Yossi ben Yoezer Ish Tzreidah and Yossi ben Yochanan Ish
Yerushalayim received (the tradition) from him (Antignos Ish
Socho). Yossi ben Yoezer says: Your house should be a
meeting place for wise people. Attach yourself to the dust
of their feet. And drink thirstily of their words.
Antignos Ish Socho taught about man himself attaining personal
superiority through both love of G-d and awe of Heaven. Yossi ben Yoezer
and Yossi ben Yochanan follow this by instructing man on the bringing of
superiority in to his home, the home being the immediate extension of the
individual, through the service of G-d with both love and awe.
First we are taught "Your house should be a meeting place for wise
people," making ones dwelling place a center for wisdom. The superiority
of ones dwelling place also bestows excellence on the individual himself.
On the other hand, "attach yourself to the dust of their feet."
While one must strive to create an attachment to wise people and become
close to them, he must be careful not to treat them as his peers. The
supreme importance of wisdom requires that one recognize the great
distance that exists between truly wise men and himself, even as he
strives to attach himself to them. This attachment requires humility,
represented by his attachment to the "dust of their feet."
Finally, "drink thirstily of their words." Physical thirst
indicates a deficiency of liquid in his body, and one who recognizes
that deficiency seeks to fill it by drinking, in order to quench that
thirst. A man who lacks wisdom is also deficient, and it is the words of
wise men that can fill that deficiency. A person who feels that lack
drinks thirstily of the words which will alleviate it, just as fervently
as a thirsty person drinks water.
There is a broader perspective. Man's proper relationship to wise
men is really a paradigm for the association that exists between man's
physical body and his "sechel," transcendental wisdom. Firstly, "sechel"
transcends physical man, and he struggles to attach himself to it,
reaching up to cling to it, even in a limited way. So, too, man's desire
to have wise men in his house is to enable him to "reach up" and make
some contact with them, all the while realizing that due their elevated
state a full attachment is beyond him. Secondly, while "sechel" looms
far above man, he can have some connection with it. Attaching oneself to
the dust of the feet of wise men indicates that while these wise men are
beyond man, it is possible to have some connection with them. (see
Chapter 2, Mishna 10, where Rebbi Eliezer teaches too "warm ourselves
from the fire of wise men, yet be careful no to get burned...") Finally,
the "sechel" is necessary for man to be considered a total human being,
and the lack of sechel makes him incomplete (See the Introductory
section, where the Maharal discusses the animalistic dimension of man
without Torah and "sechel.") The thirst for the words of wise men
derives from the need to fill the fundamental deficiency man has when he
lacks wisdom. All three lessons of the Mishna represent man's
association with sechel.
With this in mind, we gain a new insight into Yossi ben Yoezer's
lesson of how man can perfect his home. A perfect home would serve as
the "body" wherein wisdom resides, just as man's body is the dwelling
place for his sechel. This can be accomplished by making ones house into
a meeting place for wise people, attaching oneself to them in any way
that one can, and thirstily drinking their words.