One of the common criticisms of Chareidi society nowadays is the emphasis on the "learn, don't earn" lifestyle expected of many of its adherents, especially in Israel. It seems that their entire theology revolves around the idea that the only good use of time is learning Torah and that therefore every able bodied person with a functioning brain should be doing this exclusively. Work is seen as, at best, an undesirable b'dieved to be performed by the unwashed masses who can't make it in the holy confines of their local yeshiva.
This attitude has spread amongst the womenfolk of the community as well with the ongoing efforts of seminaries to convince impressionable girls fresh out of high school that the only good man to marry is a kollel candidate. Chas v'shalom should she hook up with a working stiff. It would be a betrayal of the sacrifices of Jewish women from time immemorial.
So deep does this attitude run that I once read a story about a kollel guy who went off to work and was quizzed by his buddies: "So who gave you a heter to work?" Recently I've noticed a trend in articles where kollel folk are now called k'lei kodesh. Really?
I want to turn this on its head. From my position, a man working for a living is not a last resort situation or one for losers but for the vast majority of Jewish men it is the ideal.
Now before I go on I will be clear. This approach is not for every single Jewish man. There are always those gifted and saintly individuals whose destiny is to ensure that the Torah is well understood and interpreted for our nation, who benefit us the most when they sit and learn full-time. Most people who sit in yeshivah are not those people and I don't think it's hard to figure that out. Once again, the ideal position for all but the select few is to work.
Don't believe me? Take a look through Tanach. Find me a prominent figure from Avraham Avinu, a"h, on down who eschewed work and lived off charity or his wife's family's money. Who said "I'll sit and learn and she can work for a living while also looking after the kids"?
Scroll through the Talmud. How many of our holy Sages deliberately threw off the yoke of labour to sit and learn all day? And opposite them how many somehow managed to engage in various trades and professions to support themselves while they learned?
We also have the many statements of Chazal on the subject. People in the kollel world love to quote the statement about the Tanna who announced that he would only teach his son Torah but again, opposite it how many statements extolling the value of labour, work and financial independence are there? Does the Talmud emphasize living off tzedakah or contributing to it?
If the performance of mitzvos is the key to life in this and the Next world, then is sitting all day and learning Torah alone the best way to be or out there in the world engaging in the performance of mitzvos? How many rules do we have about work and business? How else can we perform them if not through engaging in trades and professions? When it comes to bein adam l'makom we run to the slightest chumrah to show our love of the Ribono shel Olam and not running in such a fashion is seen as a lack of enthusiasm or faith. How many opportunities to we have to fulfill His will when it comes to bein adam l'makom when we engage in practical business? Why is running to perform them considered demeaning or less desirable?
Is there any greater activity than learning Torah? Absolutely not and no one should question this but just because talmud Torah is the most important mitzvah it cannot be the only mitzvah. The Ribono shel Olam gave us 613 mitzvos and I'm willing to bet it wasn't simply for theoretical study purposes but to live a complete life in this world according to His dictates and will. How can we say that we want to live a lifestyle where we make the performance of those mitzvos impossible because we're focusing on a single one?
If one wants to be living the ideal life the Torah demands of us, then the highest level one can reach is one that balances Torah study and work. Only in that way do we maximize both the obligations of lilmod and la'asot. There is no question that this is what our ancestors in Biblical times did. There is no question that the vast majority of Chazal and most of the subsequent authorites prior to 1948 held this way as well. By engaging in a life of Torah study and work we emulate them and show our desire to strive to reach spiritual heights in this world and the Next.
In our Temple (may it be speedily rebuilt) the k'lei kodesh didn't sit on the shelves looking pretty. Their existence wasn't all that matters. They had a job to do and they did it every day. We who work, we have a claim to the title and it's time we demanded it.