In the Gemara (Brachot 35b) Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai famously says that the phrase "ואספת דגנך" from the Kriat Shma is describing a fallen state, when Am Israel is not being holy enough:

...when Israel performs God’s will, their work is performed by others, as it is stated: “And strangers will stand and feed your flocks, and foreigners will be your plowmen and your vinedressers” (Isaiah 61:5)When Israel does not perform God’s will, their work is performed by them themselves, as it is stated: “And you shall gather your grain.”

But in the original context the words "ואספת דגנך" are the very description of what happens when Israel does Hashems will, with all their heart and all their soul.

Why and how can Rabbi Shimon take this verse so much out of context?

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    As per my answer, I think "curse" is incorrect. It is still a blessing, but a blessing for a lower state
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Commented May 6 at 10:18

1 Answer 1


Rabbi Shimon was of the opinion that the correct state of the world is where Jews and non Jews form a partnership similar to Yissachar and Zevulun, where the Jews sit and learn Torah and the non-Jews take responsibility for the physical world, including providing sustenance. See Yoma 3b, and Abba Chanan's statement in the name of Rav Elazar, for another source of this state the Jews can be in.

There is another state, where we have to both provide for ourselves and learn. This is the position of Rabbi Ishmael in your gemara. This is a lower state.

Why is this mentioned then, as a blessing in Shema? Well, perhaps the answer is this. The first paragraph of Shema is addressed to the Tzaddik, and we know this because it expects the Jew to love Hashem with all his me'od, his extreme.

The second paragraph of Shema is in reference to a Jew who is not a Tzaddik (and doesn't say "with all your extreme"). It even starts with "if you listen...".

So, the fact that there is even an "if" implies a lower state. It's not an evil state, but it's certainly lower. In that setting, we have to work and learn, and we will be blessed with success, if we listen.

This is based on Maamer Basi Legani 1951.

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