There is no 'too much' in Spiritual Growth

June 10 2010

Moshe Rabenu listens to the complaints lodged by Korach and his assembly and he replies: I see that you sincerely wish to become Kohanim, let us carry out an experiment and see if Hashem is interested at all in your Kehuna - "do this: take for yourselves fire-pans - Korach and his entire assembly, and put fire in them and place incense upon them before Hashem tomorrow.  Then the man whom Hashem will choose - he is the holy one" Bamidbar 16:6-7).  Whoever Hashem does not wish to become a Kohen shall die, for the incense service may only be carried out by a Kohen - a non-Kohen who performs this service is liable with death by heavenly execution (see Rashi ibid.).  Moshe then adds one sentence "rav lachem Bnei Levi" "it is TOO MUCH for you, O offspring of Levi" (Bamidbar 16:7) - be aware that what you desire is way beyond your capabilities.  There is, after all, a limit to what can be expected from each person.  We cannot explain to a six year old child the works of R' Akiva Eiger.  We can learn Chumash with him, but not R' Akiva Eiger - this is beyond his level and his ability.  The same may be said of the incense service, the Leviim are not "built" for this.  The level of their spirituality is sufficient to allow them to sing in the Beit Hamikdash, to be the gatekeepers, and perform other tasks, but not to offer the incense.  The incense offering must come from Aharon or one of his descendants and will then rise pleasingly before Hashem.
Although Moshe's assessment was correct, Chazal are critical of him: "With the words 'TOO MUCH' he made an announcement and with the words 'TOO MUCH' it was announced to him" (Sotah 13b). Because Moshe told Korach and his assembly "it is TOO MUCH for you O offspring of Levi", when Moshe beseeched the A-lmighty for the right to enter Eretz Yisrael Hashem replied: "It is TOO MUCH for you! Do not continue to speak to Me further about this matter" (Devarim 3:26).  Had Moshe not spoken in such a manner, perhaps Hashem would not have told Moshe "it is too much for you", and (perhaps) permission would have been granted for Moshe to enter the Land of Israel. Instead, Moshe was told "it is too much for you" - Eretz Yisrael is not for you.
What was behind Moshe Rabenu's tremendous yearning to cross into Eretz Yisrael?  "Did he need to eat of its fruit, or did he need to sate himself with its bounty?" (Sotah 14a).  "Rather, this is what Moshe said: 'there are many Mitzvot that the Jewish people have been commanded that cannot be fulfilled except in Eretz Yisrael, I will enter the Land so that all the Mitzvot will be fulfilled through me" (ibid.).  Moshe's quest to enter the Land was out of a desire for spiritual growth, to perfect his soul by fulfilling the Mitzvot that are contingent on the Land - which cannot be fulfilled in Chutz la'Aretz.  (Regarding the bracha of "al hamichya", there is an opinion that the verse "venochal mipirya venisboa mituva" "and let us eat from its fruit and be satisfied with its goodness" should not be recited as part of the bracha (see Tur Orach Chaim 208) - for as we have just seen this was not Moshe's goal in entering the Land.  This should apply to us as well, when we ask "vehaalenu letocha" "bring us up into it" our intention should not be in order to eat from the fruits of the Land. Perhaps we can justify our custom of including this passage as follows: had Moshe lived longer and been able to enter Eretz Yisrael, the manna would have continued to fall until his death. (The manna fell due to his merit and continued coming down until he died (see Taanit 9a).  Moshe then would never have had any need to eat from the fruits of the Land for he would have survived on "the fruits of heaven".  We, on the other hand, have no manna coming down for us and we ask "bring us up into it and gladden us in its rebuilding and let us eat from its fruit and be satisfied with its goodness" because we wish to be nourished from the fruits of this Land rather than the fruits of the defiled lands of the other nations).
