Pirkei Avot -- Chapter 2

Quotes, as indicated by number at end after author's name, are from:
(1) In the Paths of Our Fathers by Eliyahu Tauger (Kehot)
(2) Fathers and Sons by Tuvia Kaplan (Targum Press)
(3) Pirkei Avos in the Light of Chassidus by Yekutiel Green (Author)
(4) Tzava'at Harivash by Jacob Immanuel Schochet (Kehot)
(5) The Baal Shem Tov on Pirkey Avot by
Charles Wengrov (Inst. for Mishnah Research)
(6) Pirkei Avos by the Sfas Emes and other Gerer Rabbis by Rabbi Y. Stern(Artscroll)

(7) Midrash Shmuel by Rabbi Shmuel ? of 16th century Tsfat, as translated in (3) above
(8) Maharal of Prague: Pirkei Avos by Tuvia Basser (Mesorah)

New Insight


Mishna 1

"Rebbi Would Say: 'Which is the right path that a man - adam - should choose for himself?'" (2:1)

Rebbi (Rabbi Judah 'the Prince') speaks about an "adam," a person who like himself has reached a level of personal fulfillment, and yet is forced to suffer the pains of exile. At present, this is relevant to all of us. Since mankind as a whole has fulfilled all the divine service required of us, we collectively on the level of "adam." We must know what is the right path - the most direct and effective means to bring about the coming of Moshiach and the raising of the world to a higher plane of divine service.

(Lubavitcher Rebbe)

 

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Previous Insights on Chapter 2

 

"…Which is the right path that a man should choose for himself? That which is honorable to himself and brings him honor from man…."

Although action or deed is the final of the three garments of the soul, thought, speech and deed, and is the product of thought and speech, nevertheless, profound thought and a stirring speech are still not called honorable. True honor is only through correct action -- tiferet le'osey'ha -- literally "[brings] honor for one who does it". Hence the path of action is called the correct path which a man should choose.

Ma'amorim 5705, p.206 (3)

"…Know what is above you -- an Eye that sees…."

A seeing eye: it would be beneficial for a man to cast his gaze from one end of the world to the other in order to witness Divine Providence.
A hearing ear: It would be correct for a man to hear the announcements of the messengers of the supernal Beis Din and the bas kol (literally, "echo", referring to a voice from Heaven) which comes out from Mount Chorev.
However, our sins prevent us from this and we must smash the evil husks and then we will be able to see and hear.
Are recorded in a book: In the supernal sefirot (sefer -- book -- and sefira -- an emanation of divine light -- have the identical root) of your soul. And in this way a person dims and obscures the light of the soul.

Keser Shem Tov 22c:53d (3)

 

"Be as careful with a "minor" mitzvah as with a "major" one."

The Hebrew word for "careful" zahir, also means "glowing", or "shining". Thus, the mishnah informs us, the soul should shine and glow in the fulfillment of a "minor" mitzvah just as it shines in the fulfillment of a "major" one. Ultimately, "the Torah desires the heart". (Sanhedrin 106b)

The Baal Shem Tov (2)
 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 

"Know what is above from you."

We sometimes neglect our worship of G-d due to a lack of self-esteem. We forget that our prayer and Torah study bring blessings to the highest worlds, and that even the angles are sustained by our holy actions. How much more would we strive to serve G-d in awe and joy, weighing our every action and word, if we believed that our Divine service had such an effect. This is the message of the mishnah: Know that everything above, all the upper worlds and angels, is from you — it depends on you and your Divine service.

Rabbi Yaacov Yosef of Polonnoye (2)

 

"Know what is above you.."

The Maggid of Mezritch would say: "Know that everything above" - all that transpires in the spiritual realms - of "from you" - dependent on your conduct. Each of us has the potential to influence the most elevated spiritual realms.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe(3)

 

"Reflect upon Three Things and you will not come to sin…"

Reflect: Reflect in such a way that it appears to you as if you really see it with your eyes. Such reflection affects a person deeply and touches him to his very core. Therefore, the mishnah promises him, "You will not come to sin."
(Maamarim 5678, p. 81) (3)


Reflect upon three things: in order to reveal the store of the awe of heaven buried and concealed in the understanding of the heart (transcending time and space) one must first bring it into thought in the mind. Afterwards a person must contemplate this deeply in his thoughts for an extended period of time until it is actualized from its state of potential. Then he will turn away from evil and do good in thought, speech and action, because of G-d Who "looks down and sees and hears and listens and understands all of man's deeds, and He searches his heart and kidneys."

