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Chapter Five (2)

Chapter Five (2)


יא - אַרְבַּע מִדּוֹת בְּדֵעוֹת: נוֹחַ לִכְעוֹס וְנוֹחַ לֵרָצוֹת, יָצָא הֶפְסֵדוֹ בִּשְׂכָרוֹ. קָשֶׁה לִכְעוֹס וְקָשֶׁה לֵרָצוֹת, יָצָא שְׂכָרוֹ בְּהֶפְסֵדוֹ. קָשֶׁה לִכְעוֹס וְנוֹחַ לֵרָצוֹת, חָסִיד. נוֹחַ לִכְעוֹס וְקָשֶׁה לֵרָצוֹת, רָשָׁע.

11. There are four types of temperaments: Easily angered and easily pacified — his loss is outweighed by his merit; hard to anger and hard to pacify — his merit is outweighed by his loss; hard to anger and easy to pacify — pious; easily angered and hard to pacify — wicked.

Easily angered and hard to pacify — wicked — Again, one might ask why Pirkei Avos should concern itself with a person of this nature?

Here, too, a similar resolution can be offered. “Easily angered and hard to pacify”1 refers to the person’s temperament, not to his conduct. In practice, the person is able to restrain himself, and should he lose his temper, he becomes mollified quickly. Nevertheless, since he possesses such a tendency, Pirkei Avos terms him “wicked” so he should realize the challenge he faces.

Similarly, people who are only “easily angered” or “hard to pacify” must realize the importance of going beyond that nature and eradicating such traits.

(Sichos Shabbos Parshas Nitzavim-Vayeilech, 5739)

יב - אַרְבַּע מִדּוֹת בְּתַלְמִידִים: מַהֵר לִשְׁמוֹעַ וּמַהֵר לְאַבֵּד, יָצָא שְׂכָרוֹ בְּהֶפְסֵדוֹ. קָשֶׁה לִשְׁמוֹעַ וְקָשֶׁה לְאַבֵּד, יָצָא הֶפְסֵדוֹ בִּשְׂכָרוֹ. מַהֵר לִשְׁמוֹעַ וְקָשֶׁה לְאַבֵּד, זֶה חֵלֶק טוֹב. קָשֶׁה לִשְׁמוֹעַ וּמַהֵר לְאַבֵּד, זֶה חֵלֶק רָע.

12. There are four types of students: Quick to grasp and quick to forget — his gain is overridden by his loss; slow to grasp and slow to forget — his loss is overridden by his gain; quick to grasp and slow to forget — this is a good portion; slow to grasp and quick to forget — this is a bad portion.

There are four types of students — One might ask: What is the point of this teaching? Seemingly, it is an obvious observation which any teacher could make. Moreover, what connection does it share with Pirkei Avos, which teaches pious conduct?

The key to the mishnah is that role of a teacher which it attempts to nurture. Generally, we think of a teacher as a person who imparts knowledge. The mishnah informs us that the approach of mili dechassidusa obligates teachers to accept a more encompassing task.

They should see themselves as being responsible for their students’ conceptual development. This necessitates a careful appreciation of their capacities, and conscientious efforts to offset their weaknesses and accentuate their strengths.

When a teacher sees that a student is quick to grasp, he must maintain a connection and observe the student’s powers of retention. If the student is by nature quick to forget, the teacher must emphasize the importance of repeatedly reviewing the subject matter.

If he sees that a student is by nature slow to grasp the material being taught, the teacher should not give up and direct his attention to other students. It is possible that the student is also slow to forget, and then “his loss is overridden by his gain.”

Even if the student is also quick to forget, the teacher should not despair. Although such a student has been given a bad portion, this reflects merely his natural tendencies. Everyone has the potential to apply himself, and through such effort overcome natural disabilities and succeed in his studies.

Conversely, when a teacher has a student who is quick to grasp and slow to forget, and therefore succeeds in his studies, the teacher should not become overly proud. Instead, he should realize that the student has been given “a good portion,” and be content that he was able to nurture these potentials.

