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I’m learning Messilat Yesharim and found that, at least on a pshat level, it can be understood as a self-help book for achieving one’s goals regardless if those goals align with Ramchal’s profound spiritual goals for olam haba or not. Is “misusing” his teachings worse than doing nothing? If so, why is it worse? Does this feed the yetzer ha’ra?

The question arises as it reminded me of what Hillel said “one who uses the crown (of Torah for his own benefit) will perish.” (Avot 1 13).

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    For certain things (choshen mishpat) the whole point is to apply it to your business
    – Heshy
    Apr 3 at 21:56
  • Do you mean using it for personal goals in addition to or to the exclusion of religious goals?
    – N.T.
    Apr 4 at 1:15
  • @ N.T.: in addition to. Apr 4 at 1:25
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    See here: "a person should involve themselves in Torah and mitzvoth shelo lishma, not for the name of G-d, for from doing it shelo lishma one will [eventually] come to do it lishma[1], for the name of G-d"
    – mbloch
    Apr 4 at 3:20
  • @mbloch R' Dessler in Michtav M'Eliyahu says that this only applies for a "Lo lishma sheMeivi al yedei lishma" - "Something not for the sake of god, for the sake of bringning you closer to G-d" for example, using the ramchal something help you make money [which R dessler argues on as well but ] for the sake of the money helping you feel closer to G-d. Does this make sense? Apr 4 at 15:00

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Here's how I am understanding your question, please correct me if I am misreading you:

Hazal say that we should we should not use the Torah to aggrandize ourselves or materially enrich ourselves (Avoth). On the other hand, the study of Torah has the effect of imparting wisdom. Is it therefore forbidden to utilize said wisdom in one's material pursuits?

It is my understanding that benefiting directly from Torah (i.e. reveling in rabbinic honors, or accepting money to teach/learn) is what is forbidden (H. Talmud Torah 3:10). However benefiting from the wisdom that an individual has cultivated as a byproduct of their Torah learning is perfectly acceptable. Indeed, it seems to me that the Torah wants us to have a good life led by wisdom and all of the benefits of living a life of wisdom.

Mishlei 3:13-18

אַשְׁרֵי אָדָם, מָצָא חָכְמָה; וְאָדָם, יָפִיק תְּבוּנָה. כִּי טוֹב סַחְרָהּ, מִסְּחַר-כָּסֶף; וּמֵחָרוּץ, תְּבוּאָתָהּ. יְקָרָה הִיא, מפניים (מִפְּנִינִים); וְכָל-חֲפָצֶיךָ, לֹא יִשְׁווּ-בָהּ. אֹרֶךְ יָמִים, בִּימִינָהּ; בִּשְׂמֹאולָהּ, עֹשֶׁר וְכָבוֹד. דְּרָכֶיהָ דַרְכֵי-נֹעַם; וְכָל-נְתִיבוֹתֶיהָ שָׁלוֹם. עֵץ-חַיִּים הִיא, לַמַּחֲזִיקִים בָּהּ; וְתֹמְכֶיהָ מְאֻשָּׁר.

Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that obtaineth understanding. For the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold. She is more precious than rubies; and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her. Length of days is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honour. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her, and happy is every one that holdest her fast.

The Ralbag explains (3:17):

הנה בימין התורה יהיה אורך ימים ר"ל השגת החיים הנצחיים כי זהו פריה ולזה ייחס זה אל ימינה וזה יהיה במה שישיג בה מן החכמה והתבונה והנה על הכוונה השנית ישיג בה עושר וכבוד כי מצד ההשגחה האלהית שתדבק באדם בעבורה ימשכו לו ג"כ טובות גופיות

Here in the right hand the Torah confers length of days, which is to say the achievement of eternal life, for that is its fruit and thus corresponds to the right hand, and this is what is achieved through wisdom and understanding, and the secondary effect is that he achieves wealth and honor, for divine providence cleaves to man because of this and also bestows upon him the physical good.

A life led by Torah wisdom can facilitate both the good of this world and the world to come. To my understanding there is no reason to refrain from implementing wisdom earned through Torah study. Our study has the effect of shaping us, honing our intellects, and aligning us with wisdom. "Great is study for it leads to action” (Qiddushin 40b) It seems to me that it would be foolish to say that we can somehow compartmentalize our minds and say "wisdom sits untouched on this shelf over here" and then proceed to act despite and contrary to it. The Torah wants us to become wise through its study, and there is no reason to artificially restrict its application.