In spite of Moshe's noble reasons for desiring to cross into Eretz Yisrael, Hashem tells him "it is too much for you" - this Land is not for you.  Chazal tell us "Moshe was meritorious and he caused many others to do Mitzvot so that their merits are attributed to him" (Avot Perek 5, Mishna 18). Each page of Gemara that we learn, every Mitzvah that we fulfill is credited to Moshe Rabenu. The entire Torah is in fact referred to as "Torat Moshe" Moshe's Torah (Malachi 3:22 - see Shabbat 89a).  Despite this, Hashem tells him that fulfilling the Land (of Israel) dependent Mitzvot is not for him.  Any ordinary simple Jew has the opportunity to observe these Mitzvot - Shmitta, the separating of Trumah and Maaser, etc. Moshe is even credited with our fulfillment of these Mitzvot, for he brought the Torah down to us.  He himself, however, was never given the opportunity to observe these Mitzvot, because of his statement to Korach and his people.
What was wrong with Moshe words: "it is too much for you"? Was his assessment not correct?  It certainly was, the proof being that those people who offered the Ketoret were burned and whoever remained from Korach's assembly was swallowed up by the ground.  Korach's congregation themselves stood up in Gehinom and announced "Moshe is truth and his Torah is truth" (Midrash Tanchuma Bamidbar 11).  What basis then is there to criticize Moshe for having said: "it is too much for you, O offspring of Levi"? The answer is that while the content of Moshe's message was true - indeed they were unfit for the Kehuna, he should have expressed it differently.  While in fact Korach and his cohorts were the first to use such an expression: "they gathered together against Moshe and against Aharon and said to them 'it is TOO MUCH for you, for the entire assembly - all of them - are holy and Hashem is among them'" (Bamidbar 16:3). Moshe, however, should have more chosen his words more carefully.
What was wrong with this expression? There can be no "too much", in one's desire for spiritual growth.  How far Hashem will permit him to go is another matter - there were many well meaning Jews who yearned to come and settle in Eretz Yisrael yet Hashem decreed that they die in Siberia.  Hashem has his own calculations.  Man, however, must strive to reach the top - to grow beyond his current level.  The quest of Korach and company to ascend beyond their current level, to offer the Ketoret and perform other tasks limited to Kohanim.  Korach wished to be the Kohen Gadol with all the merits it had to offer.  The phrase "it is too much for you" was out of line.  Moshe should have responded "it is very commendable that you wish to serve as a Kohen, but that is impossible for Hashem decreed that only Aharon and his offspring serve as Kohanim."  The fact that Moshe permitted them to offer the Ketoret even knowing that they would die was an appropriate course of action, it was the expression "it is too much for you" that was inappropriate.  When it comes to spirituality, there is no such thing as "too much" - there is no limit to how far a person must strive to grow.  It was because Moshe Rabenu said "it is too much for you" that "measure for measure" (Shabbat 105b), Hashem told him "it is too much for you" - there is no need for you to enter Eretz Yisrael.  There is a limit to how far you can go, you have fulfilled all the Mitzvot in the desert, any merits given to the Jewish nation are to your credit - enough!  You wish to separate trumot and maasrot and observe other Mitzvot dependent on the Land? "It is too much for you".  We are told that "Hashem, deals strictly with those round about Him even to a hair's breadth" (Yevamot 121b) and who was closer to Hashem than Moshe Rabenu?  For this reason Hashem dealt with him in a very strict manner.  It is quite likely that Moshe did not intend to imply that Korach and his assembly should not have striven for greatness. Perhaps he simply meant to inform them that the Kehuna was already given to Aharon and from a practical standpoint there can be no other Kohen.  Even so, because his statement could be interpreted to mean that one should not strive to attain levels that are way beyond him, he was punished with "it is too much for you, do not continue to speak with me on this matter".
