Multitasking pays. I am working simultaneously on three different books, each with its own connected blog. When you are done shaking your head with pity and concern for my mental health, you will see that strange and wonderful things can happen as a result of my aberrant behavior.
Having no interest in our own sad and mundane culture, my three books are placed in the past. Nice, you are saying; this sneaky woman thinks she can do one research and use it for three projects. Perhaps you are not sure if you admire my resourceful spirit or look down on my obvious deceit. However, no matter how you feel about it, you are wrong, Oh Gentle Reader! We are talking about three different dates and a mixture of places. The first book takes place during Second Temple, two thousand years ago, in Judea and Babylonia, which are modern Israel and Iraq. The second books happens during the twelfth century, in Spain, the Maghreb (better known as North Africa), and Palestine, which is, again, modern Israel. The third takes place in 1921, in London, with a few side trips to Paris, Constantinople and Russia.
But you wonder what kind of advantages I am thinking about when I say that multitasking pays. Here is one example. Studying the Cairo Geniza papers for the Maimonides biography, which takes place in the twelfth century, I came across absolutely fascinating information about fashion – with stunning revelations about (gasp) embroidery!!!!! Can you see how it fits with the Madame Koska book, which even though is a mystery, has plenty of information about high fashion and Russian embroidery? And would you believe both cultures loved to use PEARLS? Tears must come to your eyes when you consider the magnificent serendipity here. Kismet! If you stay tuned long enough, there will be a posting about it sooner or later in the Madame Koska blog, or the Maimonides blog, not quite sure yet…
But what I have here for you is even more to the point. I am sure some of my astute readers have already figured out what I am about to say, but for the rest, I must explain. Maimonides commented on EVERYTHING in the known (or unknown, to be honest) universe. He would not neglect the charming little book, Pirkei Avot, now, would he? Of course he would not! And Pirkei Avot, as you might have seen in a previous posting, has plenty to say about Hillel. Last night I was leafing through it, just for fun, when I realized that this might interest those of you who also love these two amazing sages. So here is the first, but probably not last, example.
Here is what Hillel says:
"He used to say, he who seeks renown loses his reputation; he who does not increase [his knowledge of the Torah] deserves death; and he who exploits the crown [of the Torah for his own ends] shall perish.”
Pirkei Avot 1:12
And here is Maimonides commentary:
Be of the disciples of Aaron – The following narrative is told about Aaron. When he would feel or hear that a person had wickedness within him, or that he would commit sins, he would always greet him first, become friendly with him, and speak with him frequently. This would cause the other person to become embarrassed and say, “Woe is me. If Aaron knew my inner thoughts or were aware of my deed, he would not let himself see me; how much more so would he not speak to me. Surely he considers me to be pious. I will make his conception true, and repent and become on of his students again."
With regard to this lofty quality, God said (Malachi 2:6) “He walked with Me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many away from sin.” It was to this notable quality that Hillel referred.
Hillel continued, saying that the fact that a person has achieved renown and greatness is a sign that his existence will cease. And further, he continued saying that a person who does not increase his studies will die by God’s hand. If, however, someone has not studied at all, he deserves to be killed.
He who exploits the Crown [of the Torah for his own ends] shall perish – the intent is a person who uses the Torah as a means to derive a livelihood. This is the meaning of this teaching, as will be explained later in this tractate. (Chapter 4:7).
If these comments seem a bit violent with so much about perishing and God’s displeasure, don’t take it too literally. For example, the idea that a person who has achieved perfection must die (a person has achieved renown and greatness is a sign that his existence will cease) is not punishment. Such a person, and there are very few of them on earth, does not have a need to stay on this earth. He has accomplished all his soul set out to do. And the comment about not studying at all (If, however, someone has not studied at all, he deserves to be killed) is not meant literally either – The contemporaries of both Hillel and Maimonides knew that neither of them would recommend murder – but a statement that unless a person studies, his life is worthless and pointless. Again and again Hillel and Maimonides encourage education for everyone, and it is to be remembered that the Jewish Nation in the Diaspora continued to exist only because of the shared education and knowledge of both written and oral law.
As for using the Torah as a means for earning their livelihood – both Hillel and Maimonides, and thousands between them, considered it a sin. One had to earn his living by doing anything, even physical labor, but never take money from the congregation for services as lifelong students and educators. Hillel worked as a wood cutter for many years, and Maimonides earned his living as a physician. They followed their own advice faithfully.