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I don't know if I would use as emotionally loaded word as "sinful", but I do believe it is prohibited. The Rambam talks pretty harshly about the person who uses the Torah for making a living. Hilkhos Talmud Torah 3:10:

כָּל הַמֵּשִׂים עַל לִבּוֹ שֶׁיַּעֲסֹק בַּתּוֹרָה וְלֹא יַעֲשֶׂה מְלָאכָה וְיִתְפַּרְנֵס מִן הַצְּדָקָה הֲרֵי זֶה חִלֵּל אֶת הַשֵּׁם וּבִזָּה אֶת הַתּוֹרָה וְכִבָּה מֵאוֹר הַדָּת וְגָרַם רָעָה לְעַצְמוֹ וְנָטַל חַיָּיו מִן הָעוֹלָם הַבָּא. לְפִי שֶׁאָסוּר לֵהָנוֹת מִדִּבְרֵי תּוֹרָה בָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה. אָמְרוּ חֲכָמִים (משנה אבות ד ה) "כָּל הַנֶּהֱנֶה מִדִּבְרֵי תּוֹרָה נָטַל חַיָּיו מִן הָעוֹלָם". וְעוֹד צִוּוּ וְאָמְרוּ (משנה אבות ד ה) "אַל תַּעֲשֵׂם עֲטָרָה לְהִתְגַּדֵּל בָּהֶן וְלֹא קַרְדֹּם לַחְפֹּר בָּהֶן". וְעוֹד צִוּוּ וְאָמְרוּ (משנה אבות א י) "אֱהֹב אֶת הַמְּלָאכָה וּשְׂנָא אֶת הָרַבָּנוּת", (משנה אבות ב ב) "וְכָל תּוֹרָה שֶׁאֵין עִמָּהּ מְלָאכָה סוֹפָהּ בְּטֵלָה וְגוֹרֶרֶת עָוֹן". וְסוֹף אָדָם זֶה שֶׁיְּהֵא מְלַסְטֵם אֶת הַבְּרִיּוֹת:

Nevertheless, whosoever sets his heart to pursue the study of the Torah but do no secular work at all, and permits himself to be supported by charity, behold him, he blasphemed the Name, and degraded the Torah, and shadowed the light of religion, and caused evil to be brought upon himself, and deprived his own life from its share in the world to come; because it is forbidden to enjoy aught in this world in return of the study of the words of the Torah. The sages said: "Whosoever enjoys aught in return of the study of the words of the Torah takes his own life away from the world" (Pirke Abot, 4.7). They have, moreover, commanded and said: "Do not make them a garland by which to be considered great nor a qardom lachapor bahen -- a spade to dig with them." (Ibid.) Again they have commanded and said: "Love manual labor and hate rank". (Pirke Abot, 1.10); whosoever studies the Torah and does not acquire at the same time a manual trade his knowledge of the Torah will be nullified and bring about sin" (Ibid. 2.2.). The end of this will be that he will rob people for his living.

(Notice the Rambam quotes the same mishnah as did the question.)

The reasoning of Pirqei Avos and the Rambam would seem to apply to someone who uses Torah for business advice.

BUT...

Someone who supports Kollel may say we simply do not hold like this Rambam. In our culture, getting paid for learning is indeed common (from YU to Ponovezh, after all). And there are various approaches to this question in which we do both support the idea of getting paid for studying in kollel and hold like this Rambam.

To my mind, the simplest resolution is that there is a difference between someone who learns in order make a living, akin to someone with a skill in programming computers making his living doing that; and someone who wants to learn, and therefore takes a paycheck to make it possible. This is how I understand the leniency of being allowed to pay someone "sekhar batala -- pay from being idle [from a job]." Turning Torah into just another job is problematic. Kollel isn't that, though.

And I would see the same distinction here. The Ramchal is telling you how to be holy, which includes all of life, including business. In practice, the holy way of doing things "just happens to be" pragmatically superior and more successful more often in the long run. But if we take the Ramchal's advice and use it for that practical success, you took his words of Torah and made them a "qardom lachapor bahen -- spade to dig with them".

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  • "The reasoning of Pirqei Avos and the Rambam would seem to apply to someone who uses Torah for business advice." It is clear that learning/teaching for the purpose of earning money or honor is forbidden according to the Rambam. I do not however see him stating that wisdom or acumen developed as a byproduct of Torah study is forbidden to utilize. How could one even do that, divorce their wisdom from themselves? You know what the prudent action to take is in a given scenario and then choose to do the foolish thing? Apr 4 at 23:54
  • @Deuteronomy, I didn't argue it was forbidden to use the info. I said it seems to me to be forbidden to study Torah for the sake of having business advice instead of for the sake of Torah. Once you studied it for the right reason... It cannot be that you are obligated to ignore something you know already and thereby waste time and effort being less effective. Apr 6 at 15:13
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    That said, moving out of the realm of obligation and prohibition (halakhah) and into the realm of values.... The whole point of having a job is in order to become a better person. We are pushed into an enviroment where (e.g.) Win-Win solutions are the most effective way to reliably gather wealth because that gets us looking for win-win solutions, for ways to make the world better for everyone. A person with that perspective is a better holier person. (I write about this in Widen Your Tent sec. 7.9, pp 316-322.) Apr 6 at 15:23
  • thank you for clarifying your intent. I do not own your book, but that is an interesting perspective on "win-win solutions" in business as an aspect of improving the world/self. Thanks for sharing. Apr 6 at 16:43

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