Sunday, January 06, 2008

Scholarly or Hospitable?

I was learning Pirkei Avot with my son yesterday. Studying these two Mishnayot I was struck between the contrasting approaches that they represent.

We are talking about a "pair" of contemporaneous Talmidei Chachamim who together lead their generation: Yosi ben Yoezer of Tzeredah and Yosi ben Yochanan of Jerusalem. Here are their mottos :-

יוסי בן יועזר איש צרדה ויוסי בן יוחנן איש ירושלים קבלו מהם יוסי בן יועזר אומר יהי ביתך בית ועד לחכמים והוי מתאבק בעפר רגליהם והוי שותה בצמא את דבריהם:
4. Yosi ben Yoezer of Tzeredah and Yosi ben Yochanan of Jerusalem received the Torah from them. Yosi ben Yoezer of Tzeredah said: Let your house be a meetinghouse for the sages and sit amid the dust of their feet and drink in their words with thirst.
משנה מסכת אבות פרק א משנה ד

משנה ה
יוסי בן יוחנן איש ירושלים אומר יהי ביתך פתוח לרוחה ויהיו עניים בני ביתך ואל תרבה שיחה עם האשה באשתו אמרו קל וחומר באשת חברו מכאן אמרו חכמים כל זמן שאדם מרבה שיחה עם האשה גורם רעה לעצמו ובוטל מדברי תורה וסופו יורש גיהנום:
5. Yosi ben Yochanan of Jerusalem said: Let your house be wide open and let the poor be members of thy household; and do not talk much with women. This was said about one's own wife; how much more so about the wife of one's neighbor.
Both scholars invite outsiders into their respective homes. But the guests are very different.
For Yossi ben Yoezer (the 1st text - Mishna 4) it is all about ensuring that your home is filled with Torah scholars. One's home is in essence, a Beit Midrash in which a person may learn from the words and personal example of the wise. In one's own home, a person sits in the dust of the feet of the Talmid Chacham. In fact, one "drinks" their Torah with "thirst"...the food and drink served in one's home is the Torah of the wise.
How enormously different is the home of Yossi Ben Yochanan. His home was based upon the principle of hospitality. He advised that a person welcome everyone (not just wise people) into one's home, especially the poor and needy. Moreover the poor will not be "guests" but members of the household. They feel at home there. (And because the house is so open, one must be careful about intimacy with women who are not part of your household.) One imagines that the food and drink in his home was edible. It was real food and not Torah.
What variation in orientation! In the first we see an atmosphere designed for the intellectual elite, based upon personal piety and intense Torah study. In the second, an environment which is accessible to all and without divisions, where all are welcome, based upon giving and love.
What different religious ideologies!
One can only imagine the very different atmosphere, and the contrasting moods between these two homes of Jewish leaders.
Which home would you feel more comfortable in?

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