(Sichos Shabbos Parshas Bamidbar, 5744)

יג - אַרְבַּע מִדּוֹת בְּנוֹתְנֵי צְדָקָה: הָרוֹצֶה שֶׁיִּתֵּן וְלֹא יִתְּנוּ אֲחֵרִים, עֵינוֹ רָעָה בְּשֶׁל אֲחֵרִים. יִתְּנוּ אֲחֵרִים וְהוּא לֹא יִתֵּן, עֵינוֹ רָעָה בְּשֶׁלּוֹ. יִתֵּן וְיִתְּנוּ אֲחֵרִים, חָסִיד. לֹא יִתֵּן וְלֹא יִתְּנוּ אֲחֵרִים, רָשָׁע.

13. There are four types among those who give charity: One who wishes to give but that others should not — he begrudges others; that others should give and he should not — he begrudges himself; that he should give and others should too — he is pious; that he should not give nor should others — he is wicked.

There are four types among those who give charity — One might ask: Why is a person who wishes that “he should not give nor should others” included among those who give charity? The truth is, however, that every Jew is by nature a giver of charity. Even when he does not actually give, his inner desire is to do so, for every Jew wishes to perform all the mitzvos, and separate himself from sin. It is merely his evil inclination which sometimes compels him to act otherwise. 2

And the very awareness of this inner will is itself an impetus bringing it into expression. For the essential nature of every entity seeks expression. This tendency is enhanced when the individual and those around him are conscious of this inner drive.

(Sichos Shabbos Parshas Eikev, 5747)

Alternatively, it can be explained that, in practice, all four types of people give charity, for this is a natural expression of a Jew’s nature. Differences will exist only with regard to the thinking processes accompanying the act. There may be those who wish that neither they nor others should give, but in practice all give.

(Sichos Shabbos Parshas Nitzavim-Vayeilech, 5739)

יד - אַרְבַּע מִדּוֹת בְּהוֹלְכֵי בֵית הַמִּדְרָשׁ: הוֹלֵךְ וְאֵינוֹ עוֹשֶׂה, שְׂכַר הֲלִיכָה בְּיָדוֹ. עוֹשֶׂה וְאֵינוֹ הוֹלֵךְ, שְׂכַר מַעֲשֶׂה בְּיָדוֹ. הוֹלֵךְ וְעוֹשֶׂה, חָסִיד. לֹא הוֹלֵךְ וְלֹא עוֹשֶׂה, רָשָׁע.

14. There are four types among those who attend the House of Study: One who attends but does not engage [in study] earns the reward for going. One who engages [in study] but does not attend earns the reward for the act [of studying]. One who attends and engages [in study] is pious. One who neither attends nor engages [in study] is wicked.

There are four types among those who attend the House of Study — The natural place for all Jews is the House of Study. Even a person who in fact “neither attends nor engages [in study],” is therefore “among those who attend the House of Study.”

(Sichos Shabbos Parshas Eikev, 5747)

Alternatively, we can interpret the reference to one who “neither attends nor engages [in study]” as pertaining to a person prevented from carrying out these activities by circumstances beyond his control. Even so, from the standpoint of mili dechassidusa, he is considered wicked.3 As the Previous Rebbe would say:4 “A completely righteous man who neglects his Torah study because of the weakness of his body must turn [to G‑d] in complete teshuvah from the depths of his heart.”

(Sichos Shabbos Parshas Nitzavim-Vayeilech, 5739)

טו - אַרְבַּע מִדּוֹת בְּיוֹשְׁבִים לִפְנֵי חֲכָמִים: סְפוֹג, וּמַשְׁפֵּךְ, מְשַׁמֶּרֶת, וְנָפָה. סְפוֹג, שֶׁהוּא סוֹפֵג אֶת הַכֹּל. וּמַשְׁפֵּךְ, שֶׁמַּכְנִיס בְּזוֹ וּמוֹצִיא בְזוֹ. מְשַׁמֶּרֶת, שֶׁמּוֹצִיאָה אֶת הַיַּיִן וְקוֹלֶטֶת אֶת הַשְּׁמָרִים. וְנָפָה, שֶׁמּוֹצִיאָה אֶת הַקֶּמַח וְקוֹלֶטֶת אֶת הַסֹּלֶת:

15. There are four types among those who sit before the Sages. [They are likened to] a sponge, a funnel, a strainer, and a sieve: A sponge, which absorbs everything; a funnel, which takes in from one end and spills out from the other; a strainer, which allows the wine to flow out and retains the dregs; and a sieve, which allows the flour to pass through and retains the fine flour.

