On weekends, we will review the mishnas from the week. It’s always good to review the material and arrive at new understandings and interpretations. Learn one mishna or more!
2. Mishna Learning (Review of Chapters of the Fathers 4:9-11)
Chapters of the Fathers 4, 9
רַבִּי יִשְׁמָעֵאל בְּנוֹ אוֹמֵר, הַחוֹשֵׂךְ עַצְמוֹ מִן הַדִּין, פּוֹרֵק מִמֶּנּוּ אֵיבָה וְגָזֵל וּשְׁבוּעַת שָׁוְא. וְהַגַּס לִבּוֹ בַהוֹרָאָה, שׁוֹטֶה רָשָׁע וְגַס רוּחַ:
Rabbi Ishmael his son said: he who refrains himself from judgment, rids himself of enmity, robbery and false swearing; But he whose heart is presumptuous in giving a judicial decision, is foolish, wicked, and arrogant.
Our mishna discusses the great responsibility of serving as a community leader. This is a very relevant lesson for us today on the backdrop of our heated political climate. Our mishna describes the challenges and dangers of serving as a judge, but similar lessons can be applied to serving in the police force as well.
It’s definitely not easy being a judge. One often is hated (enmity) by at least one of the sides. And one constantly runs the risk of making the wrong legal decisions. This can unwittingly lead to a perversion of justice, allowing one side to “rob” the other or force one side to offer an unnecessary oath.
These pitfalls are not always the fault of the judge. One will inevitably let one side down and end up being the object of enmity. This is part of the job. And one is bound to make mistakes.
Nobody is perfect. This is why the mishna recommends seeking out a compromise, if possible, and “refraining from judgement.”
The continuation of the mishna lists three obstacles that are more directly under one’s control: foolishness, wickedness, and arrogance. Each obstacle extends from a different source. The first is due to a lack of knowledge. The second is an internal wickedness. And the third stems from arrogance. All three lead one to be presumptuous in deciding cases, which is defined by the commentators as a hastiness to decide without proper research or a placing of oneself in the center instead of the needs of those who appear in court.
As mentioned, this is a very relevant mishna. Just replace the title judge with police officer and you realize that they face similar obstacles. Police face the inevitable fate of being hated by a large swath of the community. This is just the nature of their job as enforcers of the law.
Cops also make mistakes. Some are due to foolishness, wickedness, and arrogance. This needs to be called out and condemned. Other times, however, it is due to them being human, as we mentioned in relation to the judge and the robbery/false oaths which may ensue from their decisions.
Our mishna provides a balanced view when it comes to our authorities. We should hold them accountable when they are acting foolish, evil, and arrogant. But we must also recognize that many are trying their best and are under constant pressure from all directions.
Our mishna focuses on the challenges and dangers of serving in public office. But we mustn’t forget the good these individuals bring to the community. Rabbi Hanina already taught us in an earlier mishna (Chapters of the Fathers 3:2): “pray for the welfare of the government, for were it not for the fear it inspires, every man would swallow his neighbor alive.” We must pray for the law enforcers who will not judge presumptuously, but instead improve the quality of our lives, ensuring daily that our community members don’t “swallow each other alive.”
Chapters of the Fathers 4, 10
הוּא הָיָה אוֹמֵר, אַל תְּהִי דָן יְחִידִי, שֶׁאֵין דָּן יְחִידִי אֶלָּא אֶחָד. וְאַל תֹּאמַר קַבְּלוּ דַעְתִּי, שֶׁהֵן רַשָּׁאִין וְלֹא אָתָּה:
He used to say: judge not alone, for none may judge alone save one. And say not “accept my view”, for they are free but not you.
Our mishna is urging us to make space for other’s views during our decision making process. It starts off by warning judges to not judge alone. In Jewish law, it is generally forbidden to judge a case without companions. Only one person is allowed to do so (“for none may judge alone save one”): a dayan mumcheh, a judge with expertise. All others must refrain from judging alone. Another explanation is that even this judge, although technically allowed to judge alone, shouldn’t do so, because only One--Hashem--can truly judge alone. Hashem knows all sides of the case; we must consult with others.
The mishna goes on to warn that when we finally do bring others into the mix, that we actually listen to their input. Do not enforce your view on them (“accept my view”). Instead, give them the freedom and space to disagree. Hold yourself back to make space for their views (“they are free but not you”).
I came across a wonderful quote connected to this by Benjamin Franklin in Rabbi Marc Angel’s commentary (Koren) to our mishna:
“I made it a rule to forbear all direct contradiction to the sentiments of others, and all positive assertion of my own. I even forbade myself … the use of every word or expression in the language that imported a fixed opinion, such as certainly, undoubtedly, etc., and I adopted, instead of them, I conceive, I apprehend, or I imagine a thing to be so or so … The modest way in which I proposed my opinions procured them a readier reception and less contradiction.”
