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Chapter Five (1)

Chapter Five (1)


א - בַּעֲשָׂרָה מַאֲמָרוֹת נִבְרָא הָעוֹלָם, וּמַה תַּלְמוּד לוֹמַר, וַהֲלֹא בְּמַאֲמַר אֶחָד יָכוֹל לְהִבָּרְאוֹת, אֶלָּא, לְהִפָּרַע מִן הָרְשָׁעִים שֶׁמְּאַבְּדִין אֶת הָעוֹלָם שֶׁנִּבְרָא בַּעֲשָׂרָה מַאֲמָרוֹת, וְלִתֵּן שָׂכָר טוֹב לַצַּדִּיקִים שֶׁמְּקַיְּמִין אֶת הָעוֹלָם שֶׁנִּבְרָא בַּעֲשָׂרָה מַאֲמָרוֹת.

1. The world was created by means of ten [Divine] utterances. What does this come to teach us, for indeed, it could have been created by one utterance? But it was so to bring retribution upon the wicked who destroy the world which was created by ten utterances, and to bestow ample reward upon the righteous who sustain the world which was created by ten utterances.

Chapter Five: The world was created by means of ten [Divine] utterances — According to the principles of Torah numerology, five represents a level of G‑dliness above all limitation,1 while ten reflects the structure of our finite, material world. The intent of this chapter of Pirkei Avos is to reveal the G‑dliness which transcends all limitation within the context of our material existence.

(Sefer HaSichos 5751, Vol. II, p. 772)

Significantly, although the mishnah mentions several sets of ten, it does not mention the Ten Commandments. The explanation for this omission is that all the sets of ten mentioned in this chapter — even “the ten miracles which transpired... in the Beis HaMikdash” — reflect how G‑dliness descends and takes on the limitations of our worldly existence.

To clothe Himself with the Torah, by contrast, is not a descent for G‑d. On the contrary, “the Torah and the Holy One, blessed be He, are one.”2 Therefore, when a person studies Torah for its own sake, he can rise above his worldly limitations.

(Likkutei Sichos, Vol. IV, p. 1226).

There is, however, a parallel between the Ten Commandments and the ten utterances of creation,3 for the Torah is the purpose for which the world was created,4 and it is through the Torah that the world’s existence is maintained. This represents the goal of man’s divine service: to endow every element of the world’s existence with its essential G‑dliness as revealed through the Torah.

(Sefer HaSichos 5751, Vol. II, p. 537ff)

Indeed, it could have been created by one utterance — If, however, the world had been created with one utterance, its nature would be fundamentally different than it is today.5 One utterance would have brought into being a material world, but there would have been no qualitative distinction between the various created beings. All existence would have reflected His oneness.

By creating the world with ten utterances, G‑d endowed each order of being with a nature of its own. For the ten utterances of creation reflect the ten sefiros, which combine and subdivide into an infinite array of Divine powers. Each of these powers is associated with a particular element of existence. Thus, through these ten mediums, a world which appears to have an identity other than G‑dliness came into being. By associating every element of existence with the dimension of the Torah that parallels it, man can demonstrate how the world is one with G‑d, not only from the perspective of transcendent oneness, but also within the context of its own particular existence.

(Sefer HaSichos 5750, Vol. II, p. 473ff; 5751, Vol. II, p. 538ff)

It was so to bring retribution upon the wicked who destroy the world which was created by ten utterances — One might ask: why did G‑d, the ultimate of good and kindness, create the world for this seemingly negative purpose?

It is possible to answer as follows. On the verse:6 “G‑d has made everything for His sake, also the wicked for his evil day,” the Alter Rebbe explains7 that G‑d created the wicked so that they will transform their “evil” into “day”; i.e., so that they will turn to Him and allow the G‑dly life-force hidden within them to shine forth.

To apply this concept in the present context: The word להפרע, translated as “bring retribution” literally means “collect His due.” G‑d does not bring retribution in order to punish, heaven forbid, but as a prod. He desires “to collect His due,” to prompt every individual to carry out the divine service for which he was created. When a person transgresses G‑d’s will, he can “pay his due” by turning to Him in teshuvah, for teshuvah transforms one’s sins into merits.8

Yes, by creating the world with ten utterances rather than one, G‑d allowed for the existence of a greater potential for evil. But this evil will not be permanent. Through teshuvah, it will be transformed into light and holiness.

