Daf Yomi Yevamos 86
Ed was contemplating retirement but wasn’t sure whether the time was ripe.
“We’d like to move closer to our kids and grandchildren, Rabbi,” he tells me.
“Can you afford to retire?” I asked him.
“I think so,” he replied.
“And what do you plan to do in retirement?” I inquired.
“Actually I want to join a kollel and learn Torah full-time. I never had the opportunity to learn when I was younger.”
“Well, if you can afford to do that, then you certainly should!” I responded enthusiastically.
The Rabbis taught: Terumah tithes are for the priests and the maaser tithes are for the levites, according to Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria says: for the priest (cohen).
The Gemara asks: For the priest and not the levite?
The Gemara answers: He means, even for the priest, for Rabbi Joshua ben Levi taught, “In twenty four places in Scripture, the priests are called levites.”
That garden from which Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria (who was a cohen) would take levite tithes, Rabbi Akiva went and moved the entrance towards a cemetery (preventing access to a cohen). Rabbi Elazar said, “Akiva has his pouch and I shall live.”
Rashi explains that Rabbi Akiva was originally a shepherd. The pouch was worn around the neck for one’s provisions. According to the Maharsha, Rabbi Elazar recognized that Rabbi Akiva needed the tithes more than he did, since in the absence of levites the poor people would take the tithes, while Rabbi Elazar was a person of means.
On a deeper level, ‘that garden’ refers to the Garden of Eden which is Heaven. When we partake excessively of the pleasures of life in this world, we run the risk of taking our tithes from the World to Come. The Almighty doesn’t want us to suffer in this world, but we must always make sure that we are not amassing unnecessary wealth. Any monetary accumulation must be for the sake of Heaven. Anything that you do not need for the service of G-d is superfluous and risks being taken off the tab from The Garden.
Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria was very accomplished. He became the chief rabbi at the age of eighteen and was financially well-to-do. Rabbi Akiva realized that the young rabbi might be utilizing his tithes from the World to Come and demonstrated that access to The Garden should only be via the cemetery. Only once you pass from this world to the next should you partake of the tithes of The Garden. Rabbi Elazar was grateful to Rabbi Akiva for being a spiritual shepherd to him and bestowing him with eternal life and exclaimed, “Akiva has his (shepherd’s) pouch, and I shall live!”
Your job in this world is to accomplish as much in the Divine service as you can. The more you devote yourself to the pursuit of this-worldly achievements, the less time you have for next-worldly pursuits. If you have sufficient means to live comfortably, there’s no need to make another million and another million, simply for the sake of amassing wealth. You can’t take it to the grave. If you are overindulging in this world, you risk borrowing from the tab in the next world. The Almighty wants you to live comfortably and enjoy this world. But He doesn’t want you to overindulge. The challenge is to know when to say ‘enough’ and then dedicate yourself to spiritual pursuits.
Early retirement means gaining the opportunity to go swimming – in the sea of Torah. Shorter work weeks mean having time to volunteer for communal organizations. Simply working to earn money that you don’t need is not your purpose on earth and may be detrimental to your ultimate Heavenly reward. Instead, utilize your talents for the Almighty and your reward will be infinitely greater!
Our Sages tell us in Ethics of the Fathers, “This world is like a hallway for the World to Come. Prepare yourself in the hallway in order to enter the palace.” Don’t overindulge at the smorgasbord – leave loads of room for the Ultimate Dinner! May you always merit discerning how much is enough pleasure in this world and what should be reserved for the World to Come!