to his growth. Therefore humility is always in order.
- Everyone possesses weaknesses and failings. When considering others, we must always look at them favorably and attribute their failures to extenuating circumstances. But such rationalizations should not be offered with regard to oneself. We must confront ourselves and the challenges we face honestly. When taking this factor into account, there is reason to be humble before every person - Jew or gentile, regardless of his upbringing or background.
These concepts enable us to appreciate a difference of opinion regarding the appropriate version of the text of this mishnah
: For the term "every person," some texts use the Hebrew word , while others use the word , without using the as a modifier. The commentaries explain that refers to Jews and gentiles alike,
while refers to Jews alone. The first explanation is relevant only with regard to Jews, for complementary unity applies only within our own people. The second explanation, by contrast, applies with regard to both Jews and gentiles. For when a person fails to live up to the potential he was granted, he should feel humble before all the rest of G-d's creations.
In his text of the mishnah, the Alter Rebbe chooses the version that employs the word , for the mishnah emphasizes how a person's efforts in Torah study should not lead him to pride, and this is primarily relevant with regard to the Jewish people. When referring to the mishnah in other contexts, however, he uses the term , for his intent is to emphasize the humility that stems from self-confrontation.
(Likkutei Sichos, Vol. IV, p. 1211ff)
- (Back to text) Yerushalmi, Nedarim 9:4; Likkutei Torah beginning of Parshas Nitzavim.
- (Back to text) See Tosafos, Yevamos 61a.
- (Back to text) Tanya, ch. 30.