"Moshe received the Torah from Sinai"
Why doesn't the mishnah state that Moshe
received the Torah "on Sinai"?
It is written, "The man Moshe was very humble, more
so than all other men" (Num. 12:3). Thus, when G'd commanded him to lead
the Jewish people out of Egyptian bondage, he said, "Who am I that I should
go to Pharaoh and take the children of Israel from Egypt?" (Ex. 3:11).
Yet when the Holy One announced that He would give the Torah through Moshe,
and that he would be teacher of all Israel, the prophet did not protest.
Where was his humility then?
The Sages explain that the Torah was given on Sinai
because it was the lowest of all mountains (Sotah 5a). When Moshe saw
that the Torah was given by that which is lowly and unpretentious, only
then did he agree to be the agent of its transmission. Hence, Moshe received
the Torah "from Sinai" — he learned from Sinai that only the lowly
and humble are worthy to receive Torah; therefore, he agreed that the
Torah be given through him.
(Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev)
patient in the administration of justice; raise up many disciples
addition to patience in judgment, it is proper for a person to consult with this
students, as it states, "I gained much knowledge from my teachers, but from
my students more than from any of them." Through discussion among students
the truth will endure.
Midrash Shmuel (3)
the Torah from Sinai
The Mishnah used the expression "from
Sinai" in deference to the honor of the Holy One, blessed is He. Moshe did
not receive the Torah in its entirety, and since it is not proper to associate
something incomplete with the Holy One, blessed is He, the Mishnah states that
Moshe received it at Sinai, where G-d had revealed Himself.
"And he handed it down to Joshua."
the L-rd said to Moses: "Write this for remembrance in the book, and convey
it to the ears of Joshua, etc. (Ex. 17:14)
This I heard in the name
of the holy Baal Shem Tov (of blessed memory):
Even though the Almighty told
Moses to write it in the sacred book (Scripture), and apparently this should have
been enough, he yet told him, "and convey it to the ears of Joshua"
-- by word of mouth, direct speech. For the main thing is what we hear from the
tzadik of the generation; and (of course) Moses was the great man of piety in
(Migdal David, preface) (5)
"He who does not teach deserves death."
Although Hillel warns that one should not seek fame, one should also
not refrain from teaching in an effort to remain humble. He who does not
share his knowledge will ultimately lose it.
"..He used to say: The world stands upon three things --
upon Torah, upon Divine service, and upon acts of kindness"
is significant that three distinct approaches to avodat Hashem are stated
in the Mishna: firstly, Torah study which is initiated by the individual, followed
by avoda, consisting of our pleas that Hashem bless us, and finally gemilut
chasadim, in which the Jew shares his material and spiritual possessions with
others. These three approaches -- man's initiative enhanced by Hashem's bountiful
blessings which are then shared with our less fortunate peers -- are the pillars
upon which the universe stands.
(Pirkei Avos) (6)
world depends on three things: on the Torah, on the service (of G-d) and on kind
The soul of a Jew descended from its lofty perch above
into a deep pit -- into this material world, where it became clothed in a physical
body. This descent is for the sake of a later ascent. When a person occupies himself
with Torah, Divine service, and acts of kindness, he elevates his soul, raising
it to an even loftier level than it was on before.
In a general sense one could
say that Torah affects all those matters which have to do with the brain, Divine
service (prayer) affects all those matters which have to do with the physical
body, and acts of kindness affect all of the Jewish people, and the entire world.
"The world stands upon three things"
The word for "world" in Hebrew is 'olam', which is
cognate to the word 'helem'-'concealment'. The world was created in such a way
that G-liness is buried and concealed within it. Only by removing the concealment
will the light of G-dliness hidden within it be revealed.
person is obligated to say, "The world (ha'olam) was created for me."
Do not read this as "the world," but "the concealment" (ha'helem).
Every person has the mission and obligation to remove the concealment through
the service of G-d.
How does he do this? Regarding
this, Shimon HaTzaddik used to say: "The world stands upon three things...."
The concealment remains until removed by three things-Torah, Divine service, and
acts of kindness. Then the inner light is revealed.
Harayatz, Ma'amarim 5700, p.160) (3)
"Antigonos of Socho received the tradition from Shimon HaTzadik.
