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Questions and Answers on Chapter Four of Pirkei Avot

Questions and Answers on Chapter Four of Pirkei Avot

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"בן זומא אומר: איזהו חכם הלומד מכל אדם... איזהו גבור הכובש את יצרו... איזהו עשיר השמח בחלקו... איזהו מכבד, המכבד את הבריות"
Ben Zoma says: Who is wise? He who learns from every person ... Who is strong? He who subdues his inclination ... Who is rich? He who is content with his lot ... Who is honored? He who honors others.” (4:1)

QUESTION: What insight do we gain from Ben Zoma?

ANSWER: Ben Zoma teaches that the popular conception ofeach of these four categories is erroneous. People are impressed by a teacher with many students and draw the conclusion that he is a chacham — a wise person. According to Ben Zoma, a chacham is not one who teaches many, but one who learns from many and gains from their experiences.

People assume that a gibor — a strong person — is one who can lift heavy weights. However, Ben Zoma teaches that a true gibor is one who conquers his inclination, which in actuality is “weightless.”

People think that being an ashir — a rich person — requires vast amounts of money. Ben Zoma says that money does not make one rich; one can have very little and be extremely rich if he is content with what he has.

Many think that a mechubad — anhonored person — is one for whom dinners and testimonials are given. Ben Zoma says this does not prove that he is honored! One who finds value in every person, giving them honor and respect, is truly honorable.

(פניני אבות, ועי' סמ"ע חו"מ סי' ג' ס"ק י"ג)

* * *

Incidentally, the “yeitzer” — “inclination” — Ben Zoma speaks about is not necessarily the yeitzer hara — evil inclination. It may be any uncontrollable leaning, e.g., smoking, splurging, overeating, etc. To overcome these temptations and vices often requires tremendous strength.


"בן זומא אומר... איזהו עשיר השמח בחלקו"
Ben Zoma says ... Who is rich? He who is content bechelko — with his lot.” (4:1)

QUESTION: Instead of saying, Who is rich? “He who is content bechelko — with his lot,” why didn’t Ben Zoma say, “He is content bemamono — with his money”?

ANSWER: The word “ashir” (עשיר) — “rich” — is an acronym for einayim (עינים) — eyes — shinayim (שנים) — teeth — yadayim (ידים) — hands — and raglayim (רגלים) — feet. Hashem has given these as a gift to human beings and expects us to use them for Torah study, prayer, and good deeds.

The eyes should be used for reading Torah and looking favorably at other Jews. With the teeth one should eat Kosher food and speak well of others. The hands are to be used to give charity and extend help to anyone in need. With the feet one should go to shul and to yeshivah.

A person who has “healthy” eyes, teeth, hands and feet is indeed rich and should be grateful to Hashem. A man who is content “with his lot” i.e. G‑d’s gift to him, and who utilizes his body exactly as Hashem intended is truly an ashir — a wealthy person regardless if he has any money.

(מדרש חכמים)


"הוי רץ למצוה קלה ובורח מן העבירה"
“Run to [perform even] an easy mitzvah, and flee from transgression.” (4:2)

QUESTION: What is a mitzvah kallah — easy mitzvah — and what lesson should be learnt from it?

ANSWER: The Gemara (Avodah Zara 3a) says that the gentiles challenged Hashem to give them the Torah to see if they would fulfill the precepts. Hashem said to them, “I have a mitzvah kallah — easy mitzvah — called sukkah (it is an easy mitzvah since it does not invoke any expense, the sechach needed to cover the sukkah is available in the fields); let us see if you can do it.” They all went and immediately built sukkot, but they abandoned them when the sun became too hot.

The sukkah is referred to as a dirat arai — temporary dwelling place — and it has a roof through which one can see the stars. A person is required to leave his permanent abode and move into a sukkah to impress upon him that our real security is provided by Hashem in heaven. Without Him, our strong “fortresses” with their bars and gates are to no avail.

Thus, Ben Azzai’s message is that one should run with zerizut — alacrity — and simchah — joy — to fulfill the mitzvah of sukkah and live throughout the year with the message and lesson it imparts. Once a person realizes his dependence on Hashem and that without Him he is unable to succeed, then he will definitely not commit a transgression.

(תורת אבות — כלי יקר)


"הוי רץ למצוה קלה ובורח מן העבירה"
“Run to [perform even] an easy mitzvah, and flee from transgression.” (4:2)

QUESTION: Why in regard to a “mitzvah” does the Mishnah state specifically “mitzvah kallah” — “an easy (light or minor)” — while concerning an aveirah there is no distinction made?

ANSWER: A person may consider some mitzvot easy and enjoyable, andothers difficult and tedious. However, when one commits a transgression, regardless of what it may be, to the violator it is something which he enjoys and considers light — minor — and he transgresses it with ease. Only afterwards, when he comes to his senses, does he realize the seriousness of his transgression and the gravity of his brazen act, feeling pain and remorse over it.

* * *

There are two words which are usually expressed both when doing a mitzvah or committing a transgression. The words are “ah” and “oy,” and which comes first and which afterwards depends on the status of the act.

A pious Chassid woke his son early one cold winter morning to take him to the minyan. As the boy was getting out from under the blankets he cried, “Oy, it is cold!” After shul was over, his father asked him, “How do you feel now, Chaim?” To which the lad replied, “Ah, a mechayeh! I feel wonderful!” The father pointed his finger and said, “Chaim, let this experience be a lesson to you through all your life. When one performs a mitzvah, the ‘oy’ comes first and ‘ah’ comes afterward. But when one commits an aveirah, the order is reversed. ‘Ah, it is a mechayeh’ comes first, and ‘Oy, what did I need it for’ comes later.”


"ובורח מן העבירה שמצוה גוררת מצוה ועבירה גוררת עבירה"
“Flee from transgression; for one mitzvah brings about another mitzvah and one transgression brings another.” (4:2)

QUESTION: Why is a rationale necessary? Even if one transgression does not bring about another, sin should be avoided.

ANSWER: A certain organization wished to raise funds for the local orphanage. To that end, they arranged for a theatrical production which was somewhat immodest so that the orphanage could receive the proceeds. The Rabbi in this city was Rav Meir Leibush, known as the Malbim. Upon hearing of this plan, he called in the organizers and told them to cancel the play. Even though it was clearly for the sake of a mitzvah, it contained a tint of an aveirah.

He supported his view by citing this Mishnah and quoted the words with a somewhat different division of words: “Uborei’ach min ha’aveirah shemitzvah gorerret.” The Mishnah means to say that one should flee from the aveirah that a mitzvah “dragged in.” Avoid halachically questionable activities for the sake of a good purpose believing that the end justifies the means, because to ignore the means results in “mitzvah ve’aveirah” — “a combination of mitzvah and aveirah” — which will ultimately “gorerret aveirah” — “cause more aveirot to take place.”

(ממעינות הנצח)


"שאין לך אדם שאין לו שעה"
“There is no man who does not have his hour” (4:3)

QUESTION: What is the sha’ah — hour — that every man has?

ANSWER: The word sha’ah is not only a period of time, but can also mean “turn.” When Kayin and Hevel brought their gifts to Hashem, it is written, “ve’el Kayin ve’el minchato lo sha’ah — to Kayin and his offering he did not turn” (Bereishit 4:5). Here, too, the word “sha’ah” means a turn, and the Mishnah is teaching that there is no man who cannot turn around and change.”

* * *

This is illustrated by a powerful narrative related in the Gemara (Avodah Zarah 17a) concerning Elazer ben Durdaya, who strayed from the path of Jewish life and became addicted to the allurements of lust and passion. One day when he was mocked by one who apparently shared his view of life, he was overwhelmed by his lowly moral situation and realized that his life was being wasted. He could not continue on that path anymore, and he was overwhelmed by a sense of futility and despair and for the deep need for return to Hashem.

In his earnest search for penance and with a deeply troubled conscience, Elazer ben Durdaya sought external help, and he called out, “Mountains and hills, ask mercy for me.”

“Ask mercy for you? We must ask mercy for ourselves.”

“Heaven and earth, ask mercy for me.”

“Ask mercy for you? We must ask mercy for ourselves.”

“Sun and moon, ask mercy for me.”

“Ask mercy for you? We must ask mercy for ourselves.”

“Stars and planets, ask mercy for me.”

“Ask mercy for you? We must ask mercy for ourselves.”

Elazer sat upon the ground, and after a long and serious period of probing introspection, he placed his head between his knees and expired while crying, “Ein hadavar talui ela bi” — “It all depends on me — the responsibility is totally mine!” A voice emerged from above and declared, “Elazer ben Durdaya is worthy of Eternal Life.”

When this incident was reported to Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi, he used this unusual act of honest introspection and teshuvah as a text for a great moral lesson to his disciples: “There are those who obtain their world (Olam Haba) with many years of work, ‘veyeish konah olamo besha’ah achat’ — ‘and there are those who acquire their world in one hour.’ ”

In light of the above, “besha’ah” can also mean “a turn.” In one brief instance of self realization and self transformation Elazar ben Durdaya made a complete turn around and merited Olam Haba.

(הדרש והעיון – ר' אהרן ז"ל לעווין מריישא)

* * *

Rabbi Meir of Premishlan once said to his students, “We say of Al-mighty G‑d [that thanks to our teshuvah] ‘as far as east from west has He distanced our transgressions from us’ (Psalms 103:12). Perhaps one of you can tell me how far east is from west?”

The students grappled with this problem, and each one came up with a different astronomical figure. Suddenly, the Rabbi interrupted them and declared, “You are all in error! From east to west is only one swerve. When one stands facing east and turns around, instantly, he is facing west. This is the immediacy of teshuvah.”


"ואין לך דבר שאין לו מקום"
“And no thing which does not have its place.” (4:3)

QUESTION: Instead of “makom” — “a place” — why doesn’t he say “everything has a tzorech — purpose”?

ANSWER: The Ba’al Shem Tov explained the pasuk “Forever, O G‑d, Your word stands firm in the heavens” (Psalms 119:89) to mean that, “Your word”: “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters” (Bereishit 1:6) — these very words and letters stand firmly forever within the firmament of heaven and are forever clothed within all the heavens to give them life, as it is written, “The word of our G‑d shall stand firm forever” (Isaiah 40:8) and “His words live and stand firm forever” (Liturgy, Morning Prayer). For if the letters were to depart [even] for an instant, G‑d forbid, and return to their source, all the heavens would become naught and absolute nothingness, and it would be as though they had never existed at all, exactly as before the utterance.

This same thought was expressed by the Arizal (Eitz Chaim, Sha’ar Man U’Mad, section 3), of blessed memory, when he said that even in completely inanimate matter, such as stones or earth or water, there is a soul and spiritual life-force, that is, the enclothing of the “Letters of speech of the Ten Utterances which give life and existence to inanimate matter that it might arise out of the naught and nothingness which preceded the Six Days of Creation.”

Hashem is referred to as “HaMakom” — “The Place.” The Midrash Rabbah (Bereishit 68:9) explains that this is to emphasize that the world is contained in Him and not He in the world. He is not limited by space and therefore present everywhere.

The Mishnah is teaching to never reject anything because there is no thing which does not have “makom” — a spark of G‑dliness in it.

(שער היחוד והאמונה פ"א - נוצר חסד)

* * *

According to Kabbalists, Hashem is referred to as “Makom” — “Place” — because His Holy four letter Name, the Tetragrammaton (י-ה-ו-ה) has the numerical value of one hundred and eighty-six, the same as “makom” (מקום), according to gematria beribu’a – numerology involving “squares.”

The numerical value of yud when squared (10 x 10) is one hundred. The square ofhei is twenty-five (5 x 5). The square of vav is thirty-six (6 x 6), and the square of the final “hei” is twenty-five (5 x 5). Thus, 100 + 25 + 36 + 25 = 186.


"רבי לויטס איש יבנה אומר: מאד מאד הוה שפל רוח"
“Rabbi Levitas of Yavneh says: ‘Be of an exceedingly humble spirit.’ ” (4:4)

QUESTION: The words “me’od me’od” — “exceedingly” — are superfluous. It should have just said “Be of a humble spirit”?

ANSWER: The word “me’od” can also mean wealth and affluence, as the Gemara (Berachot 54a) interprets the words “bechol me’odecha,” which are recited in the Shema.

The Mishnah is teaching that even when “me’od” — one is extremely great in “me’od” — riches and affluence — nevertheless, one should be humble, for mortal man has no justification for conceit and arrogance, since ultimately all will be consumed by worms.

(חיד"א - פתח עינים)


"מאד מאד הוי שפל רוח"
“Be of an exceedingly humble spirit.” (4:4)

QUESTION: Why is the word “me’od” repeated?

