"שנו חכמים בלשון המשנה"
“The Sages taught [this chapter] in the language of the Mishnah.” (6:1)

QUESTION: What is “leshon haMishnah” — “the language of the Mishnah”?

ANSWER: The Torah consists of two parts: The Written and the Oral. The Written Torah is the five books of Torah (Prophets and Scriptures), in which are contained the six hundred and thirteen mitzvot. Their meaning and application was transmitted from generation to generation by word of mouth. When suffering and oppression made oral transmission much more difficult for the Jewish people, and forgetfulness became apparent, the first part of the Oral Torah was written down. This is the portion known as Mishnah.

Rabbi YehudahHaNasi — the Prince — also known as Rabbeinu Hakodesh — Our Holy Teacher — (Shabbat 118b), or simply“Rebbe” (Jerusalem Talmud Sanhedrin 11:3), was a very wealthy man (Avodah Zara 11a, Gittin 59a). He was leader of the Jewish community after the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash. Seeing that his peers were forgetting some precise details of Torah interpretation and that arguments and disagreements were on the rise between the scholars, he deemed it “the call of the hour” to put things down in writing. To accomplish this, he summoned the Sages of the generation. With his financial support and under his tutelage, the Mishnah was compiled and authored by him personally. The Mishnah, thus, is a brief synopsis of the details one needs to know to properly fulfill the laws of the Written Torah.

Another compilation is the Beraita, which originally was oral, and put into writing. Beraita means “outside,” and it is a collection of teaching of Sages which were taught outside of Rebbe’s Beit Midrash and later put into writing.

Pirkei Avot is a part of the Mishnah, and it consists of only five chapters. The sixth chapter is not part of Mishnah, but Beraitot which were added as an addendum to Pirkei Avot. It is also known as Kinyan Torah” — “The acquisition of Torah” — and it primarily discusses the praise of Torah study.

The appended sixth chapter, though it is Beraita and not Mishnah, was written in the language of Mishnah, i.e. in a brief and concise style. In addition, Mishnah is written in Hebrew and so is the Beraita. Throughout the Gemara, a quotation from a Beraita is always introduced by the Aramaic expression “Tanu Rabbanan” — “the Rabbis have learned — or Tanya — “we learned.” The introduction to the Beraitot in this chapter is “shanu chachamim” — “The Sages taught” — in Lashon Kodesh — Hebrew.

Since it is customary to study Pirkei Avot on the six Shabbatot between Pesach and Shavu’ot, this chapter was appropriately added on to be studied on the sixth Shabbat, which immediately precedes Shavu’ot — the festival which commemorates the giving of the Torah.

(מדרש שמואל, רש"י ור"ע מברטנורה, ובענין סידור המשניות עי' תפארת ישראל אבות פ"ב מ"א)

The conclusion of the introduction to this chapter is, “Baruch shebachar bahem ubeMishnatam” — “Blessed is He Who chose them and their teachings” — which is a reference to Hashem. It also means, “Blessed is he — i.e. the individual who chose them as his teaching. He chose to emulate them — the Sages — and use their teachings as a guide through life.” (מדרש שמואל)

"רבי מאיר אומר: כל העוסק בתורה לשמה זוכה לדברים הרבה"
Rabbi Meir says: Whoever occupies himself with the study of Torah for its own sake merits many things.” (6:1)

QUESTION: Why doesn’t it say “kol halomeid” — “whoever studies Torah”?

ANSWER: In every business, there is a primary difference between the employer and the employee. An employee is mainly concerned with his own tasks, and he does not need to think about the business during his off hours. Unlike the employer, who thinks about his business unceasingly, he has little concern for the business as a whole.

In Hebrew the word “eisek” means “business.” Rebbe Meir teaches that a person’s approach to Torah should be similar to an employer’s attachment to his business. Even after he leaves the Beit Midrash and is home eating or sleeping, Torah should always be uppermost in his mind.

"ומכשרתו להיות צדיק"
“It makes him fit to be a tzaddik.” (6:1)

QUESTION: Instead of umachsharto — it makes him fit — it should have said, ve’oseihu — it makes him — a tzaddik?

ANSWER: The word “umachsharto” could be interpreted “it kashers him,” similar to the process of kashering a non-kosher vessel with fire.

To be a tzaddik one must rid himself entirely of his yeitzer hara — evil inclination (see Tanya ch. 1). The Torah, which is compared to fire, as Hashem said, “Behold My word is like fire (Jeremiah 23:29), has the potential to “burn out” the evil inclination in the person. Thus, through studying Torah lishmah, a person accomplishes that umachsharto — the Torah kashers him — i.e. it burns out the yeitzer hara, and the person becomes a tzaddik.

(מדרש שמואל)

"בת קול יוצאת"
“A Heavenly Voice goes forth.” (6:2)

QUESTION: What kind of voice is a bat-kol?

ANSWER: A bat-kol is a voice which emanates from Heaven. It is a form of communication which is somewhat below prophecy. After the death of the last prophets, a righteous person might still receive Divine messages in the form of abat-kol — voice. However, the initial voice emanating from Heaven was not heard, but an echo of it, thus it is called “bat-kol” — “daughter of a voice.”

The reason it is called “bat-kol” — “daughter of a voice” — and not “ben-kol” — “son of a voice” — is that a son can be as strong as his father, but a female (daughter) is weaker. Since this is not the original voice, but a weaker version of it, it is called “bat-kol” — “daughter of the voice.”

(מס' סנהדרין דף י"א תוד"ה בת קול, תוס' יו"ט יבמות פט"ז מ"ו)

In some geography books it is written that naturalists claim that also today there is a constant humming voice in the air around Mount Sinai which sounds like an echo. When Hashem descended upon Mount Sinai to give the Torah, the people heard the voice of Hashem. Perhaps this noise present there today is a “bat kol” — a daughter of a voice — i.e., a voice which was born out of the powerful voice of Matan Torah. Its intention is to remind the Jews of the Torah that was given there to K’lal Yisrael and that it must be studied and kept up at all times.

(תפארת ישראל)

* * *

Incidentally, regarding the voice that issued from the mouth of Hashem (see Shemot 20:15, Rashi) when He gave the Torah, the Midrash (28:6) states that the voice was unique in that it had no bat kol — echo.

QUESTION: Usually, the stronger the voice, the stronger the echo. Isn’t the lack of echo from the voice of Hashem a sign of weakness?

ANSWER: The distance the voice can travel depends on the person’s strength. When the voice reaches a wall, it rebounds, producing an echo. The Midrash is implying that the voice of Hashem was so powerful that it penetrated and permeated every person and every physical part of the universe so that there was no echo.

(לקוטי שיחות חלק ה')

"בכל יום ויום בת קול יוצאת מהר חורב ומכרזת ואומרת: אוי להם לבריות מעלבונה של תורה"
“Each and every day a Heavenly Voice goes forth from Mount Chorev, proclaiming and saying, “Woe to the people because of their affront to the Torah!” (6:2)

QUESTION: Who hears this Heavenly Voice?

ANSWER: Mount Chorev is another name for Mount Sinai (Shemot 3:1), where the Jewish people received the Torah and became Hashem’s chosen people. Whenever a Jew has an awakening to enhance his observance of Torah and mitzvot or become closer to yiddishkeit, it is through his neshamah, which heard the call emanating from Sinai.

