Pirkei Avot -- Chapter 4

Quotes, as indicated by number at end after author's name, are from:
(1) In the Paths of Our Fathers by Eliyahu Tauger (Kehot)
(2) Fathers and Sons by Tuvia Kaplan (Targum Press)
(3) Pirkei Avos in the Light of Chassidus by Yekutiel Green (Author)
(4) Tzava'at Harivash by Jacob Immanuel Schochet (Kehot)
(5) The Baal Shem Tov on Pirkey Avot by
Charles Wengrov (Inst. for Mishnah Research)
(6) Pirkei Avos by the Sfas Emes and other Gerer Rabbis by Rabbi Y. Stern(Artscroll)

(7) Midrash Shmuel by Rabbi Shmuel Di Uzeda of 16th century Tsfat, as translated in (3) above
(8) Maharal of Prague: Pirkei Avos by Tuvia Basser (Mesorah)

New Insight

Mishna 10

"Be of humble spirit before every person"

Every person is unique in one way or another. In that unique quality, he is superior to everyone else, and therefore everyone else needs him. A person's feet, for example, are the lowest part of his body, but nevertheless have something unique which is not possessed by the head. A person's legs enable him to move from one place to another, and they give stature to his body. In this sense they complete the wholeness of the person.
"Be of humble spirit before every person" - even one who regards himself as being on the level of 'head' in comparison with his friend should be aware that without his friend he will not achieve wholeness. Hence he must seek out the quality that he is lacking, which is found wit his friend. Through self-effacement and humbleness of spirit, and recognition that all of us form a single entity - through this we become united, so that G-d's Unity can rest upon us. (However, a person who considers himself to be superior to his friend, so that the head and the foot are separated, will fall into a state of fragmentation and solitude.

Likkutei Torah, Netzavim p.44a (3)

 

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Previous Insights on Chapter 4

 

Mishnah 1

"..Who is wise? He who learns from every person.."

There are many sages who know how to learn, but not how to teach. They find it difficult to arrange their lessons in an easily understood format, or they spend too much time on introductions or matters of secondary importance, so that their students find it difficult to follow their train of thought. Who is a wise person? One who learns from and understands everyone, even a bad teacher.

Midrash Shmuel (3)

"Ben Zoma said: Who is wise? He who learns from every person, as it is stated: 'From all those who have taught me I have gained wisdom…'"

The verse states, "From all those who have taught me I have gained wisdom," whereas the Mishna adds that one must learn from every person. One must learn not only Torah from one's teachers, but also the good qualities of character and upright conduct which one discerns in any person, even if he is an ignoramus or a wicked fellow.

Maggid of Mezritch, Or Torah 115a (3)

"Who is strong? - He who subdues his evil inclination."

The Baal Shem Tov noted that it says "he who subdues," not "he who breaks" his evil inclination. For breaking the evil impulse is no act of strength at all, because in order to break it, common sense and normal intelligence, is enough - since common sense shows how necessary it is to break it. The meaning of "subduing," however, is to make use of its strengths and superior elements, as "There are abundant crops by the strength of the ox" (Prov. 14:4), and it acts with forcefulness. Hence who is strong? - He who subdues the powers of his evil impulse and uses it in holiness.

(Sefer R. Israel Baal Shem Tov) (5)

"….Who is wise? He who learns from every man…."

What emerges from the Talmud's account of Rabbi Meir's relationship to this teacher who turned heretic is (as the Talmud puts it) that "Rabbi Meir ate the content and threw away the rind." The significance of this is that we should "throw away the rind," not to listen to the evil impulse about actually sinning; but we should "eat the content": We should learn a lesson from the eagerness and enthusiasm of those who commit sinful deeds, and the eager zest of earthy people for physical pleasures. Perceiving this, we should work to achieve a like enthusiasm and eager yearning for spiritual matters.

Ben Porat Yosef (5)

 

A wise man sees other peoples’ weaknesses. Thus it would be natural for him to regard those who are less developed than he with a condescending attitude. One who is truly wise, however, focuses his attention on the positive characteristics, which every person possesses. He will surely be able to discover such positive traits for every man was created in the image of G-d, and thus possesses innate virtue. By opening himself to learn from the virtues of others, a wise man expands his horizons and enhances his own wisdom.

“Who is mighty? He who subdues his inclination.”

