Pirkei Avot 2:6 - In a place where there are no men... be a man!

This post is dedicated in memory of Etya Sarah bat Yitzchak ha-Levi. May it be an aliyah for                                                            her neshama. 
Elisheva Maline

Hillel used to say, "An empty headed man cannot be G-d fearing just as an ignorant man cannot be pious; the bashful man cannot learn nor can the quick tempered one teach; one who devotes himself greatly to trade will not become wise. And in a place where there are no men, strive to be a man!"

In mishna 2:5 Hillel, the post second temple sage, emphasized the importance of being part of a community, "Don't separate from the community." Then, in mishna 2:6 he added, "In a place where there are no men, be a man!" The correlation that may be drawn from these two statements is such that while the ideal is to stick to the status quo, if the people around him become corrupt he must object. 

Nowadays, when the word man connotes more than the classic image, one must redefine this term if he is to draw a conclusion from the directive, "In a place where there are no men, be a man." After all, how can one be a man if he does not know what a 'man' is? Some people will insist that a man is brawny and has golden good looks. Others will say that no, he is someone who isn't afraid of relating to his emotions. At the end of the day, everyone will agree that a man is someone who takes charge when the situation calls for action. He isn't afraid to to stand up for what is good and right in the face of catastrophe even if this means that he must be the single unit in a ratio of a thousand. 

Take a look at the city of Gotham (theoretically) where the streets are rife with corruption. The citizens engaged in illegal activity are either outright criminals or breaking the law underhandedly (corrupt government officials). Whoever has the option chooses to leave his home for less adverse real estate elsewhere. For the ones that must remain, the need for a man who will stand up for the helpless classes is imperative. Incidentally, the man who steps in for the "voiceless" citizens is Bruce Wayne's Batman. He does battle with the Joker, Two-Face, Poison Ivy, and when he smells trouble brewing, he stands up to the corrupt citizens of Gotham as well.

According to Judaism being a man is about being, what we call in Yiddish, a mensch, or a good person.  Hillel tells us that being a good person, as in, behaving with integrity, kindness and generosity etc., goes hand in hand with being a good Jew. 

In order to be a good Jew, one must follow the laws of G-d properly. One of the central principles in Judaism is having reverence for G-d. The only way to work on that virtue is through the pursuit of Torah study. This ensures that he will not purposely come to sin. Unfortunately, it is impossible for a person who doesn't make time for learning to be G-d fearing. Indeed, without wholesome subjects to fill it with, a hollow brain usually breeds shallow thinking as well as an attraction to vain, or worse, self destructive pursuits (The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde). 

The same idea holds true with piety. After one masters how to observe the mitzvot (commandments), his choosing to be pious allows him to take his mitzvah observance to the next level. A person who knows close to nothing obviously cannot serve Hashem [G-d] with piety. As an aside, since Torah is objectively good, one has to avoid changing what he sees as truth today to a different perspective tomorrow. If he wants to know how to serve G-d with righteousness, he must first learn! I'll give a famous illustration of this point. During his stint in the yeshiva (place for Torah learning) Rabbi Akiva stumbled upon a dead Jew while walking along a deserted road. He had already been learning for quite some time and therefore understood that the laws of meth mitzvah (the commandment to bury the dead) required his taking action. He picked up and carried the corpse four miles until he reached the nearest cemetery. Later, when he related his heroic efforts to his teachers, Rabbi Eliezar and Rabbi Yehoshua, they told him, to his consternation, that he should have buried the cadaver where he found it. "For every step you walked with the corpse you are reckoned as guilty as if you shed his blood." Rabbi Akiva answered, "If at a time that I intended to act with merit I incurred guilt... how much worse would it have been for me if I had not intended to act with piety?" 

He stayed in learning for the next twenty-four years. 

How can we apply the above ideas to our lives? The term good is constantly in flux with the times. What society [at least, in America] considered murder during the fifties, for instance, is considered perfectly legitimate in the twenty-first century. The media, too, entertains in ways which were not considered morally acceptable less than thirty years ago. But, does anyone care? Does anyone notice that there is an issue? How can we, with our personal definitions of right and wrong, keep our feet planted on the ground in a roiling sea of chaos that is the daily paper, the news and social media? Learn to understand what it is that you believe in before you open your mouth to make a point. Then, if you remain firm in your beliefs, people will start molding themselves to fit your ideals.

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