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א - עֲקַבְיָא בֶּן מַהֲלַלְאֵל אוֹמֵר: הִסְתַּכֵּל בִּשְׁלשָׁה דְבָרִים, וְאֵין אַתָּה בָא לִידֵי עֲבֵרָה. דַּע מֵאַיִן בָּאתָ, וּלְאָן אַתָּה הוֹלֵךְ, וְלִפְנֵי מִי אַתָּה עָתִיד לִתֵּן דִּין וְחֶשְׁבּוֹן. מֵאַיִן בָּאתָ: מִטִּפָּה סְרוּחָה, וּלְאָן אַתָּה הוֹלֵךְ: לִמְקוֹם עָפָר רִמָּה וְתוֹלֵעָה, וְלִפְנֵי מִי אַתָּה עָתִיד לִתֵּן דִּין וְחֶשְׁבּוֹן: לִפְנֵי מֶלֶךְ מַלְכֵי הַמְּלָכִים הַקָּדוֹשׁ, בָּרוּךְ הוּא.

1. Akavya ben Mahalel would say: “Reflect upon three things and you will never come to sin: Know from where you came, to where you are going, and before whom you are destined to give an accounting.

“ ‘From where you came’ — from a putrid drop; ‘to where you are going’ — to a place of dust, maggots, and worms; ‘and before whom you are destined to give an accounting’ — before the King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.”

Reflect upon three things — Seemingly, the mishnah could have begun: “Know from where you came, and to where you are going....” Why does it mention the need to “reflect on three things”?

Herein lies an allusion to a concept of much greater scope. In addition to the obvious reference to the three concepts that follow, the mishnah teaches that a person must always have three things in mind, and promises that when he does so, he “will never come to sin.”

Generally, a person thinks about two entities, himself and G‑d, for “I was created solely to serve my Creator.”1 This mishnah comes to teach us that each of us must also be aware of a third entity — the world at large.

A person should always remember that the ultimate goal of his divine service is not merely a two-way relationship between him and G‑d. He must broaden his scope, and endeavor to have his service encompass a third entity, the world.

Our involvement with worldly entities with the intent of transforming them into vessels for G‑dliness fulfills G‑d’s ultimate intent in creation. For our world — and every individual creation — was brought into being for the purpose of fashioning a dwelling for G‑d on the material plane.2

Ultimately, this outward thrust benefits the soul as well, though the soul is “an actual part of G‑d,”3 and is not in need of refinement. Its descent to a physical body is intended to refine the world at large, not itself. Nevertheless, by carrying out this task, the soul establishes a connection to G‑d’s essence which it could not have appreciated before its entry into this world.

(Sefer HaSichos 5751, Vol. II, p. 507ff)

Know from where you came — מאין, the Hebrew for “from where,” can also be rendered as “from nothingness.”4 Thus the phrase can be interpreted “Know that you came from nothingness,” i.e., the source of the soul is transcendent G‑dliness — above the limits of our mortal conception. Moreover, this source exerts a constant influence on the soul as it exists in our world, propelling it to selfless conduct. A person’s awareness of this fact heightens the effectiveness of this influence, and takes the person further from sin.

(Likkutei Sichos, Vol. IV, p. 1202)


ב - רַבִּי חֲנִינָא סְגַן הַכֹּהֲנִים אוֹמֵר: הֱוֵי מִתְפַּלֵּל בִּשְׁלוֹמָהּ שֶׁל מַלְכוּת, שֶׁאִלְמָלֵא מוֹרָאָהּ, אִישׁ אֶת רֵעֵהוּ חַיִּים בְּלָעוֹ. רַבִּי חֲנִינָא בֶּן תְּרַדְיוֹן אוֹמֵר: שְׁנַיִם שֶׁיּוֹשְׁבִין וְאֵין בֵּינֵיהֶם דִּבְרֵי תוֹרָה, הֲרֵי זֶה מוֹשַׁב לֵצִים, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: וּבְמוֹשַׁב לֵצִים לֹא יָשָׁב. אֲבָל שְׁנַיִם שֶׁיוֹשְׁבִין וְיֵשׁ בֵּינֵיהֶם דִּבְרֵי תוֹרָה, שְׁכִינָה שְׁרוּיָה בֵינֵיהֶם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: אָז נִדְבְּרוּ יִרְאֵי י-י אִישׁ אֶל רֵעֵהוּ, וַיַּקְשֵׁב י-י וַיִּשְׁמָע, וַיִּכָּתֵב סֵפֶר זִכָּרוֹן לְפָנָיו, לְיִרְאֵי י-י וּלְחשְׁבֵי שְׁמוֹ. אֵין לִי אֶלָּא שְׁנַיִם, מִנַּיִן אֲפִילוּ אֶחָד, שֶׁיּוֹשֵב וְעוֹסֵק בַּתּוֹרָה שֶׁהַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא קוֹבֵעַ לוֹ שָׂכָר, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: יֵשֵׁב בָּדָד וְיִדֹּם כִּי נָטַל עָלָיו.

2. Rabbi Chanina, the deputy High Priest, would say: “Pray for the welfare of the [ruling] kingdom, for were it not for the fear of it, men would swallow one another alive.”

Rabbi Chanina ben Tradyon would say: “If two sit together and no words of Torah are exchanged between them, it is a company of mockers, as it is stated:5 ‘He does not sit among the company of mockers.’ But if two sit together and exchange words of Torah, the Divine Presence rests between them, as it is written:6 ‘Then the G‑d-fearing conversed with one another, and G‑d listened and heard, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear G‑d and meditate upon His name.’ ”

“[From this verse, we learn] only that the above applies with regard to two people. Which source teaches that even when one person sits and occupies himself with the Torah, the Holy One, blessed be He, allots a reward for him? The verse:7 ‘He sits alone and [studies] in stillness; he takes [the reward] unto himself.’ ”

Pray for the welfare of the [ruling] kingdom... men would swallow one another alive — Pirkei Avos is not wont to speak in metaphors. If the intent is merely to say that people would wantonly kill each other were it not for the rule of law, the mishnah would have said just that. Moreover, the purpose of Pirkei Avos is to teach pious behavior, i.e., conduct beyond the measure of the law.8 Seemingly, Rabbi Chanina’s advice and the situation it wishes to forestall are basic matters — relevant to people at even a rudimentary spiritual level.

So we should look for a much deeper message. “Swallow[ing] one another alive” implies the subsuming of another person within one’s own desires. The other person is alive — he thinks and feels — but one has “swallowed” him within one’s self; i.e., one thinks of him only inasmuch as he can further one’s own purposes. Instead of appreciating who that person is, what he wants and needs, one thinks only of one’s own self and the benefit the other person will bring him.

On this basis, we can appreciate the connection between this teaching and the one which follows:9

If two sit together and... exchange words of Torah — This teaching emphasizes the importance of communication, of two people sitting together as equals and sharing words of Torah.

(Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XVII, p. 365ff)

The Divine Presence rests between them... allots a reward for him — When two individuals study together, the Divine Presence — a level of revelation beyond the grasp of mortals — is drawn down. In contrast, when an individual studies alone, he receives a reward, for he has done a worthy act, but the reward is limited.

What is the difference? When a person communicates with others, he extends himself beyond his individual limits. Therefore, study in such a setting evokes a transcendent revelation of G‑dliness. When, by contrast, a person studies alone, his understanding cannot grow beyond the limits of his own thought. Therefore, the reward he receives is also limited.

