What is more satisfying – facing the challenge of developing a deep understanding of one’s Talmud study, or being able to read simple straightforward Mishnayot?
Our Gemara quotes a passage in Mishlei (15:15), and brings a number of homiletic approaches to explain it. The simple rendering of the pasuk would teach that all the days of a poor person are difficult, but someone with a good heart has a continual feast. The Maharsha explains that none of the Sages choose to explain this passage to be referring to a poor person, since the parallel line in the second half of the pasuk does not refer to someone with monetary wealth, rather to someone with a “good heart,” i.e. someone who enjoys spiritual prosperity.
Rabbi Zeira quotes Rav as interpreting this passage to mean that the poor person is a ba’al talmud, while the man with a good heart is a ba’al mishna. Thus, someone who must struggle to analyze the ideas and concepts has a difficult time, in contrast with someone who studies the simple meaning of the Mishna, who has a much easier time.
Rava argues that it is exactly the other way around – that the ba’al mishna finds challenges in his learning, while the ba’al talmud has it easier. Rabbeinu Gershom explains that the ba’al mishna has so little to work with and must struggle in his study, while the ba’al talmud is steeped in learning and finds much greater satisfaction in his study. The Maharal suggests that the ba’al mishna reads and reviews with little comprehension, which is a source of pain and anxiety for him, while the ba’al talmud finds pleasure and satisfaction in his study.
Other interpretations of this passage include:
Rabbi Ḥanina, who suggests that it refers to someone with a bad wife or a good one.
Rabbi Yannai, who interprets it as distinguishing between someone who is overly sensitive and someone who is more relaxed in his attitude.
Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, who argues that it differentiates between someone who is limited to a short term view of life and someone who can see the bigger picture.