ANSWER: The rich person who is very generous cannot be arrogant if he is unlearned in Torah. As soon as he thinks of his Torah ignorance, he will realize how insignificant he is and be humble. Also, the great Torah scholar, who is dependant on others to support him, will be humble when he thinks of his poverty and inability to maintain himself.

The word “me’od” (מאד) is an acronym for “mimino eish dat” (מימינו אש דת) — “From His right hand he presented a fire of law” (Devarim 33:2), which refers to Torah. It is also an acronym for maskil el dal” (משכיל אל דל) — “Who cares wisely for the needy” (Psalms 41:2), and it is thus a reference to assisting the needy.

Rabbi Levitas is saying that even if a person is very learned in Torah, blessed with affluence, and very charitable, nevertheless, he should not be conceited but rather exceedingly humble.

(חתם סופר)

* * *

Alternatively, in the Torah there were three people who excelled in humility. Avraham said “Ve’anochi afar va’eifer” — “I am but dust and ashes” (Bereishit 18:27). King David said “Ve’anochi tola’at velo ish” — “I am only a worm and not a man” (Psalms 22:7). Moshe said of himself “Venachnu mah” — “What are we [we are nothing]” (Shemot 16:7).

The first three letters of the names “Moshe” (משה), “Avraham” (אברהם), and “David” (דוד) spell the word “me’od” (מאד). Rabbi Levitas is advising us to reflect upon these three giants whose acronym is “me’od.” When a person thinks of how insignificant he is in comparison to them, “me’od hevei shefal ru’ach” — one will indeed be of humble spirit.

(זרוע ימין – חיד"א)


"שתקות אנוש רמה"
“For the hope of mortal man is but worms.” (4:4)

QUESTION: Obviously no man wants worms to rule over him. So instead of saying “tikvat” — “the hope” — he should have said, “Sof enosh rimah” — “The end of mortal man is but worms”?

ANSWER: The Zohar (Bereishit 178a) explains that the pasuk “Al tir’i tola’at Yaakov metei Yisrael” — “Fear not, O worm of Yaakov, O man of Israel” (Isaiah 41:14) — is a message to metei Yisrael — the deceased of Israel — that they need not fear: Just as the silkworm leaves an egg behind before it dies, from which a new silkworm emerges, the Jews will experience techiyat hameitim — resurrection. However, the Gemara (Sotah 5a) says that “Whoever is conceited will not shake off his earth” — i.e. he will not be resurrected. Thus, the Mishnah is instructing that one should be very humble and distance himself from conceit because it is the hope of man that just as the worm comes back to life, so too he will be resurrected.

(מערכי לב דף י"ב מהר"ש אלגאזי ז"ל)

* * *

Alternatively, the word “rimah” does not only mean “worms”; it can also mean “deception,” as in Yaakov’s complaint to Lavan for switching Rachel with Leah after he worked for Rachel seven years: “Lamah rimitani” — “Why did you deceive me?” (Bereishit 29:25).

Man erroneously thinks that he can plan his destiny, and he is full of vain hopes and aspirations. However, the famous saying is “Man proposes, G‑d disposes.” No one in this world can justly claim that he has the power to shape the destiny of others. As a matter of fact, one cannot even say that he, by his own plans and prowess, can determine the future course of events in his own life.

A little boy, chafing under a series of restrictions in cheider, asked his grandfather, “Grandpa, tell me, when will I be old enough to be able to do as I please when I please?” The grandfather stroked his beard reflectively and replied, “Sonny, I don’t know about that. I don’t think anyone has ever lived to be that old.”

The Mishnah is alluding to this phenomenon, that very often “tikvatenosh” — the hopes and aspirations of man end up to be “rimah” — a deception and a delusion. Suddenly one gets an awakening and realizes that a higher voice has spoken. It is the voice of Hashem that supersedes all others, and His voice is the deciding one, without which no hope can be realized. Reflecting on this leads one to true humility.

(כנסת ישראל)


"מאד מאד הוי שפל רוח...כל המחלל שם שמים בסתר נפרעין ממנו בגלוי"
“Be exceedingly humble...Whoever desecrates the Heavenly Name in secret, punishment will be meted out to him in public.” (4:4)

QUESTION: What is the significance of the juxtaposition of these two messages?

ANSWER: It is not always necessary or advisable for one to take a stand or voice protest. In certain instances, our Sages (Yevamot 65b) advise to avoid making statements because just as it is a mitzvah to say something which will be heard, it is also a mitzvah to avoid saying things which will not be heard.

However, when Hashem’s Name is being desecrated, one may not stand idle; he must protest vehemently and do everything in his power to stop it. This applies even when the desecrator is a prominent person, as the Gemara (Berachot 19b) rules, “Wherever there is a threat of the desecration of Hashem’s Name, we do not worry about giving respect to a teacher.”

The message conveyed by both statements together is that though man is encouraged to be exceedingly humble and not always voice his opinions, this does not apply when a desecration of Hashem’s Name is occurring.

(ריטב"א, ועי' נודע ביהודה מהדו"ק או"ח סי' ל"ה)


"כל המחלל שם שמים בסתר, נפרעין ממנו בגלוי"
“Whoever desecrates the Heavenly Name in secret, punishment will be meted out to him in public.” (4:4)

QUESTION: How is it possible for someone to desecrate Hashem’s Name in secret?

ANSWER: “The entire world is filled with His glory” (Isaiah 6:3), and “There is no place hidden from Him” (Midrash Rabbah Bamidbar 12:4). When someone commits anaveirah in private, thinking that no one sees him, in a sense he is declaring that Hashem’s presence is not in this place. The word “mechalleil” — “desecrates” — comes from the word “challal” which means “a void” — a place which is completely empty.

The Mishnah is therefore saying, “Kol hamechalleil sheim shamayim” — if someone through his actions is declaring that there is a “challal” — an empty space where the glory of Hashem is not present, then “nifraim mimenu begalui” — he will be punished in such a way that he will be forced to declare publicly that Hashem sees everything and that His presence is revealed everywhere.

(פניני אבות ונוצר חסד)

* * *

When Rabbi Yitzchak Meir of Ger, known as the “Chiddushei HaRim,” was a young boy, someone who was probing his intelligence said, “Yitzchak Meir, I will give you five kopeks if you tell me where Hashem is.” The young genius looked up at him and said, “I will give you ten if you tell me where He is not.”


"כל המחלל שם שמים בסתר נפרעין ממנו בגלוי"
“Whoever desecrates the Heavenly Name in secret, punishment will be meted out to him in public.” (4:4)

QUESTION: How can one desecrate the Heavenly Name in secret, and what punishment is meted out to him in public?

ANSWER: The Gemara (Sotah 17a) says that Hashem divided His name “yud-hei” between the man and the woman. The Hebrew word for “man” is “ish”יש), which has a “yud” in the middle, and the Hebrew word for woman is “ishah” (אשה), which has a “hei” at the end. When a man and woman unite in marriage and they live happily together, they merit to have His Name with them; otherwise He departs and they each are now only “eish” (אש) — “fire.” The nature of fire is to consume and destroy, and this is the fate of their married life.

Thus, when there is no shalom bayit — harmony — in the marriage, and the husband and wife quarrel, in a sense they are desecrating the Name of Hashem which came together through their union, and everything they set out to build is consumed by the fire of machloket dispute.

The worst thing a husband and wife can do is to fight and argue in the presence of their children, and it is unfortunate even if the children should be aware of their parents’ arguments and lack of unity. They are the ones who suffer the most from the parents’ quarreling, and the atmosphere of hostility has a devastating affect on them. Thus, the punishment meted out in public to the parents who desecrate the Name of Hashem in the privacy of their home, is everybody’s seeing that something is wrong with their children.

(עי' מש"כ בכנסת ישראל בשם בגדי כבוד)


"הלומד תורה על מנת ללמד מספיקין בידו ללמוד וללמד, והלומד על מנת לעשות"

“He who studies Torah in order to teach, is given the opportunity to study and teach; and he who studies in order to practice is given the opportunity to study and teach, to observe and to practice.” (4:5)

QUESTION: How does the reward relate to the person’s deed?

ANSWER: The first clause of the Mishnah is talking of one who takes time from his own studies in order to teach others. Though there are only a certain number of hours in a day, and normally a person’s capabilities are limited, Hashem will help him that in the limited time he has, he will manage to be able to learn himself and also teach. Thus, his reward is that he will not lose anything through the time he gives up for the benefit of others.

The second clause is about the one who studies and is also engaged in la’asot — doing gemilut chassadim — acts of kindness. Such a person will merit not just to study, but also to teach and not only will he do but also teach and encourage others to observe and do. The advantage of Torah study together with doing acts of kindness is evident from what the Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 18a) says concerning the Sages Rabbah and Abaye. They both descended from the House of Eli the Kohen Gadol against whom a decree was issued that all his male descendants would die as young men (see I Samuel ch. 2). Rabbah who engaged in Torah study lived for forty years and Abaye who engaged in both Torah study and acts of kindness lived for sixty years.

(חתם סופר — ר"ע מברטנורה)


"ולא קרדום לחתך בה"

“Nor an axe with which to cut.” (4:5)

QUESTION: The intent is that Torah should not serve as the means by which one earns a livelihood. Why is this implied in such an obscure way?

ANSWER: There are people who use their knowledge to argue with and disprove the innovations of other scholars. For instance, when a renowned Torah personality visits a community and is invited to deliver a Talmudic discourse, these people like to show off their knowledge and attempt to stump the lecturer. They endeavor to prove that the lecturer is not so great because they have confronted him with a question which he cannot answer to their satisfaction.

The Mishnah warns of two things:

1) Do not make Torah a crown for self aggrandizement, i.e. do not study Torah with the intent that you be recognized and honored by the populace as a great Torah scholar.

2) Do not use your Torah knowledge as a tool with which to “chop down” others and diminish their stature.

* * *

According to some versions, the wording of the Mishnah is, “Velo kardum lachpor bo” — “Nor an axe with which to dig.” A difficulty with this is that a spade is used for digging and not an axe? (See Tiferet Yisrael.)

The word “lachpor” can also mean “to cause humiliation and embarrassment,” as the prophet says, “Vechafrah halevanah uboshahhachamah” — “The moon will be humiliated and the sun will be shamed” (Isaiah 24:23). Thus, the message is that one must not use the Torah as a means to “axe” another scholar and humiliate him. Torah scholars should protect the honor and integrity of one another, and one should never try to prove his greatness at another’s expense.


"ודאשתמש בתגא חלף" “He who exploits the crown [of Torah for his own ends] shall perish.” (4:5)

QUESTION: How is such a harsh punishment “measure for measure”?

ANSWER: The word “chalaf” can mean “exchange,” as in the word “chalifin,” which means “acquiring something through exchange.”

The proper way is that a person should keep Torah in high regard and not exploit it for his own benefit. When the person deviates from the norm and uses Torah for personal gain, “chalaf” — he has changed the proper order of things. Hence, the Torah which is “a tree of life for those who hold fast to it” (Proverbs 3:18), also changes its way, bringing the person the opposite of life.

(מלי דאבות)


"רבי יוסי אומר כל המכבד את התורה גופו מכובד על הבריות"
“Rabbi Yosei says, Whoever honors the Torah is himself given honor by men.” (4:6)

QUESTION: Why is it significant that Rabbi Yosei is the author of this statement? Why did he talk about “gufo” — “the physical self” and not “nishmato” — “the spiritual self”? Also, instead of “beriyot” — “creatures” — he should have said “benei adam — “people”?

ANSWER: The Midrash Rabbah (Bereishit 68:4) relates that a Roman matron asked Rabbi Yosei some questions about Hashem’s activities, and his reply to her was polite, and logical and accompanied by proofs from Torah. Though her questions were in no way related to the seven Noachide laws, and thus, he perhaps halachically did not have to entertain her questions at all, nevertheless, he replied in order so that she not formulate a negative attitude towards Torah. In fact, in the end she admitted, “There is no G‑d like your G‑d, your Torah is indeed beautiful and praiseworthy, and you spoke the truth.”

The term “beriyot” — “creatures” — includes people who lack any specific virtues, and also non-Jews. The only redeeming quality they posses is that they are Hashem’s creatures (see p. 41).

Rabbi Yosei is teaching that everyone should promote the honor of the Torah in the eyes of all people, even non-Jews. When a person endeavors to see that all men honor the Torah, he in turn will receive honor from all people, even those who are merely Hashem’s creations. Moreover, since such individuals have no conception of spiritual things, the honor they give him will be directed towards “gufo” — “his physical person” — the dimension to which they relate.

(ביאורים לפרקי אבות)


"כל המכבד את התורה"
“Whoever honors the Torah.” (4:6)

QUESTION: How does one honor Torah?

ANSWER: According to Rashi, this includes not putting a Sefer Torah on a bench where people are sitting. (Incidentally, one should also not sit on a bench on which there is any SeferYoreh Dei’ah 282:7.)