(Sichos Shabbos Parshas Devarim, 5741)

He sits alone and [studies] in stillness — This verse is a quote from Eichah, the book which laments the destruction of theBeis HaMikdash. The fact that a Jew must sit alone and study Torah is itself a sign of the exile. For in regard to the Era of the Redemption, it is written:10 “The occupation of the entire world will be solely to know G‑d.”

(Ibid.)


ג - רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן אוֹמֵר: שְׁלשָׁה שֶׁאָכְלוּ עַל שֻׁלְחָן אֶחָד, וְלֹא אָמְרוּ עָלָיו דִּבְרֵי תוֹרָה, כְּאִלּוּ אָכְלוּ מִזִּבְחֵי מֵתִים, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: כִּי כָּל שֻׁלְחָנוֹת מָלְאוּ קִיא צוֹאָה בְּלִי מָקוֹם. אֲבָל שְׁלשָׁה שֶׁאָכְלוּ עַל שֻׁלְחָן אֶחָד וְאָמְרוּ עָלָיו דִּבְרֵי תוֹרָה, כְּאִלּוּ אָכְלוּ מִשֻּׁלְחָנוֹ שֶׁל מָקוֹם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: וַיְדַבֵּר אֵלַי, זֶה הַשֻּׁלְחָן אֲשֶר לִפְנֵי י-י.

3. Rabbi Shimon would say: “When three eat at one table without speaking words of Torah there, it is as if they ate of sacrifices to the dead,11 for it is written: ‘For all tables are full of filthy vomit when there is no [mention of the] Omnipresent.’

“When, by contrast, three sit at one table and speak words of Torah, it is as if they had eaten from the table of the Omnipresent, for it is written:
12 ‘And he said to me: This is the table before G‑d.’ ”

Rabbi Shimon would say:... “When... three sit at one table and speak words of Torah” — When three people discuss Torah while eating, the table becomes infused with the spiritual unity of the Torah. This concept shares a particular connection with Rabbi Shimon, for Rabbi Shimon understood Torah study as all-encompassing13 — possessing the power to influence every aspect of our lives, even our material concerns.14 To demonstrate this, the Zohar15 relates that once Eretz Yisrael suffered a severe drought and the Jews appealed to Rabbi Shimon for help. When he recited a discourse on the verse:16 “How good and how sweet it is for brothers to sit together,” it began to rain.

The connection with Rabbi Shimon also explains the emphasis on “three who ate at one table.” Rabbi Shimon spent 13 years in a cave together with his son, hiding from Roman persecution, absorbed in Torah study.17 During this period, there was no third person to join them. Moreover, they were not able to study “at one table.” They studied Torah without any involvement in material affairs. After this experience, Rabbi Shimon was able to appreciate the importance of “three [who] sit at one table and speak words of Torah.”

(Sichos Shabbos Parshas Devarim, 5740)


ד - רַבִּי חֲנִינָא בֶּן חֲכִינָאִי אוֹמֵר: הַנֵּעוֹר בַּלַּיְלָה, וְהַמְהַלֵּךְ בַּדֶּרֶךְ יְחִידִי, וּמְפַנֶּה לִבּוֹ לְבַטָּלָה, הֲרֵי זֶה מִתְחַיֵּב בְּנַפְשׁוֹ.

4. Rabbi Chanina ben Chachina’i said: “When a person is awake at night or travels alone on the road, and turns his heart to idleness, he is liable to lose his life.”

Rabbi Chanina ben Chachina’i said: “When a person... travels alone on the road, and turns his heart to idleness” — A person who travels alone, in contrast to one who travels with others, must pay attention to the road, lest he become lost or endanger himself. Therefore, there is reason to think that he should minimize the attention he pays to Torah study.18 Nevertheless, Rabbi Chanina teaches that pious conduct — the approach taught by Pirkei Avos — requires that a person devote himself to the study of Torah even in such a situation. Indeed, the merit of Torah study will ward off danger.19

This teaching shares a connection to Rabbi Chanina’s path of divine service, for he was totally devoted to the study of the Torah; “The Torah was his occupation,”20 his sole concern in life.

(Sichos Shabbos Parshas Vaes’chanan, 5751)


ה - רַבִּי נְחוּנְיָא בֶּן הַקָּנָה אוֹמֵר: כָּל הַמְקַבֵּל עָלָיו עוֹל תּוֹרָה, מַעֲבִירִין מִמֶּנּוּ עוֹל מַלְכוּת וְעוֹל דֶּרֶךְ אֶרֶץ, וְכָל הַפּוֹרֵק מִמֶּנּוּ עוֹל תּוֹרָה, נוֹתְנִין עָלָיו עוֹל מַלְכוּת וְעוֹל דֶּרֶךְ אֶרֶץ.

5. Rabbi Nechunya ben Hakanah said: “Whenever a person takes upon himself the yoke of Torah, the yoke of government and the yoke of worldly affairs are removed from him. Whenever, by contrast, a person casts off the yoke of Torah, the yoke of government and the yoke of worldly affairs are imposed upon him.”

The yoke of Torah — This expression is problematic, for the study of the Torah is a self-rewarding process, as implied by the verse:21 “I rejoice in Your statements like one who has found a great treasure.” Why then is Torah study considered a yoke?

It can, however, be explained that this mishnah is referring to a person whose involvement in worldly affairs prevents him from experiencing the satisfaction and pleasure of Torah study. Instead, Torah study is a yoke, an obligation which he must fulfill.

The mishnah teaches us that if the person perseveres in the study of Torah despite his involvement in worldly affairs, he will be freed from these preoccupations; the yoke of government and the yoke of worldly affairs will be removed from him. As the Rambam explains:22

We are promised by the Torah that if we fulfill it with joy and good spirit... G‑d will remove all the obstacles that prevent us from maintaining it....

He will grant us all the good that will reinforce our observance... so that we will not be preoccupied... by matters required by the body, and [thus have the opportunity to] study wisdom and perform mitzvos.

When, however, a person endeavors to reduce the tensions he faces by casting off the yoke of the Torah, the yoke of government and the yoke of worldly affairs are imposed upon him. The challenges he faces in the world at large will increase, rather than decrease.

(Sichos Shabbos Parshas Behar, 5719)

Alternatively, the “yoke of Torah” can refer to a person who experiences satisfaction and pleasure in the study of Torah, but dedicates himself to study above and beyond the point of satisfaction.

Every person has certain subjects which interest him and afford him pleasure. The mishnah is teaching us that a person must go beyond these natural tendencies. It promises that if a person succeeds in doing so, G‑d will reward him by lifting him above the natural limits of the world and removing “the yoke of government and the yoke of worldly affairs” from him.

(Sichos Shabbos Parshas Vaes’chanan, 5745)


ו - רַבִּי חֲלַפְתָּא בֶּן דּוֹסָא אִישׁ כְּפַר חֲנַנְיָא אוֹמֵר: עֲשָׂרָה שֶׁיּוֹשְׁבִין וְעוֹסְקִין בַּתּוֹרָה, שְׁכִינָה שְׁרוּיָה בֵינֵיהֶם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: אֱלֹהִי-ם נִצָּב בַּעֲדַת אֵ-ל. וּמִנַּיִן אֲפִילוּ חֲמִשָּׁה, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: וַאֲגֻדָּתוֹ עַל אֶרֶץ יְסָדָהּ. וּמִנַּיִן אֲפִילוּ שְׁלשָׁה, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: בְּקֶרֶב אֱלֹהִי-ם יִשְׁפֹּט. וּמִנַּיִן אֲפִילוּ שְׁנַיִם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: אָז נִדְבְּרוּ יִרְאֵי י-י אִישׁ אֶל רֵעֵהוּ, וַיַּקְשֵׁב י-י וַיִּשְׁמָע. וּמִנַּיִן אֲפִילוּ אֶחָד, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: בְּכָל הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר אַזְכִּיר אֶת שְׁמִי, אָבֹא אֵלֶיךָ וּבֵרַכְתִּיךָ.

