Do Not Scorn Anyone

Avot (4:3) | Yisrael Bankier | 4 days ago

The Mishnah (4:3) teaches:

[Ben Azai] used to say: Do not scorn (baz) anyone, and do not dismiss anything; for there is no individual who does not have his hour, and there is no thing that does not have its place.

Deriding any individual is contemptible. This point is made clear in Mishlei (14:21): "He who despises his friend is a sinner, but who favours the humble – fortunate is he." However, the Mishnah then following with "for there is no individual who has not his hour" give us pause for thought.

The Rashbatz warns that even if an individual appears powerless do not underestimate him and ensure you cause him no harm. He cites the Midrash (Midrash Raba Toldot 63:8) to reinforce this point. The story is told of Dicloyatinos (Diocletian?) who, in his early years herded pigs in Tiveria. When he would come close to the Beit Midrash of Rebbi, children would harass him. Time passed and he became Caesar. Remembering his past, he placed a demand on the Rabbis that was impossible to fulfil. Nevertheless, due to several miracles, they succeeded. Dicloyatinos then rebuke them, asking that since your G-d performs miracle, you think it is fine to deride a king. The Chachamim responded that we derided Dicloyatinos the sheep herder, yet we serve Dicloyatinos the king. He nonetheless admonished them that they should still never degrade anyone, even of small stature.

One may however ask, deriding anyone is bad. Pointing to the potential repercussions that might occur when they "have their hour" appears unnecessary.

The Bartenura explains the Mishnah slightly differently, "do not belittle anyone thinking, how can they harm me?" This appears consistent with the Meiri who explains that, do not treat another's hatred toward you lightly for they may have the opportunity to harm you. The difference here is that the Mishnah is not providing a reason not harm another, for that is obvious. It is rather not to underestimate the danger of animosity.

The Tifferet Yisrael however explains the Mishnah in a different manner. The Mishnah is teaching that one should not belittle the importance of anyone in this world, irrespective of their stature or even wickedness. This approach fits in the with the rest of the Mishnah that appears to provide the same lesson regarding any object in this world. The commentators cite the famous Midrash where David HaMelech questioned the necessity of three things that he felt had no purpose in the world, yet eventually relied on them to save his own life. The Tifferet Yisrael explains similarly that when it comes to people, questioning their importance is tantamount to questioning Hashem's wisdom. The fact that Hashem has given them space to exist, means that He believes that they have a purpose to be here.

R' Kluger explains that the Mishnah can be understood to mean, "do not degrade yourself before any person". He explains that it is forbidden for a talmid chacham degrade himself before one that is unlearned, even out of humility.

Combining R' Kluger with the Tifferet Yisrael we can arrive at new understanding of the Mishnah. The Mishnah may be teaching that do not consider yourself as irrelevant before others. The fact that you exist means that you have a purpose, an important job to be done her in this world. In other words, citing the famous quote of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, "The day you were born, Hashem decided that the world could not exist without you."

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