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Friday, Iyar 5, 5779 / May 10, 2019 (20th day of the Omer)


Each Shabbat, from Pesach to Rosh Hashana, through the summer months, we study a chapter of Pirkei Avot – Chapters of our Fathers. 


One of the teachings in the second chapter of Pirkei Avot, which we recite this Shabbat in the Diaspora, is the following instructions from the Talmudic sage Hillel: “Do not separate yourself from the community..; Do not judge your fellow man until you come to be in his place.


Do not judge your fellow man until you come to be in his place.”  One way to understand this teaching is that, “Until you come to be in his place” means the place of the person whom you are judging, as we see from the following Talmudic story.


Rav Ashi (compiler of the Talmud) was teaching the Mishna in which it says that three kings, Jerovam, Achav and Menashe, have no share in the Wold-to-Come because they were so wicked and idolatrous. At the conclusion of the lesson, Rav Ashi said to his students, “Tomorrow we will expound on these three learned colleagues.”


Although the three kings were wicked, yet, they were learned men. Rav Ashi’s comment, “these three learned men,” was meant as a sarcastic and derogotary comment.


That night King Menashe came to him in a dream and said, “Why do you call me your colleague? Am I your colleague?” he then asked Rav Ashi a question in Jewish law and when the sage couldn’t reply, Menashe gave him the correct answer.


Rav Ashi was amazed to hear the depth and briliancy of Menashe’s Torah knowledge. He then asked the ancient king of Judah, “Since you were so learned, why did you worship idols?” 


Menashe replied, “Had you been there and lived in my times you would have gathered up the hem of your garment and run after me to join me in idol worship!”


This story illustrates the point of Hillel’s teaching. Menashe told Rav Ashi that it was impossible for him, who lived hundreds of years later, to comprehend the powerful forces and attraction to idolatry in his time. One shouldn’t judge anyone until he was in that person’s situation.


Another interpretation is that “place“ here refers to G-d, who is, at times called, “Hamakom” – “Place.” When comforting a mourner we say, “Hamakom.. should comfort you..” we refer to G-d as Hamakom(Place). The reason we call G-d Hamakom is because G-d is the place of the universe. Everything is held up by Him and depends on Him, while G-d doesn’t depend on anything.


In this context Hillel teaches us that only G-d, Who knows every person’s history and makeup; their strenghts and weaknesses, only He can judge. But it’s not for us humans to do so.



Montreal candle lighting time: 7:54 / Shabbat ends: 9:05