According toTiferet Yisrael it means maintaining Torah books in good condition, binding them when they tear, and returning them to the shelf after use.

According to the Abarbanel it means that the Torah scholar should be careful about his appearance. When a Talmid Chacham is dirty or shabbily dressed, people lose their respect for Torah and speak disparagingly about Torah scholars (see Shabbat 114a).

According toMei’iri it means that the Torah scholar should be of refined character, so that people will admire him and in turn have respect for Torah when they realize its influence on those who study it.


"כל המכבד את התורה גופו מכובד על הבריות"
“Whoever honors the Torah is himself given honor by men.” (4:6)

QUESTION: Instead of “beriyot” — “creatures” — it should have said “anashim” — “people”?

ANSWER: Honoring the Torah means living according to authentic Torah teachings and conducting oneself in an upright and proper manner. One who does not follow Torah precepts and who does not fulfill mitzvot is, in a sense, desecrating Torah.

The term “beriyot” also includes non-Jews; they, too, are His creatures. The Mishnah is assuring that by honoring Torah one will be honored and held in high esteem even by non-Jews. An upright non-Jew will have high regard for the Jew whom he sees adhering to his religious principles tenaciously and who is meticulous and consistent in his duties to Hashem. On the other hand, he has little respect for the Jew who is unfaithful to Torah and non-observant of mitzvot. The assimilated and “wishy-washy” Jew does not rate high in his estimation and is viewed with disdain.

(חלק יעקב)

* * *

Once on aShabbat a very wealthy Jew was riding in his limousine chauffeured by his black driver through the streets of aChassidic community. When he noticed bearded people in Chassidic garb, he asked his chauffeur if he knew who these people are. The chauffeur told him, “They are Jews.” Suddenly, from the back seat he said to his chauffeur, “I do not know if you are aware of it, but I am also Jewish.” The black chauffeur turned back and innocently said, “But they are real Jews.”

(שמעתי מהרב שלום בער ז"ל גארדאן)


"החושך עצמו מן הדין פורק ממנו איבה וגזל ושבועת שוא"
“[A judge] who refrains from handing down legal judgments removes from himself enmity, theft, and [the responsibility for] an unnecessary oath.” (4:7)

QUESTION: Literally, the Mishnah is praising the one who refrains from being a judge. If so, who should preside over a dispute?

ANSWER: Indeed, one who is qualified is obligated to render decisions in a dispute, and regarding the one who is eligible to offer halachic decisions and refrains from doing so, the Gemara (Sotah 22a) cites the pasuk “The number of her slain is huge” (Proverbs 7:27).

Thus, the Mishnah is not talking about the judge, but in regard to the litigant who is willing to settle monetary disputes out of Beit Din. Such an individual in effect considers himself at least partially guilty and consequently sees no need to prolong the process of justice by going to a Beit Din. Instead, his acceptance of guilt prevents him from committing serious transgressions since it is common for litigants to feel hatred for each other. A person who accepts part of the guilt upon himself will not harbor feelings of hatred against the other party in his heart, nor will there be any hatred against the judges, which is, unfortunately, common in many Din Torahs.

Furthermore, out of concern for winning one’s case in court, sometimes false arguments are presented by a litigant to the Beit Din, and the award received is then actually theft. If an individual recognizes that he is at least partially guilty and is therefore willing to settle out of Beit Din, he will have no need to lie. In addition, he will avoid making oaths in the Beit Din to back up his false claims. An individual who reaches perfection in this trait, undoubtedly, causes Hashem’s Name to become sanctified in the eyes of man.

(מדרש שמואל)


"אל תהי דן יחידי שאין דן יחידי אלא אחד"
“Do not judge alone, for none may judge alone except One.” (4:8)

QUESTION: Instead of “yechidi,” it should have said “levad,” which is a more common term for “alone”?

ANSWER: In every Din Torah there are at least two litigants, the plaintiff and the defendant. An honest judge, should never listen to one of the litigants if the other is not present. This is hinted to in the pasuk which is the basis for a Beit Din — Jewish court — “And these are the ordinances that tasim — you shall place — before them” (Shemot 21:1). The word “tasim” (תשים) is an acronym for “Tishma sheneihem yachad medabrim” (תשמע שניהם יחד מדברים) — “you should hear the two of them talking together” — i.e. in the presence of each other (Ba’al Haturim, ibid.).

The Mishnah is cautioning the judge to beware not to judge “yechidi” — one of the litigants only — i.e. when one leaves the room he should not continue theDin Torah with one litigant absent. The only One who listens to one litigant not in the other’s presence is the One and Only — Hashem — as it says in regard to a poor person who is mistreated, “So it will be that if he cries out to Me, I shall listen, for I am compassionate” (Shemot 22:26).

(לב אבות)


"אל תהי דן יחידי"
“Do not judge alone.” (4:8)

QUESTION: Since it says in the Torah “Betzedek tishpot amitecha” — “with righteousness shall you judge your fellow” (Vayikra 19:15) — according to halachah one judge is sufficient (Rambam, Sanhedrin 2:10). Why does the Mishnah say otherwise?

ANSWER: Before Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn assumed leadership as Rebbe, he was the menahel — director — of the Lubavitcher Yeshivoth. There was a student who misbehaved, and he considered expelling him from the yeshivah. The student pleaded with him, “If you expel me, what will be with my children and grandchildren?” Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak was impressed with the argument and permitted the student to remain under certain conditions.

The Mishnah is guiding the judge not to judge an individual as an individual, but to take into consideration the consequences his judgment may have on the family and future generations. Since no one but Hashem knows what the future holds, one must be extremely cautious in rendering decisions.

(מדרש חכמים בשם הרי"ד זצ"ל מאמשינוב)

* * *

Alternatively, the Mishnah is teaching that no Jew should ever judge Yechidi — the One and Only — Hashem. Regardless, if we are happy with the way things are going or not, we should never second-guess Hashem. Hashem has the ability to judge Himself, so to speak, but we must always know that He is infallible and accept with love everything that occurs, for ultimately He means our benefit.

(מדרש חכמים)

* * *

A Chassid once told the Chassidic Rebbe, Reb Yehoshua of Apta, that he heard someone making a gross error. Instead of saying “Al tehi dan yechidi” — “Do not act as judge alone” — with a chetחידי) — he said “al tehi dan Yehudi”הודי) — “Do not judge a Jew.” The Rebbe smiled and said, “This is not an error, but the absolute truth. No Jew has the permission or capability to pass judgment about another Jew. The only one who can do so is Echadthe One and Only — Hashem.

(מדרש חכמים)


"רבי יונתן אומר כל המקיים את התורה מעוני סופו לקיימה מעושר..."
“Rabbi Yonatan says, ‘Whoever fulfills the Torah in poverty will ultimately fulfill it in wealth...’ “ (4:9)

QUESTION: Aren’t there many poor Torah-observant Jews who remain impoverished all their life? Likewise, aren’t there many non-observant Jews who enjoy a lifetime of affluence?

ANSWER: This Mishnah is not referring to a reward for the poor who observe Torah or a punishment to the wealthy for not observing. It is refuting a misconception some people have about Torah-observance.

Many non-observant affluent Jews claim that the poor Torah scholar is observant only because of his impoverished state. Since he is not occupied with business or some profitable vocation, he has much time to study Torah and follow its precepts. Moreover, not having money, he is unable to enjoy many of the amenities which would cause him to be distracted from Torah. If he were tempted with gold and glitter, he would immediately abandon Torah and pursue a modern lifestyle. In defense of their own lifestyle which is void of Torah observance, they say that their affluence and the temptation it brings has hindered their Torah observance.

Rabbi Yonatan is telling us that this is an erroneous philosophy. Neither poverty or affluence is a rationale or excuse for one’s observance or non-observance. The person who fulfills Torah in poverty does so because of his strong Torah convictions, and even if he becomes rich, he will continue to be Torah observant. The rich man who forsakes Torah is not doing so due to his affluence, and even if he should, G‑d forbid, be stricken with poverty, he will most likely not observe Torah even then. Torah observance depends on the individual — neither poverty or affluence is a reason or excuse.

(מחקרי אבות)

Alternatively, our Sages say, “Ein ani ela beda’at” — “The greatest poverty is lack of knowledge” (Nedarim 41a). Thus, the opposite is also true that real affluence means one who has an abundance of knowledge. Hence, the Mishnah is telling us that if one studies Torah diligently, even though he has difficulty comprehending it, ultimately he will see the beauty of Torah. On the other hand, the one who reaches heights in the study of Torah and discontinues studying will end up being poor in his Torah knowledge since he will forget the Torah he has studied and understood.

(מדרש חכמים בשם ר' מנחם מענדל זצ"ל מקאצק)


"ואם עמלת בתורה הרבה יש שכר הרבה לתן לך"
“But if you toil much in the Torah, there is ample reward to be given you.” (4:10)

QUESTION: Instead of “amalta” — “toiled” — he should have said “lamadeta” — “learned” — or “asakta” — “engaged”?

ANSWER: In the prayer recited upon concluding a Gemara tractate, we say “The advantage of those who learn Torah over those who engage in worldly matters is that we toil and they toil. “We toil and receive reward, and they toil and do not receive reward.” (See Berachot 28b.) This is problematic because anyone who works usually receives some sort of payment.

The superior reward for toiling in the Torah can be illustrated with the following parable: In a big company there are employees of all different levels, from the chief executive officer to the blue collar workers on the assembly line. Usually the chief executive officer receives an enormous salary, and the blue collar worker only gets minimum wage or a bit more. While the blue collar employee on the assembly line puts in a full day with sweat and toil, the chief executive officer is often away on vacation or having a leisurely business lunch.

One may ponder the injustice of it all: The dedicated employee should receive the generous salary while the chief executive officer should receive nominal compensation for his leisurely work. Obviously, the world recognizes and rewards accomplishment, not effort.

Hashem’s system of reward is the reverse. If one learns through a piece of Gemara quickly and easily, he receives a smaller reward than one who wrestles with the material for a lengthy period. Thus the famed adage: “G‑d does not count the folio pages, but the hours spent studying.”

The Mishnah is teaching that “If you will toil in Torah,” then you will receive maximum reward — in stark contrast to the world’s centers of commerce, which only reward accomplishment.

(מדרש חכמים)

* * *

When Iyov expressed his displeasure with the way Hashem dealt with him, his friend Elifaz, attempting to clarify matters for him, said, “Ki adam le’amal yulad” — “For man is born to toil” (Job 5:7). The word “le’amal” (לעמל) — “to toil” — has the same root as the word in theMishnah “amalta baTorah” — “toiled in Torah” — and is an acronym for“lilmod al menat lekayeim” (ללמד על מנת לקיים) — “to study for the sake of fulfilling.” The purpose of toiling in Torah is not just to acquire more Torah knowledge, but to know how to fulfill the commands of Hashem, and this is the whole purpose of man.

(לקוטי בתר לקוטי)


"ואם בטלת מן התורה יש לך בטלים הרבה כנגדך"
“If you should neglect the [study of Torah] you will have many causes for neglecting [it] confronting you.” (4:10)

QUESTION: The word “kenegdecha” — “confronting you” — is superfluous?

ANSWER: Rabbi Meir is advising man to minimize his business activities and engage in Torah. The common excuse for not doing so is “I have no free time to give up.” Therefore Rabbi Meir says, if you are neglecting Torah study with the excuse that your business keeps you extremely busy, remember that you waste time for your personal pleasures which are “kenegdecha” — “against you.” They are proof [against your] that you have time when you want it. Examine yourself honestly, and you will indeed see that you waste much time for unnecessary pleasures. Hence, there is no excuse that you cannot take off time from your busy schedule for the study of Torah.

(מחקרי אבות)

* * *

Alternatively, through neglecting Torah study, one will not only lack the mitzvah of learning Torah, but also not know the proper methods of observance for many mitzvot. One may even be ignorant of the mere existence of certain mitzvot. Thus, in addition to the bitul Torah, one will be confronted with many otherbitulim — instances of neglect. On the other hand, for the one who toils in Torah, Hashem will have ample reward, not only for the mitzvah of studying Torah itself, but also for the proper fulfillment of many mitzvot.

(חלק יעקב)


"העושה מצוה אחת קונה לו פרקליט אחד, והעובר עבירה אחת קונה לו קטיגור אחד"
“He who fulfills one mitzvah acquires form himself one advocate, and he who commits one transgression acquires against himself one accuser.” (4:11)

QUESTION: Why the emphasis one mitzvah and one aveirah. It should have just said, “If one performs amitzvah ... if one commits an aveirah”?

ANSWER: The Mishnah is teaching that if one has done only one mitzvah and a multitude of aveirot, nevertheless, with the one and only mitzvah he has created an advocate for himself, one which does not become nullified in the many transgressions. The same is true also with the person who is righteous all his days and does only one aveirah. He creates an adversary against himself and it does not become nullified in the multitude of mitzvot he performs.

