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To Double Business Bound: Reflections on Divided Life of Ovdei Hashem

Harav Aharon Lichtenstein





And, like a man to double business bound,

I stand in pause where I shall first begin,

And both neglect.[1]


דר' שמעון בן יוחי אמר אילו הוינא על טורא דסיני בשעתא דאיתיהיבת אורייתא לישראל הוינא מתבע קום רחמנא דאיתברי להדין בר נשא תרין פומין חד דיהוי לעי באורייתא וחד דיתעבד בה כל צרכיי.

R. Shimon ben Yochai asserted: “Had I stood at Mount Sinai at the time that Torah was given to Israel, I would have demanded that a person be given two mouths: one with which to learn Torah, and the other with which to manage all other matters.”[2]


Prima facie, these two passages, the first put by the world’s premier dramatist into the mouth of Claudius, whom Hamlet denominated “thou incestuous, murd’rous, damned Dane,” the other expressing the fervent spirituality of the saintly avatar of mystical avodat Hashem, do not admit of the faintest comparison. Quite apart from their antithetically contrasted authorship, their motivation and substance differ no less than the sources. Claudius, contemplating his role in engineering his brother’s murder, while groping for prayer and pardon, is immobilized by an admixture of ambivalence and tormenting guilt. “Pray can I not, / My stronger guilt defeats my strong intent.” And so, radical self-knowledge trumps incipient guilt.

            Patently, none of this, le-havdil, has any bearing upon Rashbi’s provisional plea. He is rather impelled by the concern, and possibly, pain, generated by the inherent limits of personal and universal insufficiency. Ars longa, vita brevisהיום קצר והמלאכה מרובה. “The day is brief, and the labor plentiful” (Avot 2:15). The prospect of defeat he envisions is not grounded in indecisiveness, let alone in indolence or guilt, but rather in the magnitude of the spiritual challenge, as well as in the limits and ravages of time. “Where, alack,” Shakespeare lamented in one of the variations on the theme in his Sonnets, / “Shall Time’s best jewel from Time’s chest lie hid?” (65). Moreover, as to Rashbi’s response to his dual charge, he, of course, neglects nothing.

            Nevertheless, comparison, be it in the shadow of dissociation, is meaningful, after all, as in reading the texts jointly we encounter not only tangency but coincidence. The depth of Shakespeare’s psychological insight and the magic of his verbal deftness have enabled him to encapsulate within the dramatic parameters of several lines of gripping soliloquy the essence of a fundamental facet of the human condition: the quandary of double business. Succinctly stated, the problem, for many if not most, inheres in the parcelization of effort and responsibility – indeed, of life itself. The day is brief and the melakhah – delineated in the mishnah in the singular but clearly relating to a plural phenomemon – is merubbah, not only in terms of quantitative scope, but, in light of its being, qualitatively, diffuse. The scarcity of wherewithal – in time, energy, resources – to attain all that one needs to get done or that one wants to get done generates a need to divide the available means, often leaving no area fully entitled. The process of prioritization – particularly, if pursued on a grand scale – may then result in bitterness, dilute the quality of life, and leave clouds of uncertainty hovering over personal existence.

Moreover, the issue touches upon the realization of ambition and the utilization of potential no less than upon the discharge of duty. Commenting upon the Torah’s description of Avraham Avinu’s death –ויגוע וימת אברהם בשיבה טובה זקן ושבע  – “And Avraham expired and died in gracious old age, elderly and satiated” (Bereshit 25:8) – the Ramban notes:

שראה כל משאלות לבו ושבע כל טובה ... ולא יתאוה שיחדשו בו הימים דבר ... והוא ספור חסדי השם בצדיקים ומדה טובה בהם שלא יתאוו במותרות כענין שנאמר "תאות לבו נתת לו" (תהלים כא, ג), ולא כמו שנאמר בשאר האנשים "אוהב כסף לא ישבע כסף" (קהלת ה, ט) ואמרו בו "אין אדם יוצא מן העולם וחצי תאוותיו בידו יש בידו מנה מתאוה מאתים השיגה ידו למאתים מתאוה לעשות ארבע מאות שנאמר אוהב כסף לא ישבע כסף" (קהלת רבה א, לד).

He saw all his heart’s wishes [realized], and was sated with bounty; and he had no desire that passing days should innovate anything for him… This is the story of Hashem’s beneficence to the righteous and a proper quality that they possess – that they do not yearn for superfluities, as it is written, “His heart’s desires You have granted him” (Tehillim 21:3). Unlike what is stated about most people, “A lover of money shall never have enough money” (Kohelet 5:9); and they [Chazal] said of them, “Upon leaving the world, a person has but satisfied half his desires. If he has one hundred units [of currency], he desires two hundred; if he has attained two hundred, he desires four hundred, as it is written, ‘A lover of money shall never have enough money’ ” (Kohelet Rabbah 1:34).

            The Ramban’s description, so grossly inconsonant with the Faustian impetus of much modern Western culture, with its thirst for drinking life to the lees, exacerbates the dilemma, inasmuch as it enlarges the bounds of appetite without correspondingly increasing the reservoir from which the capacity for double business or double gratification can be drawn. Hence, the prospect of a shortfall can stimulate frustration, distort judgment, and immobilize decision.