(Toras Shmuel 5,636, chapter 193) (3)


Mishnah 2

"All Torah-study not combined with work will in the end cease"

The word "work" implies that one must "work" at loving one's fellow Jew to ensure the endurance of one's Torah study. Simple love of another Jew is not enough; rather, it must be done in a way of actually working at and being occupied with loving another Jew.

(Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, in the name of the Baal Shem Tov)

 

"..It is good [to combine] the study of Torah with an occupation, for the effort required by them both keeps sin out of mind; whereas all Torah-study not combined with work will in the end cease, and lead to sin…"

Torah study and prayer must be carried out with intellectual comprehension. When a study-period is over, or when a person finishes his prayers, the state of gadlus hamochin, "intellectual maturity," disappears, and is replaced by katnus hamochin, "intellectual immaturity," which gives rise to anger, strife and lashon hara. In order to avoid this, a person must engage himself in work. But Torah study unaccompanied by work will eventually lead to sin.

(Kesser Shem Tov 55b) (3)

“All Torah study not combined with work will eventually cease and lead to sin”

Although the obvious meaning of the term “work” is actual labor, there is the possibility of an extended interpretation. My father-in-law [and predecessor] related that R. Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev would quote the Baal Shem Tov as explaining that in this context, “work” refers to ahavas Yisrael — our efforts to establish bonds of love with other Jews. For Torah study to be perpetuated, it must be coupled with ahavas Yisrael.
R. Levi Yitzchak explained that this teaching brought about a fundamental change in his life, motivating him to dedicate himself to the welfare of his fellow Jews.
Why does the mishnah refer to ahavas Yisrael as “work”? To teach us that we must strain to extend our ahavas Yisrael to include even those whom we have no inclination to love. And we must use every means possible to reach out to others.

Lubavitcher Rebbe (1)


Mishna 3

"Beware of the authorities, for they befriend a person only for their own purpose."

The Hebrew word for "authorities" (reshut) also means "permitted actions." For the evil inclination hides in man's desires to eat and drink and imbues them with false sanctity. They seem to be man's friends. Leading him to holiness, but only for their own purpose: to cause him to cleave to physical pleasure. Therefore, says the mishnah, beware of permitted actions.

Rav Yitzchak Meir of Gur (2)


 

Mishna 4

Hillel Said: "...Do not condemn your fellowman until you have stood in his place."

One should never criticize his fellowman until he establishes a commonalty with him. Even when a person's conduct seems worthy of reproof, one should not talk to him with a condescending attitude. By focusing instead on the essential connection which all men share, we can nurture the positive qualities in others and enable them to surface.

(Lubavitcher Rebbe)

Rabban Gamliel used to say: "Make His will your will, so that He may fulfill your will as though it were His will. Set aside your will for His will, so that He may set aside the will of others before your will."

This teaching conveys a fundamental lesson: Each of us has the ability to remake G-d's will, as it were, to arouse a new desire on His part. To apply this principle: A person might think that since it is G-d's will that we are in exile, we should resign ourselves to the situation. Nothing is further from the truth. G-d is anxiously waiting for us to arouse a new will on His part. He is waiting for us to motivate Him to bring the Redemption.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)

"…the more charity, the more peace."

Peace is achieved when we are free from interference and opposition. A lack of peace poses a barrier to Torah and to every one of life's pursuits and we therefore need peace to meet with success in life.

Securing peace requires that people do not harass each other, even within the bounds of law. Peace is abrogated when people press the law to its limit to get their own way, for such behavior creates contention. Conversely, peace is fostered when a person is so charitable that he is willing to forgo his legitimate rights.

True charity is peace itself, and is characterized by one's willingness to forgo money that is rightfully his, out of a sense of duty. The kind of charity where a person gives only out of the goodness of his heart does not bring peace. The heart that moves on to donate to charity will not necessarily move one to concede an argument, for he may only be willing to give up his rights when he feels like it, but will not succumb in the face of conflict.

It is the person who can act charitable when compelled, and not just out of good will, who can foster peace. Even when compelled to give charity, his sense of responsibility overrides his sense of autonomy and his right not to give. Clearly, this is the person who can bring peace into the world.