6. Rabbi Chalafta ben Dosa of Kfar Chananya said: “If ten people sit together and occupy themselves with Torah, the Divine Presence rests among them, as it is said:23 ‘G‑d stands in the assembly of the L‑rd.’

“Which source teaches that the same is true even of five? It is said:24 ‘He has founded His band upon the earth.’

“Which source teaches that the same is true even of three? It is said:25 ‘Among the judges He renders judgment.’

“Which source teaches that the same is true even of two? It is stated:26 ‘Then the G‑d-fearing conversed with one another, and the L‑rd hearkened and heard.’

“Which source teaches that the same is true even of one? It is said:27 ‘In every place where I have My Name mentioned I will come to you and bless you.’ ”

If ten people — Whenever ten people congregate, regardless of the nature of the gathering, the Divine Presence rests among them.28 Their approach to each other and the nature of their activities amplify its influence on them.

Sit together — Two positive dimensions are implied by this term:

a) Balance and permanence, for the Hebrewישב (“sit”) relates to the term התישבות which has these implications.

b) Unity. Not only are the people located in the same place, they are joined together.

And occupy themselves — The Hebrew word עוסק, translated as “occupy themselves,” implies concentrated attention and sustained effort.29 We are referring to ten individuals who are able to make such a commitment, and to do so with feelings of unity and cooperation.

With Torah — Although the union of different individuals in a project is always of value, a much higher level is reached when these individuals devote their combined energies to Torah study.

The Divine Presence rests among them — Because of all the advantages mentioned, the level of the Divine Presence which rests upon such a gathering is higher than the level mentioned in the clauses that follow.

(Sichos Shabbos Parshas Shelach, 5746)

“In every place where I have My Name mentioned I will come to you and bless you” — Although the positive influences brought about when many join in Torah study are greater, we must appreciate how important the efforts of one individual can be. As the prooftext indicates, G‑d diverts His attention from all other matters, as it were, and comes to bless him.

(Sefer HaSichos 5748, Vol. II, p. 582)


ז - רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר אִישׁ בַּרְתּוֹתָא אוֹמֵר: תֶּן לוֹ מִשֶּׁלּוֹ, שֶׁאַתָּה וְשֶׁלָּךְ שֶׁלּוֹ. וְכֵן בְּדָוִד, הוּא אוֹמֵר: כִּי מִמְּךָ הַכֹּל וּמִיָּדְךָ נָתַנּוּ לָךְ. רַבִּי יַעֲקֹב אוֹמֵר: הַמְהַלֵּךְ בַּדֶּרֶךְ וְשׁוֹנֶה, וּמַפְסִיק מִמִּשְׁנָתוֹ וְאוֹמֵר: מַה נָּאֶה אִילָן זֶה מַה נָּאֶה נִיר זֶה, מַעֲלֶה עָלָיו הַכָּתוּב כְּאִלּוּ מִתְחַיֵּב בְּנַפְשׁוֹ.

7. Rabbi Elazar of Bartota said: “Give to Him of that which is His, for you and whatever is yours are His. And so it is said by David: ‘For all things are from You, and from Your own we have given You.’ ”30

>Rabbi Yaakov said: “When a person walks on a journey reviewing [a passage of the Torah], and interrupts his study to remark: ‘How beautiful is this tree! How beautiful is this plowed field!’ [the Torah] considers it as if he were guilty of a mortal sin.”

Give to Him of that which is His, for you and whatever is yours are His — This teaching urges us to dedicate ourselves and our resources to G‑d’s service with an all-encompassing commitment. In many instances, although a person is willing to fulfill the obligations the Torah places upon him, it is natural for him to attach a certain degree of self-importance to his deeds.

Take for example the mitzvah of giving tzedakah. We are obligated to tithe.31 Most people feel proud when they choose to give their money away for such a purpose.

Our mishnah teaches us to perform such deeds with humility, for the very opportunity to possess property is granted by G‑d. Therefore we should perform deeds of charity as a matter of course, without attaching great importance to them.

As proof, the mishnah cites a prooftext — “from Your own we have given You,” which speaks of the donations given to construct the Beis HaMikdash, the ultimate expression of human activity, the building of a dwelling for G‑d. Yet even these donations were given in a spirit of humility.32

(Sichos Shabbos Parshas Shelach, 5736)

Rabbi Yaakov said — There are versions of the mishnah which attribute this teaching to Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, of whom it is said: “The Torah was his occupation.”33 The choice of the present version emphasizes that even a person who has not made such an all-encompassing commitment to the study of Torah can appreciate that, as an expression of mili dechassidusa, it is improper to cease studying in the instance mentioned.

(Sichos Shabbos Parshas Vaes’chanan, 5741)

One who walks on the road reviewing [a passage of the Torah] — Our Sages explained34 that while traveling, a person should not involve himself in intense study, but should instead review straightforward laws which he has already learned. Nevertheless, he should not interrupt his study to say such things as “How beautiful is this tree!” Though appreciation of the greatness of G‑d’s creative powers is itself an aspect of our divine service,35 its importance does not compare with that of the study of Torah.

(Sichos Shabbos Parshas Shelach, 5736)


ח - רַבִּי דוֹסְתָּאִי בְּרַבִּי יַנַּאי מִשּׁוּם רַבִּי מֵאִיר אוֹמֵר: כָּל הַשּׁוֹכֵחַ דָּבָר אֶחָד מִמִּשְׁנָתוֹ, מַעֲלֶה עָלָיו הַכָּתוּב כְּאִלּוּ מִתְחַיֵּב בְּנַפְשׁוֹ, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: רַק הִשָּׁמֶר לְךָ וּשְּׁמֹר נַפְשְׁךָ מְאֹד פֶּן תִּשְׁכַּח אֶת הַדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר רָאוּ עֵינֶיךָ. יָכוֹל אֲפִילוּ תָּקְפָה עָלָיו מִשְׁנָתוֹ, תַּלְמוּד לוֹמַר וּפֶן יָסוּרוּ מִלְבָבְךָ כֹּל יְמֵי חַיֶּיךָ, הָא אֵינוֹ מִתְחַיֵּב בְּנַפְשׁוֹ, עַד שֶׁיֵּשֵׁב וִיסִירֵם מִלִּבּוֹ.

8. Rabbi Dosta’ey bar Yannai said in the name of Rabbi Meir: “Whenever anyone forgets any of his Torah knowledge, the Torah considers it as if he were guilty of a mortal sin, for it is said:36 ‘But beware and guard your soul scrupulously, lest you forget the things which your eyes have seen.’

“One might think that this applies even if the subject matter was too difficult for him [and therefore he forgot], hence the Torah adds:37 ‘And lest they be removed from your heart all the days of your life.’ One is not guilty of a mortal sin until he sits and causes them to be removed from his heart.”

Whenever anyone forgets any of his Torah knowledge, the Torah considers it as if he were guilty of a mortal sin — We are commanded38 to obliterate the memory of Amalek. This appears to contradict the injunction mentioned in this mishnah, for there are several passages in the Torah which mention Amalek, and obliterating the memory of this nation would seemingly require forgetting these passages.