There are four types among those who sit before the Sages — The previous mishnah mentions “those who attend the House of Study,” i.e., students who are at the early stages of learning. By mentioning “those who sit before the Sages,” our mishnah is referring to more developed students — those who have already grasped the fundamentals and desire more intensive scholarship. Such individuals must appreciate that in addition to their own study, they must begin communicating the wisdom they grasp to others. This is the focus of the present mishnah and its analysis of the four types of students.

A sponge which absorbs — It’s natural that when a person hears an interesting concept, he will desire to share it with others. There are times, however, e.g., in the study of mystical matters, when our Sages warn against passing on concepts indiscriminately.5 Similarly, there are occasions6 when they have said: “This is the halachah, but it should not be taught publicly.” In such instances, a person must struggle against his natural tendency and, like a sponge, retain the knowledge within himself.

A funnel, which takes in from one end and spills out from the other — Such a teacher shares everything with others, without considering himself at all. On the contrary, he dedicates himself to the welfare of his colleagues, granting them all the wisdom he possesses.

A strainer, which allows the wine to flow out and retains the dregs — Every concept possesses certain dimensions whose positive nature are readily obvious. Like wine, they have a pleasant flavor which can be easily appreciated. And there are other, secondary, dimensions which are like dregs, the usefulness of which cannot be grasped straightaway.

At times, a teacher must allow the “wine” to flow out and retain the “dregs,” presenting his students with those ideas which they can readily appreciate.

A sieve, which allows the flour to pass through and retains the fine flour — Although fine flour is more refined than ordinary flour, it is not suited for as many tasks. Similarly, when it comes to communicating refined ideas, since they may not be comprehended by the listeners, there are times when one should release only the “flour” — the general outline — and retain the “fine flour” — the deeper comprehension of the matter. Otherwise, one’s students may become confused.

(Sichos Shabbos Parshas Behar-Bechukosai, 5743)

Alternatively, this mishnah can be taken as advice to a teacher with regard to developing his students’ potentials. At times — particularly at the beginning of a course of study — a student may be like a sponge which absorbs everything. The teacher must be aware of his student’s inability to discriminate.

In other situations — particularly when a student is tired — he becomes like a funnel, which takes in from one end and spills out from the other. When this happens, a teacher should realize that it is more valuable to cease his instruction temporarily.

As a student grows more accomplished, he develops the ability to make distinctions. Nevertheless, it is quite possible that he will grasp only the more concrete dimensions of the subject matter, without attempting to appreciate the more abstract elements — like a strainer, which allows the wine to flow out and retains the dregs. In such an instance, a teacher must train his student until he is like a sieve, which allows the flour to pass through and retains the fine flour.

(Sichos Shabbos Parshas Behar-Bechukosai, 5731)

טז - כָּל אַהֲבָה שֶׁהִיא תְלוּיָה בְדָבָר, בָּטֵל דָּבָר בְּטֵלָה אַהֲבָה, וְשֶׁאֵינָהּ תְּלוּיָה בְדָבָר, אֵינָהּ בְּטֵלָה לְעוֹלָם. אֵיזוֹ הִיא אַהֲבָה שֶׁהִיא תְלוּיָה בְדָבָר, זוֹ אַהֲבַת אַמְנוֹן וְתָמָר, וְשֶׁאֵינָהּ תְּלוּיָה בְדָבָר, זוֹ אַהֲבַת דָּוִד וִיהוֹנָתָן.

16. Whenever love is dependent upon a specific consideration, when that consideration vanishes, the love ceases. If, by contrast, it is not dependent upon a specific consideration, it will never cease.

Which is a love that is dependent upon a specific thing? The love of Amnon and Tamar.7 And one which is not dependent upon a specific thing? The love of David and Yonasan.8

Whenever love is dependent upon a specific consideration, when that consideration vanishes, the love ceases — The lesson this mishnah teaches — that love which is dependent on an external factor is no more lasting than the factor on which it is based — though profound and encompassing, is also obvious. Within the wording of the mishnah and the examples it provides is a deeper concept.