(בעל שם טוב)

"בכל יום ויום בת קול יוצאת מהר חורב"

“Each and every day a Heavenly Voice goes forth from Mount Choreb.” (6:2)

QUESTION: Mount Choreb is another name for Mount Sinai (Shemot 3:1), where the Jewish people received the Torah. According to an opinion in Gemara (Shabbat 89b), its actual name was Mt. Sinai, but it is called Mount Choreb. Why for this message is the name Choreb used instead of the actual name?

ANSWER: The Gemara (ibid.) says that it acquired the name Choreb because “churbah — ruin — descended upon it for the idolators.” This can be explained as follows:

When Rivkah was pregnant she was told that she was carrying two regimes and one regime shall become strong from the other.” Rashi explains this with the pasuk “I will fill myself from the ruins” (Ezekiel 26:2), which implies that Tyre, a city of the descendants of Eisav, was not filled, but from the ruin of Jerusalem (Bereishit 25:23). Now, the Midrash Rabbah (65:20) relates that the heathens asked Billaam whether he thinks that they can subjugate the Jews. “Go around to their synagogues and schools,” he replied, “and if you find there children with voices uplifted (studying Torah) you cannot subjugate them; if not, you can, for their ancestor assured them: “The voice is the voice of Yaakov; and the hands are the hands of Eisav”: when the voice of Yaakov will go out in the Synagogues, Eisav has no hands, his might is powerless against them.”

Hence, the Torah we received in Sinai, is the source of our security and through our Torah study the power of Eisav is in ruin. However, when Torah is not studied, unfortunately, they are strong and able to ruin us, G‑d forbid.

Thus, the Beraita teaches that a voice emanates from Choreb, saying, “If you are asking Oh lahem labriyot — why are we suffering so bitterly from the nations of the world? The reason is that we have affronted the Torah, and are not engaged in its study. Thus, Mount Choreb from which their ruin was to come, is no longer the source of ruin to them and due to our behavior they are mustering strength to ruin us, G‑d forbid. (כנסת ישראל בשם עצי יער)

"אוי להם לבריות מעלבונה של תורה"
“Woe to the people because of [their] affront to the Torah.” (6:2)

QUESTION: What is meant with “oi” — “woe”?

ANSWER: The Gemara (Sanhedrin 102a) says, “Berit kerutah lisefatayim” — “Hashem made a covenant with the lips” — i.e. whatever is pronounced with the lips, even insincerely, comes to pass. Therefore, a person must be careful not to utter bad things. Due to this there are people who make a point of saying “not good” instead of “bad.”

Torah is good, as it says, “I have given you a good teaching” (Proverbs 4:2). For observing it one will be rewarded with everything which is good. For transgressing it one will be punished with the opposite of good. The word “tov” — “good” — has the numerical value of seventeen. The word “oi” (אוי) — “woe” — also has the numerical value of seventeen. The Beraita, not wanting to say, Ra lahem laberiyot” — “It will be bad to the people” — uses the word“oi” — “woe” — to allude that something “woe” — the opposite of good will, G‑d forbid, happen.

(חסדי אבות)

"שאין לך בן חורין אלא מי שעוסק בתלמוד תורה"
“For there is no free man except one who occupies himself with the study of the Torah.” (6:2)

QUESTION: Why does one who occupies himself with Torah achieve the status of ben chorin” — “free man”?

ANSWER: Previously (2:17) it was stated, “Im ein chachmah ein yir’ah” — “If there is no wisdom there is no fear of Hashem, and if there is no fear of Hashem, there is no wisdom.” This seems to indicate that fear of Hashem and Torah are interwoven and that an authentic Torah scholar also has fear of Hashem. Where is there an allusion in Torah to their interdependency?

The Luchot — Tablets — were six handbreadths long, six handbreadths wide, and six handbreadths tall (Bava Batra 14a). 6 x 6 x 6 = 216, which is also the numerical equivalent of the word “yir’ah” (יראה) — “fear.” This is a hint that the one who acquires wisdom of Torah also acquires fear of Hashem.

King Shlomo says that Torah is “Ayelet ahavim veya’alat chein” — “A beloved hind inspiring favor” (Proverbs 5:19). Just as a hind remains beloved to her mate, the Torah is most beloved by those who study it (Rashi). The word “chein” (חן) — “grace” — has the numerical value of fifty-eight, and when it is added to the two hundred and sixteen, the total is two hundred and seventy-four, which is also the numerical value of “chorin” (חורין) — “free.”

Hashem refers to every Jew as His “son,” (“My firstborn is Israel,” Shemot 4:22). Hence, the one who occupies himself with Torah, which gives him “yirah” — “fear of Hashem” — and “chein” — “grace” — thus becomes a “ben chorin” — a “son” who has acquired all that is alluded to in the word “chorin.”

(חסדי אבות)

"הלומד מחבירו פרק אחד... צריך לנהג בו כבוד, שכן מצינו בדוד מלך ישראל, שלא למד מאחיתפל אלא שני דברים בלבד, קראו רבו אלופו ומידעו"
“He who learns from his fellowman a single chapter... must show him honor. For so we find concerning David, King of Israel, who learned from Achitophel two things alone, yet he called him his teacher, his guide, his mentor.” (6:3)

QUESTION: 1) The word “bilevad” — “alone” — seems extra? 2) What two things did David learn from Achitophel?

ANSWER: Achitophel once saw David sitting and learning Torah alone and rebuked him, saying that studying alone was improper and that it would not achieve the same as learning together with another person. On another occasion, Achitophel saw David going to shul “bekomah zekufah” — “with an upright stature” — and admonished him, saying, “This is not the way for a Jew to walk to shul, for ‘in the house of G‑d we go with trepidation’ ” (Psalms 55:15).

The Hebrew word for one learning Torah alone is “levad.” When one walks “bekomah zekufah” — “in an upright stature” — at the moment he is forgetting that “ein od milevado” — “there is no one besides Hashem.” Thus, Achitophel taught David two things: “bilevad” — “on the subject of levad” — i.e. not to learn Torah alone, and not to forget that G‑d is alone in this world and there is nothing besides Him.

(רש"י עמ"ס אבות, עצי יער)

"דוד מלך ישראל שלא למד מאחיתפל אלא שני דברים בלבד"
“David, King of Israel, who learned from Achitophel only two things.” (6:3)

QUESTION: The Gemara (Sukkah 53a) relates that when King David excavated the shitin — pits beneath the Altar — the waters of the deep came up and threatened to flood the world. David asked, “Does anyone know if it is permitted to write the Divine Name on a shard and cast it into the deep so that the waters will calm down?” No one said anything in response. Finally, Achitophel, David’s mentor told him that it was permitted.

Why isn’t this counted as a third thing he learned from Achitophel?

ANSWER: King David also knew that it was permissible to do this in order to preserve the world. However, since his mentor Achitophel was present, and it is forbidden to issuehalachic decision in the presence of one’s teacher (Berachot 31b), he did not rule it himself, but wanted to hear it from his mentor Achitophel.

(רש"י במס' סוכה)

"ואין כבוד אלא תורה שנאמר כבוד חכמים ינחלו"
“And honor is due only for Torah, as it is stated: ‘The wise shall inherit honor.’ ” (6:3)

QUESTION: Before Yaakov fled the house of Lavan, he overheard his brothers-in-law saying, “And of that which was our father’s has he amassed all this kavod — honor” (Bereishit 31:1). According to Rabbi Levi in Midrash Rabbah (73:9) the “kavod” — “honor” — refers to Yaakov’s wealth.

Does this contradict the principle that “the only honor is Torah”?

ANSWER: A person’s money is not an essential part of his identity and being. However, the Torah knowledge one has acquired perpetually elevates and refines the person himself. Indeed, frequently wealthy people receive honor, but it is only ephemeral and transitory because it is not the person himself who is being honored, but rather his money. Thus, true honor is only the everlasting honor which one receives for studying Torah.

Wherever the Torah refers to honor, the word “kavod” (כבוד) is spelled with a "ו". An exception to this is the “kavod” referred to by Lavan’s sons, which is written without a "ו". This is so because there it refers to Yaakov’s money, and the honor associated with money is lacking and incomplete.

(דברי אליהו, מהגר"א)

"ואין טוב אלא תורה"
“And [true] good is only Torah.” (6:3)

QUESTION: Why is the giving of the Torah recorded in Parshat Yitro?

ANSWER: The Torah is referred to as the true “tov” — “good.” The word “tov” (טוב) has the numerical value of seventeen. Counting from the first parshah of the Torah (Bereishit), Yitro is the seventeenth parshah. Thus, it is appropriate that the bestowal of the ultimate good should be the subject of the seventeenth parshah.

"כך היא דרכה של תורה, פת במלח תאכל, ומים במשורה תשתה, ועל הארץ תישן, וחיי צער תחיה, ובתורה אתה עמל, אם אתה עושה כן, אשריך וטוב לך, אשריך בעולם הזה וטוב לך לעולם הבא"
“This is the way to acquire Torah: Eat bread with salt, drink water in small measure, sleep on the ground, live a life of deprivation, and toil in Torah. If you do this, ‘You shall be happy, and it shall be well with you.’ ‘You shall be happy’ in this world; ‘and it shall be well with you’ — in the World to Come.” (6:4)

QUESTION: According to this Mishnah, how can we justify the modern dormitories and nourishing meals yeshivot provide for students?

ANSWER: The words “tochal” — “you shall eat” — “tishteh” — “you shall drink” — “tishan” — “youshall sleep” — and “tichyeh”you shall live” — are written ‘in the future tense. The expressions uvaTorah atah ameil” — “and toil in Torah” — and “im atah oseh kein” — “if you do this” — are in the present tense. Why does the Mishnah shift from future tense to present tense?

Students are entitled to the best accommodations while studying Torah. However, in this section we are being taught “darkah shel Torah” — the way of acquiring Torah — which requires complete dedication and the absence of ulterior motives. One should learn Torah “lishmah,” which means not to anticipate that through Torah he will have a source of livelihood or a pleasurable life. He must resolve to learn diligently, even if there is a possibility that in the future he will suffer poverty and eat only bread and salt, drink water in small measure, sleep on the ground, and live a life of deprivation.

The Torah is assuring us that if, nevertheless, a person toils in the study of Torah and follows the prescribed approach, he will ultimately be happy in this world and it shall be well with him in the World to Come.

"אם אתה עושה כן, אשריך"
“If you do this, you shall be happy.” (6:4)

QUESTION: The words “Ve’im atah oseh kein” — “If you do this” — are superfluous?

ANSWER: The Beraita is not talking of people who are poverty stricken and compelled to eat bread with salt because every penny counts. It is talking of affluent people who can easily spend money for physical and material pursuits, but who nevertheless suffice on very little materialistic enjoyments and dedicate their interest and time to study Torah. It therefore says, “Ve’im atah oseh kein” — “If you do so” — i.e. if on your own volition you choose such a way of life instead of living a meaningless life of extravagance (though you can well afford it), then “ashrecha” — “you shall be happy.”

Now, some people live stingily when they have guests so that the poor guests should not be able to eat much food in their homes. Since it is impolite to continue eating after the host finishes his food, they serve plates nicely laden with food, and very quickly push their plates away as a sign that they have concluded, and the guests are compelled to politely do likewise, though they have hardly had a chance to eat. Eventually, the word gets out to all wayfarers that in these houses the poor guests are denied a nourishing meal.

Hence, to make it clear that this is not the way to acquire Torah, the Beraita adds the words “Ve’im atah oseh kein” to emphasize that “If you do this” — i.e. if you limit your food intake when you are eating alone, but not when you have poor people at your table, then you are praiseworthy, and “ashrecha” — “you shall be happy.” (חסדי אבות)

* * *

King Shlomo says, “A righteous person eats to satisfy his soul, but the stomach of the wicked will always feel want” (Proverbs 13:25). With this he meant that the righteous feel satisfied with what they have, but the wicked always want more. The verse can, however, also be interpreted as referring to the difference between the way the righteous and the wicked conduct themselves when they serve guests.

A righteous person usually limits his intake of food. He eats a little and is satisfied. Nevertheless, when he has guests, he wants them to eat their fill, so though he normally suffices with very little, in their honor he continues eating though it is “lesova nafsho” — he has reached his normal point of satiation. He does this so that they should feel comfortable eating till they are satisfied.

The wicked person on the other hand, who normally eats much food, tortures his own stomach and eats very little so that the guests, too, will not be able to eat much. This way he will save money while they remain hungry.

"אשריך וטוב לך אשריך בעולם הזה"
“You shall be happy, it shall be well with you, you shall be happy in this world.” (6:4)

QUESTION: What is the happiness one will enjoy in this world from studying Torah in poverty?

ANSWER: It was taught previously (4:9), “Whoever fulfills the Torah in poverty will ultimately fulfill it in wealth.” Thus, the one who studies Torah while limiting his food intake and pleasurable activity is happy in this world since he will ultimately be blessed with riches.

(מהר"ם שי"ף)

"אל תבקש גדולה לעצמך"
“Do not seek greatness for yourself.” (6:5)

QUESTION: The word “le’atzmecha” — “for yourself” — is superfluous?

ANSWER: The Torah scholar should not seek greatness for himself, rather the honor he must seek is for the Torah he studied and represents. By seeking greatness for Torah, people will know that Torah must be held in high esteem and they may resolve to study Torah and become Talmidei Chachamim. Although such study is shelo lishmah — not for the sake of performing the mitzvah of Torah study, our Sages have said (Pesachim 50b) “A person should always engage in the study of Torah and performance of mitzvot even though it is not lishmah, because from learning Torah and performing mitzvot not for its own sake (shelo lishmah), he will eventually come to learn Torah lishmah — for its own sake.

(מדרש שמואל)

"יותר מלימודיך עשה"
“Let your deeds exceed your learning.” (6:5)

QUESTION: Our practice is to first put on the tefillin shel yad — the hand tefillin — and then the tefillin shel rosh — the head tefillin. When we are ready to remove them, we first take off the tefillin from the head and then the tefillin of the hand.

Why this order?

ANSWER: The hand represents action. One performs most actions with the hand. The head is the seat of the intellect and represents learning since one uses his head to learn. According to our custom, a person wears the tefillin of the hand for a longer period of time than the tefillin of the head. This alludes to the teaching of our Beraita, “Let your deeds exceed your learning.”

(ילקוט יהודה)

"תורה נקנית...בתלמוד"
“Torah is acquired [through] study.” (6:6)

QUESTION: Why is it necessary to list this as one of the forty-eight qualities necessary to acquire Torah. Isn’t it self-evident?

ANSWER: Based on the pasuk “My covenant [the Torah]... shall not be withdrawn from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your offspring, nor from the mouth of your offspring’s offspring, said Hashem from this moment and forever” (Isaiah 59:21), the Gemara (Bava Metzia 85a) says that if someone is a Torah scholar, and his son is a Torah scholar, and his son’s son is a Torah scholar, the Torah will not cease from his offspring forever. Rabbi Yirmiya said, “Henceforth, Torah mechazeret al achsanya shelah — “Torah naturally comes around to its home” — place of accommodation.

To dispel the erroneous interpretation that one need no longer study since his predecessors were Torah scholars, the Mishnah lists as the first and foremost prerequisite, talmud — “actual study.” One must exert himself to personally learn Torah and cannot rely on previous generations, as stated clearly above (2:12): “Prepare yourself for the study of Torah, for it does not come to you through inheritance.”

The assurance mentioned in the Gemara means that to the extent that one makes his own efforts, the Torah of his forbearers will help him approach their level of scholarship.

The analogy of “Torah coming back to its achsanya — place of accommodation” — is to allude that one can enter a place of accommodation only if he is permitted entry, but if the door is locked, he has to look elsewhere. When offspring give Torah a place in their home — i.e. study it — they will benefit from their predecessors’ relationship with Torah.

(ברוך שאמר)

“With purity.” (6:6)

QUESTION: What is meant with “purity”?

ANSWER: According to the Torah, immersion in a mikveh is primarily for someone who was defiled, e.g. a woman after menstruation. Ezra instituted that one who experienced a seminal emission should immerse in amikveh (see Berachot 22b). With the advent of Chassidut, ritual immersion in a mikveh before morning prayer has become very popular for all men.

* * *

The famous ChassidicRebbe Rabbi Shlomo Karliner once said, “Mikveh (for men) is not a mitzvah, and atzvut (עצבות) — sadness, melancholy — is not an aveirah. However, atzvut can cause the individual more harm than some of the most serious aveirot, and mikveh can accomplish for the individual more than some of the greatest mitzvot.”

* * *

The previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, related that when he was in Vienna together with his father, Rabbi Sholom DovBer, the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, someone told them that once a great Torah scholar asked the famous Chassidic Master Rabbi Meir of Premishlan if he could help him solve a difficulty he had with a passage in the Rambam. Rabbi Meir told him to see him the next day. On the morrow, Rabbi Meir studied the Rambam together with the great scholar and it was an enlightening experience. In response to his fascination as to how he was able to figure it out, Rabbi Meir said to him, “When Meir goes to the mikveh, he passes through the heaven, and he asked to be led through the heichal — palace of the Rambam — and he taught me this subject.”

(רשימות כ"ק אדמו"ר חוברת קפ"ז)

"כל האומר דבר בשם אמרו מביא גאולה לעולם"
“Whoever says a thing in the name of its author, brings redemption to the world.” (6:6)

QUESTION: The Gemara (Megillah 15a) derives this from the pasuk “And Esther informed the king in Mordechai’s name” (Esther 2:22). Esther surely did the right thing by not taking undue credit for herself, but how does this prove that there is always a great reward for this?

ANSWER: The two attendants who plotted to poison the king hid the poison, and it appeared again miraculously, as the pasuk says, “The matter was investigated and it was found” (ibid. 2:23, Yalkut Shimoni). So while it was indeed nice for her to give all the credit to Mordechai, superficially, she was at the same time putting him in great jeopardy, because in the event that the plot would not have been proven and they would have been vindicated, Mordechai could have been punished severely for falsely accusing them, and the venom of the anti-Semites would have been directed against the Jewish people. Hence, it would have been more wise for her not to convey the information in the name of Mordechai, but merely to say “I have heard a rumor...and I advise you my dear king to have it investigated.”

From the fact that she revealed that it was Mordechai who gave her the information, it is evident that she knew that for relating something in the name of the author, there is great benefit to the entire world. It was thus impossible for harm to befall the author through her righteous act, which could only have positive consequences.

(יערות דבש ח"ב, דרוש ח')

* * *

Why is it very common when a derashah — sermon — is being delivered that the speaker concludes with the prayer for a speedy redemption and the coming of Mashiach?

Many speakers are not original in their thought and commit plagiarism. This troubles their conscience because they know that by not revealing the name of the one who originated the thought they are conveying they are holding up the redemption and extending the galut — exile. Thus, they conclude with a prayer that Hashem bring the redemption through Mashiach.

(לקוטי בתר לקוטי)

"והאומר דבר בשם אומרו, הא למדת: כל האומר דבר בשם אומרו, מביא גאולה לעולם, שנאמר, 'ותאמר אסתר למלך בשם מרדכי' "
“And saying a thing in the name of its author. Indeed you have learned: Whoever says a thing in the name of its author brings redemption to the world, as it is stated, ‘And Esther told the king in the name of Mordechai.’ ” (6:6)

QUESTION: According to halachah (Orach Chaim, Magen Avraham 156:2), one who does not give credit to an author is committing a transgression. According to the Noda Biyehudah (II Orach Chaim 20), such a person violates, “Al tigzal dal ki dal hu” — “Do not rob the destitute because he is destitute” (Proverbs 22:22) — so what is the innovation of the Beraita?

ANSWER: Based on the pasuk “Do not rob the destitute” one might think that the violation of not giving credit to the author applies only when he is aware of it and not happy about it. If, however, one knows that the author does not mind, then there is no violation.

Therefore the Beraita emphasizes “shekol ha’omer” — “whoever says” — to imply that even if one knows that the author does not mind, it is a good attribute nevertheless to give credit to the author. The proof for this is from Esther. She knew that Mordechai would not mind if she did not give him credit, and moreover, he would have wanted her to take the credit so that she would find more favor with Achashveirosh. Nevertheless, she gave credit to Mordechai and merited to bring a redemption to the Jews through this.

(כנסת ישראל בשם חסדי אבות)

"גדולה תורה שהיא נותנת חיים לעשיה"
“Great is Torah, for it gives life to those who practice it.” (6:7)

QUESTION: Torah is something which is studied, and mitzvot are things which are done (practiced). Since the Beraita is talking of Torah, it should have said “lelomedehah” — “[it gives life] to those who study it”?

ANSWER: The Beraita specifically describes the reward due to individuals who perform mitzvot as a result of their Torah study, but not that which is due for Torah study alone. This is to emphasize that the purpose of Torah study is to eventually perform the mitzvot in accordance with Hashem’s will. A person who studies Torah without intending to practice what he learns, however, is not deemed to be living a worthwhile life (see Jerusalem Talmud, Shabbat 1:2).

