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Questions and Answers on Chapter Three of Pirkei Avot

Questions and Answers on Chapter Three of Pirkei Avot


"עקביא בן מהללאל אומר: הסתכל בשלשה דברים, ואין אתה בא לידי עברה. דע מאין באת ולאן אתה הולך ולפני מי אתה עתיד לתן דין וחשבון. מאין באת: מטפה סרוחה, ולאן אתה הולך: למקום עפר רמה ותולעה, ולפני מי אתה עתיד לתן דין וחשבון: לפני מלך מלכי המלכים הקדוש, ברוך הוא."
“Akavya ben Mahalaleil says: Reflect upon three things and you will not 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; ‘and 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.” (3:1)

QUESTION: Why does it list the three things to reflect upon first, and then repeat each one of the three things with elaboration?

ANSWER: It is related in the Gemara (Sanhedrin 91a) that Antoninus said to Rebbe, “The body and soul are able to excuse themselves from judgment. The body says, ‘It is the soul that has sinned, for from the day it has departed from me I have been lying silent like a rock in the grave.’ The soul says, ‘It is the body that has sinned, for from the day that I have departed from it, I have been flying in the air like a bird and not doing any sin.’ ”

Rebbe said to him, “I will give you a parable to what this can be compared. A king had an orchard with beautiful figs. He appointed two guards, one lame and the other blind. The lame one said to the blind one, ‘I see beautiful figs in the orchard. Mount me on your shoulders and together we will be able to enjoy them.’ The king once came to the orchard and said to the guards, ‘Where are all my beautiful figs?’ The lame one said, ‘Do I have any feet with which to travel to the figs?’ And the blind one said, ‘Do I have any eyes to see the figs?’ The king mounted the lame one on the back of the blind one and judged them as a unit. So, too, on the day of judgment Hashem brings the soul and injects it into the body and judges them together as a unit for the sins they committed together while upon this earth.”

Consequently, Akavya ben Mahalaleil is addressing the neshamah and body. The initial three part statement adds up simply to a reminder to the neshamah that it is part of Al-mighty G‑d, that it descended from lofty heights, and that eventually it will need to return to its lofty source. By reflecting on its exalted state, it will not entertain thought of sinning.

The repetition of the saying with explanatory phrases is addressed to the mundane and unrefined body: “If you would reflect on where you came from, a putrid drop, you would realize how low and insignificant you are. When you will think about where you are going, to maggots and worms, and before Whom you will have to give an accounting, you will immediately realize your worthlessness and not have the audacity to transgress the Will of Hashem.”

(לקוטי בתר לקוטי)

"הסתכל בשלשה דברים...דע מאין באת ולאן אתה הולך ולפני מי אתה עתיד ליתן דין וחשבון"
“Reflect upon three things...Know from where you came, to where you are going, and before Whom you are destined to give an accounting.” (3:1)

QUESTION: Where in the Torah is there an allusion to the three things Akavya ben Mahalaleil cautions to reflect upon?

ANSWER: On the pasuk “Ure’item oto” — “And you shall see him” (Bamidbar 15:39) — the Ba’alei Mesorah indicate another two pesukim with the word “ure’item.” One is Moshe’s statement to the spies “ure’item et ha’aretz” — “and you shall see the land” (ibid. 13:18), and the other is Pharoah’s statement to the Jewish midwives “ure’item al ha’avnayim” — “and you shall see on the birthstool” (Shemot 1:16).

These three pesukim are an allusion to the three things we are to reflect upon.

1) “Ure’iten al ha’avnayim” — “and you shall see on the birthstool” — teaches us to “see,” i.e. bear in mind, from where one came and how one is born.

2) “Ure’item et ha’aretz” — “and you shall see the land” (lit. “earth”) — cautions us to remember to where one will return.

3) “Ure’item oto” — “and you shall see him” — is a message that ultimately everyone is destined to see Him on the day of judgment and, therefore, one should strenuously avoid sinning.

(מעינם של אבות בשם ר' שמעלקע זצ"ל מניקלשבורג)

"הסתכל בשלשה דברים, ואין אתה בא לידי עברה"
“Reflect upon three things and you will not come to sin.” (3:1)

QUESTION: There is a “wondrous Midrash which says Adam sinned because he only saw two, but not three. What is the interpretation of this Midrash?

ANSWER: Akavya ben Mahalaleil says, “Reflect upon three things and you will not come to sin: From where you came — from a putrid drop; And to where you are going — to a place of dust maggots and worms; And before Whom you are destined to given an accounting — before the Supreme King of Kings.”

Adam was an exception among the entire humanity. He was the creation of G‑d’s hands. Consequently, “From where you came — from a putrid drop” did not apply to him. Thus, the Midrash is saying that Adam sinned because only two of the three things upon which to reflect and avoid sin applied to him.”

(לקוטי בתר לקוטי)

"דע מאין באת ולאן אתה הולך"
“Know from where you came and to where you are going.” (3:1)

QUESTION: The word “mei’ayin (מאין) — “from where” — is spelled with a "י". Why doesn’t it also say “ule’ayin” "(ולאין) with a "י" instead of ule’an (ולאן) which is without a "י"?

ANSWER: The neshamah of a Jew is a G‑dly spark which descends from up high to be in the physical body. It is like the letter yud ("י"), which is a small spark of His holy four-letter name. Akavya ben Mahalaleil is saying to the neshamah, “When you descended to this world, you were complete and unadulterated — the spark of G‑dliness, the yud, was in its full splendor. Remember, if you sin during your sojourn in this world, then when you are ready to return, ule’an atah holeich — your Yud — spark of G‑dliness — will be lacking, so endeavor to avoid sinning and return your yud — spark of G‑dliness — in its full glory as it descended.”

(דברי אבות - ר' אברהם ז"ל ווארמאן, לבוב תרל"ט)

"ולאן אתה הולך"
“And to where you are going.” (3:1)

QUESTION: Instead of “ule’an atah holeich” — “to where you are going” — in present tense, it should have said “ule’an teileich” — “to where you will be going” — in future tense?

ANSWER: Death is not something that occurs instantaneously when a person completes his allotted life span. It is an ongoing process which commences the moment a person is born. Every passing moment is actually a moment less of life, i.e. one small part of death, and a moment closer to the ultimate completion. If one were to reflect that his entire lifetime is a continuous travel towards the ultimate, he would not sin.

King Shlomo says, “Veyom hamavet miyom hivaldo” — “the day of death [is better] than the day of birth” (Ecclesiastes 7:1). In light of the above, his statement can also be interpreted as an allusion to the abovementioned message, that “veyom hamavet” — “the day of death” — “miyom hivaldo” — [commences] “from the day of birth.”

(פניני אבות)

"ולפני מי אתה עתיד לתן דין וחשבון"
“And before Whom you are destined to give an accounting.” (3:1)

QUESTION: Instead of “lifnei mi atah atid litein din vecheshbon”“before Whom you are destined to give an accounting” — it should have said “lemi atah atid litein din vecheshbon”“to Whom you are destined to give an accounting”?

ANSWER: A person should always think before acting and be cautious lest he transgress and influence others to follow suit. When the neshamot of these imitators come before the Heavenly Tribunal and they are asked to explain themselves, they can reply, “We sought to follow the example of the pious Mr. X.” Thus, when the neshamah of the one accused of setting a bad example comes for judgment, all the others come as prosecutors and blame him for being the root cause of their wrongdoings.

Consequently, Akavya ben Mahalaleil cautions that if a person will reflect on “before Whom” he will have to give an accounting — not only Hashem, but all those who learned from his actions — he will not commit any sin.

"דין וחשבון"
“An accounting.” (3:1)

QUESTION: Literally, “din” means “judgment,” and “cheshbon” means “accounting,” so it should have said “cheshbon vedin,” since from the accounting precedes the issuing of the judgment?

ANSWER: When a person passes away, his soul ascends to the Heavenly Court where he is taught all the laws of the Torah and the punishment incurred for violating these laws. Afterwards, a long list of transgressions is placed in front of him, and he is asked to state what punishment the perpetrator of these sins should receive. After citing what the judgment should be, he is informed that he is the transgressor under discussion. He has transgressed all these sins, and that he has in fact passed judgment on himself. Thus, the cheshbon — accounting — of his actions, comes after din — the judgment — which he issued.

(מדרש שמואל)

"רבי חנינא סגן הכהנים אומר: הוי מתפלל בשלומה של מלכות, שאלמלא מוראה, איש את רעהו חיים בלעו"
“Rabbi Chanina, the deputy to the High Priests says: Pray for the welfare of the government, for were it not for the fear of it, men would swallow one another alive.” (3:2)

QUESTION: Why was Rabbi Chanina called “the deputy to the Kohanim,” in plural, and not in singular, “Segan Kohen Gadol”?

ANSWER: According to the Gemara (Yoma 9a) the first Beit Hamikdash lasted 410 years and had only 18 Kohanim Gedolim. The second Beit Hamikdash lasted 420 years and had over 300 Kohanim Gedolim, including Shimon HaTzaddik, who was Kohen Gadol for 40 years, and Yochanan, who was Kohen Gadol for 80years. The High Priests were so numerous during the second Beit Hamikdash because the Roman government decided to sell the position of Kohen Gadol to whomever would pay the exorbitant price. Since they were not tzaddikim, they would usually die on Yom Kippur when they went into the Kodesh Hakadashim — Inner Sanctuary.

Rabbi Chanina was a great tzaddik and a deputy to the Kohen Gadol. Normally, after the death of the Kohen Gadol, he would have been appointed to the position. However, the Roman government always sold the position of Kohen Gadol, and Rabbi Chanina remained an assistant to the new Kohen Gadol. Thus, he was “Segan haKohanim” — adeputy to many Kohanim Gedolim.

His students complained to him that the system was corrupt and that measures should be taken against the government. To this Rabbi Chanina responded, “If the government is undermined, there will be a breakdown of law and order, and the situation will actually worsen. Rather than bringing about its downfall, pray for the welfare of the government, and that it forsake its corruption.”

(מוסר אבות – ר' משה לייטער, נוא יארק תש"ב)

"שאלמלא מוראה איש את רעהו חיים בלעו"
“For were it not for the fear of it, man would swallow his friend alive.” (3:2)

QUESTION: Why the emphasis on “rei’eihu” — “his friend”?

ANSWER: When the Torah relates the episode of Kayin killing Hevel, it says “Kayin spoke to Hevel, his brother. Then, when they were in the field, Kayin rose up against Hevel, his brother, and killed him” (Bereishit 4:8). What did Kayin say to Hevel?

