Wisdom of the Sages (Pirkei Avot)


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)



Insights for Introductory Mishnah

"Every Jew has a Share in The World to Come…"

The "World to Come" of which the introduction to our study of Pirkei Avot speaks is the era of the Resurrection of the Dead (where souls will once again be united with physical bodies), not Gan Eden (where the soul is without a physical body).

Gan Eden is acquired as a reward for learning Torah, and is therefore connected with the soul and its intellectual powers. Since there are great differences between one person and another in terms of understanding Torah, therefore the reward which accrues is not equal for everyone (and some do not even enter Gan Eden at all).

The World to Come, however, is given to every Jew - "All Israel have a share in the World to Come" - for it is given to a Jew as his reward for fulfilling the mitzvot with his physical body. Every Jew had the possibility of fulfilling the practical mitzvot, and indeed, every Jew does fulfill mitzvot, so that even "sinners are as full of mitzvot as a pomegranate is full of seeds," as our Sages declare.

(Biurim l'Pirkei Avot)

"Every Jew has a part …"

The mishna does not state 'all of Klal Yisrael will merit a portion in the World to Come, but rather is says "yesh" - they presently enjoy a portion in Olam HaBa. Olam HaBa -- The World to Come is not merely relegated to the distant future but rather is something that very much exists in the present. Almost innately, every Jew is assured of a portion in Olam HaBa which can only be fortified as a result of committing certain grave sins. The fact that Olam HaBa is almost an innate right of every Jew is not only comforting but also helps us appreciate the gravity of those sins which could cause us (Heaven forefend) to forfeit our portion in the World to Come. By committing such heinous aveirot, we are not merely giving up a promised reward but are also yielding something that is already in our hands.

Sfas Emes (6)

"… a part to [in] the World to Come"

It is significant that the mishna does not say, in the World to Come, which would refer to the eventual reward attained after our life on earth. Instead, it says to the World to Come. Even in This World, every action of the Jew is blessed with the aura of Olam HaBa. This Divine gift is not always apparent. However, if one penetrates beneath the surface one detects a certain sanctity in every deed of the Torah-true Jew. This inner kedusha is derived from the sacred radiance of the World to Come that is enjoyed in some small measure in This World. In fact, the primary purpose of man's creation is that by virtue of his proper conduct he can elicit the latent Divine Spark that propels this material world. By doing so he can in some measure help to perfect the world.

Maggidei HaEmes (6)

"...they are the stem of My plantings..."

The stem is that straight, vertical branch which first comes out of the ground, before it develops side branches that extent in different directions. Eternity is symbolized by the straight and true, and hence the nation of Israel is called the "stem of my plantings," for it is directed towards G-d. That early trunk is the primary structure of the tree and it defines the direction of a tree's growth. This metaphor contrasts Israel with the other nations who, like side branches turning from the trunk, become sidetracked from the quest for eternity.

"...My handiwork, in which to take pride."

A finite creation such as this world does not adequately reflect G-d's greatness. Only the eternal World to Come can evince the perfection of the eternal Creator. Since Israel completes the World to Come, as its primary citizens, they are a principal part of that world's tribute to G-d's greatness.

Maharal of Prague: Pirkei Avos by Tuvia Basser (Mesorah)

"...In which to take pride."
Since every Jew’s soul is an actual part of G-d, each and every Jew — man, woman, and child — praises G-d by virtue of his very existence. “Even the sinners of Israel are filled with mitzvos as a pomegranate is filled with seeds.”
This teaching serves as an introduction to each chapter of Pirkei Avot because Pirkei Avot focuses on ethical development and personal refinement. When one becomes aware of the essential
G-dly core of every individual, one appreciates: a) the necessity to refine oneself so that this essential quality can be expressed, and b) that every individual, regardless of his present level of development, has the potential to achieve such refinement.

Lubavitcher Rebbe (1)

Insights for Concluding Mishnah

“…To make the people of Israel meritorious…”
Lezakot, translated as ‘to make meritorious’, also means ‘to refine’. The goal of the Torah and its mitzvos is to refine the Jewish people. This intention is manifest in Pirkei Avot, which teaches us to lift our ethical conduct above the limits of human wisdom and cultivate it according to G-d’s desire.

Lubavitcher Rebbe (1)



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