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Ethics of the Fathers: Chapter Five

Ethics of the Fathers: Chapter Five

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1. The world was created with ten utterances. What does this come to teach us? Certainly, it could have been created with a single utterance. However, this is in order to make the wicked accountable for destroying a world that was created with ten utterances, and to reward the righteous for sustaining a world that was created with ten utterances.

2. There were ten generations from Adam to Noah. This is to teach us the extent of G-d's tolerance; for all these generations angered Him, until He brought upon them the waters of the Flood.

There were ten generations from Noah to Abraham. This is to teach us the extent of G-d's tolerance; for all these generations angered Him, until Abraham came and reaped the reward for them all.

3. With ten tests our father Abraham was tested and he withstood them all--in order to make known how great was our father Abraham's love [for G-d].

4. Ten miracles were performed for our forefathers in Egypt, and another ten at the sea. Ten afflictions were wrought by G-d upon the Egyptians in Egypt, and another ten at the sea. With ten tests our forefathers tested G-d in the desert, as is stated (Numbers 14:22), "They tested Me these ten times, and did not hearken to My voice."

5. Ten miracles were performed for our forefathers in the Holy Temple: No woman ever miscarried because of the smell of the holy meat. The holy meat never spoiled. Never was a fly seen in the slaughterhouse. Never did the High Priest have an accidental seminal discharge on Yom Kippur. The rains did not extinguish the wood-fire burning upon the altar. The wind did not prevail over the column of smoke [rising from the altar]. No disqualifying problem was ever discovered in the Omer offering, the Two Loaves or the Showbread. They stood crowded but had ample space in which to prostrate themselves. Never did a snake or scorpion cause injury in Jerusalem. And no man ever said to his fellow "My lodging in Jerusalem is too cramped for me."

6. Ten things were created at twilight of Shabbat eve. These are: the mouth of the earth [that swallowed Korach]; the mouth of [Miriam's] well; the mouth of [Balaam's] ass; the rainbow; the manna; [Moses'] staff; the shamir; the writing, the inscription and the tablets [of the Ten Commandments]. Some say also the burial place of Moses and the ram of our father Abraham. And some say also the spirits of destruction as well as the original tongs, for tongs are made with tongs.

7. There are seven things that characterize a boor, and seven that characterize a wise man. A wise man does not speak before one who is greater than him in wisdom or age. He does not interrupt his fellow's words. He does not hasten to answer. His questions are on the subject and his answers to the point. He responds to first things first and to latter things later. Concerning what he did not hear, he says "I did not hear." He concedes to the truth. With the boor, the reverse of all these is the case.

8. Seven types of retribution come to the world, for seven types of sin. When some tithe and others don't, a hunger caused by turmoil ensues: some are hungry, others have their fill of food. When all are unanimous in their failure to tithe, a hunger by drought ensues. For not separating chalah, an annihilating hunger results.

Plagues come to the world for those capital crimes mentioned in the Torah that have not been given over to the court, and for desecrating the produce of the sabbatical year.

The sword comes to the world for the procrastination of justice, the corruption of justice, and because of those who misinterpret the Torah.

9. Carnage by wild beasts comes to the world for false oaths and the desecration of G-d's name.

Exile comes to the world for idol-worship, sexual promiscuity, murder and the failure to leave the land fallow on the sabbatical year.

There are four time-periods when plagues increase: on the fourth and seventh years [of the sabbatical cycle], on the year following the seventh, and following the festivals of each year. On the fourth year, because of [the neglect of] the tithe to the poor that must be given on the third year; on the seventh, because of the tithe to the poor that must be given on the sixth; on the year after the seventh, because of the produce of the sabbatical year; and following each festival, because of the robbing of the poor of the gifts due to them.

10. There are four types of people: One who says, "What is mine is yours, and what is yours is mine" is a boor. One who says "What is mine is mine, and what is yours is yours" -- this is a median characteristic; others say that this is the character of a Sodomite. One who says, "What is mine is yours, and what is yours is yours" is a chassid (pious person). And one who says "What is mine is mine, and what is yours is mine" is wicked.

11. There are four types of temperaments. One who is easily angered and easily appeased--his virtue cancels his flaw. One whom it is difficult to anger and difficult to appease--his flaw cancels his virtue. One whom it is difficult to anger and is easily appeased, is a chassid. One who is easily angered and is difficult to appease, is wicked.

12. There are four types of student. One who is quick to understand and quick to forget--his flaw cancels his virtue. One who is slow to understand and slow to forget--his virtue cancels his flaw. One who is quick to understand and slow to forget--his is a good portion. One who is slow to understand and quick to forget--his is a bad portion.