            The challenge of dual existence does not, of course, perturb all equally. Personality, commitment, and conscience are major variables. For a monist, however – and a denizen of a dank cave during a thirteen-year sojourn, such as Rashbi, should almost certainly be regarded as such – the pressures exerted by double business can be both pragmatically and spiritually formidable. All the more so, inasmuch as, while Claudius’ simile may conceivably refer to a random occasion, in other contexts, as an existential dilemma, the phenomenon can be quite extensive in duration and quite disconcerting in impact. Whether the man to which he refers is “bound” in the sense of a destination to which he is headed, or whether, alternatively or additionally, in the sense of a linkage or bond that commits him legally or existentially, the duality as such may constitute a powerful challenge, stifling achievement and engendering frustration.




Human life had not quite commenced in this vein. At the dawn of creation, man and woman had been clearly defined and differentiated, each assigned a distinctive role in the process of propagation, and related to no other business.

 ויברא א-לקים את האדם בצלמו בצלם א-לקים ברא אתו זכר ונקבה ברא אתם. ויברך אתם א-לקים ויאמר להם א-לקים פרו ורבו ומלאו את הארץ וכבשה ורדו בדגת הים ובעוף השמים ובכל חיה הרמשת על הארץ.

And God created the man in His image, in the divine image He created him; male and female He created them. And God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and conquer it, and lord over the fish of the sea, the fowl of the heavens, and over all living creatures which crawl over the face of the earth” (Bereshit 1:28).[3]

But, then again, in one admittedly puzzling respect, perhaps it had begun on this note, after all. Rashi, ad locum, refers us to Chazal’s attempt to resolve the apparent contradiction between “and God created the man,” and “male and female He created them,” regarding which R. Yehudah suggests:

בתחלה עלה במחשבה לבראות שנים ולבסוף נברא אחד.

Initially, the plan had been to create two separate [beings]. Subsequently, however, only one was created. [4]

Rashi concludes by postulating a more literally oriented explanation:

ופשוטו של מקרא כאן הודיעך שנבראו שניהם בששי ולא פירש לך כיצד ברייתן ופירש לך במקום אחר.

The peshat of the text, however, means that here we are only informed that both were created on the sixth day. Nothing is said here, however, as regards the mode and sequence of their creation, and that is elucidated elsewhere. [5]

According to the Aggadic reading, the question of the primal character of the blueprint homo sapiens obviously arises: Was the latent initial intent that there be a single persona with two destinies or two personae welded by an extraneous link? The impact of these alternatives for our topic is self-evident – and it serves as a point of departure for our discussion.

            Whatever our disposition with respect to this issue, the early intrusion of double business may be perceived through other channels. At one plane, we note the dichotomous metaphysical composition of human nature – body and soul, spirit and matter, with all that this implies for conduct and responsibility – or the grosser division of substance proper. Speculating upon the course of the origins of humanity, the midrash attributes a dual approach to the Ribbono Shel Olam:

אמר הקב"ה הרי אני בורא אותו בצלם ובדמות מן העליונים פרה ורבה מן התחתונים.

I shall create him, as regards image and form, as of the celestial [world], but he shall propagate as of the bestial. [6]

As to function and duty, a trace of a possible dilemma is perhaps immanent in the second Biblical narrative of the creation of man. Unlike the first, which focuses upon the experience of nature and the potential for exploitation and hegemony, the second defines purposive human existence in terms of charge and service. In this context, we note, from our perspective, a subtle shift. The need for implanting man within nature is implied, early in the second chapter, as necessary to tend the newly created earth: ואדם אין לעבד את האדמה – “There was no man to tend the earth” (Bereshit 2:5). Upon the realization of human creation, however, it turns out that his role is defined more expansively (Bereshit 2:15): ויקח ה' א-לקים את האדם וינחהו בגן עדן לעבדה ולשמרה. Not only to till and tend but to protect and conserve; not only la’avod but le-ovdah u-le-shomrah. To do double business.

            Reference to this text invites the obvious retort, that this pasuk does not relate to double business at all, but entails, rather, a single, albeit not identical, task, performed with respect to different objects at various stages of development. This, in turn, raises the broader issue of the parameters and guidelines which, for our purposes, can direct us in defining and determining what constitutes the identity of an act as of a course of action and wherein need distinctiveness inhere in order that singularity be recognized.

            The issue is germane to all walks of life and to a perceptive understanding of the niceties of any serious legal corpus. It has numerous conceptual and practical ramifications; and to the theoretically oriented Halakhist, in particular, it is the bread and butter of his endeavors. By dint of his engagement, that Halakhist is keenly aware that standards vary, as a function of the purpose and the area of discourse. In some, the key lies in the verb employed, in others, activity is defined with an eye to a complex of factors. For our present telos, we need to distinguish between formal and existential elements. Formally, students pursuing a doctoral program and hence writing dissertations in any given area are all part of a sociological pool, regardless of the area pursued, whether sacred or secular, humanistic or technological – and their relation to it. On the other hand, a talmid who reads chiddushei Torah and his peer who writes them are, linguistically, engaged in divergent activities, but, existentially, comrades in talmud Torah.