Maharal of Prague (8)

"…and do not say, "When I am free I will study," for perhaps you will not become free." (Avot 2:4)

The phrase, when I am free I will study, may actually be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you proclaim that you do not intend to learn Torah until you have time, then you will be punished for such an attitude by being deprived of the leisure to learn Torah.

According to the Kotzker Rebbe, the phrase "perhaps you will not become free" may not be an indication of what will occur but rather a description of the individual's frenetic lifestyle. Some people never have time -- neither now nor at a later date. Since by virtue of your lifestyle you may never have time to learn Torah -- an intolerable situation -- you would be well advised to commence learning Torah now, and not put it off. In fact, your primary challenge in This World may be to overcome all your temporary distractions and study Torah.

Sfas Emes (6)

Fulfill His will: This refers to the type of service known in Kabbalah as iskafiya - subjugating yourself and your will in order to "turn away from evil and do good."
Set aside your will: This could also be rendered as "absolutely nullify your will," and refers to the type of service known in Kabbalah as is'hafcha, where a person has reached such an elevated level of Divine Service that he does not need to force himself to do G-d's will. He has transformed his will completely, so that his will and G-d's will are not two separate things. Rather, he cherishes G-d's mitzvos ad delights in them to such an extent that his only will is
G-d's will.

Tzemach Tzedek, Or HaTorah, Nasso, p.230 (3)

 

"Set aside your will.."

By setting aside your own will in order to fulfill G-d's will, you transform your nature from bitter to sweet. This applies to "turning away from evil," by completely rejecting those things which oppose G-d's will, as well as to "do good," learning to want what one does not want naturally, and learning not to want what one naturally wants. By nullifying your will to His will, you will drive out the evil from within yourself.

Likutei Torah, Nasso, 24c (3)

 


Mishna 5

He [Hillel] used to say: "...The bashful person cannot learn, neither can the short-tempered teach..."

A student should not be too bashful in front of his colleagues to say, "I do not understand." Rather, he should ask and ask again, even several times.

(Shulchan Aruch HaRav)

"…nor can everyone who is preoccupied with much business become a scholar."

A sage is comparable to a spiritual doctor, whereas a desire for wealth is comparable to an illness. If you see a "doctor" attempting to amass wealth, do not place much hope in his ability to heal others.

Midrash Shmuel

 

"…A boor cannot be fearful of sin…"

The Kotzker Rebbe pointed out that the mishna may be interpreted "in reverse." Anyone who is truly afraid of sinning will not remain unlearned. Realizing that most transgressions result from ignorance, he will insist upon becoming more learned and immerse himself in Torah.

Maggidei HaEmes (6)

"..nor can an ignoramus be a chassid.."

A chassid (literally, one who is endowed with chesed, kindness) one who is suffused with love. Just as light in a physical sense cannot shine without being radiated from some physical source, such as a candle wick or firewood, etc. so too with spiritual love. It cannot be drawn down from above without the proper vessels in which it can be contained. The Torah a Jew learns, and the mitzvot he performs are the vessels for containing love and awe of G-d, whether love and awe which are generated by the intellect, or whether love and awe which transcend the intellect. An ignoramus is not one who makes vessels suited to revealing love. Hence, regarding him it is said, "nor can an ignoramus be a chassid."

Torah Or, 96c; Maamarim 5672 p.178 (3)

"Do not judge your fellow man until you find yourself in his situation."

This is why the Sages cautioned us (Avot 1:6), "Judge every man in a favorable light." For in judging his fellow-man favorably, in a good, kindly light, a person won't pass any harsh judgment on himself, and he will never be subjected to any punishment in his lifetime.

It is in this sense that the Sages say, "Do not judge your fellow man until you find yourself in his situation." It means that this you should know: You are not shown by Heaven any action of another person to pass judgment on it, until you have arrived actually at his situation, because you have done the same kind of deed as your fellow man.

Heaven therefore shows you the other's deed, for you to judge it -- and as you pass judgment, so will it happen to you. Consequently, you should always see to it that you judge him favorably, leniently; and in this way you will also judge yourself favorably and leniently.

Pri Chaim (5)

" A Boor cannot be Sin-fearing.."
Alacrity leads to cleanliness. Cleanliness leads to purity. Purity leads to holiness. Holiness leