The verse1 states: Yabetz2 called out to the God of Israel saying: “If You bless me and expand my borders and Your hand will be with me, and You will keep me from harm that I will not be distressed ...” and God granted his request.

Rabbi Natan explains Yabetz’ prayer:

“If You bless me” - with respect to Torah study;

“and expand my borders” - with respect to disciples;

“and Your hand will be with me” - that my studies will not be forgotten from my heart;

“and You will keep me from harm” - so that I will encounter friends that are akin to me;

“that I will not be distressed” - meaning that the evil inclination will not overpower me and deter me from studying.

Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi gives a different explanation:

“If You bless me” - with the production of offspring;

“and expand my borders” - with sons and daughters;

“and Your hand will be with me” - in business;

“and You will keep me from harm” - that I will not suffer from headaches, earaches or eye pain;

“that I will not be distressed” - meaning that the evil inclination will not overpower me and deter me from studying. (Gemara Temurah 16a)

Whereas Rabbi Natan expounds the verse as referring to Yabetz’ intense desire to study and disseminate Torah, Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi interprets most of the verse regarding earthly matters. The commentator Iyun Yaakov suggests that these two great Rabbis are taking sides in the classic argument between Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and Rabbi Yishmael3 whether the ideal is to learn Torah full time or to combine Torah study with a worldly occupation. It is interesting to note that it is Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi’s son, Rabban Gamliel, who teaches in Pirkei Avot 2:2: “It is good to combine Torah study with a worldly occupation.”

Every Jew’s mission from God is: “be righteous and do not be wicked.4” Each of us is endowed with different talents that will enable us to fulfill a job in the world. For instance, if my job is to be a surgeon, then God must give me the necessary intellectual potential, the tools to achieve this and assistance along the way. The Midrash5 teaches that Moshe could not understand what the Menorah was supposed to look like, so God had to show him. In contrast, Bezalel understood straight away, because his job was to be an artisan, whereas Moshe’s was to be a leader. We should not define ourselves by our job, but by our mission. Our mission is: “be righteous and do not be wicked”, both off and on the job.6

1.       Divrei HaYamim I 4:10

2.       aka Otniel Ben Kenaz, who restored 1,700 Kal vaChomers, Gezeirah Shavahs and Dikdukei Sofrim that were forgotten in the mourning period for Moshe.

3.       Gemara Berachot 35b

4.       Gemara Niddah 30b

5.       BeMidbar Rabbah 15:4

6.       based on Al HaTeshuvah by Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik

 

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