The mishnah uses the expression “is dependent upon a specific consideration” rather than “stems from a specific consideration” to teach that even though love may be based at first on a specific consideration, if it is nurtured and cultivated, it will function as an “essential” love — one that is not dependent on an outside factor.

To illustrate this concept, the mishnah cites the love of...

David and Yonasan — At the outset, there were reasons why these two were attracted to each other. Nevertheless, their relationship developed to the point that it was no longer dependent on its original reasons and flourished into an example of essential love.

Conversely, the other example given by the mishnah — the love between Amnon and Tamar — shows how an essential love such as the connection shared by a brother and sister can be corrupted when an external factor is given excessive consideration.

These concepts have parallels in our service of G‑d. There are feelings of love that stem from a person’s intellectual appreciation of G‑dliness, or because of his gratitude for blessings received. On a deeper level, there is an essential love which each person possesses because his soul is “an actual part of G‑d.”9 Even when the beginnings of a person’s conscious bond with G‑d are dependent on external factors, the relationship can become true and lasting, since at all times he shares an essential connection.

(Sichos Shabbos Parshas Bechukosai, 5733)

יז - כָּל מַחֲלֹקֶת שֶׁהִיא לְשֵׁם שָׁמַיִם, סוֹפָהּ לְהִתְקַיֵּם, וְשֶׁאֵינָהּ לְשֵׁם שָׁמַיִם, אֵין סוֹפָהּ לְהִתְקַיֵּם. אֵיזוֹ הִיא מַחֲלֹקֶת שֶׁהִיא לְשֵׁם שָׁמַיִם, זוֹ מַחֲלֹקֶת הִלֵּל וְשַׁמַּאי. וְשֶׁאֵינָהּ לְשֵׁם שָׁמַיִם, זוֹ מַחֲלֹקֶת קֹרַח וְכָל עֲדָתוֹ.

17. Any controversy which is for the sake of Heaven will be perpetuated; and that which is not for the sake of Heaven will not be perpetuated.

Which is a controversy for the sake of Heaven? The controversy between Hillel and Shammai.10 And which is not for the sake of Heaven? The controversy of Korach and all his faction.11

Which is a controversy for the sake of Heaven? The controversy between Hillel and Shammai — The Zohar12 explains that the controversy between Hillel and Shammai stemmed from the fact that Shammai’s soul was characterized by the quality of gevurah, might, while Hillel’s was characterized by the quality of chesed, kindness. These attributes are highlighted by several examples in the Talmud which show Shammai as short-tempered and Hillel as gentle and patient.13 For that reason, Hillel’s opinions would generally be more lenient, and Shammai’s more stringent.

Nevertheless, the differences of opinion between Hillel and Shammai were not merely expressions of their personal natures; they were “for the sake of Heaven.” As proof, we find several instances14 in which Shammai issued lenient rulings, and Hillel, more stringent ones. Because their study of Torah was characterized by a selfless desire to discover G‑d’s truth, they rose above their individual natures and at times displayed the opposite thrust.

As long as a person’s divine service follows his natural tendencies, he can never be sure that his intent is to serve G‑d; it is possible that his efforts, however worthy, do not reflect a commitment above his individual nature. When, by contrast, he is required to display tendencies that run contrary to his nature, it is clear that he is being motivated by a commitment to G‑d that transcends his personal motives.15

(Sichos Shabbos Parshas Bamidbar, 5734)

The controversy of Korach and all his faction — The mishnah does not say “the controversy of Korach and Moshe,” for Moshe was not involved in controversy. Although Korach aroused strife, Moshe’s response was intended solely to preserve the unity of the Jewish people.


יח - כָּל הַמְזַכֶּה אֶת הָרַבִּים אֵין חֵטְא בָּא עַל יָדוֹ, וְכָל הַמַּחֲטִיא אֶת הָרַבִּים, אֵין מַסְפִּיקִין בְּיָדוֹ לַעֲשׂוֹת תְּשׁוּבָה. משֶׁה זָכָה וְזִכָּה אֶת הָרַבִּים, זְכוּת הָרַבִּים תָּלוּי בּוֹ, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: צִדְקַת י-י עָשָׂה, וּמִשְׁפָּטָיו עִם יִשְׂרָאֵל. יָרָבְעָם בֶּן נְבָט חָטָא וְהֶחֱטִיא אֶת הָרַבִּים, חֵטְא הָרַבִּים תָּלוּי בּוֹ, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: עַל חַטֹּאות יָרָבְעָם אֲשֶׁר חָטָא, וַאֲשֶׁר הֶחֱטִיא אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל.