Might is different from physical strength. It refers to the ability to call upon inner resources of energy. The mishnah is referring not merely to one’s evil inclination, the yetser harah, but rather all of one’s natural inclinations. When a person masters his natural tendencies, he expresses true power, for exercising such mastery requires deep resources of inner strength.

“Who is rich? He who is happy with his portion”

The tendency of the wealthy is to seek to increase their assets, as our Sages have commented: “A person who possesses 100 desires 200; one who possesses 200 desires 400.” One who is truly wealthy is one who does not become caught up by such desires, but rather maintains inner peace and calm. Nor will this approach force him to sacrifice wealth. On the contrary a person at peace with himself is far more able to take advantage of opportunities that present themselves, and thus achieve success in the world at large.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe (1)


Mishna 2

"For the reward of a mitzvah is a mitzvah."

The greatest reward which can be bestowed on a person is the actual performance of the deed itself, for by way of it, he is worthy of drawing close to G-d. And the worst possible punishment that can be administered is the act of transgressing, which causes a person to become detached and remote from G-d, both in this world, and in the World to Come.

Midrash Shmuel (7)

 

I heard from my master and teacher (the Baal Shem Tov) that the meaning of this is that you can have no greater reward (for a mitzva) than this itself -- the spiritual pleasure a person has from the mitzva itself when he does it with happiness. For that is very great; and if he received no more reward than that, that alone would be enough. Consider then that in truth there is (an ultimate) limitless reward for a mitzva done with joy.

Toldot Ya'akov Yosef (5)

"..Run to do (even) an "easy" mitzvah..for the reward for a mitzvah is a mitzvah..."

Every mitzvah must be done out of love and fear of G-d, with no self-interest. Otherwise, it is called an "easy" or "light" mitzvah. Nevertheless, one must run to perform even such an imperfect mitzvah, for through its repetition he will become worthy of perfect performance. This is the meaning of "the reward for a mitzvah is a mitzvah": the reward for the repeated performance of a mitzvah is the perfect fulfillment of the mitzvah.

Rav Yissaschar Dov, the Belzer Rebbe (2)

 

The word "mitzvah" is related to the word "tzavta", an association or cleaving. The Holy One, blessed be He, gave us mitzvos in order to cleave to Him. Thus, the reward for a mitzvah is a "mitzvah", a bond with G-d. There is no greater reward than this.

Rav Nachum of Chernobyl (2)

Nothing is accomplished without Divine assistance, even mitzvos and good deeds. Therefore, the reward for a mitzvah, for one's desire to do a mitzvah, is a mitzvah: the opportunity to actually perform the mitzvah.

Rav Yehuda Leib of Gur, the Sefas Emes (2)

 


Mishnah 3

"...And nothing without its place."

G-d is called “HaMakom”, the Place, for He is omnipresent. Thus, there is nothing without its “Place”, its spark of G-dly vitality. The more we understand that there is no place for anything outside of G-d, the more He reveals to us the G-dly essence of all things.

Rav Yehudah Leib of Gur, the Sefas Emes (2)

 

"There is no man without his hour...;"

The Hebrew word for “hour” (sha’ah) also connotes turning, directing, and paying attention, as in: “To Kayin and his offering, [G-d] did not pay attention..” (Bereishis 4:5) Thus, one should never say: How can I draw the wicked to Divine service? For there is no man without his “turning”, without the potential to acknowledge the Holy One, blessed be He. In an instant, a person can direct himself to his Creator, renounce transgression, and become righteous.

Rav Yisrael, the Maggid of Koznitz (2) 

 

"...And nothing without its place."

G-d is called “HaMakom”, the Place, for He is omnipresent. Thus, there is nothing without its “Place”, its spark of G-dly vitality. The more we understand that there is no place for anything outside of G-d, the more He reveals to us the G-dly essence of all things.

Rav Yehudah Leib of Gur, the Sefas Emes (2)

 


Mishnah 4

"Whoever desecrates the Heavenly Name in secret, punishment will be meted out to him in public."

It sometimes happens that a person does not have fear of Heaven, but he does have fear of man, and he does not want his fellows to become aware of his evil. But his yetzer hara convinces him that no one will find out the truth about him. Don't believe it. There are many people whose outward conduct conceals their real inner being, but eventually a slip of the tongue, or an unintentional movement, or a misdirected glance, will reveal their essence. And all the depths of evil hidden below the surface will be revealed. Even one who sins in secret will eventually do something foolish, so that other people will become suspicious of him, and will recognize his real personality.

