11. It is a great sin to degrade or hate scholars. Yerushalayim
[Jerusalem] was not destroyed until they degraded *Talmidei
Hakhamim*, as it says: "But they kept mocking the messengers of
God, degrading his words, and scoffing at his prophets..."
(Divrei Hayamim II [Chronicles II] 36:16), in other words -
degrading those who teach His words. Similarly, that which the
Torah said: "If you reject My statutes (Vayyiqra [Leviticus]
26:15) - [means] the teachers of My statutes . Anyone who
degrades the scholars has no share in *Olam haBa* (the hereafter)
and is included in "For he has degraded the word of God"
(Bamidbar [Numbers] 15:31).
Q1: Why was the degrading of scholars a cause of the
destruction of Yerushalayim (presumably the First Temple)?
YE: The Gemara in Shabbat (119b - somewhat parallel piece in
Midrash Eikhah 1:21) lists several causes for the destruction.
Yerushalayim was destroyed due to...
1) The desecration of Shabbat; 2) Ignoring the morning and
evening reading of the Sh'ma; 3) Suspension of the school
children from Torah study; 4) A lack of shame between people; 5)
A lack of distinction between great and lesser people; 6) A lack
of reproof/instruction between people; 7) Degrading scholars; 8)
A dearth of trustworthy people.
Significantly, #7 is the only one cited by R in Mishneh Torah. It
may be that R understood all of the other causes to be
symptomatic of the attitude which directly leads to degradation
of scholars. 6 of the other 7 behaviors mentioned fall into 2
(a) Lack of respect for the power of speech (#4,6,8) and
(b) Lack of respect towards the value of study (#2 - according to
many Rishonim, the twice-daily recitation of Sh'ma is the focus
of daily Torah study - see BT Menachot 99b- #3, #5).
These are two attitudes which underlie degradation of scholars:
(a) Scholars are mighty with their speech - their power is the
power of words. Often, scholars are degraded because of this;
(b) Scholars are valued because of the value of learning.
It may be that R saw fit to list degradation of scholars as "the"
cause for the destruction of Yerushalayim, as the attitudes which
lead to this transgression lead to (almost) all of the other
Q2: According to the exegesis of these verses, are scholars
identified with God, with Torah - or both? (i.e. is a
rejection/degradation of scholars a rejection of God or Torah -
or is the rejection of one considered the rejection of the
YE: Both approaches are supported within the context of the
*sugya*: Following the Gemara's presentation of the several
things which were causes of the destruction (see response to
previous question), the Gemara relates: "Do not touch My anointed
ones" - this refers to the school children - "and do not harm My
prophets" - this refers to scholars. - Here we see that the
scholar is to be protected - and violation of his honor is a
matter with which God deals harshly - because he is a "prophet" -
i.e. messenger of God. Conversely, R here places the focus on
"degrading His words" - seemingly, that the scholar represents
and embodies and nearly personifies the Torah and bears the honor
of the Torah.
Q3: Why does one who degrades scholars lose his share in *Olam
YE: Two possible approaches:
(a) Degrading scholars is a degradation of God _and_ His Torah -
which is itself enough to forfeit one's share in the afterlife;
(b) If one degrades scholars, he is most unlikely to learn from
them - either instructionally or behaviorally. One who does not
learn the instruction and proper behavior of the Torah - by
studying with, observing and emulating *Talmidei Hakhamim* -
cannot properly learn how to live the good life which is
necessary for him to "earn his share" in the World to Come.