(מדרש שמואל)

* * *

Alternatively, King David says, “Praised is the man who beTorat Hashem cheftzo, ubeTorato yehegeh yoman valaylah” — “His desire is in the Torah of Hashem, and in his Torah he meditates day and night” (Psalms 1:2). The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 19a) asks whether there is a contradiction here. First he calls it, “Torat Hashem” — “Hashem’s Torah” — and then he says “ubeTorato” — “in his, i.e. man’s, Torah”? The Gemara answers that there is no contradiction. Before the person toils to understand Torah, it is Hashem’s Torah, but after the student diligently and assiduously studies Torah and toils to understand it, the Torah is considered as his possession and is called “Torato” — “his Torah.”

The Beraita is teaching that Torah gives life to those who “osehah” — “make it their Torah” — through their studying and meditating on it day and night.

(מדרש שמואל)

Alternatively, the Tribe of Zevulun engaged in commerce and provided food for the Tribe of Yissachar while they engaged in the study of Torah. In exchange, the Tribe of Zevulun shared in the merit of the Torah studied by the Tribe of Yissachar. From this originated the popular Yissachar-Zevulun partnership to this day.

The word “osehah” can mean “those who work for it” or “those who make it,” i.e. people who are engaged in working to earn money which they use to support Torah study. Thus, they are “working” for Torah and “make” possible the continuity of Torah study.

Thus, the message of the Beraita is that Torah gives life in this world and in the World to Come, not only to those who study it, but also to those who “work” for it and “make” its study possible.

Hence, most appropriately a pasuk quoted as a proof is “It is a Tree of Life to those who hold fast to it and those who support it are fortunate.”

(עיונים בפרקי אבות מהרה"ת ר' א. י. העשל שי' רייזמן)

"עטרת זקנים בני בנים ותפארת בנים אבותם"
“Grandchildren are the crown of the aged, and the glory of children are their fathers.” (6:8)

QUESTION: To prove that “banim” — “children” — are pleasing for the righteous it is sufficient to just state the first part of the pasuk, “Grandchildren are the crown of the aged.” Why is it necessary to also quote the conclusion of the pasuk, “The glory of children are their fathers”?

ANSWER: Not always are the grandchildren the crown of the aged. Unfortunately, there are grandparents who are very disappointed with their grandchildren’s alienation from Torah and mitzvot. For instance, how sad is it to grandparents when they know that they cannot eat at their grandchild’s home because it is not kosher.

Thus, the Beraita is teaching that when tiferet banim avotom” — “the glory of the children is their parents” — i.e. they are proud of their parents who are strictly observant Jews and all their endeavors are to emulate them, only then is “ateret zekeinim b’nei banim” — “the grandchildren are the crown of the aged.” To the grandparents who merited to live to see this nachas, the grandchildren are a crown which they love and cherish immensely.

(שמעתי מזקני הרב צבי הכהן ע"ה קאפלאן)

* * *

Why, when we wish a person nachas from his children and grandchildren, do we emphasize Yiddishe or Chassidishe nachas?

Eisav had a grandchild named “Nachas” (Bereishit 36:13). Therefore, when wishing someone “nachas,” we accentuate that we are not referring, G‑d forbid, to the type of Nachas Eisav had. We are referring to real “nachas,” the kind which is derived from children and grandchildren who grow up in a Yiddish and Chassidish way.

(שמעתי מהרב רפאל ז"ל שטיין)

"כולם נתקיימו ברבי ובניו"
“All of them were realized in ‘Rebbe’ [Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi] and in his sons.” (6:8)

QUESTION: Surely there were righteous men before Rebbe who possessed these virtues. Why was he singled out, and why the mention of “banav” — “his sons”?

ANSWER: Rabbi Shimon ben Menasya specifically mentions his contemporaries, Rebbe and his sons, and not any of his great predecessors to emphasizes that the manifestation of these traits could be realized in any — and every — generation.

Moreover, the mention of Rebbe’s sons also highlights how the teachings of the Beraita can relate to individuals in later generations. Since one’s students are also referred to as one’s children (Devarim 6:7, Rashi), by studying Rebbe’s work — the Mishnah which he compiled — and observing Torah in accordance with the teachings of the Oral Torah, each of us can become one of Rebbe’s “children” and acquire the virtues mentioned in this teaching.

(ביאורים לפרקי אבות)

"כולם נתקיימו ברבי ובניו"
“All of them were realized in ‘Rebbe’ [Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi] and in his sons.” (6:8)

QUESTION: He was known as “Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi” — “Rabbi Yehudah the Prince” (2:2), also “RabbeinuHakadosh” — “Our Holy Teacher” — and also “Rebbe” (Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin 11:3). Why here when mentioning all the qualities he attained, is he just called “Rebbe”?

ANSWER: He was called “Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi, since he was the leader of his generation. The title “Rabbeinu Hakadosh” emphasizes his lack of interest in worldly and mundane matters regardless of his vast wealth. The Gemara (Shabbat 118b) relates that prior to departing from this world, he stretched his ten fingers towards heaven and said “Master of the universe, let it be known before You that at no time in my life did I take advantage of the pleasures of this world by as much as my little finger.”

Perhaps his greatest contribution and claim to fame was his being Rebbe — a revered teacher of K’lal Yisrael. Through compiling and editing the Mishnah, which is so widely studied, he became the teacher of Torah to posterity. It is specifically this that merited him all the mentioned qualities. Accordingly, “ubanav” — “his sons” — are the countless children he acquired over the generations through teaching them Torah. When they will continue on in his footsteps asrebbes — teachers — of K’lal Yisrael, they too will merit the enumerated qualities.

* * *

A story is told that a wise king once decided that he would set aside a day to give honor to the greatest of his subjects. On the specified day, people from all walks of life gathered in the palace garden. Amid the cheers of his subjects, the king sat down on his throne and instructed the various groups of citizens to present their candidates.

First to be presented was a man of immense wealth. It was told that he gave much of his wealth to the less fortunate. A doctor was then presented with the words that he was a faithful servant to all in need. A famous lawyer was introduced with the words that he was a fair judge and was famous for his wise decisions.

Finally, an old, poorly dressed lady was led to the front. Looking into her eyes one could see love, loyalty, and understanding. “Who is this?” demanded the king. “This, O king,” was the immediate answer, “is their teacher.”

Amid the applause of the throng, the king descended from his throne to proclaim her the greatest of them all.

"אמר לי: רבי, רצונך שתדור עמנו במקומנו, ואני אתן לך אלף אלפים דנרי זהב ואבנים טובות ומרגליות, אמרתי לו: אם אתה נותן לי כל כסף וזהב ואבנים טובות ומרגליות שבעולם, איני דר אלא במקום תורה"
“He said to me, ‘Rabbi, if you would be willing to live with us in our place, I would give you a million golden dinars, precious stones and pearls.’ I replied, ‘Even if you were to give me all the silver and gold, precious stones and pearls in the world, I would dwell nowhere but in a place of Torah.’” (6:9)

QUESTION: Why didn’t Rabbi Yosei want to move away from the citadel of Torah learning to help a distant Jewish community?

ANSWER: The person offered Rabbi Yosei, “I will give you a million golden dinars in addition to precious stones and pearls.” Rabbi Yosei listened carefully to his words and wondered, “Why does he say ‘I will give you’ and not the community? It is not the individual that pays the Rabbi but the community? Moreover, no community in the world pays a Rabbi such a phenomenal salary. Why couldn’t they get a Rabbi for much less? Obviously, this person is looking for someone to be his Rabbi, free him of his obligation to Torah and mitzvot, and certify everything he is doing as ‘kosher,’ and for such a sort of person he was ready to pay an enormous sum of money. To such a desire Rabbi Yosei ben Kisma responded, “I would rather live in poverty in a place of Torah study than sell myself for money.”