The Midrash Rabbah (22:8) says that Hevel was much stronger than Kayin, and Kayin would normally not have been able to kill him. To gain his brother’s confidence, Kayin pretended to be a “good brother,” leading him to think that he would never do him any harm.

Thus, the Torah is telling us, “Kayin spoke to Hevel, his brother” — he spoke to him in a kind, brotherly way, so that he could later take him by surprise out in the field and kill him before he had a chance to fight back.

The Mishnah is telling us that without law and order, not only will the stronger “swallow” the weaker or the bigger “swallow” the smaller, which is a common phenomena in the world of fish, but even the reverse will happen — the weaker will “swallow” the stronger. One will act stealthily and deceive the other into thinking that he is “rei’eihu” — “his good friend” — and proceed to swallow the other up alive when he is off guard.

(חלק יעקב – ר' יעקב ז"ל גרינוואלד, סעאיני (רומיניא) תרפ"ג)

"שנים שיושבין ואין ביניהם דברי תורה...שנים שיושבין ויש ביניהם דברי תורה...אחד שיושב ועוסק בתורה"
“If two sit together and no words of Torah are exchanged between them...If two sit together and do exchange words of Torah...Even one person who sits and occupies himself with Torah.” (3:2)

QUESTION: Why in regard to two sitting together does it say “divrei Torah” while at the end of the Mishnah in regard to one person alone it says “oseik baTorah”?

ANSWER: When a person sits alone and talks to himself, he appears strange and is likely to provoke ridicule. Therefore, the desirable thing for him to do is to be “oseik baTorah” — “engage in the study of Torah.” When two are together they may discuss any subject they desire, and will not appear strange in the eyes of people.

The Mishnah is saying that if in their conversation there is no “divrei Torah” — “words about Torah” — i.e. not necessarily studying Torah, but at least talking about the importance of studying Torah, or supporting Torah scholars, or helping Torah to flourish, then their company is equivalent to the company of scorners. But if they are at least talking words concerning the Torah, then the Shechinah rests among them.

"הרי זה מושב לצים"
“It is a company of scorners.” (3:2)

QUESTION: Why does their not speaking words of Torah make this place a “place of scorners”?

ANSWER: A place where people study Torah and do mitzvot becomes permeated with holiness. People who come into this place become inspired by the holiness prevalent there. If two people who are capable of studying Torah meet together and do not study, it is obvious that they are in a“moshav leitzim” — a place where only leitzim — scorners — have sat and thus, a place void of any holiness which would inspire people who meet there.

The proof to this is from the words of King David, “Lucky is the man who has not sat in a place of scorners” (Psalms 1:1). Because of the place’s negative atmosphere, one is lucky for not sitting there even if no scorners are present at the time.

(חלק אבות)

"שלשה שאכלו על שלחן אחד ולא אמרו עליו דברי תורה"
“Three who ate at one table and did not speak words of Torah there.” (3:3)

QUESTION: In the previous Mishnah it says, “shenayim sheyosh-vim” — “two who are sitting” — in present tense. Why doesn’t it say here, too, “sheloshah she’ochlim — “three who are eating”?

ANSWER: When two are sitting together and not eating, they should be talking about Torah subjects or at least talking Torah related matters. However, while people are actually eating, the Sages forbid speaking out of concern that a bone can, G‑d forbid, end up in the windpipe instead of the food pipe (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 170:1). When they finish eating, however, they should say some divrei Torah, bringing sanctity to their table.

(תפארת ישראל)

"כאילו אכלו מזבחי מתים"
“As if they have eaten sacrifices to the dead [idols].” (3:3)

QUESTION: Why if they do not speak words of Torah, is there no life in their sacrifice?

ANSWER: A Jewish person is compounded of an earthly body and a soul which descended from Heaven. In our food there is also a spark of G‑dliness. A Jew is supposed to eat not only for physical strength but also for the sake of Heaven, thus elevating the spark of G‑dliness. This is known as birur hanitzutzot” (separating and elevating the G‑dly sparks), and it is alluded to in the Torah: “Not by bread alone does man live, but rather by everything that emanates from the mouth of G‑d (the G‑dliness within the food) does man live” (Devarim 8:3).

Moreover, every soul has a mission to accomplish during its sojourn in this world. When it fails to complete its mission, it descends again. This is known as gilgul — reincarnation. Sometimes sparks of a neshamah can be reincarnated in food and the person who eats lesheim shamayim — for the sake of Heaven and not just for physical satisfaction and nourishment — elevates the spark. Otherwise, the spark remains “dead” and has to again go through the gilgul process. Through a Jew’s saying divrei Torah at the table, the G‑dly spark in the food is elevated and otherwise it is, so to speak, “zivchei meitim” — a death blow to the G‑dly spark.

(מדרש חכמים בשם הבעש"ט)

* * *

Though it is best to literally study Torah or discuss Torah subjects at the table, the requirement to speak words of Torah at the table can be satisfied with the recital of the Birchat HamazonGrace after Meals (see Tosafot Yom Tov, Magen Avraham 170:1). This already makes it “a table which is before Hashem” (Ezekiel 41:22).

Prior to reciting the Grace after Meal, the fingertips are rinsed. Immediately afterwards one says, “And he said to me, ‘This is the table that is before Hashem’ ” (ibid.), and then the actual Grace after Meal commences.

In view of the abovementioned, perhaps the intent is to indicate that through the Grace we will soon be reciting, divrei Torah will be said at this table, and thus we will succeed in making it into “a table which is before Hashem.”

* * *

The Hebrew word for “table” is “shulchan” (שלחן). The same Hebrew letters can be rearranged to spell “lenachash” (לנחש) — “to a serpent.” Through speaking words of Torah, one makes it a “shulchan” — “a table [before Hashem]” — and otherwise one makes it “lenachash” — into a serpent which kills and makes our food “zivchei meitim” — “lifeless.”

(מלא העומר)

"הנעור בלילה והמהלך בדרך יחידי ומפנה לבו לבטלה"
“One who is awake at night or travels alone on the road, and turns his heart to idleness.” (3:4)

QUESTION: Is the phrase “Umefanah libo levatalah” — “And turns his heart to idleness” — a third unwise action or a continuation and explanation of the previous two scenarios?

ANSWER: According to one version, the text reads vehamefaneh libo levatalah” — “and the one who turns his heart to idleness.” Thus, Rabbi Chanina is speaking of three things: 1) one who is awake at night, 2) one who travels alone on the road, and 3) one who turns his heart to idleness.

The more popular version is umefaneh libo levatalah” — “and turns his heart to idleness.” Thus, turning the heart to idleness is a description of what is being done in two preceding scenarios of the Mishnah. In one, the person is awake at night and turns his heart to idleness, and in the other, the person is traveling alone on the road and turns his heart to idleness.

The wrongdoing is the following: During the day one is occupied and there are many ways to justify not studying Torah. At night people normally sleep. If one is awake and unable to sleep, he should not sit idly or waste the time with devarim beteilim — idle talk or involvements — but utilize the time to study Torah. Since his family, friends, and business associates are now asleep, he has no distractions and it is thus the most opportune time to study Torah. Likewise, when one travels alone, and there is no one accompanying him to distract him or engage him in conversation, he has no excuse for not studying Torah.

(רבינו יונה, ועי' תניא פי"א)

Alternatively, the wrongdoing of the one who keeps awake at night is that he does not get sufficient rest. One should sleep eight hours of the day. An allusion to this is “Yashanti az yanu’ach li” — “I would be asleep, then I would be at rest” (Job 3:12). The word az (אז) has the numerical value of eight. Thus the pasuk is saying “yashanti az — I would be asleep eight hours — yanu’ach li — I would be at rest.

(מאירי, רמב"ם דעות ד:ד)

“Traveling alone on the road” is an allusion to the Tzaddik — righteous person — who does not share his Torah knowledge with others and refrains from guiding and encouraging others to travel the road which leads to the World to Come.

(מדרש שמואל)

* * *

Such a Tzaddik is known in Yiddish as a “Tzaddik in peltz,” a righteous person in a fur coat. When a group of people are in a freezing room, he puts on a fur coat to warm himself and does not bother to put on the heat which will warm everyone.

"רבי נחוניא בן הקנה אומר: כל המקבל עליו עול תורה, מעבירין ממנו עול מלכות ועול דרך ארץ, וכל הפורק ממנו עול תורה, נותנין עליו עול מלכות ועול דרך ארץ"
“Rabbi Nechunya ben Hakanah says: ‘Whoever takes upon himself the yoke of Torah, the yoke of government and the yoke of worldly cares are removed from him; but whoever casts off the yoke of Torah, the yoke of government and the yoke of worldly cares are imposed upon him.’ ” (3:5)

QUESTION: Why the inconsistency in language? Since it says about the one who throws off the yoke of Torah notnin alav ol malchut — “the yoke of government is put on him” — then in lieu of “kol hamikabeil alav ol Torah” — “whoever takes upon himself the yoke of Torah” — it should have said “kol hanotein alav ol Torah” — “whoever puts on himself the yoke of Torah.” Also, just as he says “kol haporeik mimeno ol Torah” — “whoever casts off from himself the yoke of Torah” — why doesn’t it say about the one who accepts the yoke of Torah porkin mimenu ol malchut” — “the yoke of government is cast off from him”?

ANSWER: The term “netinah” — “giving” — applies to something which is currently being given. The term “poreik” — “casting off” — applies to something which was already on, and is now being thrown off.

According to the Gemara (Niddah 30b) an oath is administered to the soul before birth, “Be righteous and be not wicked.” When the soul descends upon this earth and dresses itself in the human body, this oath is a delegation of power so that it be able to fulfill its destiny in life. Thus, the yoke of Torah was already previously placed on the person and it is up to him to accept it.

Therefore, the Mishnah is saying that “kol hamekabeil alav ol Torah” — “whoever takes upon himself the yoke of Torah, which was actually placed upon him previously, i.e., if he accepts to live a life governed by Torah, then though the government puts obligations upon every individual as they mature, they will be removed from him, i.e. he will be exempt. However if he is “poreik” — “casts off” — the yoke of Torah, which has been previously placed upon him, then when he comes of age, “notnin alav ol malchut” — “the yoke of government will then be put upon him.”

(באר האבות)

"כל המקבל עליו עול תורה... מעבירין ממנו עול מלכות ועול דרך ארץ"
“Whoever takes upon himself the yoke of Torah... the yoke of worldly cares is removed from him.” (3:5)

QUESTION: Why is a chatan called up to the Torah on the Shabbat prior to his wedding?