            The business here under consideration, is, of course, spiritual; hence, its categories are limned by their relation to avodat Hashem. That area can itself be further divided and nuanced, to a significant degree; and, for certain purposes, this could be not only meaningful but essential. For ours, however, it would be largely redundant, and we shall, consequently, content ourselves with broader strokes – at times, lumping together under a single rubric what could have been readily differentiated, and, at others, contrarily, distinguishing what could have been easily fused.




            This digression may strike us as remote from Rashbi and his lament over the need to divert time and energy from talmud Torah to the management of mundane affairs; and, in many respects, indeed it is. The dual role assigned to humanity in agricultural enterprise, insofar as both its interlocking facets relate to a single milieu, is no precursor to subsequent truly divided endeavor, assuredly not to the distinction between the radically distinguished realm of the sacred and the profane whose combined weight hung heavily on Rashbi’s shoulders.  And, yet, insofar as the psychological and spiritual difficulty in responding to multiple responsibility and variegated needs – whether in serving the Ribbono Shel Olam or in servicing His creation, including that of the commanded agent – is concerned, both situations share much in common. Each entails tension, each is fraught with obstacles, each may generate frustration deriving from the inability to balance goals, and in each a person is seemingly doomed to only partial success – and, hence, to partial failure. As to the subsequent course of global history, if anything, the growth of culture and civilization issues in the proliferation, sometimes explosive and exponential, of possibilities, each with its particular onus and appeal.

            The onus does not necessarily relate to concern over possible bad judgment, although the lurking prospect of error frequently compounds the anguish of choice. The pain can inhere in the need to choose at all – to forego desirable future gratification or to abjure sources of previous fulfillment. Moreover, anxiety may subsist even when one is convinced that he or she has chosen wisely. The maturing Matthew Arnold clearly sensed that he needed to leave the joys of his youthful romanticism aside and move on to a duller life of marriage, public service, and often prosaic responsibility. And yet the pain of transition, the desperate wish that he need abandon nothing in moving to the next phase, is palpable in so much of his verse, openly envious of peers who have not stayed the course – partly chosen, partly imposed – which is becoming his lot. “There thou art gone, and me thou leavest here, / Sole in these fields… / Fields where the sheep from eager cages pull the hay, / Woods with anemones in flower till May, / Know him a wanderer still; then why not me?”[7] Yet, despite the pangs, he, at most, looked back but did not seriously entertain the prospect of turning back. Abelard and Kierkegaard recognized that they needed to abandon Eloise and Regina, respectively. Yet, the acceptance and awareness were not devoid of anguish and regret. Our yeshiva world is wont to pronounce that the joy of the resolution of uncertainty – not so much in the course of pure talmud Torah as with regard to the determination of existential choice – is beyond compare. This assertion is, however, only true of certain situations – and then, often partially. Resolution can indeed usher in relief – but possibly at the cost often inherent in the process. Decision rarely proffers free lunches.




            Ought we, then, conclude that confrontation with double business inevitably entails a measure of anguish or even torment? Need we regard it as, in part, reflecting the character of human life as, in Hobbes’ pungent phrase, “nasty, brutish, and short,” and, in part, rendering it as such? Certainly not. Setting aside Claudius’ description, which presumably refers to a humanly created dilemma, Rashbi’s hypothetical demand raises an obvious question. Granted that he would have dared to press his request, and allowing for its justice (if ma’amad Har Sinai raises the level of obligation, oughtn’t we have the right to ask for means for meeting it?), the fact remains that the Ribbono Shel Olam patently decreed against the complaint; in all modesty, then, it behooves us to attempt to grasp the implicit rationale.

Several conjectures may be advanced, all premised on the assumption that Rashbi would not have deigned to challenge divine judgment. It may be suggested, first, that he acknowledged that the balance that was achieved between the spiritual and the material was optimal for the Jew, objectively speaking, and that it was surely subsumed under the primeval approval of the created universe – וירא א-לקים את כל אשר עשה והנה טוב מאד  – “And God surveyed all that He had created, and it was very good” (Bereshit 1:31) – but he, personally, in light of subjective predilection, would have opted and pleaded for a more challenging alternative. Second, it may be contended that while the created human condition is admittedly not as pristine as it could have been, this should not be regarded as a purely negative concession to human fallibility and frailty. On the contrary, just as the inclusion of the evil inclination in the composite human spirit activates man religiously by exposing him to temptation, thus energizing the capacity for choice and the exercise of freedom, so with the structure of a single mouth. Its role – if you will, as the representative of homo sapiens in his entirety – its use to be divided among contrasting and, at times, conflicting forces – is to be perceived as among “the uses of adversity.” It redounds to our benefit, precisely, because, once attained and sustained, ours is no longer “a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and seeks her adversary, but slinks out of the race, where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat” – deemed by Milton as unworthy of his encomium. We are now, rather, willing combatants: “Assuredly we bring not innocence into the world, we bring impurity much rather; that which purifies us is trial, and trial is by what is contrary.”[8] These lines may strike some as sounding a Christian ring, but they clearly conform with elements deeply rooted – admittedly, not unanimously – in our own tradition.[9]

            Third – and, to my inclination, preferably – the nature and impact of the dilemma of being “to double business bound” may turn on our own perception of the relation of the respective options. Is each business, at best, an obstacle course to stir the powers of volition and conscience, thus indirectly abetting human growth? Or can it be harnessed to contribute, in a direct sense, to the enhancement and realization of the very values with which it was competing for impetus and attention? With respect to the reciprocal dependence postulated by the mishnah in Avot (3:17) as defining the relation between Torah and flour – that is, talmud Torah and economic pursuits, respectively – ought not the quest for material means, when motivated by the desire to build an infrastructure which should facilitate avodat Hashem, be viewed as contributing to the realization of its supposedly contrasting goal?