Kuntress "Uma'ayan" p. 93a (3)

 


Mishna 5

"..He who studies Torah in order to teach,..he who studies Torah in order to practice.."

Obviously, this is not talking about someone who doesn't intend to fulfill the mitzvot at all, for as regards such a person, G-d asks, "What right do you have do discuss My laws?" Rather, although he does observe the mitzvot, his intention in studying Torah is to teach others, so that he can make himself a crown in order to increase his own importance. His study is not lishmah, for its own sake, but nevertheless, he is given the opportunity to study and to teach, for he will eventually come to learn for the highest reason.

He who studies Torah in order to practice: A person who learns Torah lishmah places the major emphasis of his learning on practice. He is given the opportunity to study and to teach, to observe and to practice, and he will have learning as well as good deeds.

Midrash Shmuel (3)

 

“...Do not make [the torah] a crown of self-aggrandizement...”

One may not exploit the Torah for his own ends, even if he seeks only to reach great spiritual heights.  For even such aspirations are not exclusively for the sake of Heaven--they are partly for oneself!

Rav Dav Ber, the Maggid of Mezritch (2) 

 

“...Do not make [the torah] a crown...or a spade...”

Both these uses are improper.  For if one considers the Torah a crown, even though he cherishes and honors it, he becomes arrogant on its account.  If, however, one uses the Torah as a spade with which to support himself, even though he will not become arrogant- for he must humble himself  before people to earn his living-he is degrading the Torah, treating it like a mere utensil.

Rav Pinchas Horowitz, Baal HaHafla'ah (2)


Mishnah 6

"Rabbi Yose said: Whoever honors the Torah is himself given honor by men, and whoever dishonors the Torah is himself dishonored by man."

A person should take special care of his holy books. He should set aside a favored spot in his home for his books, and he should protect them with a valuable covering. When he carries them, he should not carry them as one would carry other objects, but with dignity and modesty, as if he were carrying the king's clothes in his presence.

Midrash Shmuel (7)

 


Mishnah 7

Rabbi Yishmael his son said: "[A judge] who refrains from handing down legal judgments [but instead seeks compromise between the litigants] removes from himself enmity, theft, and [the responsibility for] an unnecessary oath; but one who aggrandizes himself by [eagerly] issuing legal decisions is a fool, wicked and arrogant."
In a business dispute, the ability to accept compromise is important, for it demonstrates that an individual is able to see beyond his own position and make concessions for the sake of another person. There are, however, certain matters, such as Jewish education and Torah law, where compromise must be avoided. For the Torah is eternal, G-dly truth - containing absolute values that must not be mitigated by human notions of right and wrong.

Lubavitcher Rebbe (from L'Chaim 5767)

 

“Seeks compromise between litigants”

In a business dispute, the ability to accept compromise is important, for it demonstrates that an individual is able to see beyond his own position and make concessions for the sake of another person. There are, however, certain matters, such as Jewish education and Torah law, where compromise must be avoided. For the Torah is eternal, G-dly truth — containing absolute values that must not be mitigated by human notions of right and wrong.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe (1)


Mishna 8

“Do not judge alone…”

This principle also applies when judging oneself. A person’s self-interest blurs his perspective, so even with regard to one’s own affairs, one should always seek the counsel of another.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe (1)


Mishnah 9

 

"….Whoever neglects the Torah in wealth will ultimately neglect it in poverty"

This statement is not a curse, G-d forbid, but a prayer to the Holy One, as in the entire mishnah: Whoever fulfills the Torah in poverty, may he fulfill it in wealth. For although wealth can be very trying, this person will certainly stand the test. And whoever neglects the Torah because of wealth will continue to neglect it because of poverty. Is it not better, then, that he remain rich?

Rav Yechezkel of Kozmir (2)

"..but whoever neglects the Torah in wealth.."

If a wealthy person does not support even a single scholar with his money, it is as if he [indirectly] prevents Torah from being learned. Therefore he will be treated measure for measure, and eventually he will lose his wealth.