He used to say: '...And let reverence for Heaven (literally, the fear
of Heaven) be upon you'"
After Antigonos emphasizes that one should not serve G-d with a view to
receiving reward, but out of complete love for Him, he declares that a
person must also be careful regarding his reverence for G-d. One who serves
with love is eager to fulfill a positive commandment, and one who serves
with reverence is careful regarding negative ones. Thus, by being careful
in both aspects, a person's service is complete.
possible to receive reward?
When a servant fulfills all of his duties
without any help from his master, it is permissible for him to expect a reward.
However, when it is really the master who does the work, while the servant merely
helps (and particularly when his help is so minimal that it can be disregarded),
what kind of reward can he ask for? After all, one should not "be like servants
who serve the master for the sake of receiving a reward!"
is the Holy One, blessed is He, who is called the Master and the Ruler, the Origin
and the Root of all the worlds.
Serving the Master (et ha rav) in this context
means im ha rav - together with the Master, for the lion's share of the work is
done by the Holy One, blessed is He, Himself. Through fulfilling mitzvos a Jew
merely assists the Creator. And asking for a reward for this is indeed vulgar.
Shem Tov) (3)
"Do not be like servants who serve their master
for the sake of receiving a reward"
Once the worker has finished
his day's activity, the man has an obligation to give him his wages in full. This
holds true, however, only if the laborer has done his work faithfully. But if
the worker stood at the side with folded hands, while the man toiled and slaved
away till he finished the work himself, would it enter anyone's mind to think
that he still has to pay the worker for having stood idle?
A man observes
the mitzvot of the L-rd, obeys His commandments as the blessed Creator bade him,
and for this he asks payment, compensation for his service. Yet if we consider
and examine the matter well, we will find that the man has done nothing at all:
For all his words and deeds, all his movements and motions, are not his at all,
but rather derive from the Holy One. Without the ten faculties that the Almighty
gives a person when he is created, he would remain inert like a side of beef.
Consequently it is not he at all but G-d who observes the mitzvot.
can understand the words of our Sages here: "Do not be like servants who
serve et ha-rav, with the master, for the sake of receiving a reward." Since
you serve only "with the Master," with the faculties and energy that
He granted you, you do not deserve any reward. You will, however, receive your
recompense even though you do not strive and struggle to collect it.
(Otzar Mishley Hassidim, citing the Baal Shem Tov)
"Yose ben Yoezer of Tzreida said: Make your house a meeting place
of the Sages; sit in the dust at their feet; and thirstily drink their
Whereas Yose ben Yoezer's teacher (Antigonos of Socho) aimed at perfecting
the person himself, Yose ben Yoezer instructed his disciples to aspire
to an even higher level -- he taught how a person is to permeate even
his house with love and awe of G-d.
(The Maharal of Prague)
Treat His will as if it were your own will
A simple reading of the mishna seems to suggest that we fulfill G-d's
will with the same enthusiasm that we display in fulfilling our own desires. However,
this approach seems difficult. Should we not fulfill His wishes with greater enthusiasm
that our own wishes? Rather, the mishna is urging us that as we perform our own
pursuits, the Al-mighty should be viewed as an "equal" partner. We should
consider His wishes as much as our own even when we conduct our personal affairs.
While this charge may seem unrealistic at first, the mishna assures us that we
will be rewarded for our efforts. Eventually your wishes will converge with His.
A time will come when every action of yours, no matter how mundane, will be undertaken
to fulfill G-d's will.
(Rav Yehuda Leib of Gur, the Sefas Emes)
place for Sages"
When you learn Torah for the sake of Heaven and mention
the Sages of the Mishnah and the Talmud in connection with the laws they taught,
you should imagine that those Sages are standing before you.
(Rav Yehuda Leib of Gur, the Sefas Emes) (2)
"Drink in their words
Usually, when a person drinks, his thirst is quenched and
he can drink no more. One who drinks saltwater, however, becomes thirstier as
he drinks. This is what the mishnah means by drinking in thirstily: our learning
should leave us thirsty for even more Torah.
(Rav Yisrael of
"[Men:] Let your house be wide open for guests
not engage in excessive conversation with women."
Sometimes a person
will refrain from having guests because he wants to be alone with his wife and
be able to talk to her in private, which would not be possible in the presence
of guests. Such a person is told, "Do not engage in excessive conversation
with a woman" - do not acquire this habit, for it is a negative one.
"Let your house be wide open [for guests]."
