Who can assure that this heart should remain theirs, to fear Me and
observe all My commandments, all the days, so that it should be good for
them and their children forever? Go say to them, “Return to your
tents”. (Devarim 6:26-7)
Having delivered admonishments to the nation, Moshe reviews the episode of
the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai. He relates that HASHEM instructs him
to tell the people to return to their tents. The Kotzker Rebbe understood
this verse to mean that HASHEM was saying to Moshe, “I want to see now how
they will conduct themselves in their homes.” It is true that here at Mt.
Sinai which is ablaze with fire their hearts are directed towards heaven,
but now go direct them to bring their burning enthusiasm back to their
tents, only then will this experience find permanence and perpetuity.”
There’s a Mishne in Pirke Avos that may be saying the same thing. “Let
your house be a meeting place for sages…” (Avos 1:4) Rabeinu Yona
confirms the notion that one’s home should be a place where the wise
congregate. I however confronted a problem teaching another Mishne in
Pirke Avos that may have bearing on the way we learn this one.
The Mishne says, “Precede every man with Shalom.” (Avos 4:14) I taught
this Mishne in Hebrew Day School the way Rashi learns it. He quotes
Tractate Brochos (17A) that Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zachai was the first to
say “Shalom” to every person he confronted, even a gentile in the
marketplace. My lesson must have made a strong mark on their
impressionable little minds or it appealed to their competitive spirits
because the next day I had a huge issue developing before my eyes.
Everyone in the class wanted to be the first one to say, “Shalom”. Some
were quicker to the drawer. Others were getting frustrated because they
couldn’t get the words out fast enough.
Absurdly so, fights were erupting over this requirement to say “Shalom”
first. As the teacher I had to deal with it. I was somewhat responsible
for making this monster. I had to bring it under control. It occurred to
me that the Mishne could not be requiring as a moral imperative for
everybody to be the first to say “Shalom”. That’s impossible for everyone
to successfully accomplish. It’s a zero sum game.
What does the Mishne mean? “Hevi Makdim B’Shalom L’col Adam can be
translated, “To be with peace preceding all men.” It’s talking about a
state of being. Before I enter the work place or home I must decide that
the outcome will be peaceful. I must not react or overreact to whatever
contrary attitudes and opinions I may confront. It occurred to me that the
Mishne must be talking not only about the action of greeting others but
also the requirement of an attitude, a predisposition for peace.
So too with the Mishne above, “Let your house be a meeting place for
sages…”, we confront the same practical difficulty when trying to
implement the overt meaning of the Mishne. There will always be more homes
than sages to fill them up. How can every individual house be a meeting
place for sages? Again the Mishne says, “Yehi Beis’cha…Let your house
be…” Your home should be the type of environment that the sages would feel
as comfortable entering as you would be hosting them.
Imagine that the Gadol HaDor, Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman shlita is coming
over, not to visit for a day or a week but to move in. How much of an
adjustment would that be? How uncomfortable might we feel? What would we
have to hide, hinder, or curb to accommodate his presence? That standard
of thought may be the practical benefit of the common practice amongst
Jews world-wide to hang pictures of sages on the walls, if only to remind
us home is where Torah resides.