To highlight this concept, our mishnah mentions the wicked before the righteous. For as our Sages declared:9 “In the place where baalei teshuvah stand, even those who are completely righteous cannot stand.”

(Sichos Shabbos Parshas Nitzavim, 5741, Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 30, p. 1ff.)

ב - עֲשָׂרָה דוֹרוֹת מֵאָדָם וְעַד נֹחַ, לְהוֹדִיעַ כַּמָּה אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם לְפָנָיו, שֶׁכָּל הַדּוֹרוֹת הָיוּ מַכְעִיסִין וּבָאִין, עַד שֶׁהֵבִיא עֲלֵיהֶם אֶת מֵי הַמַּבּוּל. עֲשָׂרָה דוֹרוֹת מִנֹּחַ וְעַד אַבְרָהָם, לְהוֹדִיעַ כַּמָּה אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם לְפָנָיו, שֶׁכָּל הַדּוֹרוֹת הָיוּ מַכְעִיסִין וּבָאִין, עַד שֶׁבָּא אַבְרָהָם אָבִינוּ וְקִבֵּל שְׂכַר כֻּלָּם.

2. There were ten generations from Adam to Noach to indicate how great is His patience; for all those generations repeatedly angered Him, until He brought upon them the waters of the Flood.

There were ten generations from Noach to Avraham to indicate how great is His patience, for all those generations repeatedly angered Him, until Avraham our father came and received the reward of them all.

There were ten generations... to indicate how great is His patience — Ten represents the full cycle of worldly existence. G‑d waits patiently for man to return to Him. When, however, man’s evil grows to encompasses all ten dimensions of his existence, G‑d initiates a change (the Flood, or the emergence of Avraham) which is intended to transform the nature of the entire world.

(Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XV, p. 71)

Until Avraham our father came and received the reward of them all — The mishnah does not make such a statement concerning Noach, for two differences separate Noach and the generations which preceded him from Avraham and the generations before him.

The generations before Noach had no redeeming virtues whatsoever. They “repeatedly angered G‑d,” and lived in constant friction, conflict, and discord. In contrast, although the generations that preceded Avraham also “repeatedly angered G‑d,” they at least shared a kindred spirit and treated each other with love.10 Hence, their conduct generated reward; they themselves, however, were unfit to receive it.

There was also a basic difference between Noach and Avraham. Noach did not seek to influence the behavior of the people around him,11 while Avraham tried to make all mankind conscious of G‑d.12 Through this conduct, Avraham “received the reward” generated by all the comradely deeds done by the generations which preceded him.

(Likkutei Sichos, Vol. III, p. 753)

ג - עֲשָׂרָה נִסְיוֹנוֹת נִתְנַסָּה אַבְרָהָם אָבִינוּ וְעָמַד בְּכֻלָּם, לְהוֹדִיעַ כַּמָּה חִבָּתוֹ שֶׁל אַבְרָהָם אָבִינוּ.

3. Our Patriarch Avraham was tested with ten tests, and he withstood them all to show how great was our Patriarch Avraham’s love [for G‑d].

Ten tests — As mentioned, the number ten reflects the full scope of our personal potential. Avraham showed his devotion to G‑d with every dimension of his being.

Ten tests... to show how great was our Patriarch Avraham’s love [for G‑d] — The purpose of the tests which Avraham underwent — and of the challenges which his descendants, each and every member of the Jewish people, confronts — is to bring into expression a more powerful love for G‑d, as it is written:13 “G‑d... is testing you to see if you love G‑d... with all your heart and with all your soul.”

Our Patriarch Avraham — Avraham is described as אבינו, our Patriarch (literally “our father”). Just as a father bequeaths his estate to his descendants, Avraham bequeathed his spiritual legacy to the entire Jewish people. His spiritual legacy empowers each of us, endowing us with the strength to withstand the challenges we face in our divine service.

(Sichos Shabbos Parshas Chukas, 5737)

ד - עֲשָׂרָה נִסִּים נַעֲשׂוּ לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ בְּמִצְרַיִם, וַעֲשָׂרָה עַל הַיָּם, עֶשֶׂר מַכּוֹת הֵבִיא הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא עַל הַמִּצְרִיִּים, בְּמִצְרַיִם, וְעֶשֶׂר עַל הַיָּם. עֲשָׂרָה נִסְיוֹנוֹת נִסּוּ אֲבוֹתֵינוּ אֶת הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא בַּמִּדְבָּר, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: וַיְנַסּוּ אֹתִי זֶה עֶשֶׂר פְּעָמִים וְלֹא שָׁמְעוּ בְּקוֹלִי.