13. There are four types of contributors to charity. One who wants to give but does not want others to give--is begrudging of others. One who wants that others should give but does not want to give--begrudges himself. One who wants that he as well as others should give, is a chassid. One who want neither himself nor others to give, is wicked.

14. There are four types among those who attend the study hall. One who goes but does nothing--has gained the rewards of going. One who does [study] but does not go to the study hall--has gained the rewards of doing. One who goes and does, is a chassid. One who neither goes nor does, is wicked.

15. There are four types among those who sit before the sages: the sponge, the funnel, the strainer and the sieve. The sponge absorbs all. The funnel takes in at one end and lets it out the other. The strainer rejects the wine and retains the sediment. The sieve rejects the coarse flour and retains the fine flour.

16. Any love that is dependent on something--when the thing ceases, the love also ceases. But a love that is not dependent on anything never ceases. What is [an example of] a love that is dependent on something? The love of Amnon for Tamar. And one that is not dependent on anything? The love of David and Jonathan.

17. Any dispute that is for the sake of Heaven is destined to endure; one that is not for the sake of Heaven is not destined to endure. Which is a dispute that is for the sake of Heaven? The dispute(s) between Hillel and Shamai. Which is a dispute that is not for the sake of Heaven? The dispute of Korach and all his company.

18. One who causes the community to be meritorious, no sin will come by his hand. One who causes the community to sin, is not given the opportunity to repent. Moses was meritorious and caused the community to be meritorious, so the community's merit is attributed to him; as is stated, "He did G-d's righteousness, and His laws with Israel" (Deuteronomy 33:21). Jeroboam the son of Nebat sinned and caused the community to sin, so the community's sin is attributed to him; as is stated, "For the sins of Jeroboam, which he sinned and caused Israel to sin" (I Kings 15:30).

19. Whoever possesses the following three traits is of the disciples of our father Abraham; and whoever possesses the opposite three traits is of the disciples of the wicked Balaam. The disciples of our father Abraham have a good eye, a meek spirit and a humble soul. The disciples of the wicked Balaam have an evil eye, a haughty spirit and a gross soul. What is the difference between the disciples of our father Abraham and the disciples of the wicked Balaam? The disciples of our father Abraham benefit in this world and inherit the World To Come, and as is stated, "To bequeath to those who love Me there is, and their treasures I shall fill" (Proverbs 8:21). The disciples of the wicked Balaam inherit purgatory and descent into the pit of destruction, as is stated, "And You, G-d, shall cast them into the pit of destruction; bloody and deceitful men, they shall not attain half their days. And I shall trust in you" (ibid., 55:24).

20. Judah the son of Teima would say: Be bold as a leopard, light as an eagle, fleeting as a deer and mighty as a lion to do the will of your Father in Heaven. He would also say: The brazen--to purgatory; the bashful--to paradise. May it be Your will, L-rd our G-d and G-d of our fathers, that the Holy Temple be rebuilt speedily in our days; and grant us our portion in Your Torah.

21. Ben Bag Bag would say: Delve and delve into it, for all is in it; see with it; grow old and worn in it; do not budge from it, for there is nothing better.

Ben Hei Hei would say: According to the pain is the gain.

22. He would also say: Five years is the age for the study of Scripture. Ten, for the study of Mishnah. Thirteen, for the obligation to observe the mitzvot. Fifteen, for the study of Talmud. Eighteen, for marriage. Twenty, to pursue [a livelihood]. Thirty, for strength, Forty, for understanding. Fifty, for counsel. Sixty, for sagacity. Seventy, for elderliness. Eighty, for power. Ninety, to stoop. A hundred-year-old is as one who has died and passed away and has been negated from the world.

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Discussion (3)
April 5, 2014
I love Avot 5.7
There are seven things that characterize a boor, and seven that characterize a wise man. A wise man does not speak before one who is greater than him in wisdom or age. He does not interrupt his fellow's words. He does not hasten to answer. His questions are on the subject and his answers to the point. He responds to first things first and to latter things later. Concerning what he did not hear, he says "I did not hear." He concedes to the truth. With the boor, the reverse of all these is the case.
Abraham
Leesburg, VA
June 12, 2013
Levels of charity
There are indeed 8 "levels" of charity (chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/45907/jewish/Eight-Levels-of-Charity.htm) (They are from the Talmud, Maimonides put them in list form)
The Mishnah here is teaching us that there are four "types of contributors" to charity.
Benny
May 5, 2013
No. 13 - charity
Many years ago I managed a legal clinic where volunteer attys. gave legal advice to the public. i wrote a monthly news letter to these attys. and thanked them for their volunteering of time. One time I quoted from the Talmud (I don't remember where it's quoted) the 8 levels of charity telling them that their volunteering of time is level 8.. So, these 4 types of contributors is something new to me.
harry m. reichenberg
federal way, WA
chabadpiercecounty.com
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