* * *

A very modern rabbi once asked Rav Nosson z”l Adler, the teacher of the Chatam Sofer, “Why is it that in our congregations our rabbis are paid very handsomely and your rabbis, who claim to be the real rabbis, are compensated so little by their communities?” Rav Adler wisely responded, “It is popular knowledge that people pay much more for a piece of art than for the true original thing from which it was copied.”

(לקוטי בתר לקוטי)

איני דר אלא במקום תורה
“I would dwell nowhere but in a place of Torah.” (6:9)

QUESTION: How could the venerable Sage be so selfish and against outreach?

ANSWER: According to Seder Hadorot, in addition to the famous city Rome, Capital of Italy, there was also a Roman city in Eretz Yisrael known as Romi. It was also named “Caesarea” after the Roman Emperors, popularly titled “Ceaser.” They and many Roman nobles had residences there and would come to enjoy the good air.

One of his proofs for this theory is from the Gemara (Megillah 6a) which says that Ekron, a city within the boundaries of Eretz Yisrael is the city known as Caesarea, and it was a metropolis of kings. Some say that kings were raised there and others say that kings were appointed from there.

This also explains the enigma how Rebbe (Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi) was raised together with the Roman Emporer Antoninus (Avodah Zarah 10b, Tosafot) and they were extremely close friends (ibid. 11a) though they supposedly lived far apart and separated by the ocean? Since the Antoninus family also had a residence in Caesarea and Rebbe’s family lived in nearby Tzippori, they became acquainted to the extent that Rebbe’s mother nursed Antoninus and in later years there was an underground tunnel between their home and he would come regularly to study Torah with Rebbe (ibid. 10b, Rashi).

Hence, while Rabbi Yosi originally lived in a large city of Torah scholars, he was offered to become the Rabbi of Caesarea and indeed accepted. However, the dialogue between him and the one who offered him the position was the following.

Rome of Israel (Caesarea) was an extremely wealthy community. It was inhabited with many prominent gentile dignitaries and also some affluent modern and somewhat alienated Jews. Not wanting to change the equilibrium that existed in the community between the gentiles and their Jewish neighbors, the Jews maintained very little active Yiddishkeit there. Thus, they sought to spend money on a prestigious Rabbi who would impress everyone, be ameniable and accepted by all, and not make any religious demands. They wanted someone who would not make any Yeshivoth or other Torah-oriented institutions that would interfere with there secular lifestyle. They tried to impress their prospective Rabbis that “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

Rabbi Yosi rose to the challenge and indeed accepted the position. He told the man that he was not at all impressed by his material wealth, but rather concerned about their spiritual poverty which evidenced that Jewish continuity was not their agenda. He would dwell only in a place where a Torah atmosphere prevailed and that was his goal for their city. His message proclaimed to the congregants, “As much as you treasure your riches, and are concerned about your neighbors” impressions, know that Torah is the precious inheritance of each Jew, and more meaningful than anything in the world.”

Ultimately, he succeeded in making Caesarea a makom Torah — a citadel of learning — and won the respect and admiration of the dignitaries and residents of the city. When he passed away, high Roman officials attended the funeral and eulogized him (Avodah Zarah 17a), and he was buried in the nearby city of Meron.

(שם אבותי על פ"א מהרב ישראל אליעזר שי' רובין)

"רצונך שתדור עמנו במקומינו"
“If you would be willing to live with us in our place….” (6:9)

QUESTION: Why was Rabbi Yosei so cold to his generous offer?

ANSWER: Rabbi Yosei listened very carefully to his words and immediately realized a redundancy. Since he said “imanu” — “with us” — he did not have to say “bimekomeinu” — “in our place.” Obviously, living with them meant living in their place.

Rabbi Yosei therefore understood that the man wanted two things from him: Firstly, to live in his city, and secondly, “bimekomeinu” — “in our place” — i.e. “You do all the mitzvot in place of us. We will live a life free of Torah and mitzvot, and your observance will be in place of ours. We will be yotzei — fulfill our obligations —with your study and observance of mitzvot.”

To this he responded immediately, “There is no such thing. Everyone must do his own mitzvot. One cannot buy someone with money, regardless of the amount, to keep Shabbat for him or put on tefillin on his behalf, etc. Each and every Jew, rich or poor, must personally be a Torah-observant Jew.”

"אם אתה נותן לי כל כסף וזהב ואבנים טובות ומרגליות שבעולם, איני דר אלא במקום תורה"
“Even if you were to give me all the silver and gold, precious stones and pearls in the world, I would dwell nowhere but in a place of Torah.” (6:9)

QUESTION: Bilaam told Balak’s messengers who came to invite him to come to curse the Jews that “Even if Balak gives me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot transgress the word of Hashem” (Bamidbar 22:18). Rashi comments that from his words it is obvious that he was greedy.

Why isn’t the same conclusion drawn that Rabbi Yosei ben Kisma was greedy?

ANSWER: Balak never offered to pay Bilaam for his services. He only said to him, “I shall honor you greatly” (ibid. 22:17). Even though there had been no talk of money, Bilaam referred to a large and specific quantity, so his excessive greed is evident.

On the other hand, Rabbi Yosei ben Kisma was offered a million gold pieces, plus precious stones and pearls. To this he replied, “Even if you were to give me all the silver and precious stones in the world, I would dwell nowhere but in a place of Torah.” This demonstrates his exceptional dedication and love for Torah and is not a sign of greed in any way.

(תורה תמימה)

* * *

Alternatively, Bilaam said to the servants of Balak, “Even if Balak gives me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot transgress the word of Hashem” (Bamidbar 22:18). Thus, he indicated that he would gladly take the money, but that he had a problem with Hashem. He was forced to listen to Him, and he was not sure whether He would be happy if he took money to curse the Jewish people. Hence, his greed for money was obvious.

Rabbi Yosei ben Kisma was offered a large sum of money and flatly refused it on his own. He clearly stated, “Money is of no consideration to me, and it will not sway me to go against my principles.”

(ראשי אבות)

"ולא עוד אלא שבשעת פטירתו של אדם אין מלוין לאדם לא כסף ולא זהב ... אלא תורה ומעשים טובים בלבד"
“Furthermore, at the time of a man’s passing from this world, neither silver nor gold ... accompany him, but only Torah knowledge and good deeds.” (6:9)

QUESTION: How does this emphasize the that one’s striving shall be only for Torah knowledge and not material riches?

ANSWER: Usually, friends find it difficult to part from each other. The stronger the friendship the more difficult is the departure. The most difficult is to part with a friend who risked his life for you.

To acquire riches, people often struggle day and night to the extent that they even risk their lives to obtain the dollar. One would imagine that the wealth for whom one struggled endlessly would be man’s best friend. Nevertheless, when man passes on, the wealth feels no loss, it does not shed a tear and does not even bother to accompany his “best friend” who literally gave his life for him. The reason is that he considers the person a fool, and other other fools are born every minute. Thus, why should he mourn the loss of “a friend” when he is confident that he will find many more “friends” who will risk their life for him — the dollar.

On the other hand, Torah studiers are a very small minority. When one passes on, Torah cries bitterly over the loss of a dear friend, and knows that it will not be easy to find another friend quickly. Therefore, Torah finds it excessively difficult to part with its “good friend” and accompanies him all the way when he leaves.

Rabbi Yosi ben Kisma’s message is that Torah is a real friend and wealth is not. It is wise for a person to strive only to acquire true good friends — Torah and good deeds.

(כנסת ישראל)

"חמשה קנינים קנה הקדוש ברוך הוא בעולמו"
“Five possessions did the Holy One blessed be He make His very own in His world.” (6:10)

QUESTION: To acquire something a kinyan — act of acquisition — must be made. Since everything is Hashem’s, how does the concept of kinyan — acquisition — apply to Hashem?

Also, why does it say for each of the five possessions that it is kinyan echad — one possession and not kinyan sheini — the second possession, kinyan shelishi — the third possession — etc.?

ANSWER: Indeed, everything belongs to Hashem and He does not have to make a kinyan to acquire something. However, making an effort to acquire something, especially if much money is spent for it, is a way of showing how much one values it. The Beraita uses the term “kinyan,” not in the literal sense, but symbolically, to indicate that these are the five most cherished and valued treasures Hashem has in the world.

Each of these are equally cherished by Hashem, and therefore, each is referred to as “kinyan echad” — “one possession” — and not “the first possession, the second possession,” etc.

* * *

This can be illustrated with the following story.

A father who was seeking a chatan for his daughter approached a Rosh Yeshivah to recommend one of his students. The Rosh Yeshivah invited him to come to the Beth Midrash and point out to him the student who impresses him most. When the father picked a student the Rosh Yeshivah smilingly said, “You have a good eye, the student you selected happens to be my ben yachid — only son.

After they met and things did not work out, the father returned asking the Rosh Yeshivah to recommend another student. Again the Rosh Yeshivah invited him to the Beth Midrash and he selected another student. The Rosh Yeshivah complimented the father on his selection saying, “you picked a wonderful boy, by the way he is my ben yachid — only son.” In amazement the father asked how can two students be your ben yachid — only son?

The Rosh Yeshivah replied with a chuckle in his eyes, “I love every student of my yeshivah and cherish him as though he were a ben yachid — my only son.

Hashem too, cherishes each of these five possessions as though it would be His one and only most significant possessions.

"תורה, קנין אחד. שמים וארץ, קנין אחד. אברהם קנין אחד"
“The Torah is one possession; .heaven and earth are one possession; Avraham is one possession;” (6:10)

QUESTION: Hashem gave the Jews Torah 2448 years after He created heavens and earth and 500 years after Avraham was born. Shouldn’t Torah be listed third?

ANSWER: Torah, the first possession, preceded the creation of the world by two thousand years (Midrash Schochar Tov 90:4). In fact, it was the blueprint, so to speak, which He used to create the world (Zohar, Shemot 161:b). Then came the actual creation of heavens and earth. This was followed by Avraham, who was the first Jew, for whose sake the world was created. On the pasuk “These are the products of the heavens and the earth behibaram — when they were created” (Bereishit 2:4) the Midrash (see Rabbeinu Bachya) says, “Read not ‘behibaram’ (בהבראם) – ‘when they were created’ — but ‘be’Avraham’ (באברהם) – ‘for the sake of Avraham’ — Hashem created the world.” It was Avraham who achieved Hashem’s purpose for the universe. Until him humanity failed to realize the existence of Hashem, and he was the first to propagate this knowledge and make humanity recognize it as well.

Through him the Jewish people ultimately developed. Then the Beit Hamikdash was built, which was His abode in this world. Until the present day we have in our midst the Kotel Ma’araviWestern Wall, and the Midrash Rabbah (Shemot 2:2) says, “Never did the Shechinah — His Divine Presence — move away from the Western Wall.”

(ילקוט מעם לועז)

"שמים וארץ מנין, דכתיב כה אמר ה' השמים כסאי והארץ הדם רגלי..., ואומר מה רבו מעשיך ה' כלם בחכמה עשית, מלאה הארץ קנינך"
From where do we know this concerning heaven and earth? Since it is written: “Thus says G‑d: ‘The heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool’... And it [also] says: “How manifold are Your works, O G‑d! You have made them all with wisdom; the earth is full of Your possessions.” (6:10)

QUESTION: Why isn’t the first pasuk sufficient proof that heavens and earth are His kinyan — possession?

ANSWER: A throne is the supreme symbol of royalty, as Paroah said to Yosef, “Only by the throne shall I outrank you” (Bereishit 41:40). Since Hashem chose heaven as His throne, it is obvious that heaven is indeed a cherished possession of His. However, it is not sufficient proof that the same also applies to earth, since a footstool is insignificant and perhaps superfluous.

Thefore, the second pasuk is needed to prove that the earth is also His kinyan — possession.

However, it may be asked, the pasuk does not refer to earth specifically as His kinyan: rather it asserts that all His doings were made with His infinite wisdom, as it says, “the earth is full of Your possessions” (in plural)?

Had the word kinyanecha — meant “Your possessions in plural, it would have been written with a yud after each nun (קניניך). Since there is no yud between the nun and final chaf, (קנינך) it is singular and not plural. The pasuk is thus saying that all Your works, fill the earth which is kinyanecha — Your possession.

(מדרש שמואל)

"ישראל מנין, דכתיב: עד יעבר עמך ה', עד יעבר עם זו קנית. ואומר: לקדושים אשר בארץ המה, ואדירי כל חפצי בם."
From where do we know this concerning the people Israel? Since it is written: “Until Your people pass over, O G‑d, until this people You have acquired pass over,” and it [also] says: “To the holy people who are in the land, and the noble ones in them, is all My desire.” (6:10)

QUESTION: What is lacking in the first proof that necessitates the second pasuk?

ANSWER: To dispel the notion that Jews are His kinyan — possession — only when conducting themselves as amcha — Your people — i.e. observing Torah and mitzvot, the second pasuk is brought in to state that we are His possession not because of our righteousness, but because of our holy fathers (Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov) who are now buried in the earth. Due to the desire He had in them, we too are His possessions, regardless of our status. (This is also evident in Torah (Devarim 10:15): “Only your forefathers did Hashem cherish to love them, and He chose their offsprings — you — after them.)

(מדרש שמואל)

"כל מה שברא הקדוש ברוך הוא בעולמו, לא בראו אלא לכבודו, שנאמר, 'כל הנקרא בשמי ולכבודי, בראתיו יצרתיו אף עשיתיו' "
“All that the Holy One, blessed be He, created in His world, He created solely for His glory, as it is stated, ‘All that is called by My name, indeed, it is for My glory that I have created it, formed it, and made it.’ ” (6:11)

QUESTION: Why does the pasuk use multiple terms to describe Hashem’s creation of the world?

ANSWER: In order for Hashem who is Ein Sof — infinite — to create this world, a process known as tzimtzum — concealment and occultation — was necessary. Through a process of gradual descent and a downward gradation by means of various contractions (tzimtzumim) the created entities can receive their life and existence from Hashem, without losing their identity (Tanya ch. 21).