This quote is connected to the latter half of our mishna. It highlights the detail into which we should go toward ensuring others’ views are being voiced alongside our own. Even the way we word things is vital for “freeing” up others to share their views with us.
With all this in mind, let’s ask the basic question: why is it so important to listen to other voices?
One obvious answer, that I alluded to above, is that unlike Hashem, we as limited mortals, can’t really see all sides of the picture. The more input we receive from others, the more educated of a judgement we can pass on any given topic.
The previous answer assumes that our own approach is partial and needs to be bolstered and/or adapted to some extent through the aid of an outside voice. Another direction to go with this is to say the opposite: sometimes we don’t know what we really think until we hear an opposing view. The opposing view helps us strengthen our own convictions and realize what we truly feel.
Additionally, hearing an outside voice can help us sharpen and better articulate our own approach. I sometimes will start out a class teaching a topic in a certain way. Upon hearing questions and feedback from those attending, I emerge from my lecture better able to articulate my approach and understand it in more of a nuanced manner.
There is a verse in the Bible which encapsulates these three answers. It is the verse (Breishit 2:18) which describes humanity’s need for companionship: “And G-d the Lord said, ‘It is not good for an individual to be alone. I will make for them an ezer kenegdo.’” The idea brought to the fore in our mishna, that we can’t do things alone, is highlighted in the first part of the verse.
In the second half of the verse, we learn the reason why: because we require an ezer kenegdo. What does this mean? Ezer means an assistant or helper and kenegdo means “opposite” or “against” him. We shouldn’t judge alone, but instead go to all lengths to create space for other voices. Our own voice needs “assistance” (answer 1 above) because we can’t see all sides of the story. And at times an “opposite” view (kenegdo) aids in strengthening or sharpening our own opinions (answer 2 and 3 above).
Chapters of the Fathers 4, 11
רַבִּי יוֹנָתָן אוֹמֵר, כָּל הַמְקַיֵּם אֶת הַתּוֹרָה מֵעֹנִי, סוֹפוֹ לְקַיְּמָהּ מֵעשֶׁר. וְכָל הַמְבַטֵּל אֶת הַתּוֹרָה מֵעשֶׁר, סוֹפוֹ לְבַטְּלָהּ מֵעֹנִי:
Rabbi Jonathan said: whoever fulfills the Torah out of a state of poverty, his end will be to fulfill it out of a state of wealth; And whoever discards The Torah out of a state of wealth, his end will be to discard it out of a state of poverty.
Empirical data shows that there are many people who discard the Torah out of a state of wealth and nevertheless remain wealthy upon doing so. Similarly, there are many who fulfill the Torah amid poverty and remain poor afterwards. Rabbi Berel Wein therefore offers that the mishna is describing two orientations to Torah observance: one based on true Torah values and another based on societal concerns.
When one is committed to true Torah values and performs the commandments from a genuine and educated place, one’s shifts in financial status will not greatly impact one’s observance. Inversely, one who performs commandments for less idealistic reasons is more at risk for abandoning the Torah when their financial status changes.
In this category, Rabbi Wein lists people who perform commandments due to their “environment and current financial situation.” I would add those who follow the Torah because they learned to do so at home, but never really cultivated a genuine connection of their own; those who enjoy the social aspect of Judaism, but do not internally connect to Torah and mitzvot; and those who stay connected for some other external cause: because it’s fun or for some other reward or prize.
This is the lesson of the mishna. One who genuinely observes the Torah while poor will be less enticed to abandon the Torah when they come upon great wealth: “his end will be to fulfill it out of a state of wealth.” And one who doesn’t live Torah fully while rich, will most likely not have the spiritual stamina and values to help them maintain that same level of observance as their financial luck changes for the worse: “his end will be to discard it out of a state of poverty.”
This mishna is a wake-up call to us Jewish educators. We must surely provide all of the fun we can while teaching. I remember myself getting “bribed” by my rabbis to come and learn Torah, with all kinds of good food and fun games. But if we do not provide content that is inspiring, if we do not firmly ground our students and children in Jewish texts and empower them to forge a real and lasting connection to Yiddishkeit, we have not fulfilled our task. It’s not enough to provide “fun Judaism.” We have to prepare the next generation so that when they are faced with temptations as they grow older, their “end will be to fulfill” the Torah and not abandon our cherished tradition. May Hashem assist us in this holy work!
Kaddish Recitation Updates
Our shul began offering outdoor services on Thursday evening. We are once more reciting Kaddish together in a minyan. Therefore, those who have been performing this ceremony in place of Kaddish over the past few months are now asked to join our daily Mincha/Maariv prayer service, either in person or via Zoom, as we will recite Kaddish together as a community. As of this tomorrow (Sunday, 06/14), the ceremony will only be offered for Shabbat, as our minyan is currently not convening on Shabbat. To receive this Shabbat ceremony in place of Kaddish via email, and for any other related questions, please contact Rabbi Dr. Eli Yoggev at email@example.com.
We abstain from giving tzedakah on Shabbat