Sages state [Tractate Shabbos] that, "Welcoming guests is greater than receiving
the Shechinah." Chassidic texts explain that the term Shechinah refers to
the revelation of G-d within creation. However, when a person fulfills the mitzvah
of hospitality, he draws down from the aspect of the transcendent revelation of
(Sefer HaLikkutim) (3)
treat the poor
as members of your own family
"When one is charitable
toward the poor, one lends to G-d," (Prov. 19:17). The Holy One, blessed
is He, ensures the sustenance of the poor. Thus, when one gives charity to the
poor, one lends the money to G-d, so to speak. And when the Holy One, blessed
is He, reimbursed the lender, He repays him much more than He owes him.
5686 p. 109) (3)
"...Do not indulge excessively in conversation..."
In Chassidic terminology, when mankind is contrasted with the animal and plant
kingdoms, a human being is referred to as a medaber, (one who talks). Why is speech
singled out over intellect or emotion to define man’s uniqueness? Because every
other element of a person’s character centers around himself, while speech gives
him the ability to transcend his own being and relate to another person. In the
light of the uniqueness of this potential, our Sages proposed that sichah
(conversation) is the purpose of man’s creation. Nevertheless, they reject this
hypothesis and explain instead that the goal of man’s creative efforts should
be Torah study. For Torah study enables a person to establish a bond with G-d
that transcends the natural limits of creation and endows a person and his environment
with a new dimension of spiritual awareness.
Provide yourself with a teacher;
acquire a colleague for yourself; and judge all men favorably."
All the instructions appearing in Pirkei Avot are intended to produce
conduct which goes beyond the letter of the law, and thus require qualities
of character of a loftier level than that demanded by the law itself.
According to these standards, one should judge all people favorably, even
one who, according to the law, does not deserve to be judged favorably.
This principle was expressed by the saintly Rabbi Shalom Dov Ber of Lubavitch
in his maxim, "the greatest pity is for a person whom the Torah forbids
us to pity."
Hitva'aduyot 5742 p.
Judge all men favorably -- even a person who apparently
does not deserve favorable judgment. Since every person is obligated to provide
himself with a teacher and acquire for himself a colleague, one must beware of
providing oneself with a teacher, or acquiring oneself a colleague, who judges
others unfavorably, for this may be the result of the teacher's or colleague's
own deficiency. A minor deficiency of this sort in a teacher or a colleague is
liable to cause a major deficiency of this sort in their student or colleague.
l'Pirkei Avot p. 26) (3)
“Secure for yourself a teacher...”
Learning exclusively from books is insufficient; to improve one’s character
and serve G-d fully, one must also secure a teacher. Thus, concerning the war
against Amalek, G-d commanded Moshe, the teacher of Israel: “Record this as a
remembrance in a book and place it [i.e., teach it] in the ears of Yehoshua..”
(Rav Yosef Yitzchak Scheerson of Lubavitch)
all people favorably”
Even if someone clearly has no merits, judge him
favorably. For if even one person in this world loves him and befriends him, intercedes
on his behalf, and judges him favorably, that in and of itself awakens G-d’s love
and mercy towards him.
(Rav Shlomo of Radomsk) (2)
Judging a person favorably involves an honest appreciation
of the challenges which that person faces. And this awareness should also lead
to the understanding that G-d has surely given that person the ability to overcome
these challenges. This, in turn, should heighten the esteem with which we regard
this individual, for he is a person to whom G-d has entrusted the formidable powers
necessary to overcome severe challenges.
When the manner in which we relate
to that person reflects such respect, this will inspire the individual to bring
these potentials to the surface.
(Lubavitcher Rebbe) (1)
Rabbi Yehoshua of Ostrov developed a kal vechomer (an inference from
minor to major: if this
how much more so that
) from this mishna:
If I am required to judge my peer favorably, then certainly I would be required
to judge all of Hashem's actions favorably -- whether or not I can immediately
(Maggidei HaEmes) (6)
"Do not associate with an evil person.."
not aspire to associate with a wicked person in such a way that you are subservient
to him. However, if he is interested in keeping you company, you do not have to
avoid him, as long as he is subservient to you. On the contrary, it is proper
to accept his overtures of friendship, because you might be successful in returning
him to the path of good. And returning a Jewish soul is a profound mitzvah.
"..do not give up the belief in [Divine] retribution"
a person has transgressed extensively, he should not despair of ever having his
repentance accepted. He should repent, and not despair of G-d's mercy, for He
is abundantly merciful, and forgives sinners and deliberate transgressors.