The Mishnah then goes on to counsel people in both categories. Neither the one who has been righteous all his life and only committed one aveirah, or the one who has been wicked all his life and did only one mitzvah should become disillusioned, because Hashem created teshuvah, which together with good deeds, will shield the person against retribution.

(מדרש חכמים)

* * *

The great significance of only one mitzvah can be seen in the message Moshe imparted to K’lal Yisrael on the last day of his life, “If your dispersed will be at the ends of the heaven, from there G‑d, your G‑d, will gather you in and from there He will take you” (Devarim 30:4).

Superficially one may wonder, since people do not live in heaven; he should have stated, “If your dispersed will be at the ends of the earth”?

Perhaps the explanation could be the following: Shamayim — heaven — denotes spiritual matters, while aretz — earth — refers to the mundane and material. The term “biketzeih” — “at the ends” — comes from the word “ketzat” — “a little bit.”

Now, since every Jew definitely has done at least a little good and definitely has some merits in heaven, Moshe told the Jewish people: “Im yiheyeh nidachacha — In the event that some of you may be dispersed — you need not worry because as long as you are holding onto biketzeih hashamayim — a little bit of spirituality, i.e., you performed a mitzvah — this will serve as the string through which Hashem will take hold of you and bring you back to Him and the Jewish people.”

(שמעתי מדודי הרב ברוך הכהן ז"ל כהן מח"ס קול תורה)

* * *

Many have wondered about and questioned the wisdom of the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s inexhaustible mitzvah campaigns, asking “Why bother putting tefillin on a mechalel ShabbatShabbat desecrator — why go through the effort of putting a mezuzah on a home where kashrut is not observed?”

Possibly, the Rebbe, who has unlimited love for K’lal Yisrael, wants every Jew to perform at least one mitzvah through which Hashem will take hold of him and bring him back into the fold of Judaism.


"העושה מצוה אחת קנה לו פרקליט אחד"
“He who fulfills one mitzvah acquires for himself one advocate.” (4:11)

QUESTION: The simple meaning of the Mishnah is that the performance of a mitzvah creates an angel who acts as an advocate for the person in his final judgment (see Bartenura), so instead of “kanah” — “acquires” — it should have said “barah” — “creates”?

Moreover, since the Mishnah is talking about what one accomplishes by doing one mitzvah, it should just say he acquires an advocate. The word “one [advocate]” is superfluous?

ANSWER: The fact that the Mishnah uses the expression “acquires” rather than “creates” implies something deeper. In addition to the angel created by each mitzvah he performs, a person acquires One advocate; the One and Only, blessed be He, becomes an advocate for him. Conversely, “He who commits one transgression acquires against himself one accuser” — here also, the intent is that “the One” becomes an accuser, because through sin, a person disrupts the connection between himself and Hashem.

Since theMishnah is not referring to the angelic advocate created by the performer of the mitzvah, but to Hashem, therefore the term “acquires” is appropriate because He created us and everything, and we cannot create Him.

(ביאורים לפרקי אבות)


"העושה מצוה אחת קנה לו פרקליט אחד"
“He who fulfills one mitzvah acquires for himself one advocate.” (4:11)

QUESTION: Why doesn’t the Mishnah distinguish whether the mitzvah was done lishmah — “with proper intention” — or not?

ANSWER: The chiddush — innovation — of the Mishnah is that though the strength of the angel the person creates through the performance of a mitzvah depends on the person’s intent, nevertheless, for every mitzvah a person performs, regardless of his intent, it connects him with Hashem and the person acquires “praklit echad” — the One and Only as an advocate.

(ביאורים לפרקי אבות)

* * *

When Avraham was about to slaughter Yitzchak in the Akeidah as a sacrifice to Hashem, an angel said to him, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad nor do anything to him, for now I know that you are a G‑d fearing man since you have not withheld your son, your only one, mimeni — from Me” (Bereishit 22:12).

The word “mimeni” — “from Me” — seems superfluous. Would it not have been sufficient to say “You have not withheld your son, your only one”? In fact, further on (ibid. 22:16), the word “mimeni” is not employed.

According to the plain sense of the Mishnah for every mitzvah a Jew fulfills, an angel is created in heaven (Bartenura). When one performs a mitzvah, but does not do so properly, or without all the details, the angel created is incomplete. Thanks to Avraham’s passing the test of the Akeidah with flying colors, a perfect angel was born. It was this angel who appeared and instructed him “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad nor do anything to him.”

Avraham was reluctant to listen to the angel because he was uncertain as to whether he had fulfilled Hashem’s wish since in actuality Yitzchak was still alive. The angel therefore assured Avraham, “I know that you are a G‑d fearing man and that you were wholeheartedly prepared to offer your son to Hashem. I know this ‘mimeni’ — ‘from me’ — from the fact that I was created a completely strong and healthy angel.”

(הרב מאיר ז"ל שאפירא מלובלין)


"כל כנסיה שהיא לשם שמים סופה להתקיים ושאינה לשם שמים אין סופה להתקים"
“Every assembly [whose purpose is] for the sake of Heaven will have abiding results, but that which is not for the sake of Heaven will not have abiding results.” (4:11)

QUESTION: “Lesheim shamayim” literally means “for the Name of Heaven.” What does an assembly have to do with “the Name of Heaven”?

ANSWER: On the second day of creation Hashem made the “rakia” — firmament — and separated between the waters which were above the firmament and beneath the firmament. Hashem called the firmament “shamayim” — “heaven” (Bereishit 1:7-8). Why did Hashem select the name“shamayim” over the name “rakia”?

The word “shamayim” (שמים) is a contraction of two words “eish” (אש) — “fire” and “mayim” (מים) — “water,” because He mixed them with one another and made out of them the heavens (see Bereishit 1:8, Rashi). While usually water extinguishes fire and fire evaporates water, miraculously these two opposites exist together. Since “rakia” represents separation, and “shamayim” represents unity, Hashem selected the name “shamayim” to indicate that unity is the most important ingredient for the world to exist.

Rabbi Yochanan HaSandlar is saying that when an assembly is conducted in the form of “lesheim shamayim” — “for the name of heaven” — with a spirit of unity, then it will have abiding results. But if the assembly is not “lesheim shamayim,” and there is fragmentation and disharmony — there are no lasting results.

(בניות ברמה מר' שמואל מרדכי ז"ל גאלאנטי, לבוב תקס"א)


"כל כנסיה שהיא לשם שמים סופה להתקיים ושאינה לשם שמים אין סופה להתקים"
“Every assembly [whose purpose is] for the sake of Heaven will have abiding results, but that which is not for the sake of Heaven will not have abiding results.” (4:11)

QUESTION: How can one know if a gathering is “lesheim shamayim” — “for the sake of Heaven”?

ANSWER: At all conventions and gatherings there are speakers discussing various subjects, followed by resolutions which are read publicly before the close and which delineate “the bottom line” of the convention.

The Mishnah is explaining how to determine if a gathering is lesheim shamayim — for the sake of Heaven. One should carefully examine “sofah” — the resolutions which come at the end. If they contain an emphasis on “lehitkayeim” — to maintain Torah and Yiddishkeit and the continuity of K’lal Yisrael — it is proof that the gathering was lesheim shamayim. If, however, there is no mention in the concluding statement that the purpose and aspiration of the convention is “lehitkayeim” — to preserve the future of Torah and K’lal Yisrael — then the convention cannot be considered as one which was “lesheim shamayim.”

(מנחת שבת, ר' יוסף חיים ז"ל קרא, ווילנא תרס"ה)


"יהי כבוד תלמידך חביב עליך כשלך... ומורא רבך כמורא שמים"
“Let the honor of your student be as dear to you as your own … and the reverence for your teacher as the fear of Heaven.” (4:12)

QUESTION: What prompted Rabbi Eliezer to caution the teacher about the students honor and caution the student to fear his teacher?

ANSWER: In the Gemara (Ta’anit 7a) Rabbi Chanina says, “I learnt much from my teachers, and more than that I learned from my colleagues, and from my students I learned more than from all of them.” Since the teacher benefits very much from the student, Rabbi Eliezer instructs the teacher that the student’s honor should be as dear to him as his own. On the other hand, he instructs the student that though the teacher benefits much from the student, nevertheless, the student must have the utmost reverence for the teacher to the extent that it is comparable to the fear of Heaven.

(כנסת ישראל)


"וכבוד חברך כמורא רבך"
“The honor of your colleague [should be] as the fear for your teacher.” (4:12)

QUESTION: What lesson can be derived in regard to honoring a colleague from the fear of a teacher?

ANSWER: A student does not honor and fear his teacher because he anticipates that the teacher will reciprocate and show fear in return. It is strictly because of the teacher’s position. Likewise, the honor one gives a friend should not be contingent on his giving honor in return. Even when he does not return the honor, one should honor him because a good friend is a valuable asset which one should cherish dearly.

(עבודת פנים)


"ומורא רבך כמורא שמים"
“And the reverence of your teacher as the fear of Heaven.”

QUESTION: What message is there in this for the teacher?

ANSWER: Students observe and analyze a teacher meticulously. Spending much time in the presence of the teacher gives them an opportunity to evaluate the extent of his yirat shamayim — fear of Hashem. The Mishnah is telling the teacher that if he expects “mora rabach” — that the students should fear him — it is contingent on “mora shamayim” — [his i.e. the teachers] fear of Heaven. When students see that their teacher is great in this attribute, they will hold him in awe.

(ילקוט הגרשוני – ר' גרשון ז"ל שטערן, פאקש תרס"ו)


"הוי זהיר בתלמוד ששגגת תלמוד עולה זדון"
“Be cautious in study, for an unwitting error in [observance due to insufficient] study is accounted as wanton transgression.” (4:13)

QUESTION: Where is it found in halachah that a shogeig — unwitting error — should be tantamount to a meizid — wanton transgression?

ANSWER: When Yom Tov is followed immediately by Shabbat, one must make an eiruv tavshilin to be able to prepare food on Yom Tov for Shabbat. The Gemara (Beitzah 16b) relates that Shmuel saw that a certain blind man was dejected on Yom Tov. When he inquired why he was dejected, the blind man replied, “Because I did not establish an eiruv tavshilin.” Shmuel told him that he could rely on the one he had made for the entire city.

The following year Shmuel again saw that the blind man was dejected, so he asked him, “Why are you dejected?” The blind man answered, “Because I did not establish an eiruv tavshilin.” Shmuel told him, “Poshei’a at — you are negligent — and you may not rely on my eiruv because I did not intend to make it for such people. One is given the benefit of the doubt only the first time that he forgets, but the second time he is considered negligent.”

From this can be derived that two shogeigs are considered a meizid. Thus, if one committed a sin beshogeig — unwittingly — because of a shigegat Talmud — he unwittingly did not study sufficiently — the double shogeig makes it tantamount to meizid — a wanton transgression.

Incidentally, since we are talking of two shogeigs, it is very fitting to use the term “shigagat” — which means a double shogeig — and not “shogeig mipnei Talmud” — a shogeig due to [insufficient] learning.

(חיד"א)


"רבי שמעון אומר: שלשה כתרים הן כתר תורה, וכתר כהונה, וכתר מלכות, וכתר שם טוב עולה על גביהן"
“Rabbi Shimon says: There are three crowns — the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood, and the crown of kingship; but the crown of a good name surpasses them all.” (4:13)

QUESTION: Why does Rabbi Shimon state that there are “three crowns” and enumerate four?

ANSWER: A “crown” is an earned mark of recognition, and one who wears a crown receives honor and respect from other people. Sometimes, a person can be a great talmid chacham or very active in communal life and have a bad reputation because of his conduct.

King Solomon says, “Tov shem mishemen tov” — “A good name is better than good oil” (Ecclesiastes 7: 1). Thus, Rabbi Shimon is teaching that in total there are only threecrowns: Torah, kehunah — priesthood — and malchut — kingship — but one must remember that the crown beautifies the person only if al gabeihen — on top of them — there is also keter shem tov — a good reputation.

* * *

Pirkei Avot is known as “mili dechassiduta” — words of pious advice — and it teaches all Jews how to live piously. If so, what message is implied here to everyone, and not to just descendants of Aharon the Kohen Gadol or King David?

The crown of kehunah and the crown of malchut are not necessarily only for those who are Kohanim by pedigree or those who have inherited the throne. “Kehunah” means service (see Shemot 23:13, Rashi). The Kohanim performed a service in the Beit Hamikdash on behalf of the entire Jewish community. In every community there are people who are public servants. The crown of kingship does not necessarily refer to the king, but it includes all people who are in a leadership position.

