Sustaining Community

Discussion Forum

Living & Learning

Challenge Scenario

Working for the sake of heaven means the person’s “objective must not be self-aggrandizement, acquiring honor or wealth or power or pride,” said medieval commentator Aknin. The idea that people working for the community must have integrity, putting the good of the people in the organization and those it serves as their top priority was also Confucius’ standard for good leadership. Some organizations foster the right kind of leadership and service. When you are new in a leadership job, what should you do to see that subordinates are encouraged to act “for the sake of heaven?” If you are working in an organization, and the bosses are asking for what you think will hurt the organization, or those they serve, what should you do?


Experts on leadership point to vision, people-management skills, and ability to handle finances well as key skills.    

1. The vision for an organization gives its top priorities, and also its principles, its boundaries that people should not violate. The priorities will vary with the organization, but always need to be clearly defined and communicated.

2. The challenge of effective management is to choose good people,  motivate them, and keep them from destructive quarrels. Expressing appreciation, emphasizing principles and the vision, and correcting those who fall short without creating animosity are all key skills.

3. In managing finances, as in other aspects of managment, a key is help form effective delegation of tasks, combined with diligent oversight.     

Your Experience

Have you been in a leadership role? What did you find the biggest challenge, and how did you deal with it? As a follower, employee or volunteer, what have been your experience with good and poor leaders? How did this show itself? What was the biggest problem that a poor leader posed? How did you deal with it?

Modern Commentary – Berkson

...Let all who work 

Scholars were community leaders, and this mishnah gives guidelines for leadership. Leaders should work “for the sake of Heaven”—that is, unselfishly serve the community. If they serve the community this way, their work will be aided by “the merit of their ancestors,” and God will reward them even if they cannot accomplish all they strive for.

This mishnah raises the issue of the best way to structure organized Jewish religion, and the proper activities of lay leadership. The ideal of working “for the sake of Heaven” means that individuals set aside their personal agendas, and work for the benefit of the whole community. But as Rabbi Edwin Friedman pointed out, people tend to see the synagogue as a quasi-family, and to bring in and act out issues that existed in their original family. How can lay leadership stay on track in acting “for the sake of Heaven,” while avoiding personal agendas and quarrels? Perhaps one key is in the earlier part of the mishna 2:2: studying Torah and applying it to the issues that boards face. 

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Classic Commentaries – Goldin

Do not withdraw from the community.

Every assembly which is for the sake of heaven will in the end endure; but one which is not for the sake of heaven will not endure in the end.

"Do not withdraw from the community." 
Instead share in their burdens imposed by the government, in their fasts, in their prayers. Thus indeed Mordecai sent to Esther: Think not with thyself that thou shalt escape in the king’s house, more than all the Jews. For if thou altogether boldest thy peace at this time, then will relief and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place, but thou and thy father’s house will perish (Esther 4:13-14). And we have learned in the Talmud (Taanit 11a): If one withdraws from the community, the two ministering angels who accompany a person . . . lay their hands on his head and say: May So-and-so who withdrew from the community not be witness to the comfort of the community (Vitry).
A man should not entertain views far different from those of his community. But if he sees that the opinions the people of his city hold are corrupt, and he is worried lest if he concur with them he might adopt their course, walk in their evil ways, and thus be driven from the way of life, then he must leave their midst immediately, and go to another city the conduct of whose inhabitants is proper, whose views are those right views in accordance with the principle of the via media. If he has found no such city close by, let him go to one far off. If he has found no such city at all, let him go off to the wilderness where there are no human beings, as Jeremiah, may he rest in peace, said: Oh that I were in the wilderness, in a lodging-place of wayfaring men (Jeremiah 9:1) (Aknin).

Praying together with the congregation is more praise¬worthy than praying by oneself. For when a man prays by himself, he might include in his prayers some petition which could be detrimental either to another individual or to the public. Whereas, when the congregation is at prayer, it asks only for those things which are of benefit to everybody. . . . Moreover, by way of parable: in a bundle of reeds, each single reed is weak and easily breakable; but as part of the bundle, a person is unable to break it (Duran).

"Every assembly which is for the sake of heaven will in the end endure..."

What kind of assembly was for the sake of Heaven? For example, the assembly of Israel before Mount Sinai. And what kind was not for the sake of Heaven? For example, the as¬sembly of the Generation of Dispersion (ARN).

That is, where men have gotten together to study and to teach (Vitry).
Any human assembly for the sake of Heaven, that is, with the aim of discovering truth and adopting the course of good and uprightness—because it is truth and goodness and up¬rightness that is sought—will never be broken up. For in such an assembly everybody has only one wish, to discover the truth; . . . thus they all have one object in view (Aknin).
Any assembly for the study of Torah and for the practice of good works is called an assembly for the sake of Heaven (Rabbi Jonah).

When people get together merely to lord it over one another (Rabbi Jonah).
A person’s relations with his fellow man must not be based on the desire to triumph over him. This ruins the whole rela¬tionship and is the undoing of truth. For when a person has in mind only triumph over his fellow, he strives to establish his own point of view or his own wish, regardless of whether it is true or false. ... When in any group victory is the motive, one person does not listen to the other one, and controversy takes place (Meiri).

More: PDF

From: The Living Talmud: The Wisdom of the Fathers and its Classical Commentaries selected and translated with an Essay by Judah Goldin (Yale University Press, 1955) Used by Permission.