18. Whenever a person causes the many to have merit, no sin shall come through him; but one who causes the many to sin shall not be granted the opportunity to repent.

Moshe was himself meritorious and caused the many to attain merit, [therefore] the merits of the many are attributed to him, as it is stated: “He (Moshe) performed the righteousness of the L‑rd and His ordinances together with Israel.”16

Yerovam ben Nevat himself sinned and caused the many to sin, [therefore] the sins of the many are attributed to him, as it is stated: “For the sins of Yerovam which he sinned and caused Israel to sin.”17

No sin shall come through him — This is not to say that such a person’s free will is taken away, and he will be prevented from sinning. The intent is that since he endeavored to bring merit to many people, the positive influence these efforts generates will prevent him from becoming involved in circumstances which would cause him to sin accidentally or inadvertently.

(Sichos Shabbos Parshas Bamidbar, 5741)

Shall not be granted the opportunity to repent — This does not mean that the gates of teshuvah will be closed before him. Instead, the intent is to point out that people at large are constantly being encouraged to teshuvah by G‑d. This positive influence will be withheld from such an individual.18


The merits of the many are attributed to him — The merit accrued in this manner is an ongoing process, for positive activity generates a self-reinforcing pattern that continues forever. Thus this clause can be interpreted to mean that the merits of the many, even at the era of the composition of the Mishnah, are attributed to Moshe.


יט - כָּל מִי שֶׁיֶּשׁ בּוֹ שְׁלשָׁה דְבָרִים הַלָּלוּ, הוּא מִתַּלְמִידָיו שֶׁל אַבְרָהָם אָבִינוּ, וּשְׁלשָׁה דְבָרִים אֲחֵרִים, הוּא מִתַּלְמִידָיו שֶׁל בִּלְעָם הָרָשָׁע. תַּלְמִידָיו שֶׁל אַבְרָהָם אָבִינוּ עַיִן טוֹבָה, וְרוּחַ נְמוּכָה, וְנֶפֶשׁ שְׁפָלָה. תַּלְמִידָיו שֶׁל בִּלְעָם הָרָשָׁע עַיִן רָעָה, וְרוּחַ גְּבוֹהָה, וְנֶפֶשׁ רְחָבָה. מַה בֵּין תַּלְמִידָיו שֶׁל אַבְרָהָם אָבִינוּ לְתַלְמִידָיו שֶׁל בִּלְעָם הָרָשָׁע, תַּלְמִידָיו שֶׁל אַבְרָהָם אָבִינוּ, אוֹכְלִין בָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה, וְנוֹחֲלִין הָעוֹלָם הַבָּא, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: לְהַנְחִיל אֹהֲבַי יֵשׁ, וְאוֹצְרוֹתֵיהֶם אֲמַלֵּא. אֲבָל תַּלְמִידָיו שֶׁל בִּלְעָם הָרָשָׁע יוֹרְשִׁין גֵּיהִנֹּם וְיוֹרְדִין לִבְאֵר שַׁחַת, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: וְאַתָּה אֱלֹהִי-ם תּוֹרִדֵם לִבְאֵר שַׁחַת, אַנְשֵׁי דָמִים וּמִרְמָה לֹא יֶחֱצוּ יְמֵיהֶם, וַאֲנִי אֶבְטַח בָּךְ.

19. Whoever possesses the following three characteristics is of the disciples of Avraham our patriarch; and the three opposite characteristics, is of the disciples of the wicked Bilaam.

The disciples of our patriarch Avraham possess a good eye, a humble spirit, and a meek soul. The disciples of the wicked Bilaam possess an evil eye, an arrogant spirit, and a greedy soul.