            In this sense, Rashbi’s double business is not, ideologically and axiologically speaking, quite dual at all. Of course, at the pragmatic plane, initiatives may clash, schedules conflict, and priorities, short- or long-term, determined. And at that plane, almost a millennium later, Rabbenu Tam and his grand-nephew, Rabbenu Elchanan, were to disagree as to the primacy of talmud Torah vs. vocational derekh eretz.[10] And at that plane, a spiritual disciple of Rashbi may be anxious, after all, over being confronted by the distraction of double business and lapses into wishing that he had been among the okhlei ha-man, the consumers graced with celestial manna whose acquisition required no effort; among those of whom, in a debate cited in the Mekhilta, Rashbi asserted that, in a sense, they had been singularly privileged to have the gift of Torah bestowed upon them. R. Yehoshua had been fairly accepting in evaluating the life of double business and had apparently not regarded its impact upon commitment to Torah as particularly deleterious:

רבי יהושע אומר שונה אדם שתי הלכות בשחרית ושתים בערבית ועוסק במלאכתו כל היום מעלין עליו כאלו קיים כל התורה כולה.

R. Yehoshua asserts: “One can study two halakhot in the morning and two in the evening, and devote his whole day to his labor – and he would be regarded as one who had fulfilled the entire Torah.” [11]

Rashbi, however, evidently focusing, characteristically, upon the demands imposed by serious talmud Torah and the responsibility attendant upon its exposition, infers, by contrast, that only those fortunate enough to be liberated from material worries are able and possibly authorized to pursue talmud Torah properly.

מכאן היה רבי שמעון בן יוחאי אומר לא נתנה תורה לדרוש אלא לאוכלי המן הא כיצד היה יושב ודורש ולא היה יודע מהיכן אוכל ושותה ומהיכן היה לובש ומכסה לא נתנה תורה לדרוש אלא לאוכלי המן ושניים להם אוכלי תרומה.

R. Shimon ben Yochai inferred, thence, that the exposition of Torah was but granted to the consumers of manna. How is this [to be viewed]? Could one who knows not whence he shall derive sustenance to eat and drink or to dress and clothe himself expound [Torah properly]? Hence, it is to be concluded that] Torah was but granted to the consumers of manna and, secondarily, to the consumers of terumah. [12]

Rashbi does not, of course, advocate reducing the scope of one’s Torah study in order thus better to manage mundane affairs. On the contrary, he implicitly counsels limiting general activity so as to improve the prospect for the mastery of Torah.[13] In any event, the controversy cited in the Mekhilta has significant implications. But insofar as common values inform both pursuits and mold an organically unified personality, duality will result in neither neglect nor resentment, and the lament will not be quite the same.




            While I have dwelt upon a specific situation to exemplify the distinction I have presented, the principle as such cuts comprehensively to the core of Torah living. What is the mishnah’s dictum, וכל מעשיך יהיו לשם שמים, “And all your acts should be for the sake of Heaven” (Avot 2:12), but a pithy encapsulation of the overarching fusion of unity in diversity, cited in the mishnah, and quite clearly ensconced by the Rambam in that role?

נמצא המהלך בדרך זו כל ימיו כולן עובד את ה’ תמיד אפילו בשעה שנושא ונותן ואפילו בשעה שבועל מפני שמחשבתו בכל כדי שימצא צרכיו, עד שיהיה גופו שלם לעבוד את ה’.

The result is that if one pursues this course during his entire lifetime, that he serves God constantly, even while he is conducting a commercial transaction, and even while copulating, inasmuch as his thought throughout is that he care for his needs so that he shall be physically sound in order to serve God. [14]

            It is presumably in this spirit – although in a different sense – that Kohelet’s Scriptural approbation of duality should be understood. Pursuant to complementary counsels – אל תהי צדיק הרבה ואל תתחכם יותר למה תשומם, “Be not overly righteous nor overly wise; why destroy yourself?” and אל תרשע הרבה ואל תהי סכל למה תמות בלא עתך, “Be not overly sinful, nor be foolish; why should you die prematurely?” – the next pasuk urges טוב אשר תאחז בזה וגם מזה אל תנח את ידך כי ירא א-לקים יצא את כולם, “It is good that you grasp the one nor release your hold upon the other, for a God-fearer will discharge his duty to all.”[15] It is palpably difficult to view this conclusion as a recommendation for a joint commitment to moderate evil and virtue, or as a compromise between the two. Is it only much evil which is to be shunned, Chazal asked,[16] while a small quotient is acceptable? However the answer is to be understood, I believe, the key lies in integrated diversity.

            The concept is, of course, familiar from other contexts, for which the relation between talmud Torah and gemilut chasadim may serve as an instructive example. Both are listed in the mishnah in Pe’ah (1:1) as boundless. Hence, some clash, at the level of implementation, between these greedy normative systems is inevitable, and Chazal, from that mishnah down, took pain to define patterns of resolution. Yet, whatever one’s hashkafah regarding optimal balance, no one assumes that this factor dictates total bifurcation. We take the integration and the reciprocal fructification for granted; and so, likewise, generally, with the relation between talmud and ma’aseh. The point to be stressed here is that, mutatis mutandis, an analogous relation obtains between the pure study and teaching of Torah and advancing yishuvo shel olam.