Midrash Shmuel (3)

 

"Whoever fulfills the Torah in poverty, will ultimately fulfill it in wealth…"

Why does the Mishna use the word fulfills rather than learns?
Fulfilling the Torah does not only mean learning it, but also the practical fulfillment of the mitzvot and positive character traits which must also be as the Torah demands.
And whoever fulfills the Torah in poverty, will ultimately fulfill it in wealth because the Torah does not remain a debtor!

Likutei Diburim [Hebrew Version] vol. 1 p. 86


"….Whoever neglects the Torah in wealth will ultimately neglect it in poverty"

This statement is not a curse, G-d forbid, but a prayer to the Holy One, as in the entire mishnah: Whoever fulfills the Torah in poverty, may he fulfill it in wealth. For although wealth can be very trying, this person will certainly stand the test. And whoever neglects the Torah because of wealth will continue to neglect it because of poverty. Is it not better, then, that he remain rich?

Rav Yechezkel of Kozmir (2)


Mishna 10

Rabbi Meir said, "If you neglect the Torah, many causes for neglecting it--b'teilim--will present themselves to you." (4:12)
The word "b'teilim" can equally mean worthless matters, of no value. This, then, is what our text would signify: If you are invited to join a study group on some aspect of our faith, perhaps your answer is, "I would love to, but I don't have the time, I am too busy, and really, I have not even a moment to myself." In short, you decide to neglect the Torah. If you do that, says Rabbi Meir, "many other valueless, worthless things can be held up against you." For what were you doing last night and the night before? If you are indeed so busy, how can you account for attending that theater performance, or the hours upon hours before the television set? For that, apparently, you had the time. For that, it would seem, you were not busy.

(Ethics from Sinai)

 

"…there is ample reward to be given you."

If you toil much in the Torah, over and above what the Holy One, blessed is He, has decreed, for He said occupy yourself, and you toiled - then there is ample reward to be given you. That is, your reward will no longer be regarded as payment which is due, but as a gift over and above payment which is due.

Midrash Shmuel (3)


"If you should neglect the [study of] Torah..."

When a person neglects Torah study, immediately all manner of worthless matters crop up for him to occupy himself with, because they are always ready and waiting to do so.

Midrash Shmuel (3)

 

"Be of humble spirit before every person"

Every person is unique in one way or another. In that unique quality, he is superior to everyone else, and therefore everyone else needs him. A person's feet, for example, are the lowest part of his body, but nevertheless have something unique which is not possessed by the head. A person's legs enable him to move from one place to another, and they give stature to his body. In this sense they complete the wholeness of the person.
"Be of humble spirit before every person" - even one who regards himself as being on the level of 'head' in comparison with his friend should be aware that without his friend he will not achieve wholeness. Hence he must seek out the quality that he is lacking, which is found wit his friend. Through self-effacement and humbleness of spirit, and recognition that all of us form a single entity - through this we become united, so that G-d's Unity can rest upon us. (However, a person who considers himself to be superior to his friend, so that the head and the foot are separated, will fall into a state of fragmentation and solitude.

Likkutei Torah, Netzavim p.44a (3)

 

"…but if you toil much in the Torah, there is ample reward to be given you."

The mishnah describes the reward received for Torah study as being ample (harbeh). This suggests that one who is immersed in Torah is compensated not only for studying, but also for the positive impact the Torah now has on his life and on all those that he has influenced.

Lev Simchah, Maggidei HaEmes (6)

 


Mishnah 11

In the name of my master and teacher (the Baal Shem Tov) I heard a noteworthy explanation: When a person sins inadvertently, without any intention or awareness, the matter can be rectified when he repents intentionally, deliberately, focusing his awareness to rise to a higher spiritual level. On the other hand, when a person sins deliberately, with full awareness, with what can he make amends? Hence the sages taught: If someone says "I will sin and repent," his is not given the ability to repent.

Toldot Ya'akov Yosef, achrey mot (5)

Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov said: "He who fulfills one mitzva (commandment) acquires for himself one advocate..."

The simple meaning of this teaching is that the fulfillment of a mitzva creates an angel that will act as an advocate for the person in his final judgment. Nevertheless, the fact that the Mishnah uses the expression "acquires" rather than "creates" implies something deeper. In addition to the angel created by each mitzva he performs, a person acquires One advocate; the One -the Holy One, Blessed Be He-- becomes an advocate for him. For every mitzva a person performs, regardless of his intent, connects him to G-d.

