Pirkei Avot, the fundamental statement of the value system of our Sages, extols work as an accompaniment to the lofty goal of learning Torah:
Rabban Gamliel the son of Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi says: Beautiful is the study of Torah with the way of the world [derech eretz, i.e. earning a livelihood], as the effort of both makes sin forgotten; and any Torah unaccompanied by work will ultimately come to nothing and cause sin.Avot 2:2
That is a pretty strong statement that should give pause to anyone who thinks they will ascend the lofty heights of Torah study and not sully themselves with work. The Torah expresses realism about the necessity for human effort and recognizes that Torah study is not merely theoretical but is informed by derech eretz, i.e., the arena in which life experience such as work tests us.
In a classic Talmudic discussion, Rabbi Yishmael says Jews must study Torah, yet also pursue derech eretz: the Torah commands, “You shall gather your grain, your wine and your oil.” Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai protests, if Jews are busy all four seasons of the year plowing, planting, harvesting, threshing and winnowing, what will be of the Torah? Rather, Hashem will have others provide for those who perform His will. The Sage Abbaye concludes, only somewhat ambiguously, that many acted like Rabbi Yishmael and succeeded, and many acted like Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai and didn’t succeed.
Rabbi Pinchas HaLevi Horowitz, the 18th century scholar known as the Ba’al HaHafla’ah, infers from the wording “like Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai” that those following his path purported to be like Rabbi Shimon but did not truly replicate his essential characteristics. Had they truly been on his level, they surely would have merited God’s help and succeeded. But not everyone with such high aspirations has the requisite traits.
In modern Israel, full-time Torah study in lieu of work is now a deeply rooted social phenomenon. While there are halachic decisors who encourage the Rabbi Shimon path (and this book does not attempt pesak halachah), the lens of Jewish history shows that many other sages of Israel followed the Rabbi Yishmael path. The Rambam famously expresses this idea in his Mishneh Torah:
Among the great Sages of Israel were wood choppers and water drawers and blind men. But nevertheless they would engage in the study of Torah day and night, and were among the transmitters of the oral law from person to person back to Mosheh Rabbeinu.Hilchot Talmud Torah 1:9
In other words, these were not marginal figures but the most important scholars of each generation, and yet they worked, and worked hard, for a living even at the most menial of all labors.
In any case, work experience provides more than just a skill to list on a résumé. Effort is itself a formidable value, and the Talmud ranks one who benefits from his own toil as greater than one who possesses fear of heaven. As anyone who has worked as an employee can relate to, work requires developing skill and professionalism. The professional Torah learner would do well to learn how to devote that same level of energy and accountability demanded in the work world to the learning of Torah. If a boss of flesh and blood demands a certain level of work, how much more does God demand of someone who takes it upon himself to work for Him?
 Berachot 35b.
 Devarim 11:14
 Cited in Chiddushei Chatam Sofer, Sukkah 36a. The remark is cited in Rabbi Yisachar Shlomo Teichtal, Eim Habanim Semeichah 3:32, also available in English translation (trans. Moshe Lichtman, Kol Mevaser Publications, 2000, page 303).
 Berachot 8a.