This difficulty can be resolved as follows: It is forbidden to think about Amalek for any purpose other than the destruction of that nation. When, however, the remembrance has as its goal — as do the Torah passages associated with that nation — the utter annihilation of the people and all its possessions, the remembrance of Amalek fulfills a mitzvah.39 Obliterating Amalek’s memory thus does not relate to the Torah passages concerning that nation, but to the actual existence of the nation.

Homiletically speaking, there is a connection between the battle against Amalek and Torah study, as reflected by the fact that Amalek first attacked the Jewish people after the Exodus from Egypt, when they were on their way to receive the Torah.

Amalek represents the cold rationality which makes us question everything we do or experience.40 This interferes with our ability to internalize the Torah within our personalities (the key to memory). Wiping out our inner Amalek makes it easier to ingrain the Torah in every aspect of our being, and this will prevent it from be easily forgotten.

(Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XIV, p. 91; Vol. XXI, p. 190ff)

One is not guilty of a mortal sin until he sits and causes them to be removed from his heart.” — In his Hilchos Talmud Torah (2:10), the Alter Rebbe writes that the majority of a person’s study should focus on the practical application of Torah law, and that the person should review those laws so that he does not forget them. He should, however, take a portion of his study time to learn the Talmud and the Midrashim, so that he will have studied the entire Oral Law.

Although he will surely forget what he studies, he need not worry, “in the Era of the Redemption, he will be reminded of all that he forgot against his will.” The forgetting of this material is thus not permanent. Moreover, “before the Throne Your glory, there is no forgetting,”41 and even in the present era, in the spiritual realms, a person’s Torah study serves as a continuous positive influence.

When does the prohibition against forgetting the Torah apply? When the person “sequesters himself from the Torah.”42 In one sense, this refers to a person who instead of studying devotes his attention to idle matters.43 Moreover, even when a person studies other subjects in Torah, but intentionally ignores reviewing a subject he has studied, he can be considered to have “sequestered himself from it.” If, however, his forgetfulness comes against his will, it is not considered as a negative quality.

(Likkutei Sichos, Vaes’chanan, 5747)


ט - רַבִּי חֲנִינָא בֶּן דּוֹסָא אוֹמֵר: כֹּל שֶׁיִּרְאַת חֶטְאוֹ קוֹדֶמֶת לְחָכְמָתוֹ, חָכְמָתוֹ מִתְקַיֶּמֶת. וְכֹל שֶׁחָכְמָתוֹ קוֹדֶמֶת לְיִרְאַת חֶטְאוֹ, אֵין חָכְמָתוֹ מִתְקַיֶּמֶת.

9. Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa said: “Whenever a person’s fear of sin comes before his wisdom, his wisdom will endure; but when a person’s wisdom comes before his fear of sin, his wisdom will not endure.”

Whenever a person’s fear of sin comes before his wisdom — Fear of sin involves self-nullification; a person restricts his own self-expression lest he violate G‑d’s will. Such an approach is developed through prayer, for prayer helps a person redefine his identity. Instead of remaining conscious only of his ego, through prayer a person develops a connection with the inner “I” of his G‑dly nature.

Such an approach expands his conceptual horizons and ensures that his wisdom will endure. He will not view the Torah he studies as merely an abstract, intellectual discipline, but as G‑dly truth that should permeate every dimension of his existence. This approach will cause his Torah knowledge to become a lasting part of his being.

(Sichos Shabbos Parshas Ki Savo, 5728)

*The lesson taught by our mishnah is particularly relevant in the area of chinuch, education. First and foremost, it is important to establish a foundation of fear of G‑d. This foundation will enable knowledge to flourish. Moreover, the order of precedence taught by the mishnah is not merely chronological. Fear of G‑d represents a higher rung and a more desirable quality than mere wisdom.

(Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXII, p. 402)


י - הוּא הָיָה אוֹמֵר: כֹּל שֶׁמַּעֲשָׂיו מְרֻבִּין מֵחָכְמָתוֹ, חָכְמָתוֹ מִתְקַיֶּמֶת. וְכֹל שֶׁחָכְמָתוֹ מְרֻבָּה מִמַּעֲשָׂיו, אֵין חָכְמָתוֹ מִתְקַיֶּמֶת. הוּא הָיָה אוֹמֵר: כֹּל, שֶׁרוּחַ הַבְּרִיּוֹת נוֹחָה הֵימֶנּוּ, רוּחַ הַמָּקוֹם נוֹחָה הֵימֶנּוּ. וְכֹל שֶׁאֵין רוּחַ הַבְּרִיּוֹת נוֹחָה הֵימֶנּוּ, אֵין רוּחַ הַמָּקוֹם נוֹחָה הֵימֶנּוּ. רַבִּי דוֹסָא בֶּן הָרְכִּינַס אוֹמֵר: שֵׁנָה שֶׁל שַׁחֲרִית, וְיַיִן שֶׁל צָהֳרָיִם, וְשִׂיחַת הַיְלָדִים, וִישִׁיבַת בָּתֵּי כְנֵסִיּוֹת שֶׁל עַמֵּי הָאָרֶץ, מוֹצִיאִין אֶת הָאָדָם מִן הָעוֹלָם.

10. He used to say: “Whenever a person’s [good] deeds exceed his wisdom, his wisdom will endure; but when a person’s wisdom exceeds his [good] deeds, his wisdom will not endure.”

He used to say: “Whenever a person’s fellowmen are pleased with him, G‑d is also pleased with him; but when a person’s fellowmen are not pleased with him, G‑d is also not pleased with him.”

Rabbi Dosa ben Harkinas said: “The sleep of the [late] morning, wine at midday, children’s prattle, and sitting in the gathering places of the ignorant drive a man from the world.”

*Whenever a person’s [good] deeds exceed his wisdom, his wisdom will endure — The lessons of this mishnah should also be applied in the area of chinuch. A school should endeavor to both impart wisdom to its students, and train them in the performance of good deeds. Of the two, however, the primary focus should be good deeds. Indeed, it is through such deeds that knowledge will thrive.

(Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXII, pgs. 399-400, 420)


יא - רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר הַמּוּדָעִי אוֹמֵר: הַמְּחַלֵּל אֶת הַקֳּדָשִׁים, וְהַמְבַזֶּה אֶת הַמּוֹעֲדוֹת, וְהַמַּלְבִּין פְּנֵי חֲבֵרוֹ בָּרַבִּים, וְהַמֵּפֵר בְּרִיתוֹ שֶׁל אַבְרָהָם אָבִינוּ, וְהַמְגַלֶּה פָנִים בַּתּוֹרָה שֶׁלֹא כַהֲלָכָה, אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁיֵּשׁ בְּיָדוֹ תּוֹרָה וּמַעֲשִׂים טוֹבִים, אֵין לוֹ חֵלֶק לָעוֹלָם הַבָּא.

11. Rabbi Elazar of Modin said: “When a person profanes sacred things, degrades the festivals, publicly humiliates his colleague, abrogates the covenant of our father Avraham, or interprets the Torah in a manner contradictory to its true intent, even though he may possess Torah and good deeds, he has no share in the World to Come.”

When a person who profanes sacred things, ... has no share in the World to Come — A Jew has the power to make the mundane holy, to imbue every dimension of worldly experience with G‑dliness. In the World to Come, the Era of the Resurrection, the ultimate worth of these efforts will be revealed, for then the barrier separating the spiritual from the physical will be dissolved.