ANSWER: One who marries accepts the yoke of providing for his wife and future family. The Gemara (Kiddushin 29b) refers to one’s financial marital obligations as “reichayim al tza’avaro” — “a grinding millstone on his neck.” Calling the chatan to the Torah prior to his marriage alludes to the adage of our Sages “Whoever takes upon himself the yoke of Torah will merit that the yoke of worldly cares will be removed from him.”

* * *

It is also customary to throw bags containing candy and almonds at a chatan. The reason may be the following: Almonds are the quickest to blossom of all fruits (see Bamidbar 17:23), Rashi) and candies are sweet. The message to the chatan is that if he accepts the yoke of Torah, he will earn his living quickly and easily, and enjoy a sweet life with his wife and family.

(מדרש חכמים)

"כל המקבל עליו עול תורה מעבירין ממנו עול דרך ארץ וכל הפורק ממנו עול תורה נותנין עליו עול דרך ארץ"
“Whoever takes upon himself the yoke of Torah, the yoke of government and the yoke of worldly cares are removed from him. Whoever, casts off the yoke of Torah, the yoke of government and the yoke of worldly cares are imposed upon him.” (3:5)

QUESTION: Didn’t we learn previously (2:2) that “Yafeh talmud Torah im Derech Eretz” — “it is good to combine Torah study with an occupation”?

ANSWER: A story is told of a son of a pious chassid who inherited his father’s very successful business. In a short time the wheel of fortune took a turn and the young man’s business was at the brink of bankruptcy. He remembered that whenever his father had a problem he would travel to the Rebbe to seek advise and blessing, so he decided to do the same.

During his audience, the Rebbe asked him, “tell me what did your father do during business hours when things were slow?” The young man told the Rebbe, “when my father wasn’t busy, he would read his books, the Siddur, Chumash and Tehillim.” “And what do you do when things are slow” the Rebbe asked. The young man replied “My father couldn’t read English well and had no interest in current events or sports, but I read and understand English, so I either read the newspaper or listen to the radio.”

The Rebbe lifted his brows and looking the young man into his eyes said, “Let me explain the following to you: “Satan was bothered by your father’s Torah study, so to distract him he would keep him occupied with customers. But since you are doing exactly what he desires, so he has no interest in getting you occupied with customers.”

The Mishnah is teaching that when a person takes upon himself the yoke of Torah, the yoke of livelihood is removed from him. Although he goes to his business regularly, he doesn’t have to worry how he will make a living because Satan assumes the yoke to send him clients so that he will be occupied. When a person, however, casts off the yoke of Torah, and in business he does not occupy himself with Torah whenever he has free time rather with other activities; then Satan is very satisfied with his “victory” and has no interest occupying him with clients. So the yoke and worry to make a livelihood is entirely on the individual.

"עשרה שיושבים ועוסקין בתורה, שכינה שרויה ביניהם"
“It ten people sit together and occupy themselves with Torah, the Divine Presence rests among them.” (3:6)

QUESTION: Why when ten are together do they merit that the Divine Presence rest among them?

ANSWER: In the Hebrew alef-beit the letters are used as numbers. Alef is one, beit is two, gimmel is three, etc. Thus, a count from one to ten starts with alef and ends with yud. The total numerical value of all these numerals (א,ב,ג,ד,ה,ו,ז,ח,ט,י) is fifty-five, which in Hebrew is הן — “hein.” The Gemara (Shabbat 31b) says that in the Greek language [the word for the number] one is “hein.”

Thus, theMishnah is teaching that when ten are sitting together and studying, it demonstrates achdut — unity — and when there is unity among the Jewish people, Hashem is proud of them and His Divine Presence rests among them.

(ברכת אבות)

Incidentally, the Zohar (II 73:a) says that Yisrael (the Jewish people), Torah, and the Holy One Blessed be He are all one. The word “Yisrael” (ישראל) numerically adds up to 541, and these three numerals add up to ten. Thus, it alludes to what our Mishnah says that when ten people sit together and occupy themselves with Torah, the Shechinah — Divine Presence — of the Holy One blessed be He, rests among them.

"עשרה שיושבים ועוסקין בתורה, שכינה שרויה ביניהם... ומנין אפילו חמשה...ומנין אפילו שלשה...ומנין אפילו אחד"
“It ten people sit together and occupy themselves with Torah, the Divine Presence rests among them...From where do we learn the same is true even of five...From where do we learn the same is true even of three...From where do we learn the same is true even of one?” (3:6)

QUESTION: Since even one who studies merits that Hashem is with him, what is the advantage of a larger group?

ANSWER: When ten decide to get together to study Torah, the Shechinah comes to the place and awaits their arrival and remains “standing,” so to speak, among the group. Since the pasuk says “G‑d stands in the assembly of Hashem,” and does not say “In the assembly of Hashem G‑d stands” it is obvious that He is already standing there before the assembly of Hashem commences. When there are only five, He comes after they get together, but does not wait in advance for their arrival. This is obvious from the pasuk which first talks of “His band” (five people) and then continues “He has founded upon earth,” which refers to the revelation.

If the group is of three, then He does not stand, but merely sits with them. The pasuk pictures Him as part of a tribunal, and judges sit when they are in trial. When they are only two, “Hashem listens,” i.e. He sits at a distance and “tunes” in to them. One alone studying also merits a Divine revelation, but only to the extent that He pays a visit, gives His blessing, and then leaves.

(מדרש שמואל, ועי' מסכת ברכות ו' ע"א)

"רבי אלעזר איש ברתותא אמר: 'תן לו משלו, שאתה ושלך שלו'"
Rabbi Elazar of Bartota says, ‘Give to Him of that which is His, for you and whatever is yours are His.’ ” (3:7)

QUESTION: Why was Rabbi Elazar of Bartota the one who made this statement?

ANSWER: It is most appropriate for him to make this statement, for according to what is related of him in the Gemara (Ta’anit 24a), he was a charitable person par excellence. Whenever the administrators of the charity fund would see him, they would hide from him because he was likely to give them whatever he had on him.

One day he was going to the market to buy a wedding outfit for his daughter. The administrators of the charity saw him coming, and they hid from him. Seeing this, he ran after them and said to them, “I adjure you to tell me, for what charity are you now collecting?” They replied, “To marry off an orphan boy to an orphan girl.” Rabbi Elazar said, “They come before my own daughter.” He then took all the money he had with him — except for one zuz — and gave it to them. He then purchased some wheat with the remaining money, tossed it into the granary, and went to the Beit Midrash to study Torah, with unwavering faith that Hashem would provide him with the funds needed to make the wedding.

When his wife came home she asked her daughter, “What did your father bring?” She replied, “Whatever he brought he tossed into the granary.” She opened the granary door and saw it filled with wheat. His daughter went to the Beit Midrash and said to her father, “Come and see what the One who loves you has done.” Rabbi Elazar, not wanting to benefit from a miracle so that it would not detract from his merits in the world to come, said to her, “This grain shall be as consecrated property to you, and you shall have no more share in it than any other poor person in Israel.”

"תן לו משלו"
“Give Him of that which is His.” (3:7)

QUESTION: Instead of “mishelo” — “of that which is His” — he should have just said “shelo” — “His.”

ANSWER: Regarding helping the poor man, the Torah says, “Veha’aveit ta’avitenu dei machsoro asher yechesar lo” — “You shall lend him his requirement, whatever he is lacking” (Devarim 15:8). Rashi comments that if the poor man is accustomed to riding a chariot and having servants, it is your duty to help him keep this lifestyle.

How does Rashi reach this conclusion?

In Hebrew the word for “rich man” is “ashir” (עשיר), and the word for “poor man” is “ani” (עני). If the letters of the word "עשיר" are entirely spelled out — עי"ן שי"ן יו"ד רי"ש — the middle letters of each word together add up to thirty-six. If the letters of the word "עני" are entirely spelled out — נו"ן יו"ד עי"ן — the middle letters of each word together add up to twenty-two. Consequently, the difference between “ashir” and “ani” amounts to fourteen, which is the numerical value of the word “dei” (די) — “enough.”

The Torah instructs us to give the poor “dai machsoro” — “whatever is lacking” — i.e. the equivalent of fourteen — “asher yechsar” — which he is currently missing due to his decline from “ashir” — “rich” — to “ani” — “poor” — so that he may be able to again be on the level of “lo” (לו) — “him” [self] — which is equal to thirty-six, i.e. live fully like a rich man according to his accustomed standards of affluence.

Thus theMishnah is also saying, “ten lo” — “give him” — “mishelo” — whatever he is currently lacking to reach his status of “lo”“him” [self] — to live in accordance with his affluent style.

(כנסת ישראל)

"וכן בדוד הוא אומר כי ממך הכל ומידך נתנו לך"
“And so it is said by David, ‘For all things are from You, and from Your own we have given you.” (3:7)

QUESTION: A proof from a pasuk is usually preceded with “kemo shene’amar” — “as it is said.” Why is that style not followed here?

ANSWER: David was speaking humbly to Hashem about the generous contribution of valuables that he gathered from the community for the purpose of building the Beit Hamikdash. Rabbi Elazar is not talking only about giving money, but that one should also give of himself [i.e. any physical qualities Hashem endowed with, such as a nice voice, wisdom, etc.] for Hashem’s service. Thus, the pasuk is only an example of “giving Him of that which is His,” but not as comprehensive as the thought expressed by Rabbi Elazar.

(עי' תוס' יו"ט — תפארת ישראל)

On the pasuk, “Kabeid et Hashem meihonecha” — “honor Hashem with your wealth” (Proverbs 3:9), Rashi writes, “Read not ‘meihonecha’ — ‘your wealth’ — but ‘migeronacha’ — ‘your throat’ — i.e. your pleasant voice should be used to honor Hashem.

* * *

Regarding a Jew’s obligation to employ his body in the service of Hashem, the Ba’al Shem Tov, with the advent of Chassidut, introduced an innovative concept in this matter.

Before Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, known as the “Alter Rebbe,” became the leader of Chabad, he once traveled to raise money for an important charitable cause. He came to the home of a wealthy man, who, sensing that he was not one of the ordinary collectors, offered to have him stay and teach his children in return for the entire sum he hoped to raise.

After a short stay, he informed his host that he was leaving because he could not tolerate the conduct of the people of the city. His host asked him what he meant, and Rabbi Shneur Zalman replied, “You torture the poor.” The host thought that he was referring to a recent meeting to determine how to raise the money for a tax. It was decided that first the poor should give as much as they were able, and whatever was missing would be made up by the rich. He realized that Rabbi Shneur Zalman was right: the poor should not be bothered at all. Let the rich give as much as they can, he decided, and the poor won’t have to give anything. Immediately he arranged a second meeting, and it was decided that the rich should first give what they could afford.

