Yehoshua ben Prachiah and Nitai HaArbeili received from them
(Yossi ben Yoezer and Yossi ben Yochanan). Yehoshua said: Make for
yourself a Rav (a teacher); acquire for yourself a friend; and judge
every person on the positive side.
What is the significance of the language "asei lecha," make for
yourself, rather than "kach lecha," take for yourself? (You are not
making him -- he is already there! You are simply accepting him as
Why is there a change in verb between the Rav ("asei") and the
friend ("knei," acquire, implying some kind of transactional
) How do these three lessons connect together?
Why didn't the Tanna add "Acquire for yourself a student" since
we are taught (Ta'anith 7a) "I have learned from my students more than
from my teachers and peers."
After we were taught how a person is supposed to perfect his home,
something to which he is closest, we are now taught how a person is
supposed to perfect his relationship with other people with whom he is
close. A Rav and a friend are very close to a person, although they
are out of his house, and not as closely attached to him as those who
dwell in his house. The Mishnah is in order of closeness: One's Rav,
followed by one's friend, followed by other people.
The Rav referred to in this Mishna is not one's primary Rav and
final authority. Rather it is referring to one who YOU make into one
of your teachers, even if on his own he may not be up to that standard.
If it is someone from whom you can learn, you are being instructed to
make in to one of your teachers.
The friend you are being encouraged to "acquire" is also referring
to one who may not up to the standard of being considered your peer.
Yet "two is better than one" (Koheleth 4:9) and you should expend the
resources necessary to attach yourself to friends. The word "knei,"
acquire, is appropriate for the process of relating to friends, since
each one is frequently doing a favor or providing needed resources for
the other, and as such their is an element of mutual "acquisition" in
their friendship. But the word "acquire" is totally inappropriate to
describe how one relates to a Rav, since the student does not "own" the
Rav (members of the Board of Directors of Shuls -- take note!), and the
Tanna uses the word "asei."
Finally, the Mishna closes with the lesson not to distance
yourself from a person because of an ambiguous act that you see him do.
It does not add "acquire students" since it is inappropriate for a
person to "acquire" students by setting himself as more important than
he really is and "buying" students to come and learn from him.
Man does not stand alone in this world, but is supposed to be
connected with others. This Mishna is teaching us how to behave with
three strata of people with whom we interact: People that are greater
than us (Rav), those who are our peers (chaver), and those who are on a
lesser level than we are (kol adam).
Implementation of the lessons of this Mishnah grow out of love and
desire to be closer to others. Rather than saying that this person is
not worthy of being your Rav, a teacher for you, you make him in to
your Rav. Your desire to learn from and become closer to him motivates
you to do it. Rather than saying that this person is not worthy of
being in your peer group, you make an effort to bring him closer to you
as a friend. Finally, you don't look for reasons to distance yourself
from others, but rather you look to judge them favorably, in order to
remain closer to them. This is a branch of "Love of G-d." In the
previous Mishna, we were taught about love of wise people, which is
man's primary manifestation in this world of love of G-d. This is
followed by our Mishna which teaches about loving others on lower
spiritual levels, but which also emanates from a love of G-d,
recognizing others as G-d's creations, and the desire to give to them
and to be close to them.
Another connection between the three elements of the Mishna is as
follows. We want you attachment to your Rav and to your friend to be a
long-lasting one. The closer you are to someone and the longer you
spend with him, the more likely you are to uncover faults, or at least
be in situations that lend themselves to various interpretations. You
are likely to think that your Rav or friend did something wrong to you,
and this reaction will lead to distance between you. So the Tanna has
taught us to judge these people favorably, preventing dissension and
division between you.
(A word of clarification about the concept "havei dan kol adam
l'kaf zechuth," judge every person favorably. There is a misconception
that we are required to look at clearly wrong actions and make up any
kind of unlikely scenario to justify the action of the person we
observe. For example, when we see cars driving down the road on
Shabbos in Israel, we are supposed to say to ourselves that the person
driving is probably a doctor, on his way to life-saving surgery, or the
woman in the car is about to give birth. I don't believe there is any
source in the Gemara and Rishonim for such an interpretation of judging
people favorably. The law is said in relation to situations that are
ambiguous, where you are required to give the person the benefit of the
doubt, assuming the favorable side of the ambiguity rather than the
negative side. But one does not have to invent unreasonable
explanations to justify behavior that is clearly wrong. You can and
should say that the person didn't realize how seriously wrong his
behavior was. But behavior which is clearly wrong has to be viewed
that way. Our Mishna is teaching us about behavior that has multiple
interpretations, with the positive interpretation being equal to the