During this process four spiritual worlds were created, each one lower than the other, and ultimately the physical world came into existence.

They are known as

1) Atzilut — The World of Emanation. The term is derived from the root “eitzel” — “near” — i.e. nearest to the source of creation, hence still in a state of infinity.

2) Beri’ah — The World of Creation.

3) Yetzirah — The World of Formation.

4) Asiyah — The World of Action — the final stage in the creative process.

The pasuk quoted in this Beraita mentions the three lower worlds explicitly, and refers to the highest world of Atzilut as “Shemi” — “My Name.” A name is very closely associated with the life force of the person. Therefore, when a person has fainted, he will respond when his name is called. Likewise, Atzilut is extremely near to Him — the Ein Sof — Infinite One, blessed be He.

The message of the Beraita is that people should realize that the purpose of one’s existence is to add to His glory and to utilize everything in the world, including for instance, new developments in technology and communications, as a means to express Hashem’s glory.

(ביאורים לפרקי אבות)

"ה' ימלך לעלם ועד"
“G‑d shall reign forever and ever.” (6:11)

QUESTION: Why was this pasuk mentioned here, and what period is this referring to?

ANSWER: This pasuk refers to “yemot hamashiach” — the days of King Mashiach, the Era of Redemption. The ultimate goal of all the mili dechassiduta — words of piety — conveyed in Pirkei Avot is to usher in the era in which Hashem’s glory will be revealed in the most consummate manner.

Though currently it may appear that much of what happens in the world around us detracts from Hashem’s honor, in the era of Mashiach, the Kingship of Hashem will be absolute and clear to all.

(מדרש שמואל - ביאורים לפרקי אבות)

"ואומר ה' ימלך לעלם ועד"
“And it says, ‘G‑d shall reign forever and ever’.” (6:11)

QUESTION: How is this additional proof that all that Hashem created in His world, He created solely for His glory?

ANSWER: This pasuk is not intended as an additional proof. It is quoted here to serve as an answer for obvious questions one may ask:

If Hashem really created the world for His glory, how does He permit the nations to be the dominating powers in it and torture His beloved children — the Jewish people? Why are they able to treat the Jews so miserably and aggrieve them saying “Their G‑d is asleep and has forsaken them.” If the world was created for His glory, aren’t they defacing His glory with their behavior?

On the pasuk “For I have set in Heaven the place of My Divine Presence and I shall say: and I will live forever” (Devarim 32:40) Rashi wrote in the name of Rabbi Nechemia, “I do not hurry to take My due from them, and I have the ability to take my due from the dead and the living. A king of flesh and blood, who is going to die rushes his vengeance to take his due during his lifetime for either he or his enemy (against whom he wishes to take vengeance) might die, and thus, his desire for vengeance will not be realized. But I live forever, and even if they will die and I do not take My due during their lifetimes, I will take My due after their death.”

Hence, the Beraita is teaching that indeed all that Hashem created in His world is solely for His glory. Don’t be surprised, however, that He permits the nations of the world to roam wild against the Jewish people. Since, “Hashem shall reign forever,” be assured that eventually they will all pay dearly for the impairment they caused His glory by hurting his most cherished possession in the world — His beloved people.

(כנסת ישראל בשם ילקוט הגרשוני)

"ה' ימלך לעלם ועד...כל ישראל יש להם חלק לעולם הבא"
“G‑d shall reign forever and ever…All Israel have a share in the World to Come”

QUESTION: Torah is never ending. It is like a circle which goes around and around and has no beginning or end. The end is joined to the beginning, and the beginning to the end (see Sefer Yitzirah 1:7; Likkutei Sichot, vol. 14, p. 25).

What connection is there between the end and beginning of Pirkei Avot?

ANSWER: Traditionally, the learning of Pirkei Avot is preceded with the Mishnah of “Kol Yisrael yeish lahem cheilek le’Olam Haba — “All Israel have a share in the World to Come.” Olam Haba is the period of the Resurrection which will take place after the coming of Mashiach. It will follow the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash and Kibbutz Galiot — the ingathering of the exiles (Zohar I, 139a, see Igrot Kodesh II p. 65).

Thus, at the outset we are told that by carefully learning and following the mili dechassiduta — words of piety — of Pirkei Avot, we will merit reward in Olam Haba, and at the end we are told that our proper behavior will cause the revelation of Mashiach and then we will come to the period when all Israel will enjoy the World to Come.

* * *

"רבי חנניה בן עקשיא אומר: רצה הקדוש ברוך הוא לזכות את ישראל לפיכך הרבה להם תורה ומצוה"
“Rabbi Chananyah ben Akashya says: The Holy One, blessed be He, wished to make the people of Israel meritorious; therefore, He gave them Torah and mitzvot in abundant measure.”

QUESTION: How do we benefit from the mitzvot Hashem gave us?

ANSWER: The Midrash Rabbah (Bereishit 44:1) states that “The precepts were given only in order letzareif bahen et haberiyot — so that man may be refined by them. For what does He care whether man kills an animal by the throat or by the nape of its neck? Hence, the purpose is to refine man.”

Just as the craftsman who refines silver intends to extract the impurities and dross, so are the mitzvot intended to rid our hearts of low character traits and false beliefs. The Midrash cites the example of the humane laws of ritual slaughter to emphasize the point that we should not think that the prohibition against cruelty to animals is because of Hashem’s concern for these creatures per se. It is not them He cares about, but us. He is concerned lest we become cruel and insensitive to their suffering. Therefore, He commanded us the laws of ritual slaughter (which is incidentally the most humane way to take the life of an animal) because He wanted us to be humane in order to refine our soul with noble characteristics.

(עי' רמב"ן, דברים כ"ב:ו, וחינוך תקמ"ה)

Alternatively, in the Torah there are 613 mitzvot, 248 positive and 365 negative. In the human body there are 248 bodily parts and 365 veins, each corresponding to one of the 613 mitzvot of the Torah. (The Sefer Chareidim elaborates on this.) Through the 613 mitzvot all the 613 bodily parts and veins are purified and elevated.

Incidentally, the word “lezakot” (לזכות) comes from the word “zach” (זך) — “pure” (see Shemot 27:20). Rabbi Chananyah ben Akashya is saying that Hashem wanted to purify the Jewish people, therefore He gave them the mitzvot in abundant measure. Through every mitzvah performed, the Jew gains more purification.

"יגדיל תורה ויאדיר ... כל ישראל יש להם חלק לעולם הבא"
“To make Torah great and glorious … All Israel have a share in the World to Come.”

QUESTION: The study of Pirkei Avot is preceded with the Mishnah “All Israel have a share in the World to Come, and is concluded with the words “to make the Torah great and glorious.” How are these two thoughts linked together?

ANSWER: The words “yagdil Torah veya’adir” — “to make Torah great and glorious” — are in future tense since they refer to the Era of Mashiach, at which time the full glory of Torah will be evident (Isaiah 42:21, Radak, see Likkutei Sichot vol. 17, p. 416).

Through the fulfillment of the many mitzvot that Hashem gave the Jewish people, we will merit this glorious period. This era will be followed by the Resurrection, at which time all Israel will enjoy their share in the World to Come.

(עי' רד"ק ישעיה מ"ב כ"א, וביאורים לפרקי אבות)