The message of the Mishnah is that Torah scholars, public servants and community leaders must all strive for “the crown of a good name” — they should conduct themselves so that they will acquire a spotless reputation.

"שלשה כתרים הן כתר תורה כתר כהונה, וכתר מלכות, וכתר שם טוב עולה על גביהן"
“There are three crowns.The crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood and the crown of kingship: but the crown of a good name surpasses them all” (4:13)

QUESTION: Since it actually lists four crowns, the Mishnah should have said “Arba’ah ketarim hein” — “there are four crowns”?

ANSWER: These four crowns can be separated into two categories. The first three apply only to Jews while the fourth, a crown of good name, applies also to non-Jews.

According to halachah (Sanhedrin 59a) a non-Jew may learn the parts of Torah necessary for the observance of the Noachide laws, but he is forbidden to study Torah for the sake of Torah. Priesthood was given specifically to Aharon and his descendants, and only Jews are eligible for Kingship in the Jewish community, as the Torah states specifically, “From among your brethren shall you set a king over yourself; you cannot place a foreign man over yourself who is not your brother” (Devarim 17:15).

In contrast, the crown of a good name, which is acquired by good deeds, also pertains to non-Jews. In fact, according to halachah (Rambam, Melachim 8:11), the Chassidei Umot Ha’olam — pious non-Jews — have a share in the world to come.

In order that the conclusion not be drawn that in regard to the crown of a good name, Jew and non-Jew are identical, the Mishnah emphasizes that it is “oleh al gabeihen” — “it surpasses them all” — to indicate that a Jew’s “keter shem tov” is much loftier than a non-Jew’s when it comes after the qualities of Torah, priesthood, and kingship.

* * *

The above gives an insight into a seeming difficulty in the Rambam. In Hilchot Talmud Torah (3:1) he talks of the crowns and says, “With three crowns Israel was crowned. The crown of Torah, and the crown of priesthood, and the crown of kingship.” One may ask, why does the Rambam emphasize that Israel was crowned with three crowns while the Mishnah omits the emphasis on Israel? Also, why does the Rambam not mention the crown of a good name at all, unlike our Mishnah?

According to the abovementioned, it is all understood. Since the Rambam speaks of crowns which only Israel received, he therefore omits the keter shem tov — crown of a good name — because that applies to everyone and not only the Jewish people.

(ביאורים לפרקי אבות)


"שלשה כתרים"
“Three crowns.” (4:13)

QUESTION: Why are they listed necessarily in this order?

ANSWER: The first thing Hashem gave the Jews when they came out of Egypt was the Torah. Afterwards the Mishkan was built in which Aharon and his sons served as Kohanim. The mitzvah of making a king and the laws concerning his conduct are first mentioned in the fifth book of Torah (Devarim), and the actual institution of a Jewish king occurred many years later.

(אברבנאל)


"שלשה כתרים הם"
“There are three crowns.” (4:13)

QUESTION: Where is there an allusion in the Torah to the three crowns?

ANSWER: In the MishkanTabernacle — among the different vessels there was an Ark, a table, and a golden altar. The Ark housed the luchot — tablets — and thus represents Torah. The table represents kingship. It was Hashem’s table and thus it was a kingly table. On the golden altar the Kohanim would offer ketoret — incense — and therefore it represented kehunah — priesthood.

Only these three vessels had a zeir zahav — golden crown on their upper edge. (SeeShemot 37:1-2,10,11,25-26.) The three crowns corresponded to the three crowns of our Mishnah: Torah, priesthood, and kingship.

(מדרש שמואל)


"שלשה כתרים הן כתר תורה...וכתר שם טוב עולה על גביהן"
“There are three crowns, the crown of Torah...but the crown of a good name surpasses them all.” (4:13)

QUESTION: According to the text of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, this is the thirteenth Mishnah of the fourth chapter. What is the connection between the number thirteen and Rabbi Shimon’s teaching?

ANSWER: The Gemara (Shabbat 33b) relates that Rabbi Shimon and his son Rabbi Elazar spent twelve years hiding in a cave from their Roman pursuers. When they emerged, they encountered people involved in day-to-day affairs. They wondered in amazement, “How can people abandon eternal life (i.e., Torah study) and occupy themselves with temporal concerns?” When Hashem saw that they were utterly unable to appreciate the value of other people’s worldly involvement, He ordered them to return to the cave for an additional year. After this thirteenth year, Rabbi Shimon was able to comprehend the Divine intent in worldly involvement, and he was motivated to share his Torah knowledge and use it to refine his environment.

(ביאורים לפרקי אבות)


"רבי נהוראי אומר, 'הוי גולה למקום תורה...ואל בינתך אל תשען'"
“Rabbi Nehora’ey says, ‘Exile yourself to a place of Torah... and do not rely on your own understanding.’ ” (4:14)

QUESTION: Whom in particular was Rabbi Nehora’ey addressing?

ANSWER: This Mishnah is directed to students in their teen years who are studying Torah. He is telling him that a prerequisite to succeed in learning is to “exile yourself to a place of Torah.” Even when there are Yeshivot in a student’s city, he should leave and travel to a Yeshivah in another location. The amenities available at home are not conducive for the atmosphere required for absolute dedication to Torah study, and actually they are an obstacle to diligent and assiduous study.

However, “Do not assume that it will come after you,” i.e. being in a great citadel of Torah learning in itself does not make one a scholar. The voice of Torah heard in the walls of the Yeshivah does not enter into the students by osmosis. They must labor devotedly if they want to succeed.

“Your colleagues will cause it to be clearly established in your grasp.” This means that in the Yeshivah diligent study alone is not all. You must find good chaveirim with whom to study and mingle. It also means, however, that your friend’s study alone will not make you a scholar. Your efforts and the assistance of good colleagues are the two essential ingredients for success.

Finally, “Do not rely on your own understanding,” i.e. do not think that since your parents trusted you and sent you away, you have already matriculated in maturity. Do not let the fact that you are away from home and on your own fool you into presumptuously thinking that you are a full-fledged adult and that you can do whatever you think is right. Realize that you still must be subordinate to your superiors, accountable to them and seeking their advice and guidance.

(עי' תפארת ישראל)

* * *

Alternatively, Zevulun and Yissachar established a partnership. Zevulun engaged in business endeavors and supported Yissachar, who devoted his time entirely to Torah study (Devarim 33:18, Rashi). Yissachar became the prototype of the Torah scholar, and Zevulun the paradigm of the person engaged in financial pursuits. The tradition of this partnership has been continued throughout the years. Wealthy people have undertaken the support of Torah scholars on the condition that the merit of their Torah study be shared by both.

Nevertheless, the Mishnah is advising that though this is noble, the wealthy should not rely solely on this, but should themselves study Torah. To succeed, they should exile themselves to a place of Torah and not think that they already have Torah thanks to their colleagues who are being supported through their accomplishments.

The reason even the rich are urged and encouraged to study in addition to their supporting other scholars is because “Do not rely on your wisdom” — there is no guarantee that you will always make money. The wheel of fortune can always take a turn on a person, G‑d forbid, and if he has not accomplished in his own Torah study, he will then be barren of both the credit for Torah study and also the knowledge of Torah.

(תיקון משה)


"רבי נהוראי אומר, 'הוי גולה למקום תורה...ואל בינתך אל תשען'"
“Rabbi Nehora’ey says, ‘Exile yourself to a place of Torah... and do not rely on your own understanding.’ ” (4:14)

QUESTION: The statement “ve’el binatecha al tisha’ein” — “do not rely on your own understanding” — is a pasuk in Proverbs (3:5). Why does the Mishnah quote it in the name of Rabbi Nehora’ey? Also, since he is talking about the importance of studying with a teacher and colleagues, this should have been the opening remark as the reason why one should exile oneself to a place of Torah?

ANSWER: In Proverbs, Shlomo’s complete statement is, “Trust in Hashem with all your heart, and do not rely on your understanding.” Rashi explains that he is advising one to spend money unsparingly to seek a teacher from whom to learn. This is a message to one who is in the early stages of learning, advising that he should acquire a teacher and not rely on his own understanding.

This Mishnah is talking to the advanced student, who has already accomplished in Torah studies. Regardless of one’s advanced status and accomplishment, he should humbly realize the value of consulting with others instead of relying solely on his own knowledge.

(ביאורים לפרקי אבות ועי' רבינו יונה)

It is particularly appropriate for Rabbi Nehora’ey to author this statement considering the reason he acquired his name. “Nehor” is Aramaic for “light.” According to the Gemara (Eiruvin 13b) he was given that name because, “He illuminated the eyes of the wise in the study of Torah law.” Despite the high level of understanding he achieved, he taught and accentuated the importance and virtue of taking counsel with others.

(ביאורים לפרקי אבות)


"אין בידינו לא משלות הרשעים"
“We are unable to understand either the well-being of the wicked.” (4:15)

QUESTION: According to Rabbi Ovadiah of Bartenura, this means that during the time of the Beit Hamikdash, the wicked were allowed to prosper. Hashem would give them recompense for their few good deeds in this world and then deny them a portion in the World to Come. In our time — after the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash — the wicked are not granted such prosperity.

What is the rationale for such a change?

ANSWER: In the time of the Beit Hamikdash, G‑dliness was openly revealed. Therefore, those who ignored this revelation and transgressed were considered as blatant rebels against Hashem’s will and were not deemed worthy of a portion in the World to Come. In the present time, following the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash, when G‑dliness is concealed, the sins of the wicked person are considered less severe, and such people are not denied a portion in the World to Come. They are, however, also not granted the same degree of prosperity in this life.

(ביאורים לפרקי אבות, הוספות)


"אין בידינו לא משלות הרשעים ואף לא מיסורי הצדיקים"
“We are unable to understand either the well-being of the wicked or the tribulations of the righteous.” (4:15)

QUESTION: Why the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer is an old-age philosophical question, and it is not the purpose of Pirkei Avot to discuss philosophy but to guide man to enhance his interhuman and Divine relationships. So even if the Mishnah would offer a rationale, what place does it have in Pirkei Avot?

ANSWER: The expression of the Mishnah “Ein beyadeinu” can be interpreted to mean “We did not learn a lesson from.”

Rabbi Yannai is saying that a person would improve his ways by learning a lesson from the well-being of the wicked and by learning a lesson from the tribulations of the righteous.

If one reflects upon these two things, however, he will definitely resolve to improve his ways. From the well-being of the wicked, one should derive that if Hashem acts benevolently for those who do violate His teachings, how much more will He reward those who observe. From the tribulations of the righteous one should learn that if even they are made to suffer, how much more so will be the suffering of those who do not do His will.

(ילקוט הגרשוני)


"הוי מקדים בשלום כל אדם"
“Be the first to extend greetings to anyone you meet.” (4:15)

QUESTION: When two people meet it is customary that the first one says Shalom aleichem and the second responds Aleichem shalom.” Why doesn’t he too say in response “Shalom aleichem”?

ANSWER: The Gemara (Nedarim 10a) says that when a person designates an animal as an offering, he should not say, “This is to G‑d as a sin-offering,” but “This is a sin-offering to G‑d.” The reason is that if he should die after saying the word “laHashem” — “to G‑d” — without completing the phrase, he will have recited Hashem’s name in vain.

One who is first to extend shalom merits longevity, as King David says, “Who is the man who desires life — bakeish shalom veradfeihu — seek shalom (peace) and pursue it” (Psalms 34:13,15).

The word “shalom” is considered one of the names of Hashem (see Shabbat 10b). Consequently, since the one who opened with the greeting will be blessed with long life, he can recite the name of Hashem first without fear. However, since the one responding is not assured the blessing of longevity, he says “aleichem” first and then mentions “Shalom.”

(נפש יהונתן מר' יהונתן בנימין הכהן ז"ל מסעליש וטעמי המנהגים ע' תק"ג)


"והוי זנב לאריות, ואל תהי ראש לשעלים"
“And rather be a tail to lions than a head to foxes.” (4:15)

QUESTION: On Rosh Hashanah night it is customary to eat the head of a ram or the head of a fish to allude that we wish to be “a head.” In fact, some say, Yehi ratzon sheniheyeh lerosh velo lezanav” — “May it be His will that we be a head and not a tail.” How can this be reconciled with the statement of the Mishnah?

ANSWER: The Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 16b) says that tzadikim are immediately inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life. The verdict for the beinonim — average people — however is unclear, and according to their behavior during the ten days of repentance, a decision is made by Yom Kippur. Thus, the eating of the head alludes that we hope to be on the “head” of the list together with the tzadikim and be inscribed immediately in the Book of Life and not be on the “tail” end of the list and have to wait days for a decision about our future.