A few days later, Rabbi Shneur Zalman again gave notice that he was leaving, exclaiming again “You torture the poor.” Amazed, the host told his guest of the second meeting and that the poor would not be bothered at all. Rabbi Shneur Zalman told him that he was not aware of the meetings and had been referring to a different matter:

In the human body there are ‘rich’ organs and a ‘poor’ organ. The ‘rich’ organs are the mind and the heart, and the ‘poor’ organ is the stomach. “In this city,” he explained, “instead of putting emphasis on the rich organs and engaging them in the study of Torah and concentrating on prayer to Hashem, the approach is to constantly fast; thus, the ‘poor’ organ, the stomach, is deprived and made to suffer for the person’s iniquities. I cannot tolerate this approach!”

This new philosophy was very intriguing to the host, and he asked Reb Shneur Zalman its source. He told him of the Ba’al Shem Tov and his teachings, which accentuate working with the mind and heart and not punishing the body.

“The Ba’al Shem Tov,” he continued, “bases his theory on a pasuk in Shemot (23:5)and interprets it as follows: ‘Ki tireh’ — when you will see, i.e. come to the realization that — ‘chamor’— the physical matter of the body (related to the word chomer), is — ‘sonacha’— your enemy — because he is engaged in attaining physical pleasures, and thus, hates the neshamah who is striving for G‑dliness and a high spiritual level — and the body is ‘roveitz tachat masa’o’ — lying under his burden and not wanting to get up and serve Hashem — ‘vechadalta mei’azov lo’ — you may think that you will begin to torture him and deny him the food he needs. Be advised that this is a wrong approach. Instead, ‘azov ta’azov imo’ — help him! Give him his bodily needs and attune your mind and soul to worship Hashem. Eventually, your body will become purified and cooperate in your worship.”

(שמעתי מאבי חורגי הרה"ח הרה"ת ר' אליהו משה ע"ה ליס — עי' היום יום, כ"ח שבט)

"המהלך בדרך ושונה ומפסיק ממשנתו...כאלו מתחיב בנפשו"
“One who walks on the road and studies [Torah], and interrupts his study...It is as if he were guilty of a mortal sin.” (3:7)

QUESTION: Why such a harsh judgment for the one who interrupts his studies to admire a beautiful tree?

ANSWER: A person should actually study Torah all the time he is awake, but in order to acquire the means to support himself and his family, he is forced to take off time from Torah study and pursue a livelihood. Since this is an unavoidable necessity, he is not liable for bitul Torah — wasting time of Torah study. On the contrary, not only is pursuing a livelihood permissible, but neglecting to seek means for sustenance is a way of life which our Sages reject.

Nevertheless, regardless of how important it is, a person should not be happy about his involvement in worldly matters. Rather, with remorse and sadness he should proclaim, “I would prefer to study Torah, but what shall I do; I am compelled to provide for myself and family.” When one, however, interrupts his Torah study to engage in business enterprises and proudly says, “How beautiful is this tree or plowed field,” i.e. he is happy with his success and talks only about his entrepreneurial accomplishment, without being troubled that it is at the expense of Torah study, then the interruption of his learning is a severe iniquity.

(כתב סופר — בחוקותי)

"המהלך בדרך ושונה ומפסיק ממשנתו ואומר, 'מה נאה אילן זה מה נאה ניר זה,' מעלה עליו הכתוב כאלו מתחיב בנפשו"
“One who walks on the road and studies [Torah], and interrupts his study and remarks, ‘How beautiful is this tree! How beautiful is this plowed field!’ Scripture considers it as if he were guilty of a mortal sin.” (3:7)

QUESTION: What is wrong with taking a recess during learning?

ANSWER: Everything created in the world is the handiwork of Hashem with a specific purpose. He is the Master of nature, and it is all governed by His Divine providence. Studying and observing nature gives one an opportunity to see the wonders of creation and the Omnipotence of Hashem; there are even special blessings which one recites over wonders of nature and beautiful trees (See Rambam, Berachot 10:13-16).

The Mishnah is talking of a person who interrupted his Torah studies to admire a beautiful tree or plowed field. However, in lieu of extolling Hashem’s greatness and giving Him the credit and praise due, he accredits it all to the laws of nature.

When the person was studying Torah, he envisioned His greatness and infinite wisdom. If he would use the time he now occupies with nature to admire His strength, it would not be so bad. But not to see it as gadlut haBorei — the greatness of the Creator — indeed justifies a harsh judgment.

In fact, the Zohar (Shemot 161a) says that when Hashem created the world, the Torah was His blueprint. Thus, in a sense, when a person observes nature he can view it as a continuation of Torah’s vastness. Making an “interruption” between Torah and nature, and saying that Torah is Divinely given but that nature is the product of chance, is a grave iniquity.

* * *

Alternatively, appreciation of the greatness of Hashem’s creative powers is in itself an aspect of our Divine service, as indicated by our Sages’ institution of the blessing “Shekachah lo be’olamo” — “that He has such things in His world” — which a person is required to recite upon seeing beautiful creations or pleasant looking trees (Rambam, Berachot 10:13). However, its importance does not compare with that of study.

(ר' עובדיה מברטנורה)

"מעלה עליו הכתוב כאלו מתחיב בנפשו"
“Scripture considers it as if he were guilty of a mortal sin.” (3:7)

QUESTION: The word “hakatuv” literally means “the written Scripture.” What pasuk in the Torah did he violate?

ANSWER: Prior to this is a quote from a pasuk, “For all things are from You, and from Your own Hand we have given You” (I Chronicles 29:14), which King David says in regard to all that the people donated for the building of the Beit Hamikdash. The one who does not regard something in the world as the property of Hashem and something which is in His hand — i.e. under His control — is acting contrary to this pasuk.

(דברי דניאל)

* * *

According to some compilations of the Mishnayot this is a Mishnah in itself, and the pasuk quoted from Chronicles is in the previous Mishnah. Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, in the Nusach Ari Siddur, following the Rambam, puts the statement of Rabbi Yaakov and the statement of Rabbi Elazar of Bartota together in the same Mishnah. Thus, it is appropriate to say, “Scripture considers it,” without mention of the pasuk, because it is unnecessary to repeat the same pasuk twice in the same Mishnah.

"כל השוכח דבר אחד ממשנתו מעלה עליו הכתוב כאילו מתחיב בנפשו"
“Whoever forgets anything of his Torah learning, Scripture considers it as if he were guilty of a mortal sin.” (3:8)

QUESTION: Why is there such a harsh judgment for the person who forgets only “davar echad — “one thing”?

ANSWER: Torah is not just another book of knowledge. It is the infinite wisdom of Hashem. When He gave the commandments on Mount Sinai, His opening word was Anochi (אנכי). The Gemara (Shabbat 105a) says this is an acronym for ana nashi kesivat yehavit” (אנא נפשי כתיבת יהבית) — “I myself wrote it [the Torah] and gave it.” Chassidut offers a more profound interpretation: Hashem wrote Himself into the Torah and gave Himself toK’lal Yisrael through it (Likkutei Torah, Bamidbar 48:4).

The Mishnah is not merely talking of forgetting one item of Torah knowledge, but forgetting the One and Only — Hashem. When a person studies Torah and thinks that it is knowledge like any other knowledge and forgets “davar echad” — that it is the words of the One and Only, he is committing a very grave iniquity and is guilty of a mortal sin.

(שפתי אבות)

This is supported with the pasuk “Guard your soul scrupulously lest you forget hadevarim asher ra’u einecha — the things your eyes have seen.” “Hadevarim” literally means “the words.” This may be a reference to the words of “Anochi” and “Lo yiheye lecha,” which Hashem personally uttered in one word at Mount Sinai (Makkot 24a, see Rashi, Shemot 20:1, Rashi), and with which Hashem declared the G‑dliness of Torah.

The harshness is only directed to one who intentionally forgets that Torah is Divinely given and who wants to remove G‑dliness from Torah. It is not meant for one who becomes immersed in his Torah study to the extent that he becomes oblivious to everything.

It is related that the great Chassidic leader, Rabbi Shmelke of Nicholsburg, instructed his student the Seer of Lublin, “If you ever should see me heavily engrossed in Torah study, and it should appear that I am in a state of oblivion, remind me not to forget about Him, G‑d forbid.” Once, when it appeared to the student that his Rebbe was in such a state, he was about to alert him. Suddenly Reb Shmelke sensed it and said, “My dear student, I remember.”

(לקוטי בתר לקוטי)

* * *

The Gemara (Chagigah 9b) says about the pasuk “You will return and see the difference between a righteous person and a wicked person, between one who serves G‑d and one who does not serve Him” (Malachi 3:18) that there is no comparison between one who recited his passage one hundred times“leshonah pirko mei’ah pe’amim ve’echad” — “to the one who recited his passage one hundred and one times.”

Why would one extra time be of such significance?

Perhaps the Gemara’s message is that the one who studies one hundred times cannot be compared to the one who studies one hundred times “ve’echad” — and constantly bears in mind that Torah is the wisdom of “Echad” — “the One and Only” — Hashem. Through his study he bolsters his consciousness of the Divine. The other may study the same number of times, but he still lacks the most important recognition, that this is not ordinary knowledge, but Hashem’s knowledge, and he is therefore considered as “one who does not serve Him.”

(מנחם ציון בשם הבעש"ט)

"כל שיראת חטאו קודמת לחכמתו"
“Anyone whose fear of sin comes before his wisdom” (3:9)

QUESTION: Instead of “Anyone whose fear of sin comes before his wisdom,” it should have said “Kol hamakdim” — “Whoever puts his fear of sin before his wisdom”?

ANSWER: This Mishnah is conveying a very important lesson to parents and educators. Some take the attitude that they do not want to force performance of mitzvot upon their very young children. They reason, “Let them first study and when they will grow up, they will make decisions for themselves whether they want to be religious or not.”

This approach is erroneous. If one wants his child to love Torah, first and foremost, it is important to establish a strong foundation of fear of Hashem. From a very early age, children should be trained to perform mitzvot and inculcated with the knowledge that Hashem is the Master of the world. The Gemara (Shabbat 156b) relates that the mother of Rabbi Nachman bar Yitzchak was told by an astrologer that her son would be a thief. Thereafter, she never allowed him to uncover his head and would say to him, “Cover your head, so that the fear of Heaven should be upon you,” and he grew up to be a great Sage.

The Mishnah is thus teaching, “Anyone whose fear of sin comes before his wisdom” — i.e. if already as a tender child, before reaching the level of wisdom and ability to learn, the fear of Heaven is instilled in him — he will love Torah when he is taught it, and the Torah he learns will become a permanent component of his personality. In contrast, when a child starts his learning without a commitment to fear of sin and learns Torah just as another subject, his interest in Torah is likely to fade.

