In Pirkei Avot 2:5, Hillel suggest, "In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man."

One idea that I infer is that if you are in a place where there are no leaders, you should attempt to be the leader. So, if you are in a place where there are no Torah leaders or Talmidei Chachamim, and you are able to be one and be the community leader, you should do this.

However, this notion seems to conflict with Rav Nehora's precept in Avot 4:14 that says that one should exile himself to a place of Torah.

My question is both in terms of understanding these two seemingly contradictory precepts as well as its applications today.

If someone currently lives in a place where there is no Torah leadership of any form, and the majority of Jews living there are secular, unobservant and uneducated, and this person feels that he could establish a Torah community and be the leader, should he attempt to do this, in line with Hillel's advice? Or, should he follow Rav Nehora's advice and go to an already established place?

Perhaps, an analogous situation, today, is when Chaba"d decides to send a shaliach who, say, has lived near 770 and they send him to a place that has no Torah leadership to establish a new community.

In summary, In viewing these two precepts, when should one enact one precept vs. the other?

  • Maybe that bediavad if you need to live in a place without leader and or no example for Jews, you need to try to make your best for the community
    – kouty
    May 9, 2019 at 19:32
  • Why does this bother you? Avot is a compendium of different approaches, for it contains no arguments. it is not a Halachic book. Each Rabbi presents his approach: some value personal Limud Torah and some value educating others. May I remind you that Torah does not set the priorities of the Mitzvos (usually) some may hold "ת'ת כנגד כולם" and some may hold "צדקה וגמ'ח".
    – Al Berko
    May 9, 2019 at 20:04
  • I would recommend rewriting the title to something like "being a Torah authority" vs "subduing to other Torah authority".
    – Al Berko
    May 9, 2019 at 20:07
  • can we learn from Yitro that left Moses and went back to Midian? Seems very relevant.
    – Al Berko
    May 9, 2019 at 20:10
  • 1
    @AlBerko " it is not a Halachic book' - There's nothing within my question that suggests that it is. It's asking for a practical application of how one should behave and when to follow one idea vs. another. However, view judaism.stackexchange.com/q/37914/5275 which seems to suggest that many parts of Avot might actually be halacha.
    – DanF
    May 9, 2019 at 20:23

1 Answer 1


I personally think that the answer is pretty simple. It doesn’t say to purposely go to ‘a place where there are no men’. But if you do happen to be in that situation, remember to be a man and act properly, and as a role model to others. It’s best to remain in an environment of Torah of course, unless specifically going out on shlichus. Also, throughout pirkei avos, it simply teaches us life lessons on all aspects in life, it never says to pick one side over another. After all, from the first part of the second perek, we learn to keep a balance in life. These are my thoughts on your question, I hope what I’ve said may be helpful to you.

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