All the acts mentioned by the mishnah involve making the sacred profane. A person who conducts himself in this manner acts in direct opposition to the intent of the World to Come. Therefore he will not be granted a share in this revelation.

More specifically, the different sacred entities mentioned by the mishnah refer to holiness brought about through man’s efforts. “Sacred things” refers to animals or other objects consecrated for the altar. By and large, it is man who consecrates such offerings. “The festivals” are also consecrated through the divine service of the Jewish people. Thus in our holiday prayers,44 we praise G‑d who “sanctifies Israel and the festive seasons.” For as our Sages comment,45 G‑d sanctifies Israel, and Israel in turn consecrates the festive seasons.46

With regard to one who publicly humiliates his colleague, it can be explained that although all Jews share a fundamental unity, the fact that a person is one’s colleague, i.e., that these inner bonds have been given outward expression, is a result of human activity. By publicly humiliating his colleague, a person betrays the bonds of friendship that have been established.

The covenant of our father Avraham was originally established by human activity — Avraham’s act of circumcision — and is renewed by man’s deeds. Similarly, the interpretation of Torah law and its application in our lives is an area in which man is granted the potential for achievement. When, however, a person interprets the Torah in a manner contradictory to its true intent, he misuses this potential and profanes the sanctity of a Torah lifestyle.

It must, however, be emphasized that the mishnah’s statement applies only to a person who has not turned to G‑d in teshuvah. Teshuvah has the potential not only to erase the negative effects of a person’s conduct, but to actually transform his sins into merits,47 and assure him a full portion in the World to Come.

(Sichos Shabbos Parshas Shelach, 5738)

Even though he may possess Torah and good deeds — The literal meaning of the Hebrew words is “Even if he has Torah and good deeds in his hand.” It is impossible for a person who commits such sins to have made the Torah part of his being. He may have studied Torah and performed good deeds, but they are “in his hand” — at a level of his being that does not affect his true self. And therefore they do not endow the person with a portion in the World to Come.

(Sichos Shabbos Parshas Devarim, 5747)


יב - רַבִּי יִשְׁמָעֵאל אוֹמֵר: הֱוֵי קַל לְרֹאשׁ, וְנוֹחַ לְתִשְׁחֹרֶת, וֶהֱוֵי מְקַבֵּל אֶת כָּל הָאָדָם בְּשִׂמְחָה.

12. Rabbi Yishmael said: “Be readily submissive to a superior and be affable to a younger person; receive every person cheerfully.”

Rabbi Yishmael said — Rabbi Yishmael was a priest,48 and according to certain opinions a High Priest.49 Despite his standing, he was prepared to show respect and warmth to all others.50

(Sichos Shabbos Parshas Acharei-Kedoshim, 5728)

Receive every person cheerfully — This directive is connected to the instruction to adopt a submissive and flexible approach. A person might show humility and deference to others, but without enthusiasm, manifesting these qualities against his nature. With this directive, Rabbi Yishmael emphasizes that a person should internalize a high regard for his fellow man, and feel genuine happiness in his relations with him.

(Ibid.)


יג - רַבִּי עֲקִיבָא אוֹמֵר: שְׂחוֹק וְקַלּוּת רֹאשׁ, מַרְגִּילִין אֶת הָאָדָם לְעֶרְוָה, מַסֹּרֶת סְיָג לַתּוֹרָה, מַעְשְׂרוֹת סְיָג לָעשֶׁר, נְדָרִים סְיָג לַפְּרִישׁוּת, סְיָג לַחָכְמָה שְׁתִיקָה.

13. Rabbi Akiva said: “Laughter and frivolity accustom a man to lewdness. The Oral Tradition is a fence around the Torah; tithes are a fence for riches; vows are a fence for abstinence; a fence for wisdom is silence.”

Rabbi Akiva said — Rabbi Akiva came from a family of converts,51 and himself did not begin the study of Torah until the age of 40.52 Our Sages explain that a convert53 has a tendency to return to his former ways.54 Similarly, a person who has adopted a worldly outlook for many years is inclined to be materially oriented. For this reason, Rabbi Akiva emphasizes the importance of adopting “fences” — safeguards that protect a person from overindulgence in worldly matters.

(Ibid., Sichos Shabbos Parshas Shelach, 5740)

Vows are a fence for abstinence — On one hand, abstinence is a positive quality, for worldly involvement is a self-reinforcing cycle that often leads to overindulgence. On the other hand, our Sages have also counseled55 against taking such vows, stating: “It is sufficient, what the Torah has forbidden.”

Moreover, despite the drawbacks of crass materialism, there is an advantage to worldly involvement. Through it, a person elevates his environment and reveals its G‑dly source.

Both thrusts are valid Torah approaches. The question is: which is appropriate at any given time? In making this determination, a historical perspective is useful. During the time of the First Beis HaMikdash, the Sages did not institute many safeguards. By and large, these were instituted in the era of the Second Beis HaMikdash, in a period when G‑dly revelation had decreased. And in subsequent generations, beginning with the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash and the exile of our people, the number of these safeguards increased.

What is the fundamental principle at work? During a time when G‑dliness is revealed in the world at large, it is easier to bring out the G‑dliness contained within each material entity. But when the world is in darkness, it is more difficult to carry out this task, and it becomes advisable to limit one’s worldly involvement.

Although ours is an era of great spiritual darkness, so that restraint would seem to be called for, there is no need to curb our worldly involvement. We need merely reorient our perspective. For we are approaching the Era of the Redemption, when the G‑dliness that permeates every element of existence will be revealed. In the present time, close as we are to that era, we have the potential to anticipate this revelation, and carry out the directive to “know G‑d in all your ways”56 by appreciating His presence in all aspects of the world.

(Likkutei Sichos, Vol. IV, p. 1076ff; Sichos Shabbos Parshas Vayigash, 5752)


יד - הוּא הָיָה אוֹמֵר: חָבִיב אָדָם שֶׁנִּבְרָא בְּצֶלֶם, חִבָּה יְתֵרָה נוֹדַעַת לוֹ, שֶׁנִּבְרָא בְּצֶלֶם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: כִּי בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִי-ם עָשָׂה אֶת הָאָדָם. חֲבִיבִין יִשְׂרָאֵל שֶׁנִּקְרְאוּ בָנִים לַמָּקוֹם, חִבָּה יְתֵרָה נוֹדַעַת לָהֶם, שֶׁנִּקְרְאוּ בָנִים לַמָּקוֹם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: בָּנִים אַתֶּם לי-י אֱלֹהֵי-כֶם. חֲבִיבִין יִשְׂרָאֵל שֶׁנִּתַּן לָהֶם כְּלִי חֶמְדָּה, חִבָּה יְתֵרָה נוֹדַעַת לָהֶם, שֶׁנִּתַּן לָהֶם כְּלִי חֶמְדָּה, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: כִּי לֶקַח טוֹב נָתַתִּי לָכֶם, תּוֹרָתִי אַל תַּעֲזֹבוּ.

14. He used to say: “Beloved is man, for he was created in the image [of G‑d]; an even greater expression of love is that it was made known to him that he was created in the image [of G‑d], as it is stated:57 ‘For in the image of G‑d He made man.’

“Beloved are the people Israel, for they are called children of G‑d; an even greater expression of love is that it was made known to them that they are called children of G‑d, as it is said:58 ‘You are the children of the L‑rd Your G‑d.’