4. Ten miracles were performed for our forefathers in Egypt, and ten at the Sea. The Holy One, blessed be He, brought ten plagues upon the Egyptians in Egypt and ten at the Sea. Our forefathers subjected the Holy One, blessed be He, to ten trials in the desert, as it is stated: “By now they have tested Me ten times, and did not heed My voice.”14

Ten miracles were performed for our forefathers — Pirkei Avos is intended to teach us pious conduct — how to serve G‑d beyond the measure of the law. What lesson in pious conduct can we learn from these points of history?

This question can be answered as follows: The fact that G‑d wrought miracles for the Jews in Egypt made the people aware of their true identity. Although they were still in exile, the miracles made them conscious that they were G‑d’s servants, rather than slaves of the Egyptians.

This is also true today. Although we are still in exile, we are G‑d’s servants, and subject to no other authority. Our commitment to Him need not be limited in any way. On the contrary, just as miracles represent a departure from nature, our commitment can rise above ordinary mortal constraints.

(Sichos Shabbos Parshas Nitzavim, 5738)

Ten miracles... ten trials — Miracles make a powerful impression on a person, for they reveal to him a reality above his own. Nevertheless, the impression is not internalized. This allows for the possibility — as reflected by the ten trials to which the Jews subjected G‑d in the desert — of forgetfulness and descent. Nevertheless, this fall is merely a phase in the “journey through the desert” — the march of our people (and of mankind) to Eretz Yisrael and Redemption.

(Sichos Shabbos Parshas Re’eh, 5736)

Ten trials — The mishnah uses the expression “trials,” rather than “sins” or “transgressions.” The Jews’ conduct in the desert tried G‑d’s power. But He proved Himself, and removed all their doubts, elevating the newborn nation to a higher level of faith. This is also indicated by the word “trial,” for the Hebrew original, נסיון, also connotes “elevation.”15

(Sichos Shabbos Parshas Chukas, 5743)

ה - עֲשָׂרָה נִסִּים נַעֲשׂוּ לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ בְּבֵית הַמִּקְדָּשׁ: לֹא הִפִּילָה אִשָּׁה מֵרֵיחַ בְּשַׂר הַקֹדֶשׁ, וְלֹא הִסְרִיחַ בְּשַׂר הַקֹּדֶשׁ מֵעוֹלָם, וְלֹא נִרְאָה זְבוּב בְּבֵית הַמִּטְבָּחַיִם, וְלֹא אִירַע קֶרִי לְכֹהֵן גָּדוֹל בְּיוֹם הַכִּפֻּרִים, וְלֹא כִבּוּ הַגְּשָׁמִים אֵשׁ שֶׁל עֲצֵי הַמַּעֲרָכָה, וְלֹא נִצְּחָה הָרוּחַ אֶת עַמּוּד הֶעָשָׁן, וְלֹא נִמְצָא פִסּוּל בָּעֹמֶר, וּבִשְׁתֵּי הַלֶּחֶם וּבְלֶחֶם הַפָּנִים, עוֹמְדִים צְפוּפִים וּמִשְׁתַּחֲוִים רְוָחִים, וְלֹא הִזִּיק נָחָשׁ וְעַקְרָב בִּירוּשָׁלַיִם, וְלֹא אָמַר אָדָם לַחֲבֵרוֹ צַר לִי הַמָּקוֹם שֶׁאָלִין בִּירוּשָׁלָיִם.

5. Ten miracles were wrought for our ancestors in the Beis HaMikdash:

a) no woman ever miscarried because of the aroma of the meat of the holy sacrifices;

b) the meat of the holy sacrifices never became putrid;

c) no fly was ever seen in the slaughter-house;

d) no bodily impurity ever befell the High Priest on Yom Kippur;

e) rain never extinguished the fire on the wood-pile of the altar;

f) the wind never prevailed over the column of smoke [rising from the altar, to dissipate it];

g) no disqualifying defect was ever found in the omer,16

or in the Two [Shavuos] Loaves,17

or in the Showbread18;

h) when the people stood, they were crowded together, yet when they prostrated themselves, they had ample space;

i) no snake or scorpion ever caused harm in Jerusalem;

j) nor did any man ever say to his fellowman: “The place is too crowded for me to lodge overnight in Jerusalem.”