(נוצר חסד – ר' יצחק אייזיק יהודה יחיאל זצ"ל מקאמארנא מיוסד על תורת הבעש"ט ותלמידיו)

"כל שיראת חטאו קודמת לחכמתו"
“Anyone whose fear of sin comes before his wisdom.” (3:9)

QUESTION: Previously it was stated, “A boor cannot be sin-fearing, nor can an ignoramus be pious” (2:5), so shouldn’t wisdom come first?

ANSWER: The term “kodem” — “before” — does not mean chronological priority, but priority in a scale of values. Studying Torah is very important, but being G‑d fearing is crucial. The purpose of Torah study should not be to become smarter and wiser, but to make one a better servant of Hashem and a more G‑d fearing Jew.

The Gemara (Shabbat 31a) compares one who studies Torah as an end in itself and who does not place the emphasis on being observant and G‑d fearing to a treasurer who has been handed the keys to the inner rooms, but who lacks the key to the main entrance of the palace. The analogy is that just as the keys to the inner chambers are useless if one cannot get through the main entrance, if one lacks fear of Hashem, he will disregard his Torah training, and ultimately his Torah knowledge will dissipate since it is not protected properly with yirat shamayim — fear of Heaven.

(מדרש שמואל)

"כל שמעשיו מרבין מחכמתו חכמתו מתקימת"
“Anyone whose [good] deeds exceed his wisdom, his wisdom will endure.” (3:10)

QUESTION: Why should one’s deeds have an effect on his wisdom or vice versa?

ANSWER: There are two approaches to performance of mitzvot. Some people do those mitzvot whose importance and significance they understand. Others do the mitzvot because they are the command of Hashem regardless of whether they comprehend them or not. Among mitzvot in general there are also two categories; some are mishpatim — civil laws — laws dictated by human logic. Others are chukim — statutes — which are above the comprehension of man.

The person whose deeds are more than his wisdom is the one who performs all the mitzvot even if he does not know all the wisdom underlying them. For such a person “chachmato mitkayemet” — he will surely perform the mitzvot which his understanding and logic dictate to be proper.

However, the one who must have much “chachmah” — “knowledge” — about the mitzvah before he performs it and who only complies when his wisdom assents, and refrains from doing themitzvot his “chachmah” — “wisdom” — does not understand, ultimately “ein chochmato mitkayemet” — he will not do even the mitzvot which his wisdom also confirms because he will pervert his way of thinking and conclude that they are not proper and that they should not be done.

Even themitzvot which are logical should not be performed because our wisdom agrees that they are correct, but because they are the will of Hashem. Human logic can at times become so perverted that it can justify a wrongdoing, and thus if one does a mitzvah now only because it is the right thing to do and not because it is the will of Hashem, at a later date his logic may conclude just the reverse.

(תפארת ישראל)

* * *

Alternatively, the rule is “Action speaks louder than words.” The Mishnah is imparting an important message to those who are endeavoring to impress upon people what is right and wrong. The great scholar who wants his utterances to be taken as the epitome of wisdom should always remember that if his deeds exceed his wisdom, i.e. if he does more than he preaches, then “chachmato mitkayemet” — the wisdom he is trying to convey to the people will remain with them. The people, impressed by his sincerity, will accept his words of wisdom.

However, if his wisdom exceeds his deeds, he is a big talker and an underachiever, and he does not practice what he preaches. Then, regardless of his eloquence and wisdom, “ein chachmato mitkayemet” — his words will have no lasting effect on his listeners.

(לב אבות)

"כל שרוח הבריות נוחה הימנו..."
“Anyone with whom his fellowmen are pleased...” (3:10)

QUESTION: If the Mishnah is stating a fact about how Hashem operates; what message of piety is being imparted?

ANSWER: There is a mitzvah in the Torah, “hochei’ach tochi’achetamitecha” — “you shall reprove your fellow” (Vayikra 19:17) — and there are different approaches to fulfilling it. Some scream at the people, and others do it with a compassionate smile. Some preachers accentuate the damage done by transgression and how this can lead one to Geihinom, while others accentuate the positive, describing the Gan Eden one will merit for doing good deeds.

King Shlomo says that when admonishing, “Do not reprove the jester lest he will hate you; admonish the wise one and he will love you” (Proverbs 9:8). This is puzzling. Why should the wise person require reproof, and why desist from admonishing the jester who has a light-hearted attitude towards Torah and mitzvot? Undoubtedly, the wisest of all men is of the opinion that all people can benefit from criticism. However, he is not instructing whom to reprove, but giving sound advice about how to reprove.

In general, when criticizing, one should never ridicule or belittle a person. If a person does wrong, he usually regrets it, so that scorning and ridiculing him will only provoke anger. One should say to him, rather, “It is strange that such a wise person as yourself should act so foolishly,” and he is likely to be receptive to your words.

The Mishnah is conveying a message to rabbis and teachers to bear in mind when reproaching and lecturing. If the style used is one which is pleasant to the audience, then Hashem, too, is approving and happy that the rabbi or teacher spoke up. However, if the people are made uncomfortable and they are not pleased with the speaker, Hashem, too, is displeased with him.

"רבי דוסא בן הרכינס אומר שנה של שחרית, ויין של צהרים, ושיחת הילדים, וישיבת בתי כנסיות של עמי הארץ מוציאין את האדם מן העולם"
“Rabbi Dosa ben Harkinas said: The sleep of the [late] morning, wine at midday, children’s prattle, and sitting in gathering places of the ignorant drive a man from the world.” (3:10)

QUESTION: Why was it Rabbi Dosa particularly who said this, and what was he alluding to?

ANSWER: Rabbi Dosa ben Harkinas was blessed with longevity (see Yevamot 16a). According to some he lived from the time of Shimon HaTzaddik until the time of Rabbi Akiva (a span of over 400 years, see Seder Hadorot). It is quite common to query an old man, “What are your secrets? How did you live so long?” Thus, Rabbi Dosa is cautioning what the Jew should avoid during life.

A person’s life span is generally divided into three periods: Morning, midday, and evening. The first thing one should beware is not to “oversleep” the early years. These are formulative years when one should be engrossed in Torah study and service of Hashem. The midday of life is when one is married and involved in pursuing a livelihood. Unfortunately, some become immersed to the extent of “intoxication.” They are overwhelmed with their work or blinded by success, and they forget entirely about their obligations to study Torah.

A Chassid of the Mitteler Rebbe, Rabbi DovBer Schneersohn (the second Lubavitcher Rebbe), went into the business of producing overshoes. It was soon apparent that his mind was more preoccupied with business matters than the observance of Torah and mitzvot. Once, when he visited Lubavitch, the Rebbe said to him, “Feet enveloped in overshoes are commonplace, but imagine a ‘head’ sunk in overshoes!”

Afterwards is the stage of retirement and sadly, often during this period many a man does not do anything productive and spends his time in sichot yeladim — conversation with children or discussion in which the level of maturity is like that of a child. Others join groups of their peers and together with them waste the gift of old age Hashem granted them. By doing these things they are neglecting the whole purpose for which they were placed by Hashem in this mundane world.

(מהר"ם אלשקאר)

"שנה של שחרית, ויין של צהרים, ושיחת הילדים, וישיבת בתי כנסיות של עמי הארץ מוציאין את האדם מן העולם"
“The sleep of the [late] morning, wine at midday, children’s prattle, and sitting in gathering places of the ignorant drive a man from the world.” (3:10)

QUESTION: How do these things affect one’s longevity?

ANSWER: It is possible that the Mishnah is not talking of a premature departure from the world, but something else entirely. The Midrash Tanchuma (Naso 16) says that Hashem desired a dwelling place in the lower worlds. Therefore, he created this world and man. Through studying Torah and doing mitzvot, man makes this world into a domicile for Hashem. Man has a yeitzer tov — good inclination — which encourages him to fulfill his mission, and a yeitzer hara — evil inclination — which works indefatigably to distract him from doing what he must.

The yeitzer hara is very efficient in his work and endeavors to make man feel that whatever he encourages him to do is for his benefit. When a person is about to do something, it is incumbent on him to properly evaluate whether it is theyeitzer tov he is listening to, or following the yeitzer hara’s advice.

On the surface, one can justify oversleeping in the morning by arguing that the extra sleep will make the body stronger. One can also claim that drinking wine in the afternoon is beneficial for the digestive system, and to talk with children or chat with old people is relaxing and relieves one of anxieties, and it is good for one to relax after a day of hard work.

While these activities may seem worthwhile, one should consider whether he is doing them to further physical health or to escape from responsibility and reality. Lingering in bed can be a form of escapism: To avoid facing the world in the morning, one is perhaps escaping to bed. Drinking wine in the afternoon can lead to intoxication, a state one may seek because of difficulty facing reality. Unable to lay in bed all day, one escapes the real world in the afternoon by becoming intoxicated, and in lieu of doing something constructive in the evening, a person escapes into time-wasting, unproductive activities such as associating with immature or ignorant people.

The Mishnah is alerting that these things are “motzi’im et ha’adam min ha’olam — they may be avenues of escapism. One must do an honest self-appraisal to determine if one is acting under the influence of the yeitzer tov because of the beneficial aspects of these activities, or whether it is the sly advice of the yeitzer hara who is promoting escape from the responsibility to study Torah and do mitzvot in order to make “ha’olam” — “the world” — a holy place for His Divine presence.

(מיוסד על Visions of the Fathers מר' אברהם שי' טווערסקי)

"והמפר בריתו של אברהם אבינו"
“One who abrogates the covenant of our father Avraham.” (3:11)

QUESTION: Instead of “hameifar brito shel Avraham Avinu — “abrogates the covenant of our father Avraham” — which means did not circumcise (Bartenura), why doesn’t he simply say “she’eino mal” — “One who does not circumcise”?

ANSWER: In contemporary times there are many who advocate circumcision, not because of religious convictions, but because of health advantages. In truth, however, this is not the reason that Hashem commanded Avraham to circumcise himself. Circumcision is a holy act with profound significance, and Hashem has established it as the sign of the Covenant between Him and the Jewish people throughout all generations. It is a fundamental Jewish principle which stamps the Jew as a servant of Hashem.

The Mishnah is talking of one who does circumcise, but performs the circumcision strictly because of medical benefits. Such a person is missing the entire concept and is thus abrogating the covenant of our father Avraham, which is the real reason for the mitzvah.