(Lubavitcher Rebbe)

"Every mitzva that a Jew does creates a defending angel, and every sin creates a prosecuting one."

Rabbi Zusha of Anipoli used to say: "I never saw a whole angel created by the transgression of a Jew. Every angel created by a sin is missing a limb. Every Jew has an innate belief and faith in G-d, and even if he slips and commits a sin, he immediately regrets his action, sighs, and is sorry for what he has done. These sighs have the power to maim the limbs of the resulting prosecuting angels."

(Otzar HeChasidut) (From L'Chaim #826)

 

Rabbi Zusha of Anipoli used to say: "I never saw a whole angel created by the transgression of a Jew. Every angel created by a sin is missing a limb. Every Jew has an innate belief and faith in G-d, and even if he slips and commits a sin, he immediately regrets his action, sighs, and is sorry for what he has done. These sighs have the power to maim the limbs of the resulting prosecuting angels."

(Otzar HeChasidut)


"… Repentance and good deeds are like a barrier against punishment…."

Angels also possess a body and a soul. Through the performance of the deed, the angel's body is created, and through the enthusiasm with which it is done its soul is created. [Accordingly, there are also two aspects of repentance -- regret, and confession. Through regret, the former sinner removes the soul of the accusing angel, and through the movement of his lips reciting confession, he exterminates and erases the body of evil.]

Ma'aMarei Admor HaZaken 5564; Derech Mitzvosecha p. 76 (3)



In the name of my master and teacher (the Baal Shem Tov) I heard a noteworthy explanation: When a person sins inadvertently, without any intention or awareness, the matter can be rectified when he repents intentionally, deliberately, focusing his awareness to rise to a higher spiritual level. On the other hand, when a person sins deliberately, with full awareness, with what can he make amends? Hence the sages taught: If someone says "I will sin and repent," his is not given the ability to repent.

Toldot Ya'akov Yosef, achrey mot (5)


The expression "repentance and good deeds" appears in many places in the writings of our Sages. "Good deeds" does not denote the mere fulfillment of mitzvos, nor does "repentance" merely mean lamenting one's evil deeds by rejecting sin. Rather, these expressions suggest a higher type of service: When the mitzvos a person fulfills are good and also luminous, and his repentance is of such an elevated spiritual level that through it he returns (the literal meaning of teshuvah) his soul to its root and source, then he actually succeeds in cleaving to the blessed Infinite One.

See Likkutei Torah, Derushim l'Shemini Atzeres, p. 85a (3)


Mishna 12

“Let your friend's honor be as dear to you as the reverence due your teacher”

When your colleagues humble themselves to learn from you, their humility draws upon you the Heavenly words of Torah appropriate to teach them.  Thus, although you teach them, they are the real teachers, for on their account you receive knowledge and understanding to pass on to them.

The Maggid of Koznitz (2)  

 

“Let the reverence due your teacher be as dear to you as the reverence due to Heaven”

One can learn the proper awe and reverence for his teacher from the heavens.  For the farther the moon "respectfully" keeps its distance from the sun, the more light it absorbs therefrom and the more brightly it shines.  Likewise, the greater one's awe and reverence for his teacher - that is, the greater the respectful "distance" between them - the more he can learn from him.

Rav Tzvi Elimelech of Dinov, the B'nei Yissaschar (2)


Mishna 13

"..Be cautious in study.."

Zahir, rendered as "be cautious," shares the same root as the word zohar, "radiance." A Jew should always endeavor to add radiance to his Torah study. Although the Torah is G-dly, every Jew has the potential to increase its light. This also explains the need for caution. The fact that there is a potential for increase implies that there is a possibility of error.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe (1)

 

Rabbi Shimon says: There are three crowns -- the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood, and the crown of kingship; but the crown of a good name surpasses them all.

The mishnah commences by stating that these are three crowns and yet enumerates four crowns -- Torah, priesthood, kingship and the crown of a good name. Perhaps, the term "crown of a good name" should not be perceived as a separate entity, but rather as the crown that emerges from fusing together the other three crowns. With this approach, we can now resolve the apparent contradiction between the mishnah which elevates the crown of a good name to a preeminent position and a previous mishnah (2:8) which implies that a good name (reputation), while important, is inferior to the Torah itself. Undoubtedly, Torah is superior to any single attribute. However, the crown of a good name emerging from the synthesizing of Torah, Divine service and royalty is even more significant than any one of the three crowns alone.