Ten miracles were wrought for our ancestors in the Beis HaMikdash Pirkei Avos is intended to teach us mili dechassidusa, pious conduct beyond the measure of the law. Of what relevance is this point of historical information in that context?

The intent in relating these miracles is to make us conscious of the great love and care G‑d shows for our people. This knowledge in turn will inspire us to make a more complete commitment to our divine service. Moreover, by emphasizing the uniqueness of the Beis HaMikdash, the mishnah awakens our longing for those miracles to be revealed again, and spurs us to carry out those activities which will lead to the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash.

(Sichos Shabbos Behar-Bechukosai, 5731)

No woman ever miscarried because of the aroma of the meat of the holy sacrifices — It might seem that the first miracle mentioned by the mishnah should involve spiritual matters — those concerns which lie at the heart of our people’s sacrificial worship. The mishnah, however, wants to emphasize how dear every Jew is in G‑d’s eyes, and therefore cites an example which affects people on a personal level.


When the people stood, they were crowded together, yet when they prostrated themselves, they had ample space — This miracle reflects the necessities of our people’s prayer service. They would confess their sins when they prostrated themselves. Therefore ample space was necessary so that one person would not hear another’s confession.19 When standing in prayer, there was no religious difficulty concomitant with being crowded. Hence, no miracle transpired.

(Sichos Motzoei Shabbos Parshas Re’eh, 5738)

Alternatively, the miracle can be interpreted as a result of the people’s divine service. When they surrendered themselves totally to G‑d — the spiritual counterpart of prostration — they were blessed with ample space.

(Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXV, p. 300-301)

No snake or scorpion ever caused harm in Jerusalem — Although this and the following miracle took place outside the Beis HaMikdash, they are counted among the “ten miracles... wrought for our ancestors in the Beis HaMikdash,”20 because:

a) these miracles came about as a result of the influence of the sacrifices;

b) these miracles prevented the marring of the festive atmosphere during the pilgrimage holidays.

(Sichos Shabbos Parshas Chukas-Balak, 5736)

This miracle can also be appreciated in a homiletical sense. Jerusalem is associated with ahavas Yisrael and achdus Yisrael, love for every member of our people and the unity they share.21 Snakes and scorpions, by contrast, can be understood as analogies for strife and coldness. The positive influence of Jerusalem prevented these interpersonal flaws from coming to the surface.

(Sichos Motzoei Shabbos Parshas Re’eh, 5738)

Nor did any man ever say to his fellowman: “The place is too crowded for me to lodge overnight in Jerusalem” — This miracle can also be understood as an expression of the unity generated by Jerusalem. The mishnah does not say that the city was not crowded. On the contrary, it is highly likely that it was, for the multitude of festive pilgrims could not easily have found lodging. Nevertheless, the unity which the city inspired motivated both hosts and guests to be accommodating, and everyone accepted the crowded conditions willingly, without allowing the congestion to detract from their love for the holy city.


ו - עֲשָׂרָה דְבָרִים נִבְרְאוּ בְּעֶרֶב שַׁבָּת בֵּין הַשְּׁמָשׁוֹת, וְאֵלּוּ הֵן: פִּי הָאָרֶץ, פִּי הַבְּאֵר, פִּי הָאָתוֹן, הַקֶּשֶׁת, וְהַמָּן, וְהַמַּטֶּה, וְהַשָּׁמִיר, הַכְּתָב, וְהַמִּכְתָּב, וְהַלֻּחֹת. וְיֵשׁ אוֹמְרִים אַף קִבְרוֹ שֶׁל משֶׁה רַבֵּנוּ, וְאֵילוֹ שֶׁל אַבְרָהָם אָבִינוּ, וְיֵשׁ אוֹמְרִים אַף הַמַּזִּיקִין, וְאַף צְבַת בִּצְבַת עֲשׂוּיָה.