(באר האבות)

At a brit the mohel recites the berachah, “Vitzivanu al hamilah” — “Commanding us concerning circumcision.” Immediately afterwards, the father recites the berachah “Vitzivanu lehachniso bivrito shel Avraham Avinu — “And commands us to enter him into the Covenant of Avraham our father.” Why the seeming redundancy of a second blessing mentioning the commandment of a brit?

The “Covenant of Avraham our father” may not only mean circumcision, but may also refer to the Brit Bein Habetarim (the Covenant Between the Divided Parts). At that time Hashem told Avraham about the trials and tribulations that would confront the Jewish people during their exile in Egypt and other future exiles (Bereishit 15:12, Rashi). He promised him that nevertheless, “And afterwards they will go out with great wealth” (ibid. 15:14), providing they remain steadfast in their observance of Torah.

At the brit the father is proclaiming that regardless of the difficulties his son may encounter as a result of his Torah observance, he will enter him into the covenant between Hashem and Avraham and do everything possible to rear him as a Torah-true Jew. Ultimately, he will reap great rewards materially and spiritually.

One who physically circumcises his son, but fails to inculcate in him the conviction to be a devout Jew under all circumstances, will be lacking true Yiddishe nachas which the Jew enjoys in this world and in the world to come.

"אין לו חלק לעולם הבא"
“He has no share in the World to Come.” (3:11)

QUESTION: The Mishnah (Sanhedrin 10:1) lists all those who do not have a share in the World to Come, why are these not mentioned there?

ANSWER: Since our Mishnah says Hamechaleil — one who profanes — hamevazeh — one who degrades — in present tense and does not say mi shechile — one who profaned — mi shebizah — one who degraded — in past tense, it is understood that the Mishnah is talking of people who are in a constant rebellious state against Hashem. They have no remorse and do not repent. Thus, they are included in the category of apikoros — one who disparages Torah and its scholars — which is listed there in the Mishnah.

(מדרש שמואל ועי' תפארת ישראל, סנהדרין)

"הוי קל לראש ונוח לתשחרת"
“Be readily submissive to a superior and be affable to a younger person.” (3:12)

QUESTION: What Rabbi Yishmael says is indeed proper etiquette, but what is the mili dechassiduta — message of piety — he is teaching?

ANSWER: The word “lerosh” can be interpreted in a few ways. It can mean “in the beginning” — i.e. the period of one’s youth. It can also mean “to the head,” a reference to Hashem, who is “the head” of the entire universe. It is also an acronym for “la’asot retzon Avicha shebashamayim” (לעשות רצון אביך שבשמים) — “to perform the will of your Father in Heaven.”

The word “no’ach” means “easy” and the word “tishchoret” comes from the word “shachor” which means “black or dark.” Hence, it can be an allusion to old age when the shine of one’s youth is dimmed and darkened, and also dark periods of a person’s life when he is confronted with trials and tribulations, sufferings, and challenges.

There is a popular saying, “You cannot teach an old horse new tricks.” When people become set in their ways, it is difficult for them to change. If one wants to teach his children certain values, it is best to do so while they are young. The Gemara (Shabbat 21b) says that the studies of one’s youth are more enduring, and in the Gemara (Chulin 24b) Rabbi Chanina is quoted as saying, “The hot water and oil that my mother applied to me in my childhood stood me in good stead in my old age.” This is not only true in regard to his physical health, but can also refer allegorically to the great spiritual height he attained.

In his very brief statement, Rabbi Yishmael is conveying a profound message. He advises how one can be an oveid Hashem” — “servant of Hashem” — all through his life. Be “kal” — yielding when you are “larosh,” in your beginning, i.e. early youth, [to whom] “larosh” — to Hashem who is the head, [for what purpose] “larosh” — to do what is the will of your Father in Heaven.

If you will serve Hashem in your youth, then “veno’ach” — it will be pleasant and easy for you to continue doing it “letishchoret” — when you become aged or may be going through “dark” times.

(עי' רש"י)

"שחוק וקלות ראש מרגילים את האדם לערוה"
“Laughter and frivolity accustom a man to lewdness.” (3:13)

QUESTION: How can Rabbi Eliezer’s strong objection to laughter be reconciled with what the Gemara (Pesachim 117a) relates that Rabbah began a lecture with something humorous and the students would laugh?

ANSWER: The Gemara (Berachot 30b) relates that when Rabbah noticed Abaya being excessively happy, he said to him, “It is written, ‘And rejoice in trepidation’ ” (Psalms 2:11). Abaya said to him, “I am wearing tefillin” (which bears witness that Hashem’s rulership is upon me — Rashi). From this it is obvious that the Sages were not against laughter; on the contrary, if one never laughs he can enter into a state of atzvut — melancholy (Tanya ch. 1). Laughter, however, is entirely unacceptable when it goes hand in hand with “kalut rosh” — “lightheadedness.”

If the laughter is intended to relax one’s anxieties as preparation for doing a mitzvah or studying Torah, it is proper because then it is done with seriousness (Tanya, ch. 7). It is then comparable to an appetizer which precedes a sumptuous meal. But if it is the main course of the evening and its purpose is mockery and frivolity, it is to be avoided.

(מראית העין להחיד"א)

* * *

In many Chassidic circles there is a badchan — merry maker — who speaks to the chatan before the wedding. With no stretch of the imagination is he to be confused with the comedian who occupies people minds with lightheaded “entertainment.” The difference between them is vast. The badchan says things in a somewhat humorous fashion with the intention of making the chatan realize the seriousness of the hour. The comedian’s endeavor, in contrast, is to destroy seriousness and earnestness, and make a mockery of everything and everyone. Such lightheadedness, which is often spiced with obscenity and cynicism, can unfortunately lead to lewdness.

* * *

The Gemara (Ta’anit 22a) relates that Eliyahu pointed out to Rabbi Beroka two people who were destined for Olam Haba the World to Come. Rabbi Beroka asked, “What do you do?” They replied, “We are comedians, and we cheer up those who are depressed. Additionally, whenever we see two people involved in a quarrel, we strive hard to make peace between them.”

Since they devoted their comic talent solely to these sorts of situations, they acted for the sake of Heaven.

* * *

Incidentally, the Torah commands, “Midevar sheker tirchak” — “Distance yourself from a false word” (Shemot23:7). The word “sheker” (שקר) — “false” — is an acronym for “sechok, kalut rosh” — (שחוק קלות ראש) — “laughter, frivolity.” Thus, we should distance ourselves from words of sheker — laughter and lightheadedness.

(פתח עינים להחיד"א)

"מסרת סיג לתורה"
“The traditional transmission [of the Scriptural text] is a fence around the Torah.” (3:13)

QUESTION: How is the “masoret” — “traditional transmission [of the Scriptural text]” — a fence around the Torah?

ANSWER: According to the Midrash (Schochar Tov 8:2) when Moshe came up to heaven to take the Torah, the angels demanded of Hashem to keep His glory in heaven, i.e. they should be given the Torah. Hashem told them, “How could you have the Torah in which is written ‘lo tevashel gedi bachaleiv imo’ — ‘you shall not cook a kid in its mother’s milk’ (Shemot 23:19) — when you violated this and ate meat together with milk in the home of Avraham?”

In the Torah there are no vowels under the letters and, thus, the word “bachaleiv” ׁ(בַחַלֵב)— “in the milk” — could be read “becheilev” (בְּחֵלֶב) — “in the fat” — and consequently one could argue that the angels did not transgress the Torah. However, the way we read the words in the Torah is a part of the “masoret” — “traditional transmission [of the Scriptural text]” — which was handed down from Sinai. According to the masoret we place a patach under the chet,” and thus it is read “bachaleiv” — “milk.” Hence, the masoret is a fence around Torah which protected it from being taken away from us by the angels.

(ברכת אבות – ר' יוסף חיים בר' אליהו ז"ל, ליוורנו תר"ד)

"מסרת סיג לתורה, מעשרות סיג לעשר"
“The traditional transmission [of the Scriptural text] is a fence around the Torah, tithes are a fence for riches.” (3:13)

QUESTION: What is the connection between these two things?

ANSWER: There are two approaches to expounding words of Torah: 1) “Mikra” — expounding according to the pronounced form. 2)“Masorot” — expounding according to the transmitted — written — form (see Sukkah 6b). In the pasuk “Aseir te’aseir” (Devarim 14:22) the usual way to read it is with a “sin,” and thus it is a command to tithe. However, the Gemara (Ta’anit 9a) says that since the words in the Torah do not have vowels, the written word can also be read “te’asheir” with a shin,” meaning “affluence.”

Consequently, the Mishnah is telling us that since “Masorot” — “the transmitted — written — form” — “siyag laTorah” — “is a fence around the Torah” — i.e. an accepted way in interpreting Torah, thus “Ma’asrot siyag la’osher” — “Tithing is a fence to riches” — because it allows us to read the word as “te’asheir” with a “shin,” indicating that through tithing one will attain riches.

(לחמי תודה)

"מעשרות סיג לעשר"
“Tithes are a fence for riches.” (3:13)

QUESTION: Why does it say “ma’asrot” — “tithes” — in plural and not “ma’aseir” — “a tithe” — in singular?

ANSWER: Tithing is indeed very noble, but even more noble is giving two tithes — twenty percent (Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Dei’ah 249:1). Therefore, when Yaakov prayed to Hashem and asked that He provide all his needs, he said, “Whatever You will give me aseir ah’asrenu Lach — I will give two tithes to You” (Bereishit 28:22). In using the plural “ma’asrot” the Mishnah is referring to not just ordinary “ma’aseir,” but double tithing, which will definitely be a “fence” to preserve, one’s riches.

(ברכת אבות)

"סיג לחכמה שתיקה"
“A fence for wisdom is silence.” (3:13)

QUESTION: In the previous teachings of the Mishnah, first the fence is mentioned and then what it protects. Why here does it say“Siyag lachachmah shetikah” — “A fence for wisdom is silence” — and not“Shetikah siyag lachachmah” — “Silence is a fence for wisdom”?

ANSWER: The previously mentioned fences are a medium to attain desired results; i.e. through tithing one will have riches, and through making vows one will be abstaining. However, it cannot say that through silence one will attain wisdom, for King Solomon says, “Even a fool will be considered wise if he is silent” (Proverbs 17:28). What the Mishnah is teaching is that when one enhances himself with wisdom, he will attain the attribute of silence.

(ברוך שאמר – ר' ברוך הלוי ז"ל עפשטיין, מפינסק מח"ס תו"ת עה"ת)

* * *

When Rabbi Avraham Mordechai of Ger returned to Poland from his visit to Eretz Yisrael, he was asked, “Since the Gemara (Bava Batra 158b) says ‘Avira d’Eretz Yisrael Machkim’ — ‘The air of Eretz Yisrael makes one wise’ — what new wisdom did you acquire from your visit?” His quick response was, “There I learned that ‘Siyag lachachmah shetikah’” — “a fence for wisdom is silence.”