(שמעתי מהרב פרץ שי' שטיינבערג)


"רבי יעקב אומר, 'העולם הזה דומה לפרוזדור, בפני העולם הבא, התקן עצמך בפרוזדור כדי שתכנס לטרקלין' "
“Rabbi Yaakov says, ‘This world is like an ante-chamber before the World to Come; prepare yourself in the ante-chamber so that you may enter the banquet hall.’ ” (4:16)

QUESTION: Since Rabbi Yaakov’s message, seemingly, is simply that one should prepare himself in this world for the World to Come, what is added by the analogy?

ANSWER: Rabbi Yaakov knew very well that if he were just to say “Prepare yourself in this world so that you may enter the World to Come,” one would procrastinate and say “What is the rush? I have yet many years to live. Let me enjoy life, and when I get older, I will start my preparations.”

The analogy discourages this attitude. When one is waiting to have an audience with the king, he waits first in the ante-room till he is called. Now, though the amount of time he may have to wait is unpredictable, nevertheless, he has to be there before his appointed time and be groomed properly and fully prepared to enter the moment he is called. It would be absurd of someone to bring a suitcase containing his clothing and his toiletries, thinking that since he may have to wait, he will use the ante-room to prepare himself. It is possible that suddenly the king may be ready to receive him, and he will lose his appointment because he is not ready. The only things one does in the ante-room are such things as looking into a mirror and making sure that everything is adjusted properly.

Therefore Rabbi Yaakov begins by explaining that this world is the ante-room before the palace. Man in this world is waiting in the ante-room to be called for his audience. No one knows how soon or postponed it may be. Thus, to push off preparation is ludicrous. We must live a life of preparedness and continuously “hatkein” — check if all is in proper order.

(דורש לפרקים)


"העולם הזה דומה לפרוזדור"
“This world is like an ante-chamber” (4:16)

QUESTION: What is the intent of the analogy?

ANSWER: Obtaining a private audience with a king is not a simple matter, and it requires much effort and connections till one achieves it. When the appointed day arrives, one is preoccupied with preparing himself for the meeting. In the ante-room, as he awaits anxiously to be called into the king’s chamber, he is not interested or concerned about food, drink, or other mundane matters. All that is on his mind is to review what he wants to ask the king, and he prays that the king will receive him favorably and grant his plea.

Rabbi Yaakov says that man should always bear in mind that he is in the ante-room awaiting entry to see the king. A person should not waste his time with earthly matters. They are of course necessary, but he must not let them become his major preoccupation. Rather, he should be concerned with making sure that the king will be pleased with him when the time comes for his personal audience.

(בית לאבות – ר' יהודה ז"ל לוי, ווארשא תרל"ב)

* * *

A story is told that a Chassid once came to the Ba’al Shem Tov and asked for a berachah that his financial plight would be alleviated. After he had described the poverty in which he and his family dwelled, theRebbe told him to travel to a certain city. There he was to look up “my Berele,” tell him the situation, and he would be helped.

Upon arriving in the city he began to inquire about the whereabouts of the Ba’al Shem Tov’s Berele, but no one seemed to know who it was. Suddenly it dawned on someone that there was a poor melamed (teacher) named Berel living at the end of the city. Perhaps this was the one the Ba’al Shem Tov was referring to.

He arrived at the house and saw a saintly man sitting and teaching a few children. The children sat on small logs of wood and the table on which they kept their books was a piece of timber.

Berel motioned to his visitor to wait till after he finished the lesson. In the interim, the visitor could not fathom the poverty he was seeing in the melamed’s house. During recess, he approached the melamed and told him that he was sent to him by the Ba’al Shem Tov to discuss his financial status. However, before doing so, he told Berel, “I must ask you a question. Don’t you have a chair to sit on?” Berel looked up to him and asked, “And where is your chair to sit on?” “What do you mean?” he exclaimed in amazement. “My chair is in my house; now I am traveling on the road. You do not expect me to carry a chair with me!?”

Berel then said to him with a warm smile, “Well, I am also on the road. When the time comes for me to go home, I hope to have nice furniture.”

Now the Chassid understood why the Ba’al Shem Tov had sent him to his Berele, who later became the Maggid of Mezritch.


"כדי שתכנס לטרקלין"
“So that you may enter the banquet hall.” (4:16)

QUESTION: Instead of “kedei shetikaneis” — “so that you may enter” — it should have said “kedei sheyachnitucha” — “so that you will be brought in.” It is proper etiquette to be ushered into the king’s palace and not to walk in alone by oneself?

ANSWER: In addition to the expression used in the saying “Every Jew has a share in the World to Come,” sometimes the expression is used that a Jew is a ben Olam Haba” — “a son of Olam Haba.” For instance, whoever studies Torah law is assured that he is “benOlam Haba” (Megillah 25b), or “From a person’s eulogy it can be discerned whether or not [the deceased] is a ben Olam Haba” (Shabbat 153a).

The difference is that everyone has a share, but the ben Olam Haba does not just have a share, he is the boss’s son. Not every shareholder in a company can walk into the chief executive’s office whenever he wants, but the son can. He does not need to be ushered in and go through “red tape,” but has direct access whenever he wishes.

The message of the Mishnah is that if a person lives a life of preparedness, then when the time comes for him to see the King in His palace, he will not have to go through secretaries, but as a full-fledged member of the family, “tikaneis” — he will open the door and enter by himself.

(עי' מדרש שמואל)


"העולם הזה דומה לפרוזדור"
“This world is like an ante-chamber.” (4:16)

QUESTION: The Gemara (Eiruvin 54a) says that Shmuel said to Rav Yehudah, “Sharp one, grab and eat, grab and drink, because the world from which one must eventually depart kebei hillulah damei — is like a wedding hall” (see version in Ayin Yaakov).

What was the intent by comparing the world to a wedding hall?

ANSWER: A stranger in a large city once passed a house and noticed that it was lit up and that the people inside were dancing joyously to music. His curiosity caused him to inquire about what was going on inside, and he found out that a wedding was taking place.

The next evening he passed the house and saw the exact same thing. When he again inquired as to what was going on inside, he was told, “A wedding.” The scene repeated itself for a few nights and finally after the fifth night he said in wonderment, “How many children does the owner of this house have that he makes a wedding night after night?”

The passerby whom he addressed his query began to laugh and said, “My dear friend, this is a wedding hall. The owner rents it out every night to different groups of guests. The people making the wedding tonight are not the same people who celebrated a wedding yesterday!”

Shmuel’s message is that this world is like a wedding hall; everybody dances and rejoices, but the ones who danced yesterday are not the ones who dance today, and the ones who dance today will not be there to dance tomorrow.

(פון אונזער אלטען אוצר בשם ר' חנוך העניך זצ"ל מאלעקסאנדער)


"העולם הזה דומה לפרוזדור"
“This world is like an ante-chamber.” (4:16)

QUESTION: The Gemara (Avodah Zara 3a) compares this world to Erev Shabbat and says, “The one who prepares himself on Erev Shabbat, will eat on Shabbat.” What is the intent of the analogy to Erev Shabbat?

ANSWER: The Gemara (Ketubot 103b) says, “Mi shemeit be’erev Shabbat siman yafah lo” — “When one dies on Erev Shabbat, it is a good sign for him.”

Why is Erev Shabbat a better sign than any other day?

Erev Shabbat is the time when one is occupied with making all the preparations for Shabbat; thus, the one who prepares beforehand will reap the benefit of his preparation on “Shabbat, when he returns to his Maker.

Hence, the words of the Gemara can be explained as a metaphor. Dying on “Erev Shabbat” does not necessarily mean the specific day of the week, rather it means living a life of preparedness. It is a reference to the person who has accumulated Torah and mitzvot, and is coming fully prepared to stand before the Heavenly court. If one expires in such a state, it is a good sign for him.

* * *

Once some people were at a funeral of a man who had lived a long life, and one asked the other, “What did he die from?” The other replied, “I do not know; he was healthy up to his last day, and died suddenly.” A third man, who was standing nearby and overheard their conversation, interjected, “You are incorrect. Only the one who did not accumulate Torah and mitzvot dies suddenly, since he does not expect this day and comes before his Maker unprepared. However the one who prepares himself throughout all his years for this day anticipates it and does not die suddenly, but fully prepared.”


"ר' יעקב אומר, 'העולם הזה דומה לפרוזדור...יפה שעה אחת בתשובה ומעשים טובים בעולם הזה מכל חיי העולם הבא' "
“Rabbi Yaakov says, ‘This world is like an ante-chamber... One hour of repentance and good deeds in this world is better than all the life of the World to Come.’ ” (4:16-17)

QUESTION: Why were these statements authored by Rabbi Yaakov, and why does he say “teshuvah uma’asim tovim” — “repentance and good deeds?” Isn’t teshuvahincluded in good deeds?

ANSWER: In the Gemara (Kiddushin 39b) Rabbi Yaakov says that the reward for mitzvot is not in this world, but in the World to Come, and wherever the Torah mentions a reward for the performance of a mitzvah, it means that the reward will be received in the World to Come. The Gemara concludes that if Elisha ben Avuyah (who was known as “Acheir” — “the other one”) would have interpreted the Torah the way Rabbi Yaakov did, he would not have become a heretic. The Gemara relates that when acheir happened to see a swine dragging the tongue of Chuzpit Ha’meturgeman, who was martyred by the Romans, he exclaimed, “The tongue from which emanated pearls should lick earth!?” Had “Acheir” accepted Rabbi Yaakov’s interpretation, he would have known that the reward due the great Sage (Chuzpit Ha’meturgaman) is not in this world but in the World to Come, and he would not have forsaken his faith.

Rabbi Yaakov was the grandson of Elisha ben Avuyah through maternal lineage (ibid.). Perhaps after seeing what happened to his grandfather, he stressed that this world is only a preparatory place for the World to Come where one will ultimately receive all reward due to him and that no one should, G‑d forbid, think his grandfather’s denunciation of Hashem, Torah, and mitzvot was correct.

Since it was the incident that occurred with his grandfather that inspired him to make this declaration, he emphasized teshuvah and good deeds (though it is redundant) because that was what his grandfather should have done and what anyone who may be even temporarily mislead by his grandfather’s thinking should do, thereby meriting the World to Come.

He mentioned also “good deeds” and in fact preceded it by Teshuvah. Since his grandfather and many heretics like him, continue doing good deeds but they lack luminance due to the thoughts and intentions with which they are done. Their good deeds are analogous to a luminous gem covered with dirt.

Teshuvah makes those deeds “good,” and grants them luminance (see Likkutei Torah, Matot 82a). I.e. it endows them with a higher level of good than they possessed in their own right. For the intense yearning for a connection with G‑d which characterizes the drive to Teshuvah, invigorates and elevates every aspect of ones observance of Torah.

(מחקרי אבות, ביאורים לפרקי אבות)


"יפה שעה אחת בתשובה ומעשים טובים בעולם הזה מכל חיי העולם הבא ויפה שעה אחת של קורת רוח בעולם הבא, מכל חיי העולם הזה"
“One hour of repentance and good deeds in this world is better than all the life of the World to Come and one hour of bliss in this World to Come is better than all the life of this world.” (4:17)

QUESTION: Obviously, “kol chayei Olam Haba” — “All the life of the World to Come” — means the “korat ru’ach” — the bliss one enjoys there — and “kol chayei Olam Hazeh” — “all of the life of this world” — means a life of repentance and good deeds. If so, Rabbi Yaakov is contradicting himself?

ANSWER: The first part of Rabbi Yaakov’s statement is talking about Hashem, and the second part is talking about man. Just as a father who loves his son enjoys bringing him presents and has much personal pleasure when he observes his son enjoying them, Hashem loves the Jewish people and derives much pleasure from rewarding them.

Therefore, Rabbi Yaakov says, as much as Hashem is happy to give his children the blissful time they have in Olam Haba, He derives much greater pleasure than that from the repentance and good deeds they perform in this world.

On the other hand, a Jew wants to be in Olam Haba where he can enjoy incomparable spiritual bliss. Thus, that is a greater pleasure to him than the good he accomplishes on this world, and he is anxiously anticipating leaving this world and living in the World to Come.

(מדרש שמואל)


"ואל תנחמהו בשעה שמתו מוטל לפניו"
“Do not comfort him while his dead lies before him.” (4:18)

QUESTION: Why shouldn’t an effort be made to comfort a mourner and reduce his anguish when he is at the peak of his bereavement?

ANSWER: Contrary to popular myth that not shedding tears at a funeral is a sign of strength and fortitude, the Torah approach is that crying is proper and praiseworthy. Thus, to comfort the mourner “while his dead lies before him” so that he should not cry is unwise. In addition to the psychological advantages in not keeping in pain and agony, but crying and expressing it, the Sages say, “Anyone who sheds tears for an upright person, Hashem counts them and places them in His storehouse” (Shabbat 105b).

