Rabban Gamliel, the son of Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi says: Torah study is good together with an occupation, for exertion in them both makes sin forgotten. (Avot 2:2)

In order to fully appreciate this Mishna, it is important to place it in the context of a later one (Avot 3:6) which seemingly offers a totally different perspective on the issue of "Torah study together with an occupation". Instead of urging a symbiotic relationship between Torah and earning a living, as our Mishna seemingly does, we are assured if we accept the challenge of a Torah life (and all that this entails) we need not worry about "the yoke of worldly responsibilities", the pressures of everyday life.

By partaking of the Tree of Knowledge…Adam regrettably opted for a lifestyle in which good and evil were intermingled….

We may reconcile this apparent contradiction by suggesting that the later Mishna is speaking about an ideal state that no longer exists, while our Mishna pertains to the world in which we presently reside. Prior to Adam's sin, he enjoyed the ideal luxury of isolating himself from the outside world. He could completely commit himself to Torah without concerning himself about the necessity of earning a living. However, after sinning, Adam and we, his descendants, were granted a new mission - helping remedy his sin: to abide by the values of Torah while concurrently toiling for a living.

An analogy may be drawn between the contrasting approaches of these two teachings and the two trees planted in the middle of the Garden of Eden. The Tree of Life symbolized an ideal state in which we are fully immersed in the true source of life which is Torah. By partaking of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, Adam regrettably opted for a lifestyle in which good and evil were intermingled. In such an environment, man's mission is no longer to completely isolate himself from his surrounding, but rather to live a Torah life amidst the moral confusion of the world, and by doing so begin to remedy Adam's (and his descendants') sin of blurring the parameters of good and evil. In this light, we may derive additional insight from the following phrase: "she'yegiat shneyhem mashgachat avon" - the effort in harmoniously bringing Derech Eretz into Torah helps rectify Adam's sin.

[From "Pirkei Avos - With Ideas and Insights of the Sfas Emes and other Chassidic Masters" by Yosef Stern (Mesorah Publications, ltd.)]