Four types of "Givers" and "Goers"

In chapter five of Ethics of Our Fathers we study the following:

There are four types among those who give charity: one who wishes to give but that others should not — he begrudges others; that others should give and he should not — he begrudges himself; that he should give and others should, too, is a chassid; that he should not give nor should others is a wicked person. (Ethics 5:13)

The next Mishnah continues:

There are four types among those who attend the House of Study: one who attends but does not engage [in study] earns the reward for going: one who engages [in study] but does not attend earns the reward for the act [of studying]; one who attends and engages [in study] is a chassid; one who does not attend nor does he engage [in study] is a wicked person. (Ibid 5:14)

If it is describing "those who give charity" then there are really only three types, because the one who wishes not to give nor should others — is not a giver of charity. Why then does it say "four types" and include the one who gives not?!

Along the same line of thought, the one who does not attend the House of Study and does not engage in study should not be counted among the "four types... who attend the House of Study." Why does the Ethics count "four... who attend the House of Study" and include the one who stays away?

The Act or the Person

Rabbi Ovadia Bartenura tackles this question and tries to explain that it is dealing with the giving of charity, rather than the "givers" of charity. Likewise in the case of Torah study it deals with the act of going to the house of study rather than the "goers." This interpretation, however, is not reflected in the plain meaning of the text which speaks of the "givers" and "goers."

Another point bears clarification:

The Tractate of Ethics is a discussion of conduct which reflects "matters of greater piety" — going beyond the requirement of the rule of law. Why then does it discuss the different types of people who give charity and study Torah? Both of these acts are primary precepts which must be fulfilled by reason of Torah law.

No Individual is Excluded

When the Ethics lists the four types of people who give charity it endeavors to include all possible variances so as to include each and every person. It is the intention to suggest the concept that all of these types are in fact to be included among the "givers of charity" and "those who attend the House of Study." And precisely for this reason does it include even those who in reality do not give and do not go. The point is that despite this shortcoming they are automatically included among the "givers" and "goers." Why? Because the true desire and intrinsic wish of every single person is to fulfill all the precepts.1 And, if for some reason at the present moment one may have the attitude of not giving, he is still not left out. For this reason he should also not lose hope, since his true inner desire is to be counted among the just.

The goal of Ethics is to motivate such people to rise from their inactive state and bring out their innate desire and drive to give charity and to study Torah.

You, too, can be a Chassid

By listing the four types together the text further shows us that they are all connected, so that even one who is presently dormant may awaken and emerge as a chassid, a pious person, who gives and encourages others to give.

At the same time this style of the Mishnah also bears an important lesson for the highest type, the chassid who "gives" and "studies."

Having striven to attain the highest status in Torah study and giving charity, the rules of greater piety instructs the individual that he must not rest on his laurels, but he must continue to increase and expand his activities — more Torah, more charity, and more life will be added to his life.

Despite his loftier state he is listed together with the other three types to remind him that just as the others may not remain at their levels and must rise up higher, so, too, must the chassid rise up in holiness, and if he fails he falls into the negative type of one who neglects to give or study.

Aim High or Fall

Here we may see the two extremes in Ethics — on the one hand it teaches us "matters of greater piety" and on the other hand it makes sure that we reject "matters of damages,"2 which is on the other extreme. When you neglect to act in accordance with the "matters of greater piety" you can fall from your lofty position and, G‑d forbid, descend to the state of one who does not go or give — at that point you could be counted among the "four types that cause damages."

These two consecutive Mishnah’s teach a lesson in Torah learning and charity, that every person is counted among the four types in charity and Torah, and everyone can and must increase his/her Torah and charity and strive to attain the level of the chassid. Additionally, one must influence others to join the ranks of the higher type of givers and goers, by virtue of the commandment to "love your neighbor as yourself."

"But How?"

Are you uncertain how to speak to that person about giving charity and going to the House of Study, and how it can be done in a polite and socially acceptable manner? Ethics gives us advice and shows us the approach which will be socially acceptable. Preface your remarks by saying: You are already included among those who give charity and who attend the House of Study — this is attested to by our sages!

You now assume the role of one who wishes to fulfill the directive and mission of that to all. The message that you share with your fellow is that every individual must raise himself to a higher level whether he/she now stands at the bottom or the top of the list.

Your mission does not in any way cast aspersions on his conduct, for you speak to the one who does not give in the same voice as you speak to the pious, since all must aspire to rise.3