Second-Rate Torah Scholars

First posted on The Times of Israel at:

Netziv Genesis: Vayehi

Second-Rate Torah Scholars

“The honest work of yesterday has lost its social status, its social esteem.” -Peter Drucker

Maimonides, in his magnum opus, the Mishne Torah, has harsh words for Torah scholars that avoid work. In his Laws of Torah Study, Chapter 3, Law 3, he states:

“Anyone who comes to the conclusion that he should involve himself in Torah study without doing work and derive his livelihood from charity, desecrates God’s name, dishonors the Torah, extinguishes the light of faith, brings evil upon himself, and forfeits the life of the world to come.”

The Netziv takes a softer approach. He doesn’t call such individuals damned, shameful, faith-killing, evil-mongering people whose souls are destined for eternal oblivion. He just calls them second-rate.

While Reuben, Shimon and Levi are castigated in Jacob’s final blessings to his sons, and Judah and Joseph receive long and beautiful partings, it is the second son of Joseph, Ephraim, who is the surprise winner in Jacob’s final orations. Jacob places Ephraim in front of Menashe, his older brother. The Netziv on Genesis 49:13 says that Ephraim is placed first because of his studious and spiritual level, due to his dedication to Torah study. The Netziv differentiates between Ephraim’s level which was achieved on his own steam, and that of his uncle Yissachar.

There was a famous partnership between two of Jacob’s sons, Zebulun and Yissachar. Zebulun was the merchant and his descendants supported the studious descendants of Yissachar. Zebulun is always mentioned before Yissachar, as Yissachar’s Torah accomplishments are only thanks to the financial backing of Zebulun. However, Ephraim stands first, on his own, deserving greater respect and honor than the dependent Yissachar.

May we stand on our own feet, whenever we can, and thereby reach greater heights.

Shabbat Shalom,



To my son, Netanel, on his Bar-Mitzvah. May he become a first-rate Torah scholar.

Leave a Reply