In practice, we must follow Hashem's commandments. If He decreed that Aharon and not Korach be the Kohen then Korach has no right to demand the Kehuna.  Korach, however, must be praised for his aspirations for greatness.  The AR"I HaKadosh points out that by combining the last letter of the words "tzaddiK katamaR yifraCH" "A righteous man will flourish like a palm date" (Tehillim 92:13), "kuf", "resh" and "chet" spells Korach.  Korach's had a righteous foundation, yet he erred, and he was therefore punished in this world.  In the future, however, "a righteous man will flourish like a palm date", for at the root of this whole incident there lay a degree of righteousness.
We must realize that when it comes to physical matters, it is a virtue to be satisfied with little - one must not be excessive in his physical needs.  This, however, does not apply to the spiritual world. The Gemara tells us that while we should restrict our requests from Hashem in worldly matters, in matters of Torah the rule is: "open wide your mouth and I will fill it" (Tehillim 81:11).  Not only should we not limit what we ask for, we must ask for an abundance.  Chana came to Shiloh to pray for a son.  Chazal tell us that she was a prophetess (see Megilla 14a) and there was certainly no doubt of her righteousness.  She desired a son not to have him play in the park, but so that he should reside in Shiloh and learn Torah.  It is very commendable to pray for a son who will serve Hashem, but this was not enough for her - "and give your maidservant 'zera anashim' male offspring" (Shmuel I 1:11).  Chazal tell us that when Chana asked for "zera anashim" (in the plural) she wished for "an offspring who is the equal of two men" (Brachot 31b).  One ordinary son is not sufficient, he must be the equivalent of two people, and not any ordinary two people, but two tzaddikim!  She was not referring to ordinary tzaddikim either, not Yehoshua and Caleb nor Elazar and Itamar, she was only satisfied with someone on the level of Moshe and Aharon.  Would a son equal to "only" Yehoshua and Caleb or "only" Elazar and Itamar be considered insignificant?  Of course not!  But if she has the opportunity to get something greater than Elazar and Itamar then she must do her utmost to accomplish that.  Her prayer for a great son was not mere mouthing of words, it was from the depths of her heart, she put every bit of her soul into this prayer. Her prayers were answered and she merited a son equal to Moshe and Aharon, as it states:  "Moshe and Aharon among His priests and Shmuel among those who invoke His name" (Tehillim 99:6).  This does not, G-d forbid, mean that Shmuel was equivalent in all aspects to Moshe and Aharon, after all "Never again has there arisen a prophet like Moshe" (Devarim 34:10 - see also the seventh principle in our thirteen principles of faith), yet in some manner Shmuel was equal to Moshe and Aharon.  Another opinion in the Gemara tells us that "zera anashim" refers to "an offspring who anoints two men, and who are they? Shaul and David" (Brachot 31b).  What would be so terrible if he were to only anoint one king?  Is anointing the kingdom of Shaul, descendant of our matriarch Rachel of little significance?  What about the kingdom of David, the descendant of the matriarch Leah, the eternal kingdom from whom the Moshiach will ultimately descend speedily in our day, is this too of little significance?  No!  But nevertheless, she wants both - the kingdom of the house of Rachel and the kingdom of the house of Leah - no less.  She refuses to compromise because in spiritual pursuits there is no room for compromise, in materialism we must restrict our intake, we must ask for the minimum.  In spirituality, however, there is no compromise!  Chana's prayers were answered here as well, it was her son who established the kingdom of the house of Rachel and then the kingdom of the house of Leah - the eternal kingdom whose restoration we pray for three times a day ("the offspring of Your servant David, may You speedily cause to flourish").
Why was her son Shmuel a fulfillment of all that she prayed for?  Because she truly believed in asking for the maximum possible, not the least.  (The fact that the Gemara says that Chana asked for a son who was "not too wise and not a fool" does not mean that she wished for a son with mediocre wisdom, rather that his wisdom not stand out, causing people to become jealous of him.  The proof that this is the correct interpretation is that her wish for a son "not too wise and not a fool" was not fulfilled, for her son was the wisest of his generation.  It must therefore be as we explained, that she did not wish for him to stand out, rather that he "blend in among the other people" (Brachot 31b).