Maggidei HaEmes (6)

 


 

Mishna 14

'Rabbi Nehorai said: Exile yourself to a place of Torah, and do not say that [Torah] will come after you, that your colleagues will establish it in your possession; and do not rely on your own understanding."

Exile yourself to your Torah teacher's place of learning and study with him personally, for only then will your intellect join with his. Do not think you can learn his teachings from your colleagues, for then your intellect will join only with theirs. And lest you think that, through your colleagues, you will somehow connect with the teacher's soul yourself, the mishna concludes: "do not rely on your own understanding."


Rav Yisrael, the Maggid of Koznitz (2)

 


 

Mishnah 15

"Rabbi Yannai said: We are incapable of understanding either the well-being of the wicked or the sufferings of the righteous."

We are incapable (ein beyadeinu) can also be translated as "we do not recall" - we have forgotten, we do not pay attention to the well-being of the wicked or the sufferings of the righteous. If we indeed paid proper attention to these matters, we would have been redeemed long ago.
(Midrash Shmuel)

"..Be a tail among lions rather than a head among foxes.."

Any official receives his true authority from those below him, his constituents. Any desire for supremacy therefore indicates that one's pleasure and satisfaction come from below. By seeking authority, one thinks he is rising in stature, but in fact he is lowering himself. Thus, a person should always try to raise himself to new heights, but only by being a tail among lions rather than a head among foxes.

Rav Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezritch (2)


Mishna 16

"This world is like an entrance hall leading to the World-to-Come. Prepare yourself in the entrance hall so that you will be able to enter the banquet hall."

Prepare yourself in the entrance hall: This is a physical world and the World to Come is spiritual, two complete opposites. If a person attains the level of comprehending
G-dly intellect within the garments of human thought, and he longs for
G-dliness, and he delights in fulfilling Torah and mitzvot, then this world serves as an entrance hall to the banquet hall -- the World to Come.

Ma'amarim, Yiddish p. 68 (3)

 

The "entrance hall" represents the temporal life of commerce and other physical needs. The "banquet hall" symbolizes one's precious time for Torah, prayer, mitzvos, and good deeds. Thus, says the mishnah, guard your true self in the "entrance hall" :even when you are burdened with temporal affairs, cleave to G-d. This devotion is the best preparation for entering the "banquet hall," where you deal with eternal matters.

Rav Avraham of Slonim.(2)

 


Mishnah 17

"…Better one hour of bliss in the World to Come than the entire life of this world."

In response to the question posed by a great sage that the pleasures of the World to Come, however sublime, are delayed while the physical rewards of This World are far more immediate, the Kotzker Rebbe made this observation: This question is only valid from the temporal perspective of this physical world where we can only grasp what is immediately obvious. From the timeless perspective of the World to Come, no distinction exists between delayed reward and the promise of immediate payment.

Maggidei HaEmes (6)

Repentance and Good Deeds

According to the ordinary perception, the function of teshuvah is to compensate for past faults. Where this it's only function, the order of the mishnah should have been reversed, with "good deeds" preceding "teshuvah."

This would imply that a person's life work is the performance of good deeds, with teshuvah operating only when there is a need to compensate for error. By placing teshuvah first, the mishnah indicates that the service of G-d through teshuvah takes precedence. For teshuvah means "return," the connection of the soul to its G-dly core. This aspect of teshuvah is of universal relevance, applying even to those who have not sinned.

It is teshuvah of this nature that makes our deeds "good" and grants them luminance; i.e., it endows them with a higher level of good than they possessed in their own right. For the intense yearning for a connection with G-d which characterized the drive to teshuvah invigorates and elevates every aspect of our observance of the Torah.

Sefer HaSichos 5749 (1)

"Better one hour of repentance and good deeds than all of life of the World to Come…"

A Jew knows that whenever he performs a mitzvah, even if it is beyond his comprehension, he brings satisfaction to the Creator, may He be blessed, this knowledge adds to this sense of fulfillment and delight in the mitzvah. Thus, repentance and good deeds, which bring satisfaction to the Creator, are better than the World to Come, where we experience a revelation of G-d but can no longer be a source of satisfaction for Him.

