Better this World, the Work of Our Hands


“[Rabbi Ya’aqov] used to say: Better one hour of repentance and good deeds in this world than all the life in the world to come. Better one hour of bliss in the world to come than the whole life of this world” (M Avot 4:22).

May the sweetness of the Master our God be upon us and the work of our hands firmly found for us, and the work of our hands firmly found! (Psalms 90:17).

“May you see your world in your lifetime” (BT Berakhot 17a).

“A person should not embolden himself to say: ‘The blessed Holy One will save me,’ or ‘He will do this for me.’ Rather, he should place his strength in the blessed Holy One, to help him fulfill the commandments of Torah and walk in the way of truth, for as soon as one comes to purify himself, he is certainly assisted [cf. BT Shabbat 104a]. So should one fortify himself in the blessed Holy One—in order that He may help him—holding fast to Him, not placing his strength in another. So, whose strength is in You (Psalms 84:5)” (Zohar 1:142a).

Go to the ant, you sluggard, see its ways and get wisdom. For she has no foreman, no taskmaster nor ruler. She readies her bread in summer, stores up her food at the harvest. How long, O sluggard, will you lie there. When will you rise from your sleep? A bit more sleep, a bit more slumber, a bit more lying with folded arms, and your privation will come like a wayfarer, your want like a shield-bearing man (Proverbs 6:6–11).

“Our Rabbis taught: And you shall gather in your grain (Deuteronomy 11:14). What is to be learnt from these words? Since it says, This book of teaching shall not depart from your mouth, [and you shall murmur it day and night, so that you may keep to do according to all that is written in it; then you will make your ways succeed and then you will prosper] (Joshua 1:8)—I might think that these matters are as they are written [i.e., to be taken literally]. Therefore it says, And you shall gather in your grain—the usual way of the land. This is the view of Rabbi Yishma’el.

Rabbi Shim’on son of Yoḥai says: Is that possible? If a man ploughs in the ploughing season, and sows in the sowing season, and reaps in the reaping season, and threshes in the threshing season, and winnows in the season of wind, what is to become of Torah? No. Rather when Israel performs the will of the Omnipresent, their work is performed by others, as is said, And foreigners shall stand and tend your flocks [and strangers be your farmers and keepers of your vineyards] (Isaiah 61:5), and when Israel does not perform the will of the Omnipresent their work is carried out by themselves, as is said, And you shall gather in your grain. And not only that but the work of others also is done by them, as is said, You will serve your enemies… [whom YHWH will send against you in hunger and in thirst and in nakedness and in the lack of all things, and he will put an iron yoke on your neck until you are destroyed] (Deuteronomy 28:48).

Abayye: Many have done as Rabbi Yishma’el, and it has worked well; others have acted like Rabbi Shim’on son of Yoḥai and it has not been successful. Rava said to the Rabbis: I beg you during [the months of] Nisan and Tishrei [the crucial agricultural periods] do not to appear before me. [Engage in your agricultural work then] so that you not be preoccupied [or: anxious] about your sustenance all year [on Rabbi Shim’on son of Yoḥai’s extreme outlook, see BT Shabbat 33b].

Rabba son of Son of Ḥana said: Rabbi Yoḥanan said in the name of Rabbi Yehudah son of Rabbi El’ai: Come and see: the latter generations are not like the earlier generations. The earlier generations made their Torah permanent and their work occasional—this and that were successful for them. The latter generations who made their work permanent and their Torah occasional, neither this nor that was successful for them” (BT Berakhot 35b, cf. Decline of the Generations).