Chazal tell us that man should ask himself "when will my actions approach those of our forefathers Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov" (Tanna deBei Eliyahu Rabba perek 25).  How can we even consider such a request? Have we even reached the level of the Tannaim?  Do our actions in some way emulate those of the Amoraim?  What about the Gr"a or even the Chafetz Chaim?  We are so many levels removed from the actions of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov that perhaps we should begin with the Chafetz Chaim. If we manage to reach his level then maybe we should strive to be like the Gr"a, progressing slowly. No!  Chazal are teaching us that from the beginning we must aspire to be as great as possible - "when will my actions reach those of our forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov". 
I am not saying that those who pray for this will be answered immediately, not everyone is as righteous as Chana whose prayer was answered immediately, yet perhaps if we were to sincerely ask with all our heart, we would merit being like Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov.  The yearning for the greatness of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov must be within us. If man were to aspire to be like them, perhaps he would become a Chafetz Chaim. If, however, he has no aspirations of becoming an Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, he will not even become a Chafetz Chaim.  When we strive for greatness, we have a chance of achieving.  If we do not strive, we will not attain it. This is what Chazal mean when they tell us that we must strive to be like Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov - no less!
The Torah has a discussion regarding a case in which the great Sanhedrin issues a ruling permitting something which if willfully transgressed is punishable with karet.  The majority of the nation then acts according to this ruling.  If for some reason the Beit Din retracts their ruling, requiring anyone who had acted according to their previous psak to offer a Chatat, each tribe must bring a "par he-elem davar shel tzibbur" (see Rambam Hilchot Shgagot 12:1).  If only a few individuals were to sin, the tribes are not obligated to bring this offering and there is a dispute in the Gemara whether or not these individuals must bring a Chatat - sin-offering (see Horayt 2b).  The Rambam (Hilchot Shgagot 13:1) and other Rishonim are of the opinion that any individual who acted according to Beit Din's initial ruling must indeed bring a Korban Chatat.
Let us try to picture such a scenario.  We have a Beit Din today comprised of Rabban Gamliel, R' Yehoshua, R' Eliezer, and other sages. They rule that one may cook using a microwave on Shabbat. Fantastic!   What an incredible opportunity to enhance my Shabbat - why should I eat "old" chulent that was cooking from before Shabbat when I can cook it fresh on Shabbat? Sunday morning they reconvene and decide with a majority of at least thirty six great sages that cooking by means of a microwave is in fact forbidden on Shabbat.  (While the poskim of today debate the issue of whether microwave cooking on Shabbat is a Torah violation, my purpose here is not to issue any ruling on this matter). 

If the majority of the nation acted in accordance with the initial ruling of the Sanhedrin and cooked by means of a microwave on Shabbat, each tribe must offer a "par he-elem davar shel tzibbur".  If the majority of the nation cooked their chulent before Shabbat, and one lone Jew used his microwave on Shabbat he must offer a Korban Chatat.
As you are aware, when one brings a Korban Chatat he must confess his sin (see Rambam Hilchot Tshuva 1:2 and Hilchot Maase HaKorbanot 3:14).  I ask myself, how and to what does this Jew confess?  Does he say "G-d I have transgressed by following the ruling of Rabban Gamliel, R' Yehoshua, and R' Eliezer, and I will not listen to them anymore"?!  How can he make such a statement, does the Torah not command us "and you shall be careful to do according to everything that they will teach you" (Devarim 17:10)?  We were commanded at Har Sinai to follow the rulings the Beit Din.  If they permit us to prepare fresh chulent on Shabbat itself, then we must obey them.  If we were to approach Rabban Gamliel and say "you are mistaken" would anyone listen to us?  Do we have the right to argue with Rabban Gamliel?  What then must we confess to when bringing our sin-offering?
