Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Leaders are judged by followers

Garnel Ironheart asked: "Important question: is a leader to be judged by his words/actions or his followers?"

This question is dealt with in Pirkei Avos (5:19) which indicates that a we judge a person by his students or the consequences of his beliefs and actions.
ר' צדוק הכהן מלובלין - ליקוטי מאמרים עמוד קעו

והיינו על דרך שאמרו (אבות ה', י"ט) מה בין תלמידיו של אברהם אבינו לתלמידיו של בלעם הרשע שההכרה בתלמידים וכן בבנים,

Avos (5:19): Whoever possesses these three things, he is of the disciples of abraham, our father; and [whoever possesses] three other things, he is of the disciples of balaam, the wicked. the disciples of Abraham, our father, [possess] a good eye,an humble spirit and a lowly soul. the disciples of Balaam, the wicked, [possess] an evil eye, a haughty spirit and an over-ambitious soul. What is [the difference] between the disciples of Abraham, our father, and the disciples of Balaam, the wicked. The disciples of Abraham, our father, enjoy [their share] in this world, and inherit the world to come, as it is said: that I may cause those that love me to inherit substance and that I may fill their treasuries,but the disciples of Balaam, the wicked, inherit gehinnom, and descend into the nethermost pit, as it is said: but thou, o G-d, wilt bring them down to the nethermost pit; men of blood and deceit shall not live out half their days; but as for me, I will trust in thee.


  1. See also Avos 1:11:
    אבטליון אומר חכמים הזהרו בדבריכם שמא תחובו חובת גלות ותגלו למקום מים הרעים וישתו התלמידים הבאים אחריכם וימותו ונמצא שם שמים מתחלל

    See the Pirush HaRambam there.

    No one seems to apply any real culpability to Antigonos Ish Socho for what happened to his talmidim. This may be evidence in favor of the opinion of the Rashbam (Bava Basra 115b) that it was not Tzadok and Baisos themselves that misunderstood Antigonus, but the students of Tzadok and Baisus who began the error. (This would be contra to the Rambam, Avos 1:3, who says the error began with Tzadok and Baisus themselves.)

  2. Isn't it more straightforward to read the mishnah as saying you can judge who is a true talmid by their middos? Not assessing the teacher by the student, but assessing who is a student by seeing if they not only parrot the teacher, but emulate him even internally.

    Someone who looks like they have staunch emunah and set up mosedos of chessed but did so out of jealousy for another's reputation, egotism or self aggrandizement are students of Bilaam, despite appearances of emulating Avraham. And their fate is accordingly.



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