Rav Shmuel of Lubavitch (2)


Mishnah 18

"Do not comfort him while his dead lies before him.."
The concept of descent for the sake of ascent is ingrained in the fabric of our existence. The soul has its source in the spiritual realm, and descends to this material plane because this will enable it to achieve a deeper bond with G-d in the spiritual realms after death.

By the same token, the period of mourning is clearly a phase of descent, but throught it - and this is its purpose - one is able to ascend to a higher rung than was experienced before. Nevertheless, much striving and effort is required for a person to actually feel, while in the midst of a phase of descent, that his downward thrust is intended solely for the purpose of ascent.

Thus should be the intent of those who comfort mourners - to help them come to such a realization. While a person's dead lies before him, however, this is impossible, for then his feelings of grief are too powerful to be overcome.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe (1)

 


Mishnah 19

"Do not rejoice when your enemy falls..."

The mishnah is referring to the evil inclination, for a person has no greater enemy. When, with Divine help, you overcome your evil inclination, do not rejoice, for it can always return as ferociously as before.

Rav Yehuda Leib of Gur, the Sefas Emes (2)

 

Although any transgressor is "your enemy," do not rejoice in his fall. For you must love every Jew, hating only the evil within him.

Rav Yisrael, the Maggid of Koznitz (2)

 


Mishnah 20

"If one learns as a child…"

One should learn as a child learns, with youthful zest. Each time one learns, it should be as if he is born anew.

Rav Yitzchak Meir of Gur (2)

 

"He who studies Torah as an old man, to what can he be compared? To ink written on paper that has been erased."

The first clause of this mishnah is readily understandable. Emphasizing the advantage of studying when young will encourage a person to make most of his childhood years, and gain as much Torah knowledge as possible. Why, though, does the mishnah continue, stressing the shortcomings of studying when older? What positive lesson can be derived from this?

The point of the mishnah is that age has a meaning beyond that expressed on one's passport. There are childlike traits of humility, openness and creative spontaneity that should be nurtured throughout one's lifetime. When a person displays these traits, he will succeed in the study of Torah.

When, by contrast, a person puts an emphasis on wisdom in its own right, his approach becomes rigid and self-contained, for he will learn only what he already appreciates as right, and this prevents him from apprehending the infinite dimensions of G-d's Torah.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe (1)

 


 

Mishnah 21

"Rabbi Elazar HaKappar said: Envy, passion, and honor-seeking drive a person from the world."

These three things cause a person to lose his judgment and common sense. When this happens, it is as if he had died and been erased from the world.

Midrash Shmuel in the name of R. M. Almoshnino (3)

 

"Envy, passion and honor-seeking drive a person from the world"

Adam (person, man) - this signifies the Godly soul, the Nefesh HaElokis. Through envy, passion and honor-seeking, the animal soul dominates the G-dly soul. This can even be to the degree that it removes the G-dly soul from this world - his service of the heart is insufficiently powerful to draw down G-dliness into and illuminate his portion in this world.


See Toras Shmuel 5536, ch. 126 (3)


Mishna 22

"……for you were created against your will, and you were born against your will, you live against your will, and you will die against your will…"

When the soul recognizes the advantages of the physical body, it does not wish to part from it -- "you will die against your will" -- and this feeling is genuine. So too, a person should genuinely feel "you live against your will" -- his delight should be in G-dly matters, and not in physical pleasures. Those things which are necessary for his existence in this world should not be used to fulfill his natural physical appetites. Rather they should be treated as only necessary, as if he is forced to use them, as the Mishna states "you live against your will."

Ma'amarim 5696, p. 133 (3)

"Against your will you live and …die, and against your will you will ultimately give a judgment and a reckoning."

A person should relate to his physical needs and desires against his will, i.e. only out of necessity. By virtue of this compulsion, he remains alive. A person's involvement with spiritual matters, however, must be by choice. For if one learns Torah and performs mitzvot against his will, by virtue of this compulsion, he is considered dead. Concerning these two types of compulsion, you must ultimately give a judgment and a reckoning of which you chose.

Rav Chaim of Kosov (2)

"..All is according to the account.."

Many small coins eventually add up to a large sum. So too, many minor transgressions add up to a large sum. Some authorities explain that each person is called to account according to the level and holiness of his soul, and is punished accordingly.

Kuntress Uma'ayan p. 83 (3)


 

 

 


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