Keep far away from a bad neighbor; and do not
give up the belief in [Divine] retribution."
Although you have
been commanded not to associate with the wicked, nevertheless, when their punishment
descends upon them, save them! Such an action will perfect your soul. And as far
as the wicked person is concerned, it is very likely that your act of kindness
will return him to the path of good.
(Midrash Shmuel) (7)
not fraternize with a wicked man"
Here, the mishnah does not use
the term "keep away," for the intent is not that one should sever contact
with a person because his conduct is unworthy. Al titchaber, translated
as "do not fraternize," literally means "do not join to."
One should not "join" a wicked person by accepting his standards. One
should, however, reach out with warmth and love to all people, regardless of their
conduct, and endeavor to inspire them to improve themselves.
"Keep away from a bad neighbor"
does not say; "Keep away from a wicked neighbor," for its intent is
not that one should judge another's conduct. Instead, the intent is that a person
should decide whether closeness to a particular individual is beneficial or detrimental
to his own divine service. The neighbor may be above all reproach, but traveling
a different path of divine service. Any attempt to identify with him might thus
be "bad," i.e., create confusion and discord.
"When the litigants leave, having accepted the judgment, regard
them both as guiltless."
Unfortunately, it often happens that the
person whom the judge has found guilty leaves the court in a tirade of curses
and insults against the judge. Such a person should undoubtedly be regarded as
totally wicked. However, after the judge has presented his verdict, and the litigants
have submitted to the judgment, and agreed to do what they were instructed to
do, they should both be regarded as righteous people. Accepting the judge's verdict
shows that their dispute was not for the sake of controversy. There was merely
a disagreement over some financial matter, and each one maintained the view that
he was right.
(Meiri; Maharal; Midrash Shmuel) (3)
them both as guilty”
Reshaim—translated as “guilty”, also means
“wicked”. The very fact that two people are involved in a dispute severe enough
to bring them before a judge appears to indicate that both possess a certain measure
of wickedness. When two people cannot resolve their differences without arbitration,
both need to increase their love for their fellow man.
Lubavitcher Rebbe) (1)
Shimon Ben Shatach
said: "Examine the witnesses thoroughly." (1:9)
There is a
homiletic dimension to this teaching. Our Sages say: "The walls of a person's
house testify regarding him [his character]." On the most simple level, it
is possible to "examine the witnesses" and determine a person's character
by studying the walls of his house - which books, whose pictures, and which art
do they feature.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
witnesses thoroughly ...”
These are the good inclination and the evil inclination,
both of which require examination. The mitzvos of the good inclination must
be scrutinized for any tinge of improper, selfish intention, and the deeds of
the evil inclination surely require careful inspection to verify that there is
no transgression or even any hint of wrongdoing in one's conduct.
Yitzchok Isaac of Komarna) (2)
careful...[lest] they learn to deceive:"
A person must be very careful
to fulfill whatever laws he teaches others and whatever precepts he focuses on
in his rebuke. Otherwise, others may learn in order to deceive, studying
Torah without fulfilling what they learn.
(Rav Shachne Tzvi of
Shemayah said... "Do not seek intimacy with the ruling power."
Since Shemayah was the Nasi - the Torah leader of the Jewish people -
he knew the importance of humility. For a leader's prominence comes as
a result of his selflessness. Because he has no concern for himself, he
is fit to serve as a medium to lead his people to an awareness of G-d's
(Sichot Kodesh, Shemini, 5728)
"Love work; despise the holding
of high office"
If everyone heeded this advice, who would teach
Torah and who would judge? Rather, love the "work" of high office, the
constant involvement in Torah and the Torah study, so that your every judgment
will be prompt and clear. Despise only the holding of high office, the authority
and the arrogance it may engender.
(Rav Menachem Mendel of
"Be careful of
lest the Students Drink"
A Rav must
teach his students in such a way that his words will be understood and absorbed
properly. When teaching a young, inexperienced student, he must lower himself
to the level of that student, wrap himself in the understanding of the student,
and then explain an idea to him from that point of view, so that he can set the
student along the path to full and correct understanding, without veering to the
left or to the right of the true understanding of the law. Therefore our Sages
advised that a Rav should teach his students in a brief and concise fashion, without
long and involved explanations and complicated reasoning, which might cause the
inexperienced student to lose the main point, and reach incorrect conclusions,
or even conclusions which are the exact opposite of the truth. This is what our
Mishnah teaches - "be careful with your words
.lest your disciples drink
- lest they absorb what is irrelevant, incorrect, or even absolutely false.