What is the difference between the disciples of Avraham our patriarch and the disciples of the wicked Bilaam? The disciples of Avraham our patriarch enjoy [the fruits of their good qualities] in this world and inherit the World to Come, as it is stated: “To cause those who love Me to inherit an everlasting possession [the World to Come], and I will fill their storehouses [in this world].”19

But the disciples of the wicked Bilaam inherit Gehinom and descend into the nethermost pit, as it is stated: “And You, O G‑d, will bring them down to the nethermost pit; bloodthirsty and treacherous men shall not live out half their days, and I will trust in You.”20

The disciples of Avraham our patriarch enjoy [the fruits of their good qualities] — Although the ultimate intent is that all positive personal qualities be expressed in one’s conduct, the mishnah teaches us that, independent of a person’s positive acts, he will receive reward for his positive character traits alone. Conversely, retribution is meted out for the possession of undesirable character traits, even when they are not expressed in actual conduct.

(Sichos Shabbos Parshas Chukas-Balak, 5746)

כ - יְהוּדָה בֶּן תֵּימָא אוֹמֵר: הֱוֵי עַז כַּנָּמֵר, וְקַל כַּנֶּשֶׁר, רָץ כַּצְּבִי, וְגִבּוֹר כָּאֲרִי, לַעֲשׂוֹת רְצוֹן אָבִיךָ שֶׁבַּשָּׁמָיִם. הוּא הָיָה אוֹמֵר: עַז פָּנִים לְגֵיהִנֹּם, וּבוֹשֶׁת פָּנִים לְגַן עֵדֶן. יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶיךָ י-י אֱלֹהֵי-נוּ וֵאלֹהֵ-י אֲבוֹתֵינוּ, שֶׁיִּבָּנֶה בֵּית הַמִּקְדָּשׁ בִּמְהֵרָה בְיָמֵינוּ, וְתֵן חֶלְקֵנוּ בְּתוֹרָתֶךָ.

20. Yehudah ben Tema said: “Be bold as a leopard, light as an eagle, swift as a deer, and strong as a lion, to carry out the will of your Father in heaven.”

He used to say: “The brazen is headed for Gehinom, but the shamefaced for heaven.

“May it be Your will, L‑rd our G‑d and G‑d of our fathers, that the Beis HaMikdash be rebuilt speedily in our days, and grant us our portion in Your Torah.”

A leopard... an eagle — On the verse,21 “Instruct us from the beasts of the earth; grant us wisdom from the birds of the heaven,” our Sages state22 that even were, (heaven forbid,) the Torah not to have been given, we could learn the positive traits it teaches by meditating on the qualities with which G‑d endowed the animals.

As the Baal Shem Tov teaches:23 “Everything which a person sees or hears should serve as a lesson for him in his divine service.” When a person sees a beast or a bird — even a non-kosher species like a leopard or an eagle — he should realize that the purpose is to teach him positive qualities which he should employ in his divine service.

(Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXI, p. 284ff)

Be bold as a leopard... The brazen is headed for Gehinom — These two clauses appear to be contradictory. On one hand, the mishnah is telling us to display boldness. On the other hand, it states that brazen behavior brings retribution.

This difficulty can be resolved by considering another seeming contradiction in the words of our Sages. In one source,24 our Sages state that humility is one of the traits which distinguish the Jewish people. And yet, in another source,25 they state that Jews are “the most bold of the nations.”

Humility and boldness need not be contradictory. When it comes to a person’s individual concerns, he should be humble and willing to compromise. With regard to his divine service, however, he should stand proud and boldly assert his rights, remaining unphased in the face of any and all who try to hinder him.

Indeed, this concept is so important that the Tur and the Alter Rebbe in his Shulchan Aruch chose to begin their compendiums of Jewish law with this directive.26

The scope of this directive extends beyond the individual sphere. When the Jewish people are pressured by gentiles with regard to the observance of the Torah and its mitzvos, or with regard to a matter concerning the welfare of the Jewish people, they need not be intimidated. Instead, they should proudly and boldly assert their position. When that position is based on the Torah, and presented as such, the gentiles will listen.

The above concepts are particularly appropriate in the present era, short moments before the coming of the Redemption, when G‑d will lead us proud and upright to our land.27 By anticipating the pride and self-esteem of the Redemption at the present time, we can precipitate its coming.