For a modern instance, reflecting the mindset and the values of the yeshiva world, we might turn to a striking letter written to his wife by a remarkable gadol and poignantly sensitive soul, R. Avraham Eliyahu Kaplan. Reared in Lithuania and trained in its premier yeshivot at the turn of the twentieth century, he subsequently moved to Germany, where he headed the Hildesheimer Rabbinical Seminary. Acutely aware of some of the deficiencies of religious education in both countries, he resolved to revamp it; and to this end, he sought to focus upon teacher training. In the process, he plunged into the nitty-gritty of establishing a quality institution – raising funds, acquiring quarters, structuring a curriculum, attracting students. In the letter, he enumerates and describes the pell-mell of his multiple businesses; and then, suddenly, the yeshiva bachur in him comes to the fore, reminding him of his roots, as that bachur’s inner voice reproaches him for reducing his commitment to them:

אולם מתוך כל רבוי העבודה הזה תשמע נפשי קול מדבר: והתורה מה תהא עליה? תורה זו שעמלת עליה על ימי נעוריך, שבזבזת לה אל כל הגיגיך ושנעשתה לך למקור חיים וענג – האם תעזבנה עתה ונטשתה? זו תורה וזו שכרה?!

But from the midst of this multifaceted labor, my soul hears a voice, speaking: “And what is to be of Torah?  That Torah over which you labored throughout your youth, upon which you spent all your thoughts, and which became, for you, a source of life and gratification – will you now leave and desert it? Shall this be the telos of Torah and its reward?!”

True, his current activity is also geared to the study and dissemination of Torah – to young tyros who are setting out on their lifelong vocation, and will, thence, in turn, transmit what they have absorbed to their students. And yet,

אבל סוף סוף אין כאן מקום לכל אותו המקצוע הרחב והנאור, הכביר והנשגב, אשר נקרא לו 'לומדות', אותו הטיול הנהדר בסירת מחשבתי על גלי ים התלמוד ומפרשיו - אכן צריך אדם להיות צדיק גמור וחסיד גדול בכדי שיוכל להקריב על מזבח התורה את התורה עצמה - לפרוש מן התורה בכדי לעבוד בעד התורה.

And yet, at bottom, there is no place here for that broad and illuminating subject, so lucid and majestic, which was called lomdut; that glorious excursion in my mind’s dinghy on the waves of the sea of the Talmud and its commentaries. Indeed, a person must be a great tzaddik and saint in order to be able to sacrifice Torah proper upon the altar of Torah; so as to leave Torah to labor on its behalf.[17]

Double business and unity of purpose, par excellence – at once passionate and majestic.

            That was the gist of the letter and the quintessence of R. Avraham’s Elya’s rich, albeit tragically brief, life. Not his alone, however. Looking retrospectively upon my own, I note, more clearly and more fully than when I heard the message articulated, the power and the consistency with which it was borne in upon me. That was the heart of the legacy I received at home, and, at bottom, it was common to my primary morei derekh, rabbi muvhak, the Rav zt”l; his brother, Rav Ahron zt”l; and the Rosh Yeshiva (as, with the definite article, he was known to talmidim), Rav Yitzchok Hutner zt”l. They differed on a range of issues regarding style, substance and priority in areas of Halakhah, hashkafah and public policy – although, fundamentally, less than many imagined. With respect to our issue, however, there was much substantive assent, concerning both the perception of the problem and the direction of its resolution.

            A letter written by the Rosh Yeshiva – who, incidentally, in his early stages, was significantly influenced by the personality and ideology of R. Avraham Elya – to a talmid who had lapsed into crisis upon leaving the yeshiva is typically instructive. The latter’s lament had evidently been based on the perception of a secular career as entailing a “double life,” and it induced a sharp and imaginative response:

למותר להגיד לך כי מעולם לא הייתי מסכים בשום אופן ל-“double life”. אמנם מי ששוכר לו חדר בבית לחיות בו חיי תושב, ושוכר לו עוד חדר במלון לחיות בו חיי אורח, בודאי שיש לו double life, אבל מי ששוכר לו דירה בת שני חדרים יש לו broad life not double life... ואתה חביבי יקירי חלילה לך מלראות את עצמך בראי כפול של חיים כפולים.

It is superfluous for me to tell you that I would never, under any circumstances, have agreed to a “double life.” However, if one rents a room in a home in order to live there as a resident and rents an additional room in a hotel so as to live there as a guest, he indeed leads a double life. But if one rents a two-room apartment, he leads a broad life rather than a double life… And you, my dear cherished [one], far be it from you to see yourself via the dual mirror of a double life. [18]

This counsel is not quite identical with the affirmation of the possible need for votaries of Torah to offer it upon its own altar. Both assertions are, however, pervaded by the same harmonizing and animating spirit.