"חביב אדם שנברא בצלם, חבה יתירה נודעת לו, שנברא בצלם"
“Beloved is man, for he was created in the image [of G‑d]; an even greater love is that it was made known to him that he was created in the image [of G‑d].” (3:14)

QUESTION: How does the fact that it was made known to man that he was created in the image of Hashem show a greater expression of love?

ANSWER: When Eretz Yisrael was under English rule, a group of people decided to name a town after the King of England. They discussed it with the English ambassador, and after a period of time he turned down the gesture. His explanation was that in the future disreputable people might reside in the town, and their behavior and reputation would be a disgrace to the King’s name.

Hashem loves the Jewish people and therefore He created them in His image. If this fact would not have been revealed, it would be no disgrace to Him personally if they lived a lifestyle which is contrary to His glory. The fact that He revealed it to them and gave them the Torah to know how He wishes them to conduct their lives, shows the great love and faith that He has in the Jewish people that they will always be faithful to Him and not cause a chillul Hashem — desecration of His Name.

(מצאתי בכתבי אבי הרב שמואל פסח ז"ל באגאמילסקי)

"חביבין ישראל שנקראו בנים למקום"
“Beloved are the people Israel, for they are called children of G‑d.” (3:14)

QUESTION: In the Torah (4:22) Hashem says of the Jewish people,“Beni bechori Yisrael” — “My firstborn son is Israel.” Why in the Mishnah does it say “banim” — “sons” — in plural?

ANSWER: Pirkei Avot (6:6) says that Torah is greater than kehunah — priesthood — ormalchut — royalty — for royalty is acquired together with thirty qualities and priesthood with twenty-four, but to acquire Torah one must have forty-eight qualities.

The total of the forty-eight qualities of the Torah, thirty of royalty, and twenty-four of priesthood is one hundred and two, which is also the numerical value of the word “banim” (בנים) — “sons.” Hashem, with His infinite love for the Jewish people called only us“banim” since He conferred upon Israel the crowns of Torah, priesthood, and royalty (Rambam, Talmud Torah 3:1), and thus we were endowed with potential to acquire all the one hundred and two qualities.

(חסדי אבות)

"חבה יתרה נודעת להם, שנקראו בנים למקום, שנאמר בנים אתם לה' אלקיכם"
“It is even a greater love that it was made known to them that they are called “children of G‑d,” as it is said: You are the children of G‑d your G‑d.” (3:14)

QUESTION: How does the fact that Hashem called them “banim” — “children” — show He has “chibah yeteirah” — “an even greater love” — for them?

ANSWER: The Gemara (Eiruvin 18b) says, “One may mention part of a person’s praise in his presence, but all of it only in his absence.” In this pasuk Hashem is speaking to the people in their presence since He says “atem” — “you.” Now if “banim” — “children” — was an expression of His entire love for them, then it would not be proper for Him to say it, so to speak, in their presence. Obviously, since He said this expression of love in their presence, it can be concluded that “chibah yeteirah noda’at lahem” — “there is even additional love that He has for them.”

(חיד"א בשם ר' חיים בן עטר — אור החיים)

"בנים אתם לה' אלקיכם חביבין ישראל שנתן להם כלי חמדה...שנאמר כי לקח טוב נתתי לכם, תורתי אל תעזבו"
“You are children of G‑d, beloved are the people Israel, for a precious article was given to it is said: ‘I have given you a good teaching; do not forsake my Torah.’” (3:14)

QUESTION: How does His giving us the Torah show that he loves us?

ANSWER: There is a halachah known as bar metzra.” When one wants to sell a property, the adjacent neighbors have precedence in buying it. An exception to that law is the case of an owner who wants to give the property as a gift to a stranger. Even if the recipient does not live nearby, he can give it to him over the objection of his neighbors (see Bava Metzia 108b).

When Moshe came up to heaven to receive the Torah, the angels objected, arguing “Keep your glory on the heaven” (Shabbat 88b). Seemingly, they rightfully deserved the Torah, since by dwelling in heaven they were “bar metzra.” Why did Hashem disregard this law and give Torah to man who dwells on earth?

Rabbi Akiva is saying that Hashem has a special love for the Jewish people and this is evident from His proclaiming that “natati lachem” — “I have given [the Torah] to you, i.e. as a matanah — gift (and a gift is given as an expression of love) — over the objection of the angels that they are “bar metzra.”

* * *

QUESTION: What is the connection between our being called “banim” — “children” — of G‑d, with His giving us the Torah?

ANSWER: Another exeption to the law of bar metzra is when the purchaser is a relative and especially if it is a child. Thus, even if the giving of the Torah is considered a sale (see Shemot Rabbah 33:1, Bereishit 5a), we have precedence over bar metzra since we are His children.

(לקו"ש חי"ח ע' 29)

"הכל צפוי והרשות נתונה"
“Everything is foreseen, yet freedom of choice is granted.” (3:15)

QUESTION: This sounds contradictory. How can there be freedom of choice if Hashem already knows the future? How can bechirah — freedom of choice — and yedi’ah — Hashem’s Omniscience — be reconciled?

ANSWER: The Rambam (Teshuvah 5:5) writes the following, “One might ask, ‘Since Hashem knows everything that will occur before it comes to pass, does He or does He not know whether a person will be righteous or wicked?

“If He knows that he will be righteous, [it appears] impossible for him not to be righteous. However, if one would say that despite His knowledge that he would be righteous, it is possible for him to be wicked, then His knowledge would be incomplete.’

“Know that the resolution to this question [can be described as], ‘Its measure is longer than the earth and broader than the sea’ (Job 11:9). Many great and fundamental principles and lofty concepts are dependent upon it. However, the statements that I will make must be known and understood [as a basis for the comprehension of this matter].

“As explained in Hilchot Yesodei Hatorah (2:10), Hashem does not know with a knowledge that is external to Him as do men, whose knowledge and selves are two [different entities]. Rather, He, may His name be praised, and His knowledge are one. [The actual wording in Yesodei Hatorah is as follows: He is the Knower, He is the object of knowledge, and He is the knowledge itself. All is one. This matter is beyond the potential of our mouths to mention, our ears to hear, or the heart of man to grasp it in its entirety...He does not know the creations from the perspective of the creations as we know them. Rather, He comprehends them from His perspective. Thus, as He knows Himself, He knows everything.]

“Human knowledge cannot comprehend this concept in its entirety for just as it is beyond the potential of man to comprehend and conceive the essential nature of the Creator, as it states, ‘No man will perceive Me and live’ (Shemot 33:20), so too, it is beyond man’s potential to comprehend and conceive the Creator’s knowledge. This was the intent of the prophet’s statements, ‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor your ways My ways’ (Isaiah 55:8).

“Accordingly, we do not have the potential to conceive how Hashem knows all the creations and their deeds. However, this is known without any doubt: Man’s actions are in his [own] hands and Hashem does not lead him [in a particular direction] or decree that he do anything.

“This matter is known, not only as a tradition of faith, but also through clear proofs from the words of wisdom. Consequently, the prophets taught that a person is judged according to his deeds — whether good or bad. This is a fundamental principle on which all the words of prophecy depend.”

Commentaries suggest that this contradiction is only problematic if one views Hashem as bound by time. Since Hashem is not bound by the structure of time, His knowledge of events is unrelated to the human understanding of past and present; He sees all events as if they were happening simultaneously. Hence, the Mishnah can be read as saying that everything is “tzafu”“seen” — indicative of a temporal “present,” rather than saying that everything is known, which indicates foreknowledge and a distinction between present and future.

The Ramban may be alluding to this by stating, ‘For My thoughts [and knowledge] are unlike your thoughts;’ meaning that all Hashem’s thoughts take place in the ‘present,’ and that all events are therefore known, while human beings cannot perceive the future. Thus, Hashem can know what man will do in the future without affecting his choices.”

"הכל צפוי"
“Everything is foreseen.” (3:15)

QUESTION: Instead of “tzafu” — “foreseen” — it should have said “yadu’a” — “known” — or “nir’eh” — “seen”?

ANSWER: The word “tzafu” can mean “floating,” as in “Tzafah al penei hamayim” — “floating on the water” (Pirkei Avot 2:6). When one floats on the water, he makes an effort to keep his head upwards. The Mishnah is teaching that throughout his lifetime in this world, a person should imagine himself as floating in the ocean, so that to survive he must “look” upwards, i.e. look to Hashem and to be attached to Him.

(ברכת אבות)

"והכל לפי רוב המעשה"
“And everything is according to the preponderance of [good] deeds.” (3:15)

QUESTION: The Rambam interprets this Mishnah 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 to give the same sum as a single donation.

What is the difference between giving one dollar at one time or one hundred pennies at different intervals?

ANSWER: Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (Iggeret Hakodesh 21) explains that each time a person performs a mitzvah, he creates a spiritual bond with Hashem, drawing down Divine influence to our material world. The more often one gives, the more often one draws down Divine influence.

* * *

Alternatively, it is important that giving charity should become habitual with the person. When one is considering giving tzedakah, his evil inclination endeavors to discourage him with various rationales and explanations, such as “You may need this money for yourself” or “Maybe there is a better cause” etc. When the person actually gives, he has not only performed the mitzvah, but also won a battle with his yeitzer hara.

Helping others is tzedakah, but one who gives continuously becomes a ba’al tzedakah — a master of tzedakah. And just as when one is a ba’al habayit — master over his house — it cannot be taken away from him, likewise, when one masters the act of giving, the yeitzer hara concedes that he has lost the battle and no longer tries to persuade this person not to give.

Giving one large donation is definitely praiseworthy, but it does not make one a master of the art of giving. It may have been impulsive or inspired by a specific event or experience and may not be repeated again. One who gives continuously demonstrates that he has mastered the art of giving and will continue to give and give.

(ממעינות הנצח)

* * *

In regard to giving tzedakah the Torah says, “Naton titein lo” — “you shall surely give to him” (Devarim 15:10). “Naton titein lo” literally means “give you shall give to him” because the way to overcome the hesitancy of giving tzedakah is through “naton titein” — “continuous giving.”

(כלי חמדה)

"הכל לפי רוב המעשה"
“Everything is according to the preponderance of [good] deeds.” (3:15)

QUESTION: It should have said rov hama’asim — which is the plural for deeds?

ANSWER: Pirkei Avot is known as mili dechassiduta — words of piety. It encourages one to live one’s life as a Chassid — which means to conduct oneself lifnei mishurat hadin — above and beyond the strict letter of the law (see Niddah 17a. Tosafot).