(Ibid., Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XV, p. 256)

May it be Your will... that the Beis HaMikdash be rebuilt speedily in our days, and grant us our portion in Your Torah — The association of the two clauses in this prayer can be explained as follows: In the present era, much of our efforts are devoted to worldly activities. In the Era of the Redemption, when the Beis HaMikdash will be rebuilt, we will, by contrast, be able to devote all our energies to the study of Torah.

(Sichas Shabbos Parshas Re’eh, 5741)

כא - בֶּן בַּג בַּג אוֹמֵר: הֲפָךְ בָּהּ וַהֲפָךְ בָּהּ, דְּכֹלָּא בָהּ, וּבָהּ תֶּחֱזֵי, וְסִיב וּבְלֵה בָהּ, וּמִנָּהּ לָא תָזוּעַ, שֶׁאֵין לָךְ מִדָּה טוֹבָה הֵימֶנָּה. בֶּן הֵא הֵא אוֹמֵר: לְפוּם צַעֲרָא אַגְרָא:

21. Ben Bag Bag said: “Learn it and learn it [the Torah], for everything is in it. Look deeply into it; grow old and gray over it, and do not stir from it, for there is nothing more edifying for you than it.”

Ben Hay Hay said: “Commensurate with the painstaking effort is the reward.”

Ben Hay Hay — The commentaries28 explain that Ben Hay Hay was a convert.29 This is reflected in his teaching.

Commensurate with the painstaking effort is the reward — It is an accepted principle of faith30 that G‑d rewards man for the observance of His mitzvos. The mishnah is teaching that in calculating the nature of that reward, G‑d looks not only at the task accomplished, but also at the effort invested. When a person labors and struggles to perform a mitzvah, G‑d increases the reward he will receive.

More particularly, this refers to the effort a man invests in the fulfillment of a mitzvah when he is not obligated to do so, i.e., the observance of a mitzvah behiddur, in a beautiful and conscientious manner, or in the performance of mili dechassidusa, positive conduct that extends beyond the measure of the law.

Perhaps the most complete expression of this concept is the act of conversion.31 A gentile is not at all obligated to accept the burden of Judaism; indeed, at first he should be discouraged from doing so.32 Therefore, the painstaking effort he expends in the observance of mitzvos is surely worthy of reward.

(Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXVII, p. 387ff)

כב - הוּא הָיָה אוֹמֵר: בֶּן חָמֵשׁ שָׁנִים לְמִקְרָא, בֶּן עֶשֶׂר שָׁנִים לְמִשְׁנָה, בֶּן שְׁלשׁ עֶשְׂרֵה לְמִצְוֹת, בֶּן חֲמֵשׁ עֶשְׂרֵה לִגְמָרָא, בֶּן שְׁמוֹנֶה עֶשְׂרֵה לְחֻפָּה, בֶּן עֶשְׂרִים לִרְדּוֹף, בֶּן שְׁלשִׁים לְכֹחַ, בֶּן אַרְבָּעִים לְבִינָה, בֶּן חֲמִשִּׁים לְעֵצָה, בֶּן שִׁשִּׁים לְזִקְנָה, בֶּן שִׁבְעִים לְשֵׂיבָה, בֶּן שְׁמוֹנִים לִגְבוּרָה, בֶּן תִּשְׁעִים לָשׁוּחַ, בֶּן מֵאָה כְּאִלּוּ מֵת וְעָבַר וּבָטֵל מִן הָעוֹלָם.

22. He used to say: “At five years of age, [one should approach] the study of Scripture; at ten the study of mishnah; at thirteen the mitzvos, at fifteen the study of Gemara, at eighteen marriage; at twenty pursuit [of a livelihood]; at thirty [one attains] full strength; at forty understanding; at fifty [the potential to give] counsel; at sixty old age; at seventy ripe old age; at eighty [special] strength; at ninety [the body] is stooped; at one hundred it is as if one were dead and had departed and ceased connection with the world.”

At twenty... at thirty — The Kabbalah explains that G‑d brought all existence into being through the ten Sefiros (as reflected in the fact that there are ten utterances of creation). As such, each decade of a person’s existence represents the blossoming of a new attribute and the attainment of another spiritual rung.

(Likkutei Sichos, Vol. II, p. 593)

At ninety [the body] is stooped — This is also a positive quality, referring to humility. The attainment of all the virtues mentioned previously should not lead one to pride. Instead, these positive qualities should encourage humility.

