The Whole World was Created For This Goal Only
It is written, “On six days, work may be done, but the seventh day shall be holy for you, a day of complete rest for the L-RD” (Exodus 35:2).
In his book HaYad HaChazakah (Hilchot Shabbat 30:15), the Rambam writes that one who publicly desecrates Shabbat is like an idolater who worships the stars and constellations, for Shabbat and idolatry are equivalent to all the mitzvot of the Torah (Horayot 8). Furthermore, the author of Siftei Cohen teaches that the one who strictly observes Shabbat will have his weekday work done by itself.
The Gemara teaches: “It is written, ‘You will gather in your grain, your wine, and your oil’ [Deuteronomy 11:14]. On the other hand we are taught, ‘Contemplate it day and night’ [Joshua 1:8]. How can we reconcile these two verses? Rabbi Ishmael replies, ‘One must manage to combine work with Torah study.’ Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai says, ‘If a man works during work time, and sows during sowing time…what will become of the Torah? Nevertheless, if the Children of Israel obey G-d’s will, others will do their work for them; if they do not obey, they will do it themselves. Furthermore, they will do the work of others, as it is written: “You will serve your enemies” [Deuteronomy 28:48].’ Abaye said, ‘Many are those who have adopted Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s concept, yet have not succeeded’ ” (Berachot 35b).
We see two opposing points of view here: Rabbi Ishmael advocates that we work on a daily basis while setting fixed times for Torah study (Shabbat 31b), and in this way we will survive. According to Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, a person can engage in Torah study throughout his life and his work will be done by others. As for Abaye, he believes that not everyone is capable of rising to the level of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, a man who studied Torah in a cave for 12 years while eating from a nearby carob tree and drinking from a spring (Shabbat 33b). Nevertheless, Halachah stipulates that whether a person is weak or strong, rich or poor, he must work during the week in order to earn a living, and he must fix times for Torah study both day and night, regardless of the circumstances (Rambam, beginning of Hilchot Talmud Torah; Shulchan Aruch HaRav, ibid.).
The following questions arise:
1. Why did G-d not arrange things such that when a person constantly engages in Torah study, his work would be done by others (angels)? He would thus be free from all material worries, which would constitute the ideal situation. Everyone would thus serve Hashem with all their heart, and “the earth will be as filled with knowledge of the L-RD as waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9). A person would nevertheless continue to exercise his free will, as he would “choose life” (Deuteronomy 30:19). If he decides to follow the path of righteousness, his work will be done by others; in the opposite case (G-d forbid), he will be responsible for doing it himself and the angels will not come to his aid. Why did G-d not set things up like this, for in that case Torah study would have thoroughly spread among the Jewish people?
2. Why was Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s concept not attained in the time of the judges or the prophets, or in any of the generations, and why does Halachah not follow it?
3. Finally, why did those who followed the path traced by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai not succeed in their endeavors, especially since they were great Tzaddikim, not simple people?
The Talmud teaches that Adam, comfortably settled in the Garden of Eden, had meat served to him by the angels (Sanhedrin 59b). Seeing the honors that were given to him, the serpent became jealous. What did it do? It drove him to commit the sin of the Tree of Knowledge, followed by which the Holy One, blessed be He, said to him: “By the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread” (Genesis 3:19). Adam lost his entire world, as well as all the honors that were given to him by the angels, because he transgressed a light mitzvah (Tanhuma, Shemini 8).
We find many examples of miracles performed for Tzaddikim, either by angels or by angels disguised as human beings:
After having killed the prophets of Baal, Eliyahu HaNavi took to flight: “The ravens would bring him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he would drink from the brook” (I Kings 17:6), and once after eating but a single meal, “He then walked on the strength of that meal for forty days and forty nights, until the Mountain of G-d, Horeb” (ibid. 19:8).
While he was in the kingdom of Cyrus, the beloved Daniel was aided by high figures (i.e., angels [Daniel 10]). Furthermore, when Daniel was thrown into the lions’ den, he came out unharmed (Zohar II:125b).
Midrash Avoth (109,117) recounts that while in Babylon, the prophet Habakkuk received a daily meal that was brought to him from Eretz Israel without any of his guards realizing it.
There are many examples of Tzaddikim (such as the Baal Shem Tov) who were helped by Eliyahu HaNavi and the angels.
In fact, G-d’s angels always used to help the Children of Israel and performed their work. Until the sin of Adam, the angels mistook him for a god. Yet when they saw him eating and drinking, they understood that he was only a man – made of flesh and bone (Bereshith Rabba 8:9) – and so they asked Hashem, “What is man that You are mindful of him?” (Psalms 8:5). He who surpassed the angels, and for whom the test of the Tree of Knowledge was trivial, brought death into the world, and many other harsh decrees were pronounced against him and his wife (Bereshith Rabba 19:18). Therefore the angels stopped serving him.
Because of the fact that “there is no man so wholly righteous on earth that he [always] does good and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20), and because the evil inclination “is lying at the door” (Genesis 4:7) and constantly lays traps for man, the angels cannot help a person who may sin at any moment. They only help the greatest of the Tzaddikim, even studying Torah with them, as was the case with Rabbi Yosef Caro, the author of Beth Yosef. As for my venerated grandfather, Rabbi Haim Pinto (may his memory protect us), he regularly welcomed Eliyahu HaNavi and the illustrious Rabbi Israel Nadjaria.
The angels cannot serve an ordinary individual because of his sins, since he is liable to die if he sees an angel. For example when Manoah, the father of Samson, saw an angel, he said to his wife: “We shall surely die, for we have seen a G-dly angel!” (Judges 13:22), and his wife then had to reassure him. Manoah had good reason to fear, for he was not a Tzaddik (nor was he a wicked man), but rather an ordinary individual who “went after his wife” (v.11; Berachot 61a). Consequently, those who have followed the path traced by Rabbi Ishmael – the path of daily work performed in faith and combined with regular Torah study – have been helped by G-d and succeeded. Their work was done by others, especially because of their strict observance of Shabbat (see Sefat Emet).
Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was an exceptionally great Tzaddik. He proclaimed, “My son Elazar and I protect the world” and “I can personally save all of humanity from judgment” (Sukkah 45b). A rainbow never appeared during his lifetime (Zohar III:15a), and he asserted that he was able to bring the world back to its original state, the state that preceded Adam’s sin. As a result, if everyone had repented and engaged in diligent Torah study, as he advocated, others would have done their work. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai primarily yearned to study and pray in order raise the Shechinah from the dust of Galut and to hasten the arrival of our righteous Messiah. Those who followed the path traced by Rabbi Ishmael do not need the constant help and protection of the angels. The one who aspires in complete sincerity to come closer to the Holy One, blessed be He, is similar to the Tzaddik who is arrayed in the holiness of Shabbat and has his work done by Hashem. May we all reach the level of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the very foundation of the Jewish people, and especially the level of the one who strictly observes the seventh day of the week. Note that the letters of shevi’i (“seventh [day]”) are the initials of the expression Shimon bar Yochai ikar Israel, from now and for all time, until the arrival of the Messiah, speedily in our days, Amen!