Pirkei Avot, Chapter 2:3


מסכת אבות פרק ב

ב,ג  הוו זהירין ברשות–שאין מקרבין לו לאדם, אלא לצורך עצמן:  נראין כאוהבין בשעת הנאתן, ואין עומדין לו לאדם בשעת דוחקו.

Be cautious with the people who govern, for they draw a man near in friendship only for their own purposes. They show themselves as friends when it is to their benefit, but they do not stand by a man in his hour of difficulty.


This mishna relates to Rabban Gamliel’s context. He is probably speaking from his own personal knowledge and the wide experience that his father, Rabbi Yehuda ha-Nasi, had with Rome. The Talmud and the Mishna both tell of Rabbi Yehuda ha-Nasi’s lifelong friendship with Roman emperors. In the historical context, the Romans approached Rabbi Yehuda ha-Nasi repeatedly for advice which he freely gave, but when he needed help it was not forthcoming. It is this that underlies the above mishna.

Interestingly, the Pirkei Avot Chapter 1:10, Shemaya advised to “despise rulership”. In contrast Rabban Gamliel tells us here that the people who govern can be useful and that a relationship with them is important; however, one should be cautious when dealing with the rulers.


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