The sin of one who follows the initial ruling of the Sanhedrin is that he is not a Talmid Chacham on the level of Rabban Gamliel and his colleagues.  The charge against him is why are YOU not sitting on the Beit Din? Perhaps then you would be able to convince the other judges that cooking with a microwave on Shabbat is indeed forbidden.  Even if you would not have had the merit of being a member of the Sanhedrin, being a sufficient "lamdan" would give you the right to discuss the matter with Rabban Gamliel and other members of the Sanhedrin.  Had you convinced them of their error, they certainly would have altered their ruling.  Rabban Gamliel and his fellow members were certainly honest people who would have admitted to having been mistaken.  The proof to this is that the next morning they reconvened and in fact changed their psak.
Chazal tell us that when Shmuel was two years old he argued with Eli HaKohen on a particular matter, and Eli accepted Shmuel's view (see Brachot 31b).  The young Shmuel was not yet Shmuel HaNavi, yet he proved to Eli from psukim that he was mistaken and Eli changed his ruling.  The sin-offering you must bring is because had you sat and learned Torah as you should you would have become a member of the Sanhedrin and thus would have prevented yourself from sinning.  Your confession is for not being there to prove Rabban Gamliel and his Beit Din wrong.
What we have just said applies to women as well, for a woman must be well versed in those halachot that obligate her. The Tosefta relates that Bruria mentioned a halacha and R' Yehoshau praised her words (see Tosefta Keilim "Baba Metzia" 1:3).  Women must confess for not being on the level of Bruria. Cooking is certainly within the woman's domain and she must know whether or not she may cook with a microwave on Shabbat. Had a woman proven to Rabban Gamliel that one may not cook by means of a microwave on Shabbat, he certainly would have admitted his error and would have ruled accordingly.  (As mentioned, I have no intention of ruling in this or any other matter of halacha, what we have just said is just by way of example).  We see that even a woman must bring a Korban Chatat for not being sufficiently well versed in Torah to be able to convince Rabban Gamliel and his colleagues!
One opinion in the Rishonim states that the description of the prophetess Devorah as "she judged Israel at that time" (Shoftim 4:4) means that she taught halacha to the judges (see Tosafot Nida 50a "kol hakasher").  (It cannot mean that she actually judged, for a woman may not serve as a judge).  If a man would come with a claim that someone owes him one hundred zuz, while the defendant claims to only owe fifty, Devorah would teach the judges that the Torah obligates the defendant to swear. We can presume that the judges were aware on their own of such an obvious halacha, yet for more complicated matters she needed to teach them - such as the issue of "heilech" - what would be if the defendant were to rather answer "I only owe you fifty, here it is yours - take it" (Baba Metzia 4a), does this imply liability or not?  Devorah would have taught this to the judges as well, by delving into the Torah and learning whether or not "heilech" implies liability.  There is no limit to what a person can attain, all one need do is work hard and pray for spiritual growth.
The Chafetz Chaim once asked: "How can a Jew pray in the morning: "instill in our hearts to understand and elucidate, to listen, learn, teach, safeguard, perform, and fulfill all the words of Your Torah's teaching with love.  Enlighten our eyes in Your Torah" as well as "endow us graciously from Yourself with wisdom, insight, and discernment", and not open the Gemara immediately upon concluding his davening to check if in fact his prayers have been answered.  Who knows, perhaps he will suddenly become a great scholar - "Is the hand of Hashem limited" (Bamidbar 11:23) that He cannot suddenly grant wisdom? "For Hashem grants wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding" (Mishle 2:6).  All you need is the desire for this wisdom - "open wide your mouth and I will fill it".  If you ask with all sincerity: "to understand and elucidate, to listen, learn, teach, safeguard, perform, and fulfill all the words of Your Torah's teachings", then Hashem will grant that to you - nothing will be lacking.