(Toras Chaim, Shemos) (3)
"Hillel said: Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and
pursuing peace, loving other people, and drawing them to Torah"
Moses drew G-dliness down to the Jewish people from Above by means of
the Torah which was given through him. Thus he is referred to as "the
chaperone of the King" - analogous to the escort who accompanies
the groom to his bride. Aaron, by contrast, brought the Jewish people
closer to G-d from below to Above, and is thus referred to as "the
bride's chaperone," analogous to the escort who accompanies a bride,
leading her up to the groom who awaits her.
(Sefer Ha'Arachim Chabad, Vol. 2)
peace and pursuing peace.."
The difference between "loving"
If peace runs away from a person - his friend does
not want to make peace with him, or makes disparaging remarks about him, or curses
him, etc. - he should run after him, and appease him.
"..loving other people.."
This refers to true love,
which is expressed in bringing the beloved closer to Torah.
"Be of the disciples of Aharon…loving the created
beings, and bringing them near to the Torah."
The use of the term
“created beings” instead of “people” implies that Aharon would reach out to individuals
whose only redeeming virtue was the fact that they were G-d’s creations.
Aharon’s concern for his fellow man was all the more impressive because of his
exalted position as High Priest. Leaving the Sanctuary where G-d’s Presence was
openly revealed, he would reach out to people who had no virtue other than their
having been created by
The order used in the mishnah is
also significant. It implies that Aharon first concerned himself with establishing
a relationship of love and trust, confidant that this would in turn enable him
to draw them near to the Torah.
Also significant is the phrase, “bringing
them near to the Torah.” Although Aharon reached out to these individuals and
tried to accommodate them to the fullest degree possible, his efforts were centered
on “bringing them near to the Torah,” and not G-d forbid, bringing the Torah near
to them. His willingness to extend himself on behalf of others did not involve
any compromise of Torah law.
(Lubavitcher Rebbe) (1)
loving your fellow men.."
The Hebrew word for "fellow men" literally means "creatures."
For even if certain people are so distant from Torah and Divine service
that they are referred to as creatures rather than as "Adam,"
the dignified name of man, one must draw them close with cords of love.
Perhaps then one will be able to bring them to Torah and Divine service
(Rav Schneur Zalman of Liadi)(2)
Hillel used to say: "If I am not for myself, who will be for
me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?"
It is up to the individual to better himself and improve his behavior
through his own hard work. No one else can do this for him; only he can
achieve his own perfection. Yet no matter how high a level is reached,
a person must never become to self-satisfied. "What am I" one
should ask, "How may I further improve?" Finally, the observance
of mitzvot should never be postponed until a later date. If negative character
flaws are not corrected in one's youth, it is far more difficult to change
in later years, when bad habits have already become ingrained.
"He used to say: If I am not for myself, who is for me?"
to the Zohar the Hebrew word for 'who' here, 'mi,' is a designation for
the Holy One, blessed is He. Hence, "if I am not for myself" - my own
bodily needs in this world, but instead, I aspire to serve my Creator, then, "Who
- the Holy One, blessed be He - is for me!" I.e. G-d will help. But, if I
am only for myself - and my entire interest is in fulfilling my own physical needs
- then what am I? Less than worthless!
Midrash Shmuel (3)
used to say: If I am not for myself, who is for me? And if I am only for myself,
what am I? And if not now, when?"
If I am not for myself, who is
for me? - In general, a person is required to work on himself, both in terms of
fulfilling the mitzvot, and improving his qualities of character and using his
talents properly. What is dependent upon you, no one will do for you, and only
by exercising your own free choice properly can you reach perfection.
if I am only for myself, what am I?- Even when a person fulfills all his duties
and obligations, he should not feel self-satisfied, or imagine that he is complete.
He must always ask himself, "what am I?" - How can I perfect myself
And if not now, when?- "One who labors on Friday, will eat
on Shabbos," our Sages declare. And if he does not fulfill the mitzvot while
he is alive in this world, then when will he do so? If he does not improve his
qualities of character when he is young, then when will he ever do so? When he
is old and firmly entrenched in his ways?