6. Ten entities were created on Shabbos eve at twilight. They are:

a) the opening of the earth [to swallow Korach];22

b) the mouth of the well [in the wilderness];23

c) the mouth of the donkey [of Bilaam];24

d) the rainbow;25

e) the mannah;26

f) the staff [of Moshe];27

g) the shamir worm [which split stones for the Beis HaMikdash];28

h) the writing [of the second Tablets];29

i) the inscription [of the first Tablets];30

j) and the Tablets.31

Some say also the burial place of Moshe32 and the ram of Avraham our Patriarch.33 And some say also the spirits of destruction34 as well as the [original] tongs, for tongs must be made with tongs.

Ten entities were created on Shabbos eve at twilight — Twilight — bein hashamashos —on Friday represents the instant of transition from the natural order of the weekdays to the Shabbos. Therefore entities created at that time represent a fusion of the natural and the infinite.35

This mishnah also has particular relevance for the present age. For, according to the conception that each of the days of creation parallels a millennia of existence,36 we are approaching twilight on Friday.37 Just as in the narrative of creation, miraculous entities which completed the work of creation as a whole were created at that time, we too are living in a time of miracles in which perfection can be granted to all existence.

(Likkutei Sichos, Vol. IV, p. 1224ff)

The mishnah can also be appreciated as teaching us the importance of using every moment. Twilight — the last moments before the commencement of the Shabbos — was used to enhance creation in its totality. Similarly, we have the potential to use every moment granted us to influence and improve our environment as a whole.

(Sichos Shabbos Parshas Behar-Bechukosai, 5747)

The inscription [of the first Tablets]... and the Tablets — The Tablets are symbolic of the deepest possible connection between Torah and man, for the letters of the Ten Commandments were hewn into the stones themselves.

When the letters of a Torah scroll are inscribed with ink on parchment, the words thus formed never become an integral part of the parchment. In the Tablets, they and the Torah were one and inseparable.38

This complete unity reflects a state in which one is totally united with the Torah. A person in this state does not see the Torah as an entity separate from himself, which he must study and whose laws he must follow, but rather as part and parcel of his own being. He and the Torah form a single whole.39

Just as the Tablets and their inscription were created at twilight on Friday, so too, this single-minded commitment to Torah is relevant in the present age — only moments before the twilight preceding “the day which is all Shabbos and rest for eternity.”40

The Era of the Redemption will be characterized by such a unified mindset, and this attitude both anticipates and precipitates its coming.

(Sichos Shabbos Parshas Nitzavim Vayeilech, 5742)

The spirits of destruction — The purpose of these spirits’ creation is that they will eventually be transformed into positive influences.41 Nevertheless, it is beyond the ability of man alone to affect this transformation. Therefore these spirits were created at twilight on the eve of the Shabbos, connecting their existence and the transcendent nature of that time. This transcendent power makes possible their transformation.

(Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XVII, p. 383-384)

The [original] tongs, for tongs must be made with tongs — Tongs represent man’s ability to change and mold his environment. The mishnah emphasizes that this potential (the original tongs) is a gift given to man by G‑d.

The tongs were created on Friday at twilight, i.e., they were the very last creations brought into being. This indicates that man’s efforts represent the ultimate goal of creation, for it is man’s efforts which will bring all existence to perfection.

(Sefer HaSichos 5748, Vol. II, p. 605)

ז - שִׁבְעָה דְבָרִים בְּגֹלָם וְשִׁבְעָה בְּחָכָם, חָכָם: אֵינוֹ מְדַבֵּר לִפְנֵי מִי שֶׁגָּדוֹל מִמֶּנוּ בְּחָכְמָה וּבְמִנְיָן, וְאֵינוֹ נִכְנָס לְתוֹךְ דִּבְרֵי חֲבֵרוֹ, וְאֵינוֹ נִבְהָל לְהָשִׁיב, שׁוֹאֵל כְּעִנְיָן וּמֵשִׁיב כַּהֲלָכָה, וְאוֹמֵר עַל רִאשׁוֹן רִאשׁוֹן וְעַל אַחֲרוֹן אַחֲרוֹן, וְעַל מַה שֶּׁלֹּא שָׁמַע אוֹמֵר לֹא שָׁמַעְתִּי, וּמוֹדֶה עַל הָאֱמֶת, וְחִלּוּפֵיהֶן בְּגֹלָם.