What portions of the Torah is a Jew required to master (we are speaking now of men and not women)?  We recite twice daily in Kriat Shma "and you shall teach your children" (Devarim 6:7).  What this means is "and you shall teach them - that the words of Torah should be sharply honed in your mouth, that if a man asks you something you will not stammer before answering him" (Kiddushin 30a).  Our obligation to master the Torah is to be able to immediately respond to any questions we are asked in all areas of the Torah.  I do not know if anyone in our generation fits this category, but the Torah demands that we be able to immediately answer any questions we are asked - without any mistakes of course (there are many people who can answer right away, but the question is how correct are their answers?) Such a goal is practically impossible to attain.  The Mishna, however, does tell us: "You are not required to complete the task, yet you are not free to withdraw from it" (Pirke Avot 2:21) - do the best you can.
Mastery of the entire Torah, of course, must be through learning. All the prayers will be to no avail if we do not learn - "one without the other is insufficient" (Nidda 70b).  We must learn as well as daven to Hashem that we be able to answer all that we are asked.  If we cannot answer every question, then as many as possible.  I was once approached by someone, not necessarily a great lamdan, who asked me until what age was he required to learn. I responded that Moshe Rabenu continued learning until he reached the age of one hundred and twenty.  If he learns until that age and acquires all the knowledge of Moshe Rabenu, perhaps he will no longer need to learn!  So long as our knowledge does not equal that of Moshe Rabenu we must continue to learn. There is no one who will ever know as much as Moshe Rabenu, yet we must aspire to greatness.  If our aspirations are low, then it is questionable if we will even reach the low levels we strive for.
It is told of one of the mashgichim of the previous generation that at first he was not such a great Talmid Chacham, yet he greatly desired to be a Torah scholar and for this he prayed constantly. Suddenly one day he felt that Hashem had granted him wisdom and that he was indeed able to learn.  He grew and grew and eventually became a Gadol in Torah and began to write his own chiddushim.  From my Rebbe HaRav Yechezkel Levinstein zt"l I once heard of a simple Jew who did not even know how to pray, the only part of the davening he knew was "Baruch She-amar".  Every day he would recite "Baruch She-amar" with great kavana in order to praise Hashem in the only way he knew how.  (In practice one may not recite "Baruch She-amar" on its own, for it must be followed by at least one of the chapters of psukei dezimra, and then "yishtabach".  It seems he was not even aware of this halacha).  What kavana he had is hard to imagine for it seems he did not even know what the words meant, yet after much time, this Jew became a Gadol in Torah, and even published a book called "Baruch She-amar", as a reminder that his path to becoming a Torah scholar all began with the prayer of "Baruch She-amar".
When one truly desires, Hashem will grant. The main thing we must realize is that in spiritual matters the sky is the limit.  Man must always strive to grow and grow, after all we have even seen many Gedolim in our generation.  We see Rav Eliashiv Shlit"a before our eyes, and we saw the Rav Zt"l as well, as well as many other Gedolim.  One can therefore become a Gadol even in our generation.  It is said that HaGaon HaRav Moshe Feinstein zt"l went over the Shulchan Aruch seven hundred times.  There are many who "pass over" the Shulchan Aruch seven hundred times but in a different sense!  R' Moshe Feinstein learned the Shulchan Aruch seven hundred times with all its commentaries. One can become a giant in our generation as well.  The story is told that R' Moshe
Feinstein once fell ill and the doctors suggested a particular treatment. 

R' Moshe queried whether this treatment would maim him in any way.  The reason this worried him so was that one with a blemish (a "baal mum") may not serve on the Sanhedrin (see Yevamot 101a-b), and he hoped that the Moshiach would arrive soon and he would have the opportunity to become a member of the Sanhedrin.  We can learn from here that even people living in our generation must strive to sit among the other members of the Sanhedrin.  Although I can assume that there are seventy one greater Talmidei Chachamim than myself in this generation, yet who knows "Is the hand of Hashem limited?" perhaps I will one day be able to join the Sanhedrin. Even if I will not sit among them, maybe one day I will be sufficiently great to argue with them on their level - to discuss issues with Rabban Gamliel, R' Yehoshua, and other Gedolim as an equal.  Why must I remain an ignoramus in comparison to them?  One who truly believes should pray for greatness, it is certainly within Hashem's means to grant.  Without learning, of course, it will not work.  Even Shlomo HaMelech who mastered the entire Torah effortlessly, testified of himself that prior to that night he had learned with great effort - "still ('af') my wisdom stayed with me" (Kohelet 2:9), the Midrash explains "any Torah that I learned with 'af' (implying sweat and toil) remained with me" (Kohelet Rabba).  Prior to that night Shlomo placed great effort in his learning and it was because of this that he later merited receiving the entire Torah in one night.