“Beloved are the people Israel, for a precious article was given to them; an even greater expression of love is that it was made known to them that they were given a precious article, as it is said:59 ‘I have given you good teaching; do not forsake My Torah.’ ”

He used to say — There are three clauses in this mishnah: one which expresses the positive virtues of mankind as a whole, one which indicates the virtues possessed by the Jewish people without considering their connection to the Torah, and one which highlights the virtues which the bond with Torah contributes to our people.

These three stages are reflected within the history of the world at large. In the beginning, man was created in the image of G‑d. At the time of the Exodus from Egypt, the Jews were distinguished as G‑d’s children, as it is written:60 “My son, My firstborn, Israel.” It was not until the Giving of the Torah that the Jews were endowed with the possibility of acquiring the third attribute through their connection with the Torah.

These three phases are also mirrored in the personal history of every individual. As a child, one is more concerned with physical existence and gaining practical knowledge — traits which a Jew shares with all mankind. After Bar Mitzvah, he gains the potential to establish a bond with G‑d through the observance of mitzvos, this being the unique heritage of the Jewish people. And as he matures and his understanding blossoms, he has the potential to delve into our precious Torah heritage.61

These three clauses can be applied to Rabbi Akiva’s own history. He came from a family of converts.62 Thus he was able to appreciate the virtues possessed by mankind as a whole. For the first 40 years of his life, he was unlearned,63 and thus understood the innate virtues which the Jews possess, even when they have not been cultivated by the Torah. And he spent the latter 80 years64 of his life devoted to the study of the “precious article” which G‑d entrusted to the Jewish people.

(Sichos Shabbos Parshas Acharei-Kedoshim, 5728;
Sichos Motzoei Shabbos Parshas Shelach, 5739;
Sichos Shabbos Parshas Shelach, 5741)

*Beloved is man, for he was created in the image [of G‑d] — In his Guide to the Perplexed,65 the Rambam interprets this as referring to our capacity to conceive of intellectual ideas and to be conscious of “He who spoke and brought the world into being.” The ability to use our minds creatively and direct our thoughts to G‑d is the most precious of our human potentials.

Creating a setting which leads to the realization of these values should be the purpose of every society. In an ultimate sense, it is in the Era of the Redemption that the above goals will be realized, for then Mashiach will “perfect the entire world, [motivating all the nations] to serve G‑d together,”66 and in that era, “the occupation of the entire world will be solely to know G‑d.”67

We need not, however, wait for the future. A foretaste is possible in our days, for we are standing at the threshold of Redemption. We have the potential to anticipate the heightened spiritual awareness which will characterize the Era of the Redemption and incorporate it within the fabric of our society. And by doing so, we will help precipitate the coming of that ultimate era.

(Sichos Shabbos Parshas Ki Seitzei, 575168 )

Beloved are the people Israel, for they are called children of G‑d — There are two levels in our divine service: that of servants and that of children. The Zohar69 explains that the advantage of a son over a servant is that because of a father’s love for his son, he gives him the opportunity to look through all his treasures and see all the secret resources that have been cherished for ages. This concept introduces the third clause, which relates that “Beloved are the people Israel, for a precious article was given to them.” G‑d’s love for His people is so great that He granted them the Torah — an article so precious that it transcends all mortal limits.

(Sichos Shabbos Parshas Ki Savo, 5743)

The Hebrew words כלי חמדה, translated as “a precious article,” can have a more specific meaning. כלי also means “utensil,”70 andחמדה is associated with pleasure. The Torah is a utensil given to the Jewish people to bring out the pleasure which G‑d desired to derive from the world.

(Sichos Shabbos Parshas Shelach, 5737)


טו - הַכֹּל צָפוּי, וְהָרְשׁוּת נְתוּנָה, וּבְטוֹב הָעוֹלָם נִדּוֹן, וְהַכֹּל לְפִי רוֹב הַמַּעֲשֶׂה.

15. Everything is foreseen, yet freedom of choice is granted; the world is judged with goodness, and everything is according to the preponderance of [good] deeds.

Everything is foreseen — This statement can be interpreted as a support for the Baal Shem Tov’s teaching71 that everything — not only the events that involve man, but even those which influence inanimate matter, plants, and animals — comes about with Divine knowledge. Everything, even the most seemingly insignificant aspects of creation, such as a leaf fluttering in the wind, is foreseen by G‑d and controlled by His providence.

(Sichos Shabbos Parshas Ki Savo, 5746)

Alternatively, this phrase can be interpreted within the context of the mishnah at hand. By saying “everything,” the mishnah teaches that all of a person’s potentials and the challenges he will encounter are “foreseen.” G‑d knows His creations and does not confront them with unfair demands.72 Every person is granted a mission which he has the potential to fulfill.

Yet freedom of choice is granted — Every person has the potential to fulfill his personal destiny, but the choice to fulfill that destiny is his alone. No one can stand in his way, nor is there anyone compelling him.

(Sichos Shabbos Parshas Acharei-Kedoshim, 5728)

This clause also shares a connection to its author, Rabbi Akiva. As mentioned, Rabbi Akiva descended from a family of converts. On one hand, every convert is destined to convert. This is reflected in our Sages’73 use of the expression גר שנתגייר, (lit., “a convert who converts”) rather thanגוי שנתגייר (“a gentile who converts”). For even before a person actually converts, he possesses the spark of a holy soul.74 Nevertheless, there is no obligation for a convert to convert; indeed, the Rabbis are obligated to try to dissuade him. The decision to become a Jew is his alone.

(Sichos Motzoei Shabbos Parshas Emor, 5738; Sichos Shabbos Parshas Shelach, 5740)

The world is judged with goodness — Even when for various reasons a person does not completely fulfill the mission with which he was charged, G‑d judges him favorably and finds grounds on which his flaws can be excused.

This concept also serves as a directive for man to imitate this trait and always view a colleague with a favorable eye. When a person conducts himself in this fashion, G‑d will deal similarly with him.

(Ibid.)

Everything is according to the preponderance of [good] deeds — The Rambam interprets this mishnah75 to mean that the number of times one performs a positive act is significant; it is therefore preferable to give charity in the form of many different gifts than it is to give the same sum as a single donation. By giving repeatedly, a person ingrains the trait of generosity within his character.

In Tanya,76 the Alter Rebbe gives a different rationale for the same principle: that each time one performs a mitzvah, one creates a spiritual bond with G‑d, drawing down Divine influence to our material world. The more often one gives, the more often one draws down Divine influence.

(Sichos Shabbos Parshas Devarim, 5744)


טז - הוּא הָיָה אוֹמֵר: הַכֹּל נָתוּן בָּעֵרָבוֹן, וּמְצוּדָה פְרוּסָה עַל כָּל הַחַיִּים, הֶחָנוּת פְּתוּחָה, וְהַחֶנְוָנִי מַקִּיף, וְהַפִּנְקָס פָּתוּחַ, וְהַיָּד כּוֹתֶבֶת, וְכָל הָרוֹצֶה לִלְווֹת יָבֹא וְיִלְוֶה, וְהַגַּבָּאִין מַחֲזִירִין תָּדִיר בְּכָל יוֹם, וְנִפְרָעִין מִן הָאָדָם, מִדַּעְתּוֹ וְשֶׁלֹּא מִדַּעְתּוֹ, וְיֵשׁ לָהֶם עַל מַה שֶּׁיִּסְמוֹכוּ, וְהַדִּין דִּין אֱמֶת, וְהַכֹּל מְתֻקָּן לִסְעוּדָה.

