Pirkei Avot, “Ethics of the Fathers,” states in chapter 6:6: “The Torah is acquired in 48 ways.” This week: Way #15, “Limited Business”
The list of 48 ways is not universally agreed upon. There are alternative listings for a few of the ways, such as the 15th way. The alternative to last week’s “Mishnah” is this week’s “limited busness activity.”
My late mentor, Rabbi Binyamin Zilber (1917-2008), once said: Wealth is a greater test than poverty . . . but we should not underestimate the test of poverty.
Limited business activity is not a prescription for poverty, but it is a sober evaluation of the realities in acquiring the Torah. Of course, there are levels. One may aspire to become a Torah scholar; or less intensively, a devotee of Torah or just an occasional student.
The daunting reality is that Torah is vast. The Hebrew Bible is 24 books: law, narrative, history, prophecy, poetry. The Talmud is 2,711 folio pages, i.e., 5,412 pages. Add to all this the codes of Jewish law, the midrash and the ethical (musar) literature. One is left gasping. How can one acquire all of this Torah?
If one’s mind is on business, which requires its own concentration, one’s mind may also be on Torah, but not so much.
Not all businesses are profitable, but when they are, they usually yield a certain lifestyle, which becomes a goal unto itself. This conflicts with the goal of acquiring the Torah because it cannot successfully compete with another major focus.
The “competition obstacle” in acquiring the Torah applies to the next five ways of acquiring the Torah: Limited marital relations. Limited pleasure. Limited sleep. Limited conversation. Limited laughter.
The 15th way to acquire the Torah: Limited Business Activity.
Way #1, Study; Way #2, Listen; Way #3, Articulate Speech; Way #4, Understanding of the Heart; Way #5, An Intelligent Heart; Way #6, Awe; Way #7, Fear; Way #8, Humility; Way #9a, Joy; Way #9b, Purity; Way #10, Serving the Sages; Way #11, Interaction with colleagues; Way #12, Exchanges with students; Way #13, Deliberation; Way #14, Scripture; Way #15a, Mishnah
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