7. Seven things characterize a stupid person, and seven a wise one. A wise man does not speak before one who is greater than he in wisdom or in years; he does not interrupt the words of his fellow; he does not rush to answer; he asks what is relevant to the subject matter and replies to the point. He speaks of first things first and of last things last; concerning that which he has not heard, he says, “I have not heard,” and he acknowledges the truth.

And the reverse of these characterize a stupid person.

Concerning that which he has not heard, he says, “I have not heard” — In his commentary on this Mishnah, Rashi (and similarly, R. Ovadiah of Bartenura) interprets this as referring to a wise man’s reluctance to render a halachic decision based on only his own reasoning. Unless he has heard a ruling from an authoritative source, he refrains from stating his opinion.

Without discounting Rashi’s view, it is also possible to interpret the mishnah’s statements simply: a wise man is not ashamed to admit his lack of knowledge. He has the humility to acknowledge the limits of his wisdom.

(Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XVII, p. 110)

ח - שִׁבְעָה מִינֵי פֻרְעָנִיּוֹת בָּאִין לְעוֹלָם, עַל שִׁבְעָה גוּפֵי עֲבֵרָה: מִקְצָתָן מְעַשְּׂרִין וּמִקְצָתָן אֵינָן מְעַשְּׂרִין, רָעָב שֶׁל מְהוּמָה בָּא, מִקְצָתָן רְעֵבִים וּמִקְצָתָן שְׂבֵעִים. גָּמְרוּ שֶׁלֹּא לְעַשֵּׂר, רָעָב שֶׁל בַּצֹּרֶת בָּא. וְשֶׁלֹּא לִטּוֹל אֶת הַחַלָּה, רָעָב שֶׁל כְּלָיָה בָּא. דֶּבֶר בָּא לְעוֹלָם: עַל מִיתוֹת הָאֲמוּרוֹת בַּתּוֹרָה שֶׁלֹּא נִמְסְרוּ לְבֵית דִּין, וְעַל פֵּרוֹת שְׁבִיעִית. חֶרֶב בָּאָה לְעוֹלָם, עַל עִנּוּי הַדִּין, וְעַל עִוּוּת הַדִּין, וְעַל הַמּוֹרִים בַּתּוֹרָה שֶׁלֹּא כַהֲלָכָה.

8. Seven kinds of punishment come to the world for seven kinds of transgressions.

If some tithe and some do not, a famine of [war] panic ensues: some suffer hunger and some have plenty.

If all decide not to tithe, a famine of drought ensues; and [if they also decide] not to separate the challah,42 a famine of destruction ensues.

Pestilence comes to the world [as retribution for the transgressions which] the Torah mentions that are punishable by death, but which the court of justice was not empowered to carry out; and for [making forbidden use of] the fruits of the Sabbatical year.43

War comes to the world for the delay of justice, for the perversion of justice and for rendering a Torah decision not in accordance with halachah.

*War comes to the world... for rendering a Torah decision not in accordance with halachah — This mishnah indicates that there is a direct connection between peace and the integrity of Torah law. Flaunting Torah law is not only a question of religious observance, it’s a matter of security. The converse is also true; adherence to the Torah promotes peace and safety for our people, both in Eretz Yisrael and throughout the world.

ט - חַיָּה רָעָה בָּאָה לְעוֹלָם, עַל שְׁבוּעַת שָׁוְא וְעַל חִלּוּל הַשֵּׁם. גָּלוּת בָּא לְעוֹלָם, עַל עֲבוֹדָה זָרָה, וְעַל גִּלּוּי עֲרָיוֹת, וְעַל שְׁפִיכוּת דָּמִים, וְעַל שְׁמִטַּת הָאָרֶץ. בְּאַרְבָּעָה פְרָקִים הַדֶּבֶר מִתְרַבֶּה, בָּרְבִיעִית, וּבַשְּׁבִיעִית, וּבְמוֹצָאֵי שְׁבִיעִית, וּבְמוֹצָאֵי הַחַג שֶׁבְּכָל שָׁנָה וְשָׁנָה. בָּרְבִיעִית,מִפְּנֵימַעֲשֵׂר עָנִי שֶׁבַּשְּׁלִישִׁית. בַּשְּׁבִיעִית, מִפְּנֵי מַעֲשֵׂר עָנִי שֶׁבַּשִּׁשִּׁית. בְּמוֹצָאֵי שְׁבִיעִית, מִפְּנֵי פֵּרוֹת שְׁבִיעִית. בְּמוֹצָאֵי הַחַג שֶׁבְּכָל שָׁנָה וְשָׁנָה, מִפְּנֵי גֵזֶל מַתְּנוֹת עֲנִיִּים.

