Contact Us
Kabbalah illustrates the connection between exile and the constricted flow of wisdom.

1:11 Scholars, Be Cautious

1:11 Scholars, Be Cautious

 Email
1:11 Scholars, Be Cautious
Kabbalah illustrates the connection between exile and the constricted flow of wisdom.

"Avtalyon says: Scholars, be cautious with your words, for you may incur the penalty of exile and be banished to a place of putrid water…." (Avot 1:11)

While a simple reading implies that the Torah scholar will be exiled, it is also possible that the phrase "that you may incur the penalty of exile" refers to the immediately preceding antecedent "your words".

As long as the Jewish people were exiled, G‑d's most intimate form of speech…was inaccessible….

How can words be exiled? To appreciate this concept, we recall the renowned statement of the Zohar (Vaeira 25b) that the Divine Word (dibur) went into exile during the period of Egyptian slavery and was not totally liberated until the Giving of the Torah when G‑d spoke directly to every Jew (as in the phrase "vayedaber Havaya").

As long as the Jewish people were exiled, G‑d's most intimate form of speech, known as "dibur", was inaccessible to the vast majority of the Jewish nation. Only in the unique atmosphere of Sinai, when Israel had achieved spiritual as well as physical freedom, could G‑d speak again, with the intimacy and clarity of "dibur".

In the same vein, the Mishna is admonishing the Torah scholar to weigh carefully every word, since he may be living in an era in which the words of Torah are in exile, i.e. easily misunderstood. While in previous generations a scholar could presume that his audience would appreciate and comprehend his words, that assumption is no longer necessarily true.

[Anthologized and adapted by Yosef Stern in "Pirkei Avos - With Ideas and Insights of the Sfas Emes and other Chassidic Masters"(Mesorah Publications, ltd)]

Rabbi Yehuda Aryeh Leib Alter (1847 - 5 Shvat 1905), known as the Sefas Emes after the title of the extensive collection of his writings, succeeded his grandfather the Chidushei Ha- Rim to become the Rebbe of the Gur-Alter dynasty at the tender age of 19. Over the decades, he became one of the most influential Chasidic leaders in Europe. His followers numbered in the tens of thousands.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
 Email
Start a Discussion
1000 characters remaining
Related Topics

The larger, bold text is the direct translation of the classic text source.

The smaller, plain text is the explanation of the translator/editor.
Text with broken underline will provide a popup explanation when rolled over with a mouse.