Chapter 1: Mishna 11: Part 1
Avtalyon says: Wise scholars, be careful with your words
(take care that ambiguous words not be misunderstood); lest
you be liable for (the punishment of) exile, and you will
be exiled to a place of evil waters, from which students
may come and drink and die, resulting in the desecration of
the Name of Heaven.
Avtalyon comes to complete the lesson in the same way it has been
done in the previous sets of Mishnayoth. The first Tanna teaches the
positive, what one is supposed to do, relating to serving G-d out of
love. This is especially relevant [to Shmaya's lesson] which instructs
in bringing the love of G-d in to the world, which happens when one
sees Torah scholars behaving in an exemplary way, loving work (service)
and not looking to draw benefit from others. Despising control over
others is also motivated by the desire to always serve, not to control.
People of power are motivated by their own glory and looking for their
own gain, rather than the for the glory and benefit of G-d. (This is
in contrast to proper leadership which is motivated by the true desire
to serve and be there for the benefit of others.) The only way a
leader can save himself from this pitfall is by loving work and
service, despising power, and maintaining an independence from others
who are in positions of power (politicians). All of these bring him to
humility, enabling himself to humble himself before G-d.
(This is the secret of how people can appropriately assume
positions of leadership and power that are necessary for all societies,
as well as all economic and organizational entities, to function
properly. A position of power is supposed to be viewed as one of
responsibility rather than one of privilege. If one is motivated by
the drive to SERVE, focused on the welfare of those who he is leading,
looking always to give to them, rather than benefit from them and from
his position, then he will not suffer the drawbacks that the Maharal
has attributed to people in positions of power. See the famous
"Kuntres HaChesed" of Rav Desseler in Michtav Me'Eliyahu (Strive for
Truth) for an in depth treatment of this concept.)
After this lesson, built on bringing about more love of G-d,
Avtalyon, the Av Beith Din, teaches the converse of what NOT to do, to
avoid the desecration of the Name of Heaven (Chilul HaShem).
Wise scholars, take care with your words, so that unscrupulous
students shouldn't learn (distorted things) from you and "attach
themselves to a large tree" (attribute their own opinions to a great
person) with "ropes of naught" (with false interpretations and
applications), causing a desecration of G-d's name.
Why did the Tanna connect this problem (of unscrupulous students)
specifically to exile? It can happen anywhere!
Under normal circumstances, a Torah scholar should never teach a
student who isn't fitting and virtuous. (See Chulin 133a about the
severity of teaching students who are not suitable.) On "home
territory" one learns to recognize and eliminate these students. But
exiled from his home, the Torah scholar does not know people, and he is
likely to take in students who are not suitable. Additionally, in exile
he doesn't have the same level of control over his choice of students
as he does in his own habitat. So it is more likely in exile that one
is in danger of having his words misused by unscrupulous students.
Additionally, the intent of the Tanna "students may come and drink
and die" is not referring to bad students of the Torah scholar himself,
for they will not succeed in distorting the words of their teacher
(while they are his students), and any desecration they cause is not
the fault of the scholar. However, others will (innocently) learn from
these students (thinking they are getting an accurate transmission from
the original scholar) and if the scholar was not meticulously careful
in his words, distortions can be disseminated, leading to a desecration
of the Name of Heaven for which the scholar does have responsibility.
Had he not gone in to exile, we can be confident that his few
unsuitable students would be neutralized by the large number of his
virtuous students. But in exile, there is a dearth of suitable
students, and students (who themselves may be suitable) coming to
"drink from his waters" (study his Torah) may be misled by unsuitable
students who will succeed in incorrectly transmitting his teachings,
due to their ambiguities.
Another connection with exile is that when a Torah scholar is
deserving of exile, his Torah also deserves to be exiled, which means
leaving the place where it should reside (within suitable students) to
a place which is foreign for it -- unsuitable students.
Both Shmaya and Avtalyon have taught lessons to ensure that G-d's
name should be sanctified through Torah scholars, and not desecrated.
The lessons of one complement the lessons of the other.
When Torah scholars behave in an exemplary fashion, loving work
and not pursuing money and power, the name of G-d is made beloved to
others. (This is the dimension of serving G-d from love.) On the other
hand, care must be taken not to cause the desecration of G-d's name,
which emanates from a fear of Heaven.
Shmaya teaches to despise positions of public power, for the guilt
of the community resides with the leaders who could have protested
improper behavior and didn't. We are taught (see Shabbat 54b) that the
house of the "reish galuta" (chief political leader) is liable for the
sins of the entire nation, for it was within their power to protest and
influence the nation's improper behavior. Avtalyon teaches that even
one who isn't in a position of communal power, but is a teacher who has
students, is compared to a person of power. For he has the ability to
influence his students, and if he isn't careful in what he teaches
them, he has responsibility for their behavior and any desecration of
G-d's name that may ensue.
These two Tannaim complement each other in teaching one
fundamental lesson: One should not pursue power, for with it goes
responsibility for the actions of the people over whom he wields that
power. He should pursue work, service. (When his motivation is
exclusively to give to the community, to serve the needs of the
community, then he is not considered to be in a position of control
over them, and his personal responsibility for their improper actions
is diminished. He is always looking to serve them and their welfare,
so it is clear that he would never hesitate to rebuke them for improper
actions, since he isn't worried about losing a position of power and a
situation that is to his personal benefit. Since he is focused on
serving them, it will be only their loss if they do not allow him to be
in a leadership position anymore. He will have no fear of saying what
needs to be said, if their is hope of it improving the people he leads,
and he will have no fear of losing his position of leadership, since he
views it as one of giving, one of service. When were we ever afraid
that maybe someone wouldn't take what we wanted to give to them for
their own benefit -- unless our egos were tied up with our giving?)
The class is taught by Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky,
Dean of Darche Noam Institutions, Yeshivat
Darche Noam/Shapell's and Midreshet Rachel for Women.