In the performance of mitzvot there is a category of hidur mitzvah — beautification of the mitzvah. The Sages (Shabbat 133a) have derived this practice from the words, “Zeh Keili ve’anveihu” — “This is my G‑d and I will glorify Him” (Shemot 15:2). According to the Gemara (Bava Kamma 9b) this means that one should spend up to an additional third of the price for better tefillin or a nicer etrog, etc.

The word “hama’aseh” (המעשה) is an acronym for “hidur mitzvah ad shelish hamitzvah” (הידור מצוה עד שליש המצוה) — “beautification of a mitzvah [means] spending up to an additional third of the cost [necessary to fulfill the mitzvah].” Therefore it does not say “rov hama’asim” — which would be a reference to the number of the deeds — but “rov hama’aseh” to teach that everything is according to how much one exceeds the base cost (up till an additional third).

(חסדי אבות)

"והחנוני מקיף"
“The shopkeeper extends credit.” (3:16)

QUESTION: Why are the joyous celebrations on Simchat Torah called hakafot?

ANSWER: On Simchat Torah we conclude the annual cycle of reading the Torah in public and start anew from Bereishit. This milestone is celebrated with much joy and festivity, and all Jews, men and women, young and old, learned and illiterate, participate. One may rightfully wonder, with what justification does the one who did not learn Torah throughout the year rejoice on Simchat Torah?

The processions with the Torah are called “hakafot.” Superficially, the name “hakafot” originated from the fact that we circle around the bimah,and hakafot is from the same root as the word makif which means “circling around” (see Bava Batra 4b).

However, the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, offers a more profound explanation of the word “hakafot.” He says that it means, “the extension of credit” as is written in our Mishnah, “Vehachenvani makif” — “the shopkeeper extends credit.” When one applies for credit and is notified that his application has been favorably accepted and his request is being granted, he is indeed very happy.

Likewise onSimchat Torah, the “Shopkeeper” — Hashem — says to each and every Jew, “I give you permission to rejoice with My Torah; though your credit for Torah study and observance for the past year may not be exactly up to par, but dance today on credit, because I trust that you will make good during the coming year.” When Hashem personally extends the Jew credit, his joy is overwhelming.

"ונפרעין מן האדם מדעתו ושלא מדעתו"
“And exact payment from man with or without his knowledge.” (3:16)

QUESTION: Isn’t it unethical to take something from a person without his knowledge?

ANSWER: In Chovot Halevavot (Sha’ar Hachani’ah 7) it is written that when a person comes before the Heavenly Tribunal for judgment, he is often shown that in the Book of Records merits were recorded for him for mitzvot which he does not recall doing, and in all honesty he says, “I did not do this.” He is told, “Someone who spoke evil about you has lost his merits and they have been added to your account.” Likewise, people sometimes ask why they have not been given credit for certain good deeds, and they are told that they were transferred to people about whom they spoke evil. Similarly, some people will find “debits” — aveirot — in their ledgers which they never did. When they object, they are told that the sins were removed from the people about whom they spoke evil and added to their accounts.

In light of the above, it could be that “with his knowledge or without his knowledge” does not refer to the taking of payment without one’s knowledge. Rather, it means that he is charged for the iniquities he acquired “with or without his knowledge,” i.e. when a person spoke evil about his friend, he indeed was aware of his wrongdoing (“mida’ato”), but he was not aware of the iniquities of his friend which were transferred to his account and he will need to “pay” for them.

(ראשית דוד בשם ר' יוסף דוב ז"ל סאלאווייטשיק - בית הלוי)

"אם אין דרך ארץ אין תורה"
“If there is no proper social conduct, there is no Torah.” (3:17)

QUESTION: Why is there no Torah if there is no “derech eretz” — “proper social conduct”?

ANSWER: According to the Midrash (Shochar Tov 8:2) the angels opposed Hashem’s giving away Torah to man, and wanted it to be left in heaven for them. Hashem told them, “You cannot receive the Torah since it states, ‘You shall not cook a kid in its mother’s milk’ and when you visited Avraham, you ate meat and milk?”

Though angels do not eat physical food, out of respect to their host they altered their nature and ate in Avraham’s house, since it was proper derech eretz — etiquette — as our Sages say, “When you come into a city, conduct yourself according to its customs” (Shemot Rabbah 47:6). Thus, thanks to the fact that eating is customary in this world, and it is proper derech eretz to follow the customs of the place one visits, we became the recipients of Torah and not the angels.

(זכות אבות, ועי' תורת שמואל ספר תרל"ד כ"ק אדמו"ר מהר"ש)

"אם אין דעת אין בינה אם אין בינה אין דעת"
“If there is no knowledge, there is no understanding. If there is no understanding, there is no knowledge.” (3:17)

QUESTION: What is the difference between binah — “understanding” — and “da’at” — “knowledge” — and how is one contingent on the other?

ANSWER: Intellect consists of three stages: chachmah — wisdom — binah — understanding — and da’at — knowledge. Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad Chassidut, expounds on this philosophy in his monumental work Likkutei Amarim — Tanya. He explains them in the following way:

Chachmah — wisdom — is the first stage of the intellect. It is the intuitive flash of intellectual illumination, the original idea. At this stage the details are not yet worked out, but only implied and latent within the intuitive flash.

Binah — understanding — is the expansion and elucidation of chachmah. During this stage the development of the original concept takes place. By pondering on the idea, the person reveals the details and implications so that they become manifest in the mind. However, wisdom and understanding by themselves are abstract. The concept is clear in the mind, but it has not yet lead to any conclusion. At the stages of wisdom and understanding the idea only exists in potential and it has not yet been actualized.

Da’at — knowledge — the etymology of which is to be found in the pasuk, “And Adam knew (yada) his wife Chavah” (Bereishit 4:1) implies attachment and union. Da’at is associated with the practical application of a concept and the modification of character traits that follows intellectual meditation on a G‑dly concept. This is accomplished through profound concentration. It is the full preoccupation in the understood concept until an intense union is effected between the intellect and the emotions (seichel — intellect — and midot — emotional attributes), and the idea is brought to its logical conclusion. Thus, the accomplishment of da’at is that through concentration and “attachment,” the person brings the knowledge to maturity, which is manifest in midot — character traits.

Consequently, since binah and da’at are the second and third stages respectively, in the development of a concept, obviously if the second level (binah) is lacking, there cannot be the third level (da’at). Also, if there is no da’at then binah in itself is of no value, since it has no practical consequences.

"אם אין קמח אין תורה, אם אין תורה אין קמח"
“If there is no flour [sustenance] there is no Torah; if there is no Torah there is no flour.” (3:17)

QUESTION: What is the connection between flour and Torah?

ANSWER: According to Midrash Rabbah (Shemot 28:1), when Moshe came up to heaven to receive the Torah, the angels became very indignant and wanted to kill him. Hashem changed Moshe’s countenance so that he looked like Avraham and said to the angels, “How dare you hurt this man! You ate in his house when you visited the planes of Mamrei.”

The angels came to Avraham on Pesach, and he took kemach solet — fineflour — to make matzot so as to fulfill the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim — hospitality.

The Mishnah thus teaches, — “im ein kemach” — were it not for the flour Avraham used to make matzot for the angels — “ein Torah” — Moshewould not have been able to take the Torah away from the angels. “Im ein Torah” — wereit not for the fact that Avraham observed all the precepts of the Torah (Yoma 28b) and therefore, since it was Pesach he baked matzah in order to perform the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim — “ein kemach” — he would not have taken flour to bake matzot for the angels.

(מהר"ם שי"ף)

"אם אין קמח אין תורה"
“If there is no flour [sustenance], there is no Torah.” (3:17)

QUESTION: Flour is a by-product of wheat. He should have said, “Im ein chitah ein Torah” — “If there is no wheat, there is no Torah”?

ANSWER: In order to become flour, the wheat has to be put through a grinding process. The message of the Mishnah is that to succeed in Torah study one must go through a personal “grinding,” i.e. give up the amenities one is accustomed to and immerse oneself entirely in the study.

(זכות אבות)

"רבי אליעזר (בן) חסמא אומר"
“Rabbi Eliezer Chisma says.” (3:18)

QUESTION: Since Chisma was neither the name of his father (according to most authorities) nor an original part of his name, why was it added to his name?

ANSWER: Rabbi Eliezer came to a certain place. They said to him: “Recite the blessing accompanying the Shema.” He said to them, “I am not learned therein.” “Lead our congregation in the prayers,” they begged. “I am not learned therein,” he repeated. They exclaimed: “Is this Rabbi Eliezer? Is this the man of whom you boast so much? You do not deserve the title Rabbi.” His face turned pale and he went to Rabbi Akiva his master. The latter asked him, “Why is your face so wan?” He recounted the incident to him and said to him, “Are you willing O Master, to teach me?” “Yes” he told him, and then he taught him. After a time he came to that place and they said to him: “Recite the blessings for the Shema.” He recited them. “Act as reader” they said. He did so. They exclaimed, “Itchaseim Rabbi Eliezer” — “Rabbi Eliezer has become stronger, i.e. is now more knowledgeable” — so they called him Rabbi Eliezer Chisma.

(מדרש רבה ויקרא כ"ג:ד)

"קנין ופתחי נדה הן הן גופי הלכות, תקופות וגמטריאות פרפראות לחכמה"
“The laws pertaining to bird-sacrifices and the calculation of the onset of menstruation, these are essentials of halachah, the calculation of the heavenly cycles [astronomy] and numerical computations of Hebrew words are condiments to wisdom.” (3:18)

QUESTION: Why did he cite these two laws as an example of the essentials of halachah, and what did he mean by comparing astronomy and numerical computations to dessert?

ANSWER: The laws concerning the bird sacrifices are relevant only in the times of the Beit Hamikdash, while the laws pertaining to the woman’s menstruation apply at all times and in all places. He cited these two examples specifically to emphasize that all matters of Torah should be studied at all times and in all places regardless if they are currently applicable or not.

The Gemara (Horayot 10a) says that Rabbi Eliezer Chisma was capable of calculating the number of drops contained in the sea. Regardless of his great wisdom and exceptional genius regarding calculating, he said that one’s major involvement in Torah study should not be in astronomical and numerical calculation. These should be treated as a dessert: Just as a dessert is eaten only after the meal, likewise, only after accomplishing in Torah-study should one engage in these subjects.

(מדרש שמואל)

Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky has been a pulpit rabbi for over thirty years, and is author of more than ten highly acclaimed books on the Parshiot and holidays. His Parshah series, Vedibarta Bam, can be purchased here.
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