Midrash Shmuel (3)
I am not for myself
While a literal translation
of the phrase im ein ani li, "If I am not for myself," seems to suggest
that we stand alone in our quest for spiritual growth, this interpretation is
untenable. Our sages stated, "One who seeks to purify himself is surely assisted
by Heaven" (cf. Shabbos 104a). The mishna is merely emphasizing the importance
of taking the initiative, as the foregoing quote stresses: "one who seeks."
On the contrary, once we take the initiative, not only the Al-mighty Himself (i.e.
an act of direct Divine intervention), but also all of His creations, will in
their own fashion assist those who seek to come close to Him.
It may be
tempting for the individual now enjoying unparallel success to forget the source
of his new-found prowess. To prevent this misconception, the mishna continues:
"and if I am for myself, what am I?" Remember that your deeds are not
sufficient without the bountiful Divine assistance that you now enjoy.
"Pikei Avos" Anthologized and Adapted by Rabbi Yosef Stern. Published
by Mesorah Publications, Ltd)
If I am not for myself, who
is for me? [And if I am for myself, what am I?..]
When praying one
must be like divested from physical reality, unaware of your existence in this
world. (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 98:1)
One must say, "When I reach
the level that I am altogether unaware whether I am in this world or not, I will
certainly have no fear of alien thoughts. For when I am divested of this world,
alien thoughts will not approach me." This is the meaning of "who is
for me?," i.e., what alien thought will come to me?
But "If I am
for myself," i.e., when I regard myself as something substantial and real
in this world, then I am really as of no value at all. This is the meaning of
"what am I?," i.e. of what significance am I, and of what value is my
service before G-d? For then alien thoughts will disturb me and I am as nothing
in this world. The principal purpose of man's creation in this world is service
[of G-d]; but I am unable to perform His service because alien thoughts disturb
(Baal Shem Tov) (4)
I am not for myself - If, at the hour of prayer, a person is detached from
the physical world, and he is not even aware of his existence in this world, then
who is for me? Whom should he fear? No alien thought will even come near
But, if I am only for myself - when I regard myself as a person
of stature and importance, then what am I? What am I really worth, and
what benefit is all my service, since foreign thoughts bewilder me?
HaRivash, para.62) (3)
During prayer, a person must transcend his
physical limitations and rise above his individual existence in this world. Thus,
if I am neither concerned with nor aware of myself, who can stand before me? I
need fear nothing, for no foreign thoughts will disturb my prayer. But if I am
only for myself, impressed with m own importance and significance, then what am
I? How truly important am I and how significant is my worship of G-d, interrupted
as it is by foreign thoughts?
(The Baal Shem Tov) (2)
I am not for myself, who is for me?"
Every person has a task
in this world that only he can perform. For this task he was created, and no other
person can accomplish it for him.
(Rav Yehudah Leib of Gur, the Sefas Emes)(2)
"Make your Torah study fixed"
This instruction is directed towards businessmen as well, even though
they fulfill their obligation by learning only one chapter during the
day, and one at night. For them, their Torah learning must be fixed in
their souls, not just in time. Even when occupied with business matters,
each one's intention should be to earn money only so that afterwards he
will have the opportunity to occupy himself with Torah, and guide his
children in learning and fulfilling mitzvot.
(Ma'amarim 5672, ch.7) (3)
"Shammai said: Set a fixed time for your study
of Torah; say little but do much; receive every person with a friendly countenance"
should beware of obstacles and deterrents. When a person talks freely about his
plans, saying what mitzvot he will fulfill today, how many pages he will learn
today, etc., the matter is heard by those accusers who are agents of the side
of unholiness. It is a hard and fast rule that the side of unholiness will then
present its opposition to one's plans, and will prevent him from fulfilling them.
Is one says much, in the end one will not even be able to do a little. One should
rather say little, but do much.
Midrash Shmuel (3)
"Make your Torah study fixed"
The Alter Rebbe explains that Torah study must be fixed not only in time, but
also in its position in the soul, serving as the foundation of a person’s life.