9. Wild beasts come upon the world for swearing falsely and profaning the Divine Name. Exile comes to the world for idolatry, for prohibited sexual relations, for murder, and for not leaving the earth at rest during the Sabbatical year.

At four periods [within the seven-year agricultural cycle] pestilence increases: in the fourth year, in the seventh year, in the year following the Sabbatical year, and annually at the conclusion of the festival of Sukkos.

In the fourth year for not having given the tithe for the poor in the third. In the seventh year for not having given the tithe for the poor in the sixth. In the year following the Sabbatical year for [not observing the laws pertaining to] the produce of the Sabbatical year. Annually, at the conclusion of the festival of Sukkos for robbing the poor of their [harvest] gifts.44

Exile comes to the world for idolatry... — This teaches us that exile runs contrary to the very nature of the world. Were these four sins not to be committed — even if other transgressions were, heaven forbid — there would be no exile. Although the natural order of the world requires that G‑dliness be concealed to a certain extent, the deeper hiddenness brought about by exile is unnatural.

Since exile runs contrary to nature, one may ask: Why did G‑d give man the potential to bring about exile?45 The answer reflects G‑d’s kindness. G‑d desired that man reach a level of connection with Him that surpasses the limits of creation — an “unnatural” bond as it were. This will be realized in the Era of the Redemption. Moreover, in His kindness, G‑d desired that man attain this level through his own efforts. For this to be possible, He employed a catalyst, exile. For exile also runs contrary to the natural order, but can be brought about by man’s conduct.

(Sichos Shabbos Parshas Balak, 5744)

Idolatry, for prohibited sexual relations, for murder, and for not leaving the earth at rest during the Sabbatical year — Since, as is frequently mentioned, Pirkei Avos teaches mili dechassidusa, pious behavior beyond the measure of the law, of what importance is the mention of these four sins? Even people who are not overly pious do not commit them.

The answer lies in the homiletic interpretation of these four transgressions. When mentioning idol worship, the mishnah does not refer merely to one who bows to a statue. The intent is to indicate anyone who even conceives of the existence of a power other than G‑d. This, unfortunately, is a fault found in many. Is it not natural for a person to think, “It was my strength and the power of my hand which brought me this prosperity”?46 And do not people make idols out of wisdom or achievement?

With regard to sexual impropriety, even a person who would never consider performing such acts may from time to time relax his standards of modesty. And with regard to murder, our Sages47 equate embarrassing a person in public with homicide.

Similarly, with regard to the observance of the Sabbatical year, in addition to the implied geographic conception of Eretz Yisrael, there is also a spiritual conception, the reaffirmation of G‑d’s creation,48 and the observance of the Sabbatical year in this context is relevant to all Jews, wherever and whenever they live.49


י - אַרְבַּע מִדּוֹת בָּאָדָם: הָאוֹמֵר שֶׁלִּי שֶׁלָּךְ, וְשֶׁלָּךְ שֶׁלִּי, עַם הָאָרֶץ. שֶׁלִּי שֶׁלִּי, וְשֶׁלָּךְ שֶׁלָּךְ, זוֹ מִדָּה בֵינוֹנִית, וְיֵשׁ אוֹמְרִים זוֹ מִדַּת סְדוֹם. שֶׁלִּי שֶׁלָּךְ, וְשֶׁלָּךְ שֶׁלָּךְ, חָסִיד. שֶׁלָּךְ שֶׁלִּי, וְשֶׁלִּי שֶׁלִּי, רָשָׁע.

10. There are four [character] types among men: He who says, “What is mine is yours, and what is yours is mine” is an ignoramus. [He who says,] “What is mine is mine, and what is yours is yours” this is a median characteristic; some say this is the characteristic of [the people of] Sodom. [He who says,] “What is mine is yours, and what is yours is yours” is pious. And [he who says,] “What is yours is mine, and what is mine is mine” is wicked.

