Chapter 2: Mishna 5: Part 1
Hillel says: Don't separate yourself from the "tzibbur"
(community); and don't rely on yourself until the day of
your death; and don't judge your friend until you reach
his situation; and don't say something could never
happen, for in the end it might happen; and don't say
"When I have [free] time I will learn, lest you never
have [free] time.
It needs to be asked why this lesson of Hillel is located here,
rather than with the earlier lessons of Hillel (Ch. 1, Mishna 12-14)?!
Furthermore, what is the connection between the various lessons of this
Mishna, like separating yourself from the community and not relying on
yourself. There doesn't seem to be any common denominator! It should
have taught one lesson, and then written "He used to say..." to
introduce the next one. This is what we find in the coming Mishnayoth
(also quoting Hillel, yet divided from the lessons of our Mishna; as
well as in the Mishnayoth in Ch. 1).
Because we were taught at the end of Mishna 2 the value of the
tzibbur ("those who are involved with the community...") Hillel's
lesson is placed here, teaching us the importance of the community and
the shortcoming of the individual in relation to the community.
Therefore, we are taught "Don't separate yourself from the
tzibbur," for the tzibbur, which is the klal, stands with stability
(this was developed in the earlier Mishnayoth and will be somewhat
elaborated on here). Someone who separates himself from the tzibbur is
separating away from something that has stable endurance.
Additionally, the klal embodies within it the totality of all the
elements that make it up, making it encompassing. One who separates
from that stands alone, isolated and transitory.
This principle is concretized by our Rabbis in the following way.
Included in the group of heretics and apikorsim (Rosh HaShana 17a) are
both those who deviate from the way of the tzibbur, in addition to
those who deny the Divinity of Torah and the resurrection of the dead
(fundamental principles of Judaism). Those who deny these eternal
truths remove themselves from the klal, just as do those who behave in
ways that are at odds with the behavior of the klal, and as such
neither group has a part in the enduring existence of the klal.
The klal is the foundation, while the individual is transitory.
The individual is in a state of constant change and transformation,
while the klal has stability and endurance.
Which leads us to the next lesson of the Mishna, "...don't rely on
yourself until the day of your death." In other words, as righteous as
you are at any time, you can never have confidence that you won't
become a person who sins, since as an individual you are always subject
to variation. Whatever your spiritual level is at the moment, an
individual is controlled by the movement of time, which subjects you to
the constant possibility of change.
A further consequence of being an individual is that it is not
fitting to be judgmental a person due to his actions. "...don't judge
your friend until you reach his situation." There many causes for a
person's behavior, and it is possible that had you been subjected to
all the circumstances of your friend, you would have behaved in exactly
the same way. Due to the constant fluctuations that are the nature of
an individual, a person can't be overly confident about his success,
and cannot pass judgment on the perceived failure of another. As
strange and unlikely as a friend's behavior seems to a person, since
that person himself can change, and if can also be subject to differing
circumstances which may lead him to behave in a way similar to his
friends. An individual, who is inherently in a state of change, should
never take his own behavior for granted.
The next lesson is not to take any situation for granted, which
would be the result of saying that a certain event our outcome could
never take place. This attitude can lead a person to be overconfident
in his opinion about how to deal with a certain situation. If he had
observed a certain outcome, he may suspect that his situation could
lead to such an outcome. But being sure that such an outcome is
impossible could lead him to behave in an arrogant, and possibly
irresponsible, way. For example, a very wealthy person relies on his
wealth to behave as he wants, without being forced to consider the
opinions of others (if it isn't in his interest). He never entertains
the idea that a person of his financial means could lose his wealth,
since this appears very unlikely. The Mishna is teaching us to refrain
from the attitude that "this could never happen." Because a human
being is a transitory individual, even things that appear to him to be
unlikely can occur. (The example the Maharal gives is very important
in our society, where "money talks," and a person "with the bucks" is
allowed to "call the shots." Additionally, the assumption is that
there is a level of wealth a person can reach that makes him immune
from losing it. Without going in to specific details, we have seen
over the past decade how misleading this perception is.)
The Mishna's lessons are developmental. First we are taught not
to judge another person on his actions, even if appears unlikely that
you would behave in a similar way. Even though it would take a change
in your situation to lead you behave as he did, that change could take
place. Therefore, you are taught not to judge him "until you reach his
situation," representing an imaginable change in the present reality.
But one may still feel that a really monumental change can be
discounted. So the Mishna continues with the next lesson "Don't say it
could never happen -- for it may happen," referring to even very
significant departures from the present situation. Due to the
constantly changing nature of the physical world, no situation can be
(We have witnessed this just in our century a number of times. A
recent example is the disappearance of the Soviet Union virtually
overnight. A person who had been reading the weekly newsmagazines
faithfully for years, with that as his only source of news, would have
been sure that he missed at least a couple of years of issues when he
picked up the issue announcing the disintegration of what was assumed
to be a Superpower. The radical change in the situation in Israel and
the government's relationship to Yasser Arafat and the Palestinians
between July and October 1993 was something that everyone said was
impossible. Things happen in history that would have been dreamed
unthinkable. But they happen, and they are accepted, due to the
constantly changing state of individuals.)
(To briefly connect the principles taught in this section of the
Maharal with Shavuoth: The Jewish people arrived at Sinai completely
united as one person, with one heart. See Rashi on Shemoth Ch. 19
Verse 1. This is a prerequisite for the receiving of the Torah.
Commitment to the Torah cannot exist when each person, as an
indiviudal, is pulling in his own direction, with his own agenda. It
requires individuals to be united in a "klal" and devoted to the needs
of that klal in the service of a purpose transcending the agenda of any
individual. This commitment is the essence of receiving the Torah.)
The class is taught by Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky,
Dean of Darche Noam Institutions, Yeshivat
Darche Noam/Shapell's and Midreshet Rachel for Women.