The reason for counting them is that there is a rule of bitul — nullification. When a substance is mixed with another substance, it can become nullified under certain conditions. However, if it is a davar shebeminyan — something which is counted — i.e. sold by individual number and not by weight, it can never become nullified no matter what the number or quantity of what it is mixed into (Beitzah 3b).

Hashem cherishes the tears very much, and therefore He counts them. Since they are counted, they are considered a davar shebeminyan and cannot become nullified. Consequently, He places them in His storehouse for posterity.


"אל תשאל לו בשעת נדרו"
“Do not question him [about the details] of a vow at the moment he makes it.” (4:18)

QUESTION: Why not?

ANSWER: Though there is a separate Torah portion and a complete tractate of Gemara Nedarim dedicated to vows, nevertheless, the Torah does not encourage the making of vows. Moreover, if one makes them, he should consult with a rabbi who will guide him in how to absolve himself according to Torah guidelines. To accomplish this a Beit Din convenes and they seek to find an “opening” — a loophole — and use it as a basis to release the person of his vow.

Thus, it is not advisable to question a person about his vow at the time he makes it because in anger and excitement he may seek to close all possible loopholes, saying that he is making the vow without any limitations or conditions. Hence, it will be impossible for the Beit Din to ever absolve him of his vow. Then, if he violates it at some time, he will be committing a Biblical transgression.

* * *

A novel interpretation of this Mishnah is the following: Every fund raiser or head of an organization is always seeking donors to help his institution. It is incumbent on the fund raiser, however, to beware not to cause any harm to another institution while he pursues the interest of his own.

Sometimes, when one is inspired to make a substantial contribution to a certain charity, he suddenly becomes inundated with requests from all over for help. This may give a “bad taste” to the donor, to the extent that he may, G‑d forbid, regret his generosity and become disgusted with all charitable endeavors.

The Mishnah wisely advises, “Al tishal lo bishat nidro” — do not ask a donor for support when he has just made a pledge to another institution. Give him some time for himself after he pledges, and he will build up an appetite to give more and more.

(מדרש שמואל)


"שמואל הקטן אומר: בנפל איבך אל תשמח, ובכשלו אל יגל לבך"
“Shmuel HaKatan says: ‘When your enemy falls do not rejoice and when he stumbles let your heart not be glad.’” (4:19)

QUESTION: The Gemara (Berachot 28b) relates that Rabban Gamliel sought one who could compose a special berachah concerning the Tzedokim — Sadducees — who were heretics and informers. Shmuel HaKatan came along and composed it. [This is the berachah of “Velamalshinim al tehi tikvah” — “let there be no hope for the informers...” which was added to the Shemonah Esreih.] Why did Rabban Gamliel accept Shmuel HaKatan for this challenge?

ANSWER: The Gemara (Berachot 10a) tells that in the neighborhood of Rabbi Meir there were people who were causing him much trouble, and Rabbi Meir prayed that they expire. His wife Bruriya said to him, “Instead of praying that the sinners cease to exist, pray that the sinners repent and cease to sin and thus the wicked will be no more.”

The informers and the heretics caused much trouble for the righteous and the Jewish community at large. Many wanted to see them destroyed; however, Rabban Gamliel was looking for someone who was blessed with an inherent love for people and profound understanding for those who have gone astray. Cognizant of Shmuel HaKatan’s constant declaration, “When your enemy falls do not rejoice, and when he stumbles let your heart not be glad,” he was confident that Shmuel HaKatan would not compose a berachah out of hatred and animosity against the heretics, but with the intention that they cease to sin and thus become honorable members of the community.

(לקוטי בתר לקוטי בשם הרב משה דובער ז"ל ריווקין)


"בנפל איבך אל תשמח, ובכשלו אל יגל לבך, פן יראה ה' ורע בעיניו, והשיב מעליו אפו"
“When your enemy falls, do not rejoice, and when he stumbles let your heart not be glad, lest G‑d see and it will be displeasing to Him, and He will divert His wrath from him [to you].” (4:19)

QUESTION: Hashem’s way of punishment is midah keneged midah” — “measure for measure.” How is the punishment of diverting His wrath from him to you when you rejoice when he stumbles, measure for measure?

ANSWER: Shmuel HaKatan is referring to a person with whom one has no personal disagreement, and who is called an “enemy” only because he is wicked, and therefore, it is a mitzvah to hate him (see Pesachim 113b).

The Ba’al Shem Tov taught that nothing in this world is accidental and that from whatever a person sees or hears, he is to derive a personal lesson since there must be a reason that Hashem made him see or hear it. In line with this concept, he also taught that when a person sees a fault in a colleague, he should realize that he possesses a similar fault. Just as when one sees a speck in the mirror, it is a reflection of what is on his face, likewise, when one sees a fault on another, it is a sign of his own deficiency.

Thus, when a person rejoices over his enemy’s downfall, he is in a sense saying that his enemy deserved his punishment and is justifying Hashem’s action. So, in effect, he is also saying that it would be justified if the same thing would happen to him. Hence, Shmuel HaKatan warns not to rejoice when your enemy stumbles, since it is a sign that the one rejoicing is guilty of the same sin, and it may prompt Hashem to subject him to the other person’s punishment, which he has, in effect, justified as something he deserves himself.

(ביאורים לפרקי אבות — לקוטי שיחות ח"י ע' 24)


"אלישע בן אבויה אומר: הלומד ילד למה הוא דומה: לדיו כתובה על ניר חדש, והלומד זקן למה הוא דומה: לדיו כתובה על ניר מחוק"
“Elisha ben Avuyah says: ‘He who studies Torah as a child, to what can he be compared? To ink written on fresh paper; and he who studies Torah as an old man, to what can he be compared? To ink written on paper that has been erased.’” (4:20)

QUESTION: 1) Pirkei Avot is mili dechassiduta — “words of piety.” Elisha ben Avuyah is discussing a difference between young and old. What words of piety are contained here? 2) Does Elisha be Avuyah advocate that someone should learn only when he is young and not when he is older? 3) Is Elisha ben Avuyah against the ba’al teshuva movement, which encourages everyone to start learning regardless of age. 4) Why was it Elisha ben Avuyah who made this statement?

ANSWER: Young children have pure thoughts and emunah peshutah — simple faith. Whatever they are told or learn they accept in good faith and at face value. An older person already has a mind of his own and tends to be skeptical. With the terms “yeled” and “zakein,” Elisha ben Avuyah is not referring to biological age, but the approach with which one should study Torah. Regardless if one is five or eighty five, if his approach to Torah is the “yeled” approach — simplistic and unadulterated faith — such sublime learning is compared to “ink written on fresh paper.” However, if one is young in years and studies Torah with the “zakein” approach — with his own notions and opinions — such study is inferior and compared to “ink written on erased paper.”

Elisha ben Avuyah was one of the greatest Sages of Talmud. His colleague was Rabbi Akiva, and his student was Rabbi Meir. Unfortunately, while delving too deeply into esoteric studies, he became affected with thoughts of heresy and was subsequently referred to as “Acheir” — the other one. Even at that stage in his life, Rabbi Meir continued to seek his teachings (see Chagigah 15a).

As one who experienced the difference between studying Torah with absolute faith in Hashem and also studying Torah with an improper approach, it was most suitable for him to accentuate the “yeled” approach over the “zakein” approach to the study of Torah.

* * *

Alternatively: King Shlomo writes “Tov yeled miskein vechacham mimelech zakein uchesil” — “Better is a poor but wise youth, than an old and foolish king” (Ecclesiastes 4:13). Rashi explains that “yeled” refers to the yeitzer tov — good inclination — and “zakein” is the yeitzer hara — evil inclination. The yeitzer tov is called a “yeled” because he first fully enters the person when he reaches the age of thirteen (see Shulchan Aruch Harav 4:2). “Zakein” refers to the evil inclination because it is older — it clings to man from his earliest youth.

There are two approaches to Torah study. One is known as “lishmah” — “for its own sake” — i.e. the sake of fulfilling Hashem’s command to study Torah, and the other is “shelo lishmah” — “study not for its own sake” — i.e., for an ulterior motive. When one learns “lishmah” he is impelled by his yeitzer tov. The encouragement to learn “shelo lishmah” comes from the evil inclination. Thus, Elisha ben Avuyah is praising the advantage of “halomeid yeled” — one who learns under the influence of the yeitzer tov as opposed to “holomeid zakein” — one who learns under the motivation of the evil inclination.

Elisha ben Avuyah is accentuating the study of Torah “lishmah.” But, if one does not learn “lishmah,” he should still learn Torah because the Gemara (Pesachim 50b) says, “mitoch shelo lishmah ba lishmah.” Ultimately, the one who even is currently learning “shelo leshma” will study it “lishmah.”


"אלישע בן אבויה אומר, 'הלומד ילד למה הוא דומה: לדיו כתובה על ניר חדש' "
“Elisha ben Avuyah says, ‘He who studies Torah as a child, to what can he be compared? To ink written on fresh paper.’ ” (4:20)

QUESTION: According to the Gemara (Chagigah 15a) he became a heretic and was known as “Acheir” — “the other one.” Why did Rebbe quote such a person?

ANSWER: Some commentaries opine that he made this statement prior to his forsaking the ways of Torah.

Others say that even after becoming a heretic Rabbi Meir continued to learn Torah from him, and the Gemara (ibid.) explains Rabbi Meir’s studying with him through a parable, “He found a pomegranate, he ate the fruit inside, and discarded the shell.” It is thus possible that Elisha ben Avuyah said this after becoming “sour,” nevertheless, Rebbe inserted it in Pirkei Avot, since he considered it to be “the fruit inside of the pomegranate.”

(מחזור ויטרי)

Alternatively, the Jerusalem Talmud (Chagigah 2:1) relates that after he became a heretic, he was kitzeitz benetiyot — chopping down the plants — which means that he came into the schools where young children were studying Torah (some say it was his own children — Karban Ha’eidah) and would scoff, “What are they doing here? This one could be a builder, this one a carpenter, etc.” Upon hearing this the children would leave and stop their Torah study. Of him the pasuk says, “Let not your mouth bring guilt on your flesh” (Ecclesiastes 5:5). In fact, one reason why he was called “Acheir” — “the other one” — is that he not only sinned himself, but also caused others to sin.

When Elisha became older and his health was failing, his student Rabbi Meir urged him to repent and assured him that his repentance would be accepted. (See Tosafot ibid.) Realizing that his mockery had caused untold harm to the young children who stopped studying Torah, he renounced his previous statements and spoke highly of the value of young children studying Torah. For this repentance he merited that his words were included together with other mili dechassiduta — words of piety.

(חלק יעקב)


"אל תסתכל בקנקן אלא במה שיש בו"
“Do not look at the vessel but rather at what it contains.” (4:20)

QUESTION: Why did Rabbi Meir say this?

ANSWER: Rabbi Yosei takes a general approach against learning from a young teacher, and compares it to drinking freshly made wine, which tastes good at first, but which afterwards may lead to a stomach ache.

Rabbi Meir says one should not put an entire category of people in one basket and judge their qualifications by the majority. There are exceptions to every rule, and everyone should be judged individually.

(רבינו יונה)

Alternatively, Rabbi Meir was justifying his continuing to learn Torah from Elisha ben Avuyah after the latter became a heretic. He is saying that he did not look at the “vessel” — Elisha and his conduct — “but rather at what it contains” — the Torah knowledge he possessed. As the Gemara (Chagigah 15b) says, “Rabbi Meir found a pomegranate. He ate its contents and discarded its shell.”

(It must, however, be emphasized that this approach is only appropriate for a Sage of Rabbi Meir’s stature. By and large, our Sages [Mo’eid Kattan 17a] have given us the directive: “If a teacher resembles an angel of Hashem seek Torah from him. If not, do not seek Torah from him.”)

(ביאורים לפרקי אבות)


"אל תסתכל בקנקן אלא במה שיש בו"
“Do not look at the vessel but rather at what it contains.” (4:20)

QUESTION: Why does Rabbi Meir use the term “kankan” — “vessel” — and not “bakbuk” — “bottle”?

ANSWER: In the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy listed in the Torah (Shemot 34:6, 7), it is written, “Preserver of kindness for two thousand generations, Forgiver of iniquity, willful transgression and sin, and venakeih lo yenakeh — He cleanses but does not cleanse completely” (see Rashi). How does venakeih lo yenakeh fit in to the Attributes of Mercy?

The word “kankan” (קנקן) — “vessel” — is composed of the middle letters of the words “venakeih yenakeh”נקה ינקה). Possibly, Rabbi Meir is alluding that when we look at the words “venakeih lo yenakeh” (ונקה לא ינקה) they do not appear to fit among the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy. However, when we remove the "נק" from ,"ונקה" and the "נק" from ,"ינקה" then each word spells half of Hashem’s name .(י, ה, ו, ה) Hence, by not looking at the letters ",קנקן" the words "ונקה לא ינקה" fit very well among the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy.