            Apropos of the sacrifice, as well as of the righteousness and saintliness deemed requisite for its implementation, a concluding observation is in order. The scenario depicted is one within which the makriv and the korban are, to a degree, coincident. The Torah which is being offered is, in one sense, a facet of personal existence and possession, what Chazal denominated as torato dilei, the learner’s own Torah,[19] but it is that part of him which is consecrated to malkhut shamayim. Hence, in comparison with the remission of subjective mundane ambition, it is both less and more demanding. Less, insofar as one is offering what is already owned “by hekdesh,” the divine treasury, and not fully his. More, insofar as to the spiritual committed soul, it is the most precious part of his being. The situation is quite different, however, in both directions, when the scope of the sacrifice is measurably wider; when a) it is not confined to periodic gestures but is manifested over the span of a lifetime, and when b) it entails the thwarting of ambition, natural but not necessarily sacral, related to the ego, if not the super-ego, in its quest for personal success.

            Within our world, these are pangs particularly felt by the advocates and practitioners of “Torah and….” It is not so much the thirst for acclaim, strong as that often is. To be sure, Milton asserted that “Fame is the spur that the clear spirit doth raise /

(That last infirmity of Noble mind) / To scorn delight, and live laborious days,”[20] and he knew, passionately, whereof he spoke. Keats aspired to be included among the English poets; and while he did not live to savor Arnold’s verdict, “He is; he is with Shakespeare,” the impetus of the hope was very much in evidence. But the lack or the loss of public acclaim – particularly, of the cheaper variety – is of relatively lesser import. Any creative aspirant of quality can serve as his own best critic and gauge the qualifications of his judges.

            Beyond recognition, however, there lies a higher dimension – the quest for mastery and excellence, often accompanied by the competitive urge for preeminence. Presumably, a ben Torah who commits himself to double business is impelled by the conviction that the fusion may be personally rewarding and enriching, or that, with an eye for the needs of the public domain, it is generally valuable in molding leadership, or is, at the very least, the call of the hour.

            Nevertheless, in all likelihood, he is also impelled by the desire for mastery per se; quite apart from recognition of his accomplishment, by the substantive attainment as such. In the event, however, there is, consequently, a price – at times, a perceptively grave price – to be paid. Breadth is purchased at the expense of comprehensiveness. Chazal’s definition of a talmid chakham, ששואלין אותו הלכה בכל מקום, “one who can be questioned about all areas of Halakhah,”[21] is, for him, difficult to achieve, and the nuances of exposition increasingly elusive. The realization that while he has labored and achieved, “Tho much is taken, much abides;” that a crust of knowledge, levels of creativity, aggregates of elements of Torah strewn through basic sources, Scriptural or from the world of Chazal, and, beyond them, within rishonim, aharonim or poskim, are at the fingertips of some peers and/or colleagues, or even ensconced among the treasured reserves of others, while they have somehow eluded or passed him by, can be gnawing – at times, even depressing. As to the obverse, a parallel situation obtains. One may be a competent chemist or historian but not the preeminent, the gap between excellence and competence defying his attempt at bridging it. Lest I be misunderstood, it should be clear that this sentiment need not necessarily entail retrospective regret over the decision to pursue a chosen course, made in the past and subsequently dictating much of what followed. Even if one is genuinely convinced that he had pursued an optimal path – from both an objective Torah and spiritual standpoint, with reference to what F. H. Bradley called “my station and its duties,” and his talents and circumstances, as well as what was, subjectively, the most gratifying and fulfilling scenario – he may regret his limitations without being in any way conscience-stricken.

Moreover, for our budding lamdan/scholar, the situation is further exacerbated by at least two local and contemporary factors. The first is the inordinately competitive climate of the major Eastern European yeshivot, most of them oriented to nurturing and promoting illuyim.[22] The second is the more general shift, under the impact of the scientific revolution since the seventeenth century, in favor of the total mastery of a relatively narrow area as opposed to the development of Renaissance polymaths. Related to this attitudinal change is the expansion of an information explosion, all of which lessens the chance of multiple mastery of divergent or interdisciplinary fields, and raises the barriers to the development of competent candidates, capable and willing to cope with double businesses.




            Unfortunately, these difficulties surface at a time when the need for such talents has magnified rather than diminished. Since the Emancipation and the Haskalah, the broad Torah world has paid a heavy price for the dichotomy typifying many of its leaders, fine talmidei chakhamim but divorced from the world around them. Furthermore, in many instances, they are divorced not by accident, but by design, often consciously trained to avoid all significant contact with that world and then handed the keys of the kingdom, authorized to pass judgment and determine policy for a society they have been educated to avert, whose pulse they don’t feel, of whose existential language they are largely ignorant, and whose values they neither understand nor appreciate. Their accomplishments cannot be gainsaid, their stature is worthy of our respect; and far be it from me to strive for dilution of Torah knowledge and commitment in the service of national leadership. Would, however, that those in the Torah world, entrusted with double business, were more fully equipped to confront its challenges.