16. He used to say: “Everything is given on collateral and a net is spread over all the living. The shop is open, the Shopkeeper extends credit, the ledger is open, the hand writes, and whoever wishes to borrow, let him come and borrow. The collectors make their rounds regularly, each day, and exact payment from man with or without his knowledge; and they have on what to rely. The judgment is a judgment of truth, and everything is prepared for the feast.”

The collectors... exact payment from man with or without his knowledge — The Baal Shem Tov explains77 it is impossible for any being — even the angels of the Heavenly Court — to judge a Jew. For a Jew’s soul is “an actual part of G‑d from above;78 even if he sins, this essential virtue remains intact.

How then is payment exacted? Divine Providence gives the person the opportunity, in casual discussions with a friend or the like, to judge a colleague who has performed a deed similar to his own. Afterwards, the judgment made with his knowledge about a colleague is “without his knowledge” applied to himself79 by the Heavenly Court.

(Likkutei Sichos, Vol. IV, p. 1207)

*Everything is prepared for the feast — “The feast” refers to the World to Come,80 the pinnacle of the Era of the Redemption. In the present age, this teaching is particularly relevant for, to echo the analogy, the table has already been set, the food has already been served, Mashiach is sitting with us at the table. All we need to do is open our eyes.

Our Sages81 describe Mashiach as waiting anxiously to come. In previous generations, however, his coming was delayed by the fact that the Jewish people had not completed the tasks expected of them. Now, however, those tasks have been accomplished; there is nothing lacking. To return to the above analogy: the feast is prepared; now we have to prepare ourselves. We have to ready ourselves to accept Mashiach.

(Sefer HaSichos, 5752, Vol. I, p. 151ff82 )


יז - רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר בֶּן עֲזַרְיָה אוֹמֵר: אִם אֵין תּוֹרָה אֵין דֶּרֶךְ אֶרֶץ, אִם אֵין דֶּרֶךְ אֶרֶץ אֵין תּוֹרָה, אִם אֵין חָכְמָה אֵין יִרְאָה, אִם אֵין יִרְאָה אֵין חָכְמָה, אִם אֵין דַּעַת אֵין בִּינָה, אִם אֵין בִּינָה אֵין דַּעַת, אִם אֵין קֶמַח אֵין תּוֹרָה, אִם אֵין תּוֹרָה אֵין קֶמַח. הוּא הָיָה אוֹמֵר: כֹּל שֶׁחָכְמָתוֹ מְרֻבָּה מִמַּעֲשָׂיו, לְמָה הוּא דוֹמֶה: לְאִילָן שֶׁעֲנָפָיו מְרֻבִּין וְשָׁרָשָׁיו מוּעָטִין, וְהָרוּחַ בָּאָה וְעוֹקַרְתּוֹ וְהוֹפַכְתּוֹ עַל פָּנָיו, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: וְהָיָה כְּעַרְעָר בָּעֲרָבָה, וְלֹא יִרְאֶה כִּי יָבֹא טוֹב, וְשָׁכַן חֲרֵרִים בַּמִּדְבָּר, אֶרֶץ מְלֵחָה וְלֹא תֵשֵׁב. אֲבָל, כֹּל שֶׁמַּעֲשָׂיו מְרֻבִּין מֵחָכְמָתוֹ, לְמָה הוּא דוֹמֶה: לְאִילָן, שֶׁעֲנָפָיו מוּעָטִין וְשָׁרָשָׁיו מְרֻבִּין, שֶׁאֲפִילוּ כָּל הָרוּחוֹת שֶׁבָּעוֹלָם בָּאוֹת וְנוֹשְׁבוֹת בּוֹ, אֵין מְזִיזִין אוֹתוֹ מִמְּקוֹמוֹ, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: וְהָיָה כְּעֵץ שָׁתוּל עַל מַיִם, וְעַל יוּבַל יְשַׁלַּח שָׁרָשָׁיו, וְלֹא יִרְאֶה כִּי יָבֹא חֹם, וְהָיָה עָלֵהוּ רַעֲנָן, וּבִשְׁנַת בַּצֹּרֶת לֹא יִדְאָג, וְלֹא יָמִישׁ מֵעֲשׂוֹת פֶּרִי.

17. Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah said: “If there is no Torah, there is no proper social conduct. If there is no proper social conduct, there is no Torah. If there is no wisdom, there is no fear [of G‑d]. If there is no fear [of G‑d], there is no wisdom.

“If there is no knowledge, there is no understanding. If there is no understanding, there is no knowledge. If there is no flour, there is no Torah. If there is no Torah, there is no flour.”

He used to say: “Anyone whose wisdom exceeds his [good] deeds, to what can he be compared? To a tree whose branches are numerous but whose roots are few. The wind will come and uproot it and turn it upside down; as it is stated:83 ‘And he shall be like a lonely tree in arid land, and shall not see when good comes; he shall dwell on parched soil in the wilderness, on uninhabitable salt-land.’

“In contrast, anyone whose [good] deeds exceed his wisdom, to what can he be compared? To a tree whose branches are few but whose roots are numerous, so that even if all the winds in the world were to come and blow against it, they could not move it from its place; as it is stated:84 ‘And he shall be like a tree planted by waters, toward the stream spreading its roots, and it shall not feel when the heat comes, and its foliage shall be verdant; in the year of drought it shall not worry, nor shall it cease from yielding fruit.’”

Anyone whose wisdom exceeds his [good] deeds, to what can he be compared? To a tree whose branches are numerous but whose roots are few — The analogy compares a person’s wisdom to branches, and his deeds to roots. But since one’s deeds are an outgrowth of one’s understanding, seemingly the reverse would be proper.

This difficulty can be resolved as follows: With the expression “[good] deeds,” the mishnah is referring to the ultimate source of motivation for our positive acts — the power of kabbalas ol, the acceptance of G‑d’s yoke.

Wisdom has an unlimited potential, though the effect it has on our conduct has its bounds. Kabbalas ol connects a person to the G‑dly source of his soul, and enables him to tap this infinite potential. Making an unreserved commitment to fulfill G‑d’s will thus serves as the “root” for all expressions of our personality, including wisdom, infusing them with unbounded strength and energy.

(Likkutei Sichos, Vol. IV, p. 1210ff)


יח - רַבִּי אֱלִיעֶזֶר (בן) חִסְמָא אוֹמֵר, קִנִּין, וּפִתְחֵי נִדָּה, הֵן הֵן גּוּפֵי הֲלָכוֹת, תְּקוּפוֹת, וְגִמַטְרִיָּאוֹת, פַּרְפְּרָאוֹת לַחָכְמָה.

18. Rabbi Eliezer (ben) Chisma said: “The laws pertaining to the bird-sacrifices and the calculation of the onset of the niddah state are essentials of Torah law; the calculation of the heavenly cycles and geometry are condiments to wisdom.”

The laws pertaining to the bird-sacrifices and the calculation of the onset of the niddah state — As the commentaries explain,85 calculations become necessary when a doubt arises with regard to these matters, and one must bring more bird-offerings or immerse oneself in the mikveh on more occasions than would be required had such doubt not arisen. Although these may appear of secondary importance

These are essentials of Torah law, — and must be studied with the same dedication that is given to other matters of Torah law. Ignoring them diminishes one’s comprehension of the Torah as a whole.

Rabbi Eliezer was an expert in mathematics and physics; Rabbi Yehoshua86 stated that he could calculate the number of drops of water in the ocean. It is thus implied that he could appreciate how even the most minute particle contributes a dimension of perfection to the entity of which it is a part. Similarly, he understood how even the apparently insignificant aspects of Torah law are essential.