The Ibn Ezra writes: "the empty headed will wonder what Moshe did in Har Sinai for forty days and forty nights" (Ibn Ezra commentary to Shmot 31:18).  They wonder why it took Moshe forty days and forty nights to master the Torah.  Why does Ibn Ezra refer to them as "empty headed", if they believed that they could master the entire Written and Oral Torah in less time then they must be giants of the world?  The Ibn Ezra explains that they are empty headed because they do not realize that "if Moshe would stand there with Hashem for this number of years (forty) and the double of the doubling of this number (an additional 160), he would not be able to know even one thousandth of the ways of Hashem, and what is behind His Mitzvot".  This means that even in two hundred thousand years, man - even one as great as Moshe Rabenu, cannot come to a complete understanding of the Torah through natural means.  Even with the small amount we can attain, with our striving for greatness, praying, constant learning, delving and not being satisfied with a superficial understanding, we can become Gedolim.  The Gedolim of our generation are proof of this.
May Hashem grant us that we be able to see with the light of these Gedolim.  A greater achievement, however, would be not to rely on others.  The Gemara tells us "Greater is one who derives benefit from his own labor, than one who fears Heaven, for with regard to one who fears Heaven it is written 'Praiseworthy is the man who fears Hashem' (Tehillim 128:1) whereas with regard to one who derives benefit from his own labor it is written 'when you consume the labor of your hands you are praiseworthy and it is well with you' (Tehillim 128:2)" (Brachot 8a).  What is the Gemara implying?  Having "yirat Shamayim" and benefiting from one's own handiwork are two concepts that are not comparable - one is a matter of "hashkafa" and one is a matter of hard work.  How can we compare two unlike objects?  It is similar to claiming this Rembrandt painting is better than noodle soup.  Soup is a good food to eat, while the Rembrandt is a painting to hang on our wall! We can claim that the Rembrandt is better than the painting of other artists, or that we prefer noodle soup to other soups or other foods for that matter, but on what basis are we comparing a painting with food? What did Chazal mean when they said "greater is one who derives benefit from his own labor than one who fears heaven?"
The Maharal offers an explanation to this Gemara, but I believe that the approach of the Gr"a is closer to the "pshat".  The Gemara (Chullin 44b) tells us that the verse "when you consume the labor of your hands you are praiseworthy and it is well with you", refers to someone who can decide on his own whether or not a particular animal is a trefa. What does a "yerei Shamayim" do with a question regarding the kashrut status of an animal?  He goes and asks the Rav.  One who benefits from his own labor studies and clarifies the halacha on his own - he has no need for the ruling of others. "When you consume the labor of your hands you are praiseworthy and it is well for you" does not refer to a carpenter or shoemaker who benefits from his own labor.  It rather refers to the Talmid
Chacham, one who toils in Torah and benefits from his own labor by being able to rule for himself.
Many rule for themselves, but we are referring here to those worthy of it - those who truly are able to.  The Gr"a is telling us that this type of "benefiting from his own labor" is preferable to being a "yerei Shamayim", for he is relying on his own psak and has no need to rely on others. May it be the will of Hashem that we of course become true "yirei Shamayim", but also to be able to benefit from our own work - to become Gedolim in Torah and not to rely upon the handiwork of others - those of our Rabbanim Shlit"a, but to become Gedolei Torah ourselves.

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