            I certainly do not mean to suggest that the pattern of unified double business is, from a public standpoint, the sole legitimate or desirable model. Who would have wanted to alter one iota of that luminous fusion of lomdut, tzidkut, sensitivity and insight which marked R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l, through which he enriched and enlightened the broad Torah community? But on the other hand, ought we ignore, as blithely as much of the Torah world does, Chazal’s dictum that only talmidei chakhamim versed in the range of the world’s seventy languages[23] – or, in the Rambam’s formulation, ברוב הלשונות, “in the majority of languages” – qualified for membership in a sanhedrin gedolah? [24]

Admittedly, to many, this prerequisite will have a highly technical ring, as regards both its substance, with nothing more than narrow linguistic facility intended, and its purpose – שלא תהא סנהדרין שומעת מפי המתורגמן, so that the members of the sanhedrin, while hearing a case, will be able to adjudicate without recourse to interpreters.  Surely, however, there is much to be said for a broader construction. Commenting upon the pasuk, לא תכירו פנים במשפט, “With respect to the judicial establishment, you will pay no regard to acquaintance” (Devarim 1:17), which, prima facie, may ordinarily be read as addressed to the dayyanim, demanding of them full impartiality, the Sifrei, ad locum, asserts that the admonition refers to those empowered to appoint dayyanim. In this sense, it prohibits all aspects of nepotism and simony, with general merit or formal Halakhic regulations to be the sole basis for selection. Included in the catalogue of possible illegitimate choices is the factor of virtuosity in the knowledge of language: איש פלוני יודע בכל לשון אשיבנו דיין, “I shall appoint this person inasmuch as he knows all languages.” Elaborating upon this motif, the Netziv, in his commentary Ha’amek She’ela, ad locum, notes: בכל לשון והרי הוא משכיל בהויות העולם, “In all languages – hence, he is wise with respect to the realities of the world.” In that context, the concern voiced relates to the prospect of harnessing this factor to malevolent ends. It should be clear, however, that the conception posited by the Netziv is no less relevant to the realization of positive ends. Even allowing for the distinction between the molding of the inner self and the structuring of the public square, the implicit definition of לשון as culture and sensibility has, therefore, significant implications for assessing and defining the role of unified double business in our communal and personal avodat Hashem.

            The Rambam concludes his magnum opus, Mishneh Torah, with an apparent ringing rejection of life “to double business bound.” Projecting the prospective character of the Messianic era and the source of its appeal to prophets and sages, he affirms:

ובאותו הזמן לא יהיה שם לא רעב ולא מלחמה ולא קנאה ותחרות שהטובה תהיה מושפעת הרבה וכל המעדנים מצויין כעפר ולא יהיה עסק כל העולם אלא לדעת את ה' בלבד.

And at that time, there shall be neither famine nor warfare, and neither envy nor competitiveness, as bounty will be widely conferred and all delicacies as common as dust, and the entire world shall have no business but to know God, exclusively. [25]

However, the fact that this scenario is relegated solely to the utopian millenarian setting reinforces our awareness of its current impracticality. As an axiological manifesto, it is a clear statement that, even allowing for the ascription of values and meaning to many secular careers, the choice of a vocation is not immaterial, and that all factors being equal (are they ever?), devotion to the study and, a fortiori,[26] the teaching of Torah is, personally and publicly, optimal; as an implicit normative statement dictating how a person ought to spend his or her “spare” time, its vision is pregnant with contemporary relevance and captures our allegiance. This, however, in the nature of what Chazal defined as hilkheta li-meshichah, a Halakhic standard to be implemented eschatologically. As to the historical situation, what better instance of the dilemma posed by double business need be sought than the Rambam’s graphic account of the pressures exerted by his medical duties at the royal harem, pressures which often left little time for personal talmud Torah, but for Shabbat afternoon? And what more ennobling manifestation of how the intensity of personality and the depth of commitment enable transcending the force of necessity, or diffidence, so that the confrontation does not issue in “both neglect” but in maximal integration?

            At bottom, our response to the quandary of double business is an amalgam of pragmatic, moral, and religious elements. Practically, one needs to develop the capacity for both decision and decisiveness – the ability to judge incisively and effectively, to see life steadily and see it whole, as well as the strength to act upon the decisions. Morally, we are charged to adopt and to internalize Ben Zoma’s counsel, itself an amalgam of ethics and Torah, איזהו עשיר השמח בחלקו, “Wealthy is he who is satisfied with his lot” (Avot 4:1), while yet suffused with an aspiration to ascend spiritually at the personal plane, and to contribute to yishuvo shel olam by developing better mousetraps whose invention is stimulated by a measure of dissatisfaction with the older models as our part of the collective lot. Finally, in the more purely religious realm, an element often more associated with the East than with the West, but surely very deeply rooted in the tradition of Torah – acceptance. Acceptance of servitude, of the yoke of bondage to the Ribbono Shel Olam, קבלת עול מלכות שמים; acceptance of the yoke of submission to the divine will, קבלת עול מצוות, as formulated in the corpus of Torah; and acceptance of whatever lot He has meted out to us, as the lodestar of life, divided and unified. For ovdei Hashem, in quest of gratifying holistic existence, in this triad inheres the unum necessarium for its attainment. I cannot agree with R. Nachman. Whether or not the entire world is to be perceived and experienced as an extremely narrow bridge, the accompanying assertion, possibly tinged with a touch of bravado, that the main thing is fearlessness, is wide of the mark. Ve-ha-ikkar is acceptance. 


[1]        Hamlet 3:3:44-46.

[2]        Yerushalmi, Berakhot 1:2 and Shabbat 1:2.

[3]       For our purposes, I present this text as a normative assignment of duty. However, the Tannaim disagreed on this issue, with R. Yochanan ben Nuri apparently interpreting it as a blessing; see Yevamot 65b. Cf. Ber. 9:7, and Rashi and Ramban thereon.