(Sichos Shabbos Parshas Korach, 5741)

Footnotes
1.
Kiddushin 28a.
2.
Midrash Tanchuma, Parshas Bechukosai, sec. 3; Tanya, chs. 33 and 36.
3.
Tanya, ch. 2.
4.
See Likkutei Torah, Parshas Bechukosai 50d.
5.
Tehillim 1:1.
6.
Malachi 2:16.
7.
Eichah 3:28.
8.
Bava Kama 30a.
9.
On the surface, the connection between the two statements is questionable. And yet, were there no connection, the two concepts would not have been included in a single mishnah. (See Shaar HaKollel, ch. 30, sec. 3, which states that one of the reasons the Alter Rebbe included Pirkei Avos in his text of the Siddur was to emphasize the proper division of the mishnayos.)
10.
Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Melachim 12:5.
11.
The commentaries interpret this as a reference to idol worship.
12.
Yechezkel 41:22.
13.
See the essay entitled “A Bond of Oneness,” Timeless Patterns in Time, Vol. II, p. 83 (Kehot, N.Y., 1994).
14.
This concept is also alluded to by referring to G‑d with the name “the Omnipresent.” This name highlights G‑d’s presence in every dimension of existence, even the most mundane.
15.
III, 59b. There are several stories in the Talmud concerning Sages who prayed for rain and had their prayers answered (see Taanis 23a, 25b). What is unique about the story cited above is that rainfall came about, not as a response to prayer, but as a physical expression of the spiritual energies aroused through Torah study. See Sefer HaMaamarim 5679, p. 130ff.
16.
Tehillim 133:1.
17.
Shabbos 33b.
18.
See Taanis 10b.
19.
See the commentary of R. Ovadiah of Bartenura.
20.
See Vayikra Rabbah 21:3, which establishes a connection between Rabbi Chanina and Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. See also Kesubos 62b.
21.
Tehillim 119:162.
22.
Mishnah Torah, Hilchos Teshuvah 9:1.
23.
Tehillim 82:1.
24.
Amos 9:6.
25.
Tehillim 82:1.
26.
Malachi 3:16.
27.
Shmos 20:21.
28.
Sanhedrin 39a, see Tanya, Iggeres HaKodesh, Epistle 23.
29.
See our notes to chapter 6, mishnah 1.
30.
I Chronicles 29:14.
31.
See Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah, sec. 248.
32.
It is all the more significant that the statement was made by David, king of the Jewish people. Despite his exalted position, he was humble, and was able to inspire others with this feeling.
33.
Shabbos 11a.
34.
Taanis, loc. cit.
35.
As indicated by our Sages’ institution of the blessing shekachah lo beolamo when a person sees beautiful creations or pleasant-looking trees. (Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Berachos 10:13). See the commentary of R. Ovadiah of Bartenura to this mishnah.
36.
Devarim 4:9.
37.
Ibid.
38.
Ibid. 25:18.
39.
Note the Rambam, Sefer HaMitzvos (pos. mitzvah 189), who associates the mitzvah to remember Amalek with “arousing a desire... to battle them.” See Midrash Tanchuma, Parshas Seitze, sec. 9; Rashi, Devarim 25:18; Sefer HaMaamarim 5679, p. 294.
40.
Cf. Sefer HaMaamarim 5679, ibid., which focuses on the numerical equivalence between the name (עמלק) Amalek and the word ספק, meaning doubt. See also ibid., p. 65.
41.
Berachos 32b.
42.
Sefer Mitzvos Gadol, neg. mitzvah 13.
43.
Yereim.
44.
Siddur Tehillat HaShem, p. 254.
45.
Berachos 49a.
46.
For this reason, the mishnah mentions the festivals and not the Shabbasos. For the sanctification of the Shabbos is not dependent on the Jewish people, but is a natural function of the weekly spiritual cycle. See Beitzah 17a.
47.
Yoma 86b; cf. Tanya, ch. 7.
48.
Chulin 49a.
49.
Rashi, op. cit., mentions this view.
50.
Herein we see a connection to his ancestor Aharon, who “loved peace and pursued peace,” as mentioned in ch. 1, mishnah 12.
51.
The Rambam’s Introduction to the Mishneh Torah; Seder HaDoros.
52.
Avos d’Rabbi Nossan 6:2.
53.
See Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Isurei Bi’ah 15:8, which states that for several generations, the descendants of converts can be considered as if they themselves are converts with regard to certain matters.
54.
Bava Metzia 59b; Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XI, pgs. 107-108.
55.
Jerusalem Talmud, Nedarim 9:1.
56.
Mishlei 3:6.
57.
Bereishis 9:6.
58.
Devarim 14:1.
59.
Mishlei 4:2.
60.
Shmos 4:22.
61.
We also see such a pattern within the daily cycle of a person’s life. As a person rises and recites Modeh Ani, he should strive to attain the virtues seemly in one “created in the image of G‑d.” In prayer, he should seek to attain an ever-higher rung, realizing his potential as one of the children of G‑d. And afterwards, he should proceed from the house of prayer to the house of study (Berachos 64a), striving to reach the higher distinction that comes from employing G‑d’s “precious article.”
62.
The Rambam’s Introduction to the Mishneh Torah; Seder HaDoros.
63.
Avos d’Rabbi Nossan 6:2.
64.
Sifri, Berachah 34:7; Yalkut Shimoni end of Parshas Berachah, sec. 965.
65.
Vol. I, ch. 1.
66.
Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Melachim 11:4.
67.
Ibid. 12:5.
68.
See Sound the Great Shofar (Kehot, N.Y., 1992), where these ideas are explained at length.
69.
III, 111b.
70.
This interpretation is reflected in the statement at the beginning of Bereishis Rabbah, which quotes the Torah as saying: “I was the tool (כלי) used by G‑d to fashion His handiwork.”
71.
Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov as quoted in Kesser Shem Tov, Hosafos, sec. 119ff. See the essay entitled “Masterplan: The Baal Shem Tov’s Unique Conception of Divine Providence” (Sichos In English, 5752).
72.
Avodah Zarah 3a.
73.
Yevamos 22a, 47a.
74.
Chidah, Midbar Kadmos, Erech Gimmel. See Likkutei Sichos, Vol. X, p. 89, note 14.
75.
Avos, loc. cit.
76.
Iggeres HaKodesh, Epistle 21.
77.
Likkutei Maharan, sec. 113.
78.
Tanya, ch. 2.
79.
This also explains the expression (Avos 3:1) “and before whom you are destined to give a דין וחשבון (lit., a judgment and an accounting).” One might suppose that it would be proper to say “an accounting and a judgment,” for first a reckoning is made of a person’s deeds, and then a judgment is issued. The explanation, however, is that first a person is given the opportunity to judge a colleague, and then, on the basis of this judgment, an accounting is made with regard to his own deeds.
80.
See the Commentary of R. Ovadiah of Bartenura and others.
81.
Sanhedrin 98a.
82.
See Sound the Great Shofar (Kehot, N.Y., 1992).
83.
Yirmeyahu 17:6.
84.
Ibid. 17:8.
85.
R. Ovadiah of Bartenura.
86.
Horios 10b. See Tosafos Yom Tov who explains that this is reflected in his reference to astronomy (the knowledge of the heavens) and geometry (the knowledge of earthly wisdom).
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Ethics of the Fathers is a tractate of the Mishna that details the Torah's views on ethics and interpersonal relationships. Enjoy insights, audio classes and stories on these fascinating topics.