Even if a person’s talents lie along another path of divine service, e.g., prayer
or deeds of kindness, the foundation on which his effort rests must be the study
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe) (1)
"Remove yourself from doubt"
heard from my teacher, the Baal Shem Tov, in the name of the Ramban, a great principle
concerning both fulfillment of the commandments and one's own actions. If a person
doubts the desirability of an action, let him "remove" or discount,
any possible benefit that could accrue to him as a result. Without this factor
of self-interest, he can objectively consider the action, weighing its pros and
cons. In other words, remove yourself from the doubt and the doubt itself will
(Rav Yaacov Yosef of Polonnoye) (2)
tithe by estimation, even giving in excess of the required amount"
Because of doubt as to the precise requirements of his religious obligations,
a person might decide to always act more stringently, as in the case of tithes
when, instead of measuring exactly, he gives more than the necessary amount.
mishnah emphasizes that his is not a proper approach. One should find a master
who can instruct him with regard to the course of conduct which is particularly
appropriate to his nature and character, and follow that master's directives whether
lenient or stringent.
(Lubavitcher Rebbe) (1)
"..and I have found nothing better for a person (la'guv)
Although we have rendered la'guv as, "for
a person," its literal meaning is "for the body." In matters which
concern the soul, such as learning Torah and praying, speech is very beneficial.
However, in matters which concern the physical body and its needs, silence is
Midrash Shmuel (3)
"Whoever engages in excessive
talk brings on chet (sin)."
The term chet denotes deficiency.
Even when speaking with others words of the wisdom of the Torah, silence is much
more preferable. For in silence one can think of the greatness of [G-d], blessed
be He, and join oneself unto Him, blessed be He, more so than the joining by means
Similarly, it is stated, "'Silence is a fence for wisdom'
(Avot 3:13), because in silence one is able to become attached to the World of
Thought which is [the sefira] of chochma (Wisdom)."
Note: A parallel version in Hanhagot Yesharot adds (in brackets) that this
applies only to one who has attained an exalted level of spirituality. For all
others it is preferable that they engage in words of Torah.]
can be lying in bed, and to others it appears that he is sleeping, but at that
very time he is actually in solitude with the Creator, blessed be He.
Shem Tov) (4)
"All my days, I grew up among the Sages and
I found nothing better for a person than silence.."
z"l, explains that G-d created the world in the void caused by His tzimtzum
(self-contraction). Disunity among the Sages creates a corresponding void. Thus,
says G-d, "All My days [the six days of Creation], I grew up [caused the
world to "grow up" and develop] among the Sages [i.e., in the void between
In the Torah, speech is a metaphor for Divine creation, as in,
"And G-d said, 'Let there be light'.." (Bereishis 1:3). Before Creation,
therefore, the void was silent. Consequently, the mishnah continues, "I found
nothing better for a person than silence." For only one who has achieved
the level of silence may enter the void and relate to G-d in His infinite hiddenness.
Furthermore, the most important thing is not study - and explanations of the Sages
- but actions, or creation, i.e., the world created by their words of Torah.
Finally, the mishnah concludes by alluding to the shattering of vessels. Caused
by an excessive revelation of light, this event unleashed impurity in the world.
Hence, "one who talks too much [revealing too much light] causes sin [by
creating husks of impurity]."
(Rav Nachman of Breslav)
most important thing is not study but action.."
In our times, when
the intellect is weak, we must strengthen our fear of G-d. One must constantly
meditate in fear and awe. Even during Torah study, it is good to pause occasionally
and contemplate in awe. Although such contemplation detracts from one's study
time, the most important thing is not study but actual, active fear of G-d.
Baal Shem Tov)
Whoever engages in excessive talk brings
Pride and self-consciousness - the opposites of humility
- are often characterized by excessive talk. The mishnah points out that adopting
this manner may therefore lead to sin. Moreover, chet (sin) can also be
interpreted as meaning "a lack." Surely a tendency to excessive talk
implies a lack of awareness of the true nature of the Torah.
this clause can be considered as a directive to teachers. Our Sages state that
a person should always instruct his students in short, concise phrases. "Excessive
talk" could create confusion and cause a student to misinterpret the teacher's
instructions. At the very least, it could lead to a lack as mentioned above.
(Lubavitcher Rebbe) (1)
ben Gamliel said: The world is sustained by three things: justice, truth, and
What is the difference between this mishnah and the
second mishnah in this chapter ("On three things the world stands..")?
The earlier mishnah refers to the existence of the world itself, which depends
on Torah, Divine service, and acts of kindness.
Yet a talented individual
can achieve these objectives more or less independently.
A moral society,
however, can only be sustained when all people uphold justice, truth and peace.
Menachem Mendel Schneerson of Lubavitch) (2)