(Sichos Shabbos Parshas Nitzavim, 5737; Sichos Shabbos Parshas Eikev, 5740)

At one hundred it is as if one were dead — This represents a crowning stage in personal development. On the verse33 “no man shall see Me and live,” our Sages commented:34 “While alive one does not see, but when dead one sees.” At one hundred, a person can reach a level such that “it is as if he were dead,” i.e., he can attain that degree of perception of G‑dliness.

Similarly, the expression “had departed and ceased connection with the world” also has a positive connotation. It means the person has risen above all worldly matters.35 His focus and concern are solely spiritual.


It must be emphasized that these two traits run directly contrary to the standards established by Torah law. For the Rambam states (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos De’os 2:3, cited by the Shulchan Aruch HaRav 156:3): “Anger is a very undesirable quality... it is proper to maintain the furthest possible distance from it.”

With regard to becoming pacified easily, the Rambam states (Hilchos Teshuvah 2:10): “When a person who wrongs one asks for forgiveness, one should forgive him with a perfect heart and a willing spirit.” The Shulchan Aruch HaRav 606:8 states that one should grant such forgiveness immediately.
Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Gerushin 2:20.
Here also, the pattern of causality is significant. The fact that a person is prevented by circumstances beyond his control is a sign that he is lacking in this dimension. See Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Teshuvah 9:2.
Likkutei Dibburim, Vol. II, p. 65 (English translation).
See Chagigah 11a.
E.g., Shabbos 12b.
II Shmuel 13:1ff.
I Shmuel 18:1; 20:17; II Shmuel 1:26.
See Tanya, chs. 2, 18.
Eruvin 13b.
Bamidbar, ch. 16.
III, 245a; see Tanya, Iggeres HaKodesh, Epistle 13.
E.g. Shabbos 31a.
E.g., Ediyos, chs. 4 and 5.
This concept is reflected in one of the explanations given for the greatness inherent in Avraham’s binding of Yitzchak. Previously, Avraham’s divine service involved acts of kindness which reflected his own personal nature. With regard to the binding of Yitzchak, however, it is written (Bereishis 22:12): “Now I know that you fear G‑d”; i.e., he had to first display qualities that ran contrary to his natural tendencies. See Sefer HaMaamarim-Kuntreisim, Vol. II, p. 642; Likkutei Sichos, Vol. II, p. 378.
Devarim 33:21.
I Melachim 15:30.
See Tanya, ch. 25; Iggeres HaTeshuvah, ch. 11.
Mishlei 83:21. Cf. Uktzin 3:12.
Tehillim 55:24.
Iyov 35:11.
Eruvin 102b.
Quoted in HaYom Yom, p. 52, Kesser Shem Tov, Hosafos, sec. 127.
Yevamos 79a.
Beitzah 25b.
And if, heaven forbid, a person does not express boldness in his divine service, boldness will become manifest in an undesirable manner. To cite a parallel, our Sages (Shabbos 156a) state that a person born under the sign of Mars will become a murderer or a robber or a butcher or a mohel. In other words, the person has a tendency towards bloodshed, but the question is: how will he express it? Similarly, with regard to the matter at hand: Jews have boldness in their nature. The question is: In which avenues will they display this quality?
Cf. Vayikra 26:13.
Tosafos, Chagigah 9b, Machzor Vitri.
Or the descendant of converts. This is reflected in the name Hay Hay, for the Hebrew letter hay was added to the names of Avraham and Sarah as a sign of their Jewish identity.

The commentaries also explain that Ben Bag Bag was a convert or the son of converts. One of the proofs is that the Hebrew letters that spell Bag (ג and ב) are numerically equivalent to a hay.
Rambam, Commentary to the Mishnah, Tractate Sanhedrin, Introduction to ch. 10, principle 11.
In contrast, since a Jew is created “to serve [His] Creator,” there is a dimension of obligation to every element of his divine service, even the observance of a mitzvah behiddur, or the performance of mili dechassidusa.
Yevamos 47b.
Shmos 33:20.
Sifri, commenting on Bamidbar 12:8.
Or HaTorah, Chukas, p. 817.
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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.