Rabbi Israel Chait
Written by student
Chapter 1, Mishna 4: “Yose the son of Yoezer, the man of Tzeraida said: Your house should be a place of gathering for wise men, follow in the dust of their feet, and drink with thirst their words.”
We previously noted the comment of Rashi that the goal here is to make the home a place of learning. We then asked what the value of this is: why not just go the ‘beis medrash’, a place of learning?
To understand the lesson of the mishna, we need only reflect on what the ‘home’ represents to a person. When people finish their day at work, they come home and want to relax so that the home becomes a place of leisure. The house thus becomes a place of security and comfort. The idea presented here is that one’s leisure should be observing how wise men partake of their activity, which is the study of Torah, being involved in knowledge of God.
Our mishna is really touching upon a more general question: how could one who finds value and comfort in the material world become attached to the world of knowledge and ideas? The mishna directs us to what one must do first: he must remove attachments to other activities that he views as essential, such as entertainment. As long as he does those things for their own sake, then they become the purpose of his existence. In its place, a person must have Torah. However, since, at the outset, one doesn’t appreciate the beauty of Torah itself, he must make his house a place for the wise man to gather so that in this manner, Torah becomes the essence of his life. In this way he may recognize the importance of Torah, though he still doesn’t have the knowledge of Torah itself yet.
After this, the mishna follows with the next step: “be in the dust of their feet”. This reflects the need to attach oneself to the wise men. In such a manner, he sees them as a great people, depletes his own ego, and feels worthless so that his only point is to serve them. Rashi on this statement comments in this vein: the purpose is to serve them, teaching that the highest recognition possible is seen in such activities where the ego is depleted. Through attaching oneself to these people, he will eventually see the ideas and their ultimate value.
This approach can also be seen in the commentary of the Rabbeinu Yonah on our mishna. Commenting on the last phrase of the mishna, he quotes the verse from Proverbs (Chapter 27, Verse 7): “A satisfied body will despise honey, but a hungry body will find even bitter things sweet.” He explains that this verse is a parable which teaches that while for one, who is “full” from Torah so that he doesn’t desire anymore of it, he’ll despise even pearls of Torah; while for another who desires Torah, even if he hears something without understanding the reason, he’ll enjoy it because he knows it is true since his teacher said it. The man being spoken of in our mishna, according to the Rabbeinu Yonah, is clearly not someone who, on his own, can discern abstract truth and false. At this point, his recognition of truth comes through the wise men. The next step, though, must come naturally, where the individual comes to appreciate the ideas themselves.
Chapter 1, Mishna 5: “Yose the son of Yochanon the man of Jerusalem said: Your house should be open wide (for guests), you should have poor people in your home, and do not engage in lengthy talk with women. This is said with regards to one’s own wife, certainly with another man’s wife.”
Our mishna begins with the advice of having one’s home open to guests. Rashi explains that open wide means that its open all four sides for travelers to enter. He quotes the Talmudic statement with regards to Yoav, the general of King David: the verse says that he was buried in his house in the desert. The Talmud asks: was his house in the desert? Rather it means that his house was like a desert in that it was open in all four directions. Yoav himself says “Did I eat my bread alone?” implying that he constantly hosted other people in his home. Similar statements are made about how our forefather Avraham also had his house open in all four directions. The obvious question arises: why is this so valuable? Specifically, what is this distinct characteristic of having one’s home open in all directions? Isn’t it enough for one to just host other people? To be continued.