Friday, August 17, 2012

Berachot 17a: I am God's creature and my fellow is God's creature

A beautiful saying on Berachot daf 17a:
מרגלא בפומייהו דרבנן דיבנה אני בריה וחברי בריה אני מלאכתי בעיר והוא מלאכתו בשדה אני משכים למלאכתי והוא משכים למלאכתו כשם שהוא אינו מתגדר במלאכתי כך אני איני מתגדר במלאכתו ושמא תאמר אני מרבה והוא ממעיט שנינו אחד המרבה ואחד הממעיט ובלבד שיכוין לבו לשמים.
Or, in English:
A favourite saying of the Rabbis of Jabneh was: I am God's creature and my fellow10  is God's creature. My work is in the town and his work is in the country. I rise early for my work and he rises early for his work. Just as he does not presume to do my work, so I do not presume to do his work. Will you say, I do much11  and he does little? We have learnt:12  One may do much or one may do little; it is all one, provided he directs his heart to heaven.
Rashi and Tosafot seem to take it in a slightly negative way, when describing the non-Torah scholars. Thus, Rashi writes:

אני מלאכתי בעיר - כלומר נוחה מלאכתי ממלאכתו:

casting the Torah scholar's profession in a more favorable light than that of the am ha'aretz. And

ושמא תאמר - הדין עמו שאינו מתגדר במלאכתי שאילו היה תופס אומנותי לא היה לו לב פתוח להרבות בתורה כמותי והיה ממעיט ואין לו שכר:

"Lest you say that the din is with him, that he does not encroach upon my labor, for if he would seize my labor, his heart would not be open to increase in Torah like me, and he would have little and have no reward."

שנינו - שיש לו שכר לממעיט כמו למרבה:

Basically, this would not be so. Thus, the am haaretz is acting in error.

Tosafot do not disagree with how Rashi casts this, but write:

אני בריה וחברי בריה. כלומר יש לו לב כמוני להבחין בין טוב לרע:

That is, both of had opportunity to choose the right thing. But the am haaretz chose incorrectly.

I am sure that others cast this gemara differently, but I'll have a crack at it. I don't think that such hostile negative comparison would be described as a מרגלא בפומייהו דרבנן, even had they thought it true.

I think the more touchy-feely interpretation has more merit. Thus:

אני בריה וחברי בריה -- I am a creation of Hashem, and my friend is also a creation of Hashem. We each have roles in this Creation, and this is not the place to elevate myself over my fellow.

אני מלאכתי בעיר והוא מלאכתו בשדה -- Both of us have different roles in the general scheme of things. But both of us are serving our role within Creation, as a part of society.

אני משכים למלאכתי והוא משכים למלאכתו -- Both of us are hard-working in our roles. (Of course, Torah is valued, but don't say that we are each not hard-working, respectively.)

כשם שהוא אינו מתגדר במלאכתי כך אני איני מתגדר במלאכתו -- neither is encroaching on the other person's role. I wouldn't want to try it, because it is admittedly a difficult life. Not everyone can be the klei kodesh. Some are cut out to be workers rather than intellectuals, but everyone can be a righteous Jew.

ושמא תאמר אני מרבה והוא ממעיט -- maybe you will try to get haughty, and say that the rabbinic elite are better than the common folk, for after all, we learn a lot, like Rav Sheshet who turned around and learned gemara during kriat haTorah; meanwhile, he only learns a little, for example whatever Mikra or Mishna (or Daf Yomi) he is capable of, so perhaps he is not as special to Hakadosh Baruch Hu?

שנינו אחד המרבה ואחד הממעיט ובלבד שיכוין לבו לשמים -- we learned that the most important thing is not how much one learns or is capable of learning, so long as he directs his heart to Heaven. Rachmana liba ba'iy. And if his lot in life is not to be a tzurba meirabanan, but a farmer or a middle-manager, but he manages to squeeze in what Torah learning he is able and capable of handling, then he is the chaver of the rabbis of Yavneh, a fellow creation.

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