[4]        Ketuvot 8a. This account, as Rashi notes, of course omits what a peshat reading regards as the final phase, i.e., separate creations. The concept of initial plans which were then modified at the plane of implementation raises obvious difficulties. It appears in various contexts; see Rashi, Ber. 6:7; Eruvin 18a; Tosafot, Rosh Hashanah 27a, s.v. ke-man. Its elucidation lies beyond our scope here, however.

[5]        Bereshit 1:28, s.v. Zakhar.

[6]        Bereshit Rabbah 14:3.

[7]        “Thyrsis.” The “thou” who is addressed is a close friend, Arthur Hugh Clough, who had died several years before the composition of this elegy to him.

[8]        Areopagitica.

[9]        For a suggestive analogue, see Avodah Zarah 17a-b, where the gemara records a debate amongst Amoraim with respect to a situation in which necessity compels undertaking an initiative requiring exposure to one of two temptations of differing degrees of risk. For which is it preferable to opt? The text speaks, literally, of levels of reward for prospective successful resistance, but it appears likely that spiritual preference is included as a factor in the calculation as well.

[10]      See Tosafot R. Yehudah Hasid, Berakhot 35b, s.v. ve-asafta; Tosafot Yeshanim, Yoma 85b, s.v. teshuvah; and Hagahot Maimuniyot, Talmud Torah 3:2. The primacy ascribed by Rabbenu Tam to derekh erez presumably refers to the expected quantitative division of time, rather than to axiological priority.

[11]      Mekhilta, on Shemot 16:4. Rashbi’s position here parallels that which is cited in his name in Berakhot 35b, in opposition to that of R. Ishmael. Cf. also Menachot 99b. Irrespective of Rashbi’s principled position, per se, the source of the inference cited here is surprising.

[12]      Loc. cit.

[13]      It is noteworthy that Rashbi only relates to לדרוש, which can mean either to explicate or to teach publicly. These are special tasks requiring particular skills and concentration.

[14]      De’ot, 3:3. Cf. Shemonah Perakim, chs. 4-5.

[15]      Kohelet 7:16-18.

[16]      See Shabbat 31b and Kohelet Rabbah, 7:17. The answers suggested in both texts are similar but not identical. The general thrust is the admonition against relaxation of effort to avoid sin and against acceptance of its habitual place in one’s mindset and life simply because one has lapsed into it previously.

[17]      Be-Ikvot Ha-Yir’ah (Jerusalem, 5720), p. 200.

[18]      Pachad Yitzhak, Iggerot U-Mikhtavim (Jerusalem, 5741), pp. 184-5. I am not fully certain as to whether the opening sentence relates to the talmid or to the Rosh Yeshiva.

[19]      See Kiddushin 32b.

[20]      “Lycidas,” 70-72.

[21]      See Kiddushin 49b, Shabbat 114a, and Ta’anit 10b. With respect to these sources and the application of the term, be-khol makom, rishonim (ad locum) discussed whether its intent is any place, with a small quotient sufficing, or every place.

[22]      This element, a prominent feature of the climate of some of the premier yeshivot, is of course problematic, inasmuch as it borders upon the thirst for fame, and should thus be regarded as a pursuit motivated by shelo li-shmah, i.e., learning for personal adventitious gain rather than for its own sake. The gemara in Nedarim 62a explicitly rejects this aim as an improper incentive:

שלא יאמר אדם אקרא שיקראני רבי אשנה שאהיה זקן ואשב בישיבה אלא למוד מאהבה וסוף הכבוד לבוא.

(In this vein, see Sifrei, Devarim 6:5 and the Ramban’s comments on that verse, as well as the Rambam, Hilkhot Teshuva 10:3-4.) However, human nature being what it is, this motive is all too common. I recall a comment once made to me by mori ve-rabbi, R. Hutner, in this connection. In surveying the current status of most batei midrash, he stated, with typical realism, that egotistical considerations impelled most of the talmidim. “As for Torah li-shmah, that was attained by perhaps three or four in a generation.”

[23]      The number seventy appears in Chazal in numerous contexts as a thumbnail figure for the range of nations, cultures, and languages.

[24]      Makkot 6b and Rambam, Hilkhot Sanhedrin 2:6, respectively. There is some debate as to whether this ability is a sine qua non or merely a preference; see Kesef Mishneh and Sefer Ha-Mafte’ach (in the Frankel edition, ad locum).

[25]      Hilkhot Melakhim 12:8. It is noteworthy that, in formulating this prognosis and in adducing a pasuk in its support, the Rambam speaks in universal terms –

ולא יהיה עסק כל העולם אלא לדעת את ה' בלבד ולפיכך יהיו חכמים גדולים ויודעים דברים הסתומים העמוקים וישיגו דעת בוראם כפי כח האדם שנאמר כי מלאה הארץ דעת את ה' כמים לים מכסים.

However, the list of textual variants at the end of the Frankel edition cites some readings as, יהיו ישראל חכמים. Cf. also Hilkhot Teshuva 8:2, whose narrower canvas does not contradict that of Hilkhot Melakhim but clearly differs from it.

[26]      See Bava Kama 17a, Bava Metzia 85b, and Kohelet Rabba 9:8.


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