Thus, Rabbi Meir is offering words of consolation that no Jew should despair when reading of His attributes of mercy since also in venakeih lo yenakeh there is hidden mercy.

(מדרש שמואל)


"הקנאה והתאוה והכבוד מוציאין את האדם מן העולם"
“Envy, lust, and honor-seeking drive a man from the world.” (4:21)

QUESTION: Previously (2:11) Rabbi Yehoshua said, “The evil eye, the evil inclination, and hatred of one’s fellow drive a man from the world.” Does Rabbi Eliezer HaKappar agree or do they argue?

ANSWER: In reality they are talking of the same three things. Rabbi Yehoshua is discussing the cause, and Rabbi Eliezer the effect.

The root of jealousy is the evil eye. Looking with an evil eye at someone else’s possessions causes one to be jealous. Thus, a father or teacher is not jealous of his son or student (Sanhedrin 105b) since he is happy and proud of their accomplishments.

Desires and lust are the doing of the evil inclination, which slyly induces man to desire the forbidden. The evil inclination is situated in the person’s heart, and as our Sages say, “The eye sees and the heart desires” (Bamidbar 15:39, Rashi).

A main reason for a person’s hating people and disassociating himself from the community is his imagining that people are not properly appreciating his qualities and not giving him the respect and honor he deserves. Thus, hatred of people is caused by one’s pursuit of honor.

Hence, when the evil eye makes one suffer of jealousy, and the evil inclination drives one to outlandish desires, and hatred springs from a thwarted desire for honor, these sicknesses drive a person from the world.

(מדרש שמואל)


"הקנאה והתאוה והכבוד מוציאין את האדם מן העולם"
“Envy, lust, and honor-seeking drive a man from the world.” (4:21)

QUESTION: Why these three specifically?

ANSWER: It is incumbent on a Jew to excel in his relations with his fellow man (bein adam lachaveiro) and with Hashem (bein adam laMakom). A primary culprit and root of most evil in interhuman relationships is kinah — jealousy. It causes one to engage in lashon hara — slander — and tale bearing, and out of jealousy of other people’s financial status a person may even steal or cheat in business.

Lust and desires drive a man to transgress many of the sins which are between man and Hashem. The obsessive desire to eat what is not kosher, and illicit and immoral behavior are all the persuasion, inducement, and incitement of the evil inclination.

Hashem in His mercy knew that mortal man may sin, and therefore He created the possibility of teshuvah — repentance. So if one’s evil eye makes him jealous, driving him to wanton behavior, or if one’s evil inclination persuades him to commit heinous crimes, there is still hope. He should repent and he will be forgiven.

However, if he is preoccupied with the pursuit of honor then he is in serious trouble. He will not apologize to his friend because his pride does not let him. Likewise, he does not have the humility to confess to Hashem and say, “I sinned, please forgive me.” Nor can he allow himself to act like a penitent, lest people will find out his past and no longer respect him. Thus, a person’s pride and constant concern for his kavod — honor — prevents him from repenting for his failings in his interhuman relationships and relationship with Hashem. So when these three culprits team up together, they drive a person from the world.

(לקוטי בתר לקוטי בשם ירים משה)


" מוציאין את האדם מן העולם"
“Drive a man from the world.” (4:21)

QUESTION: From which world do they drive man out of?

ANSWER: These three characteristics are innate in man; they appear when a person is still very young. A young child envies his peers, desires many things which may not be good for him, and due to his sense of self-importance readily takes offence if someone embarrasses or belittles him.

These qualities can also be utilized in a positive way. For instance, though jealousy is despised, our Sages say, “Kinat sofrim tarbeh chachmah” — “Rivalry between scholars increases wisdom” (Bava Batra 21a). Strong desires can be utilized to enhance one’s service of Hashem, as King David said, “My soul yearns, indeed it pines, for the courtyard of Hashem” (Psalms 84:3) And to attain honor, one can honor others, as mentioned in the first Mishnah of this chapter. Thus, it all depends on man’s decision as to how he will direct the qualities he received at birth.

Hence, Rabbi Eliezer says, should he use these three properly, they will drive him out of Olam Hazehthis world — when the time comes, to Olam Haba — the World to Come. On the other hand, should he decide however to follow his nature and not elevate his innate character for loftier purposes, then it will drive him away from obtaining Olam Haba.

(לקוטי בתר לקוטי בשם המגיד מקאזניץ זצ"ל)


"שאין לפניו...ולא מקח שחד"
“Before Him there is not...any bribe-taking.” (4:22)

QUESTION: When Hashem accepts the teshuvah — repentance — of the wicked, isn’t that bribe-taking?

ANSWER: The Mishnah describes Hashem as Dayan — Judge — and Ba’al din — plaintiff. In other words, He is the Plaintiff who brings man — the defendant — before the Judge.

No where is it stated that a defendant is prohibited to bribe his plaintiff not to bring him to court for judgment! Thus, when the wicked repents, in a sense he is bribing his plaintiff not to press a case against him, and this is permissible.

However, if he does not repent, then the plaintiff will bring him to trial, and at that time he will have to pay in full for his iniquities with absolutely no bribe-taking by the “judge” on which one can rely for a vindication or reduced sentence.

(דורש לפרקים)


"ודע שהכל לפי החשבון"
“And know that all is according to the reckoning.” (4:22)

QUESTION: “According to the reckoning” of what?

ANSWER: When one reaches the age of thirteen — Bar-Mitzvah — he is liable for his actions and can be punished by a beit din; however, the Heavenly Tribunal does not punish someone if he is under the age of twenty (Bamidbar 16:27, Rashi). In addition to this, the punishment one receives is contingent on his mental development. If he is a chacham — wise person — his sin is more grave and the punishment more severe, while the opposite is the case if he is a foolish person.

It is also possible that a minor should be punished for an iniquity based on his maturity and knowledge of Torah. This is illustrated in an episode in the Gemara (Berachot 31b) that took place with the prophet Shmuel. Immediately after he was weaned, his mother, Chanah, brought him to the Beit Hamikdash to be under the tutelage of Eli the Kohen Gadol. An incident is recorded in which Eli gave instructions to summon a Kohen to come and slaughter.

Shmuel noticed them going to look for a Kohen and said to them, “Why do you go about after a Kohen to slaughter? The slaughter of a sacrificed animal is valid even by a non-Kohen.” They brought the child to Eli, and when he asked him, “From where do you know this?” Shmuel answered with a halachic source. Eli said to him, “You have spoken well. The law is indeed as you say. Nevertheless, you have rendered a legal decision in the presence of your teacher, and anyone who renders a legal decision in his teacher’s presence is liable to death.”

Commentators ask, at that time he was a very young boy, so how can a katan — minor — be liable to a death punishment?

Rabbi Yechezkeil Landau in his commentary Tzelach explains that Eli questioned Shmuel, not because the law was new to him, but because he wished to examine the intelligence of the child and determine based on his wisdom whether he could be held liable and deserving of punishment. Eli concluded that though a minor is not punished, Shmuel was eligible for punishment due to his wisdom.

(חלק יעקב)


"ואל יבטיחך יצרך שהשאול בית מנוס לך"
“And let not your evil inclination assure you that the grave will be a place of refuge for you.” (4:22)

QUESTION: How would anyone permit himself to entertain such a foolish thought?

ANSWER: The Gemara (Berachot 5a) says that a person should always be on the alert and fight against his evil inclination. If he vanquishes it, fine, but if not, he should engage in Torah study. If this does not vanquish it, he should recite Shema. If he still persists, he should remind himself of the day of death. By remembering that he will have to come before the Heavenly Tribunal and give an accounting, he will undoubtedly refrain from sinning.

With shrewdness and aggressiveness the evil inclination endeavors to persuade the person to do what he should not. To this end, he entices man in many ways and even deceives him into thinking that whatever he does will simply be pardonable as human frailty and that he can ascribe his actions to the excessive influence of the yeitzer hara.

The Mishnah is teaching that “ve’al yavtichacha” — “do not let him [your evil inclination] assure you” — that you have nothing to worry about since you can always blame your action and inability to resist the temptation on “yitzrecha” — “your evil inclination” — i.e. he talked you into it. This will not be accepted as an argument in your defense since “hashe’ol beit manos lach” — “the grave is a refuge for you” — you had the opportunity of reminding yourself that you will one day be in a grave, and this is a way always available to escape the enticements of your evil inclination.

(לקוטי בתר לקוטי, דברי אבות)


"על כרחך אתה חי ועל כרחך אתה מת"
“Against your will you live, against your will you die.” (4:22)

QUESTION: This is an obvious contradiction: if a person does not want to live, then he wants to die, and if he does not want to die, then he wants to live?

ANSWER: In truth, both statements are valid. On one hand, the soul is a spiritual entity, “an actual part of Hashem” (Tanya ch. 2). Thus, it has a natural desire to rise above the limits of material existence and return to its spiritual source.

Why does it remain within the body? Because it perceives Hashem’s desire for the world to be transformed into a Divine dwelling place. And it dedicates itself to the fulfillment of this desire against its own individual will.

Nevertheless, because the soul is an actual part of Hashem, Hashem’s desire for a dwelling in this world is not an external factor, but rather permeates its essential will. Therefore, death — the departure from this material framework — is also against its will.

Chassidut analyzes this spiritual enthusiasm in terms of the concept of “ratzo” and “shov” — advancing and retreating — as in Ezekiel 1:4. When the soul senses the all-encompassing greatness of G‑dliness, it is aroused to a gripping desire of “ratzo” — running — seeking to become absorbed within Divinity. Quite understandably, the soul wishes to leave the body and the world, but the Divine intent and will is for it to be on earth and establish a dwelling place for Hashem. Thus, man must “shov” — retreat and return — to this world to observe Torah and mitzvot.

These two thrusts, though seemingly contradictory, actually reinforce each other. It is only when a person feels the limitations of material existence and desires the spiritual that he is capable of satisfying Hashem’s desire for a dwelling within this world. If he lacks the drive for spirituality, it is likely that his involvement in the world will be spurred by ordinary material desires and not Hashem’s desire for a dwelling.

These concepts should be reflected in every individual’s life. On one hand, he should not shy away from worldly involvement, for through such activity he can fulfill Hashem’s desire. Simultaneously, a person should feel that this involvement is contrary to his inner nature — against his will — for his true desire is to be one with Hashem.

(לקוטי שיחות ח"ד ע' 1217)


"ועל כרחך אתה חי, ועל כרחך אתה מת, ועל כרחך אתה עתיד לתן דין וחשבון לפני מלך, מלכי המלכים, הקדוש, ברוך הוא"
“Against your will you live; against your will you die, and against your will you are destined to give an account before the supreme King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.” (4:22)

QUESTION: Why should a person be required to give an accounting for what he did during his lifetime if his very existence was against his will?

ANSWER: A very wealthy man had two daughters and experienced much difficulty in marrying them off. One was extremely ugly and the other was very wicked and cursed anyone that would come near her. A marriage broker, who received a hefty sum, came up with a mate for each one. For the ugly one, he found someone who was blind and for the one with the wicked mouth, he found someone that was deaf. Since the deaf one could not hear her curses and the blind one did not see her ugliness, they lived happily married for many years.

A doctor once visited this city and told the father-in-law that for the right price he could heal both his sons-in-law. When the blind man opened his eyes and the deaf one began to hear, chaos came into their lives, and the wealthy father-in-law argued, “You brought upon me a curse instead of a blessing” and refused to pay him. The doctor summoned him to court. The decision of the judge was that since his cure brought suffering, the father-in-law did not have to pay and the doctor was obligated to bring them back to their previous state.

The doctor accepted the verdict and agreed to take away the vision from one of them and the hearing from the other. The previously blind man protested vehemently that he would not permit his eyesight to be taken away and the deaf man, too, would not let the doctor remove his hearing. Upon observing this, the judge said to the two sons-in-law, “Now that I see that you are happy with your present condition and do not want to revert to the situation that you were in before, I am demanding that you pay the doctor in full for his service.”

Thus, it is true that “against your will you were created and against your will you live”; however, once a person is alive, he does not want to, G‑d forbid, leave this world, and he will give all that he owns to remain healthy and alive. Therefore, he must account for what he did during his lifetime upon this earthly world.

(המגיד מדובנא)

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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Anonymous July 27, 2016

No Jew should ever judge the L-D...Good advice Reply

Ethics of the Fathers is a tractate of the Mishna that details the Torah's views on ethics and interpersonal relationships. Enjoy insights, audio classes and stories on these fascinating topics.
About the Publisher
Sichos In English
Sichos in English has published hundreds of volumes of Chassidic books on Chassidism and its way of life. They can be reached by writing Sichos In English 788 Eastern Parkway Brooklyn, NY 11213 or calling 718.778.5436.