[He who says,] “What is mine is yours, and what is yours is yours,” is pious — The mishnah is talking about a person who may not have the financial means to give generously. Nevertheless, while giving the little he can, he bolsters the spirits of the poor person50 by explaining that even the little which he himself owns belongs equally to the poor man.

This attitude is sufficient to have him termed pious.

(Sichos Motzoei Shabbos Parshas Re’eh, 5739)

[He who says,] “What is yours is mine, and what is mine is mine,” is wicked — As mentioned several times, Pirkei Avos concerns mili dechassidusa —pious conduct beyond the measure of the law. Why should a wicked man who says “What is yours is mine” be mentioned at all in such a text?

It can be explained that such a person merely says “What is yours is mine...”; in practice, he gives and even gives generously. Nevertheless, from the perspective of mili dechassidusa, since he frequently makes such statements, belittling the poor who receive his generosity, he is considered wicked.


See Likkutei Torah, Shir HaShirim 24d; Sefer HaMaamarim 5570, p. 92.
Tanya, ch. 4 and beginning of ch. 23, in the name of the Zohar; see Zohar II, 60a; Likkutei Torah, Nitzavim 46a.
Zohar III, p. 11b.
See Rashi, Bereishis 1:1.
Sefer HaMaamarim 5659, p. 144.
Mishlei 16:4.
Tanya, ch. 27.
Yoma 86b; see Tanya, ch. 7. See also the essay entitled “Teshuvah — Return, not Repentance,” Timeless Patterns in Time, Vol. I, p. 33ff (Kehot, N.Y., 5753), where this concept is explained at length.
Berachos 34b; Rambam, Hilchos Teshuvah 7:4.
Sanhedrin 109a.
Zohar I, 67b.
Sotah 10a.
Devarim 13:4.
Bamidbar 14:22.
Sefer HaMaamarim 5689, p. 203ff.
Vayikra 23:9-14.
Ibid. 23:16-17.
V. Shmos 25:30; Vayikra 24:5-8.
Vayikra Rabbah 10:9.
Note Yoma 21a, which focuses on this issue. Significantly, it is not mentioned by the classic commentaries on Pirkei Avos (Rashi, Rambam, or R. Ovadiah of Bartenura), implying that it is understood that these miracles came about only as a result of the influence of the Beis HaMikdash.
See the Jerusalem Talmud, Chagigah 3:6 commenting on Tehillim 122:3.
Bamidbar 16:32.
Ibid. 21:16-18; Shmos 17:6.
Bamidbar 22:28.
Bereishis 9:13.
Shmos 16:11-15, 31-36.
Shmos 4:17.
V. Gittin 68a; Sotah 48b.
Shmos 34:1.
Ibid. 32:16.
Loc. cit.
V. Devarim 34:6.
V. Bereishis 22:13.
V. Bereishis Rabbah 7:5; Midrash Tanchuma Bereishis, sec. 17; Yalkut Shimoni, Bereishis, sec. 12.
These miracles represent a more complete expression of infinity than those which occurred in the Beis HaMikdash. For the latter involved the negation of undesirable influences, while the entities created at twilight were totally positive in nature.
See the commentary of the Ramban, Bereishis 2:3.
See Sefer HaSichos 5750, Vol. I, p. 254ff.
See Likkutei Torah, Parshas Bechukosai, p. 45a.
For a broader exposition of this concept, see Likkutei Sichos, Vol. II, Parshas Chukas, and the sources listed there.
The conclusion of Tractate Tamid.
See Toras Kohanim, Bechukosai 26:6.
V. Bamidbar 15:20; Yechezkel 44:30.
V. Shmos 23:11; Vayikra 25:1-7.
Vayikra 19:9-10; 23:22. Devarim 24:19-22.
This question is based on the premise that exile comes because G‑d gave man free choice, and man chose to commit these four severe sins. Nevertheless, since exile runs contrary to the nature of the world, one might ask why the ability to unleash such a catastrophe was given to man.
Devarim 8:17.
Bava Metzia 58b.
See Sefer HaChinuch, mitzvah 84.
The severity of the violation of the Sabbatical laws is reflected by the fact that they are grouped together with these three sins — sins so severe that, in contrast to all other sins mentioned in the Torah, if forced to choose between death and committing them, one should choose death (Sanhedrin 74a).
See Bava Basra 9b, which states that a person who does not have the means to give charity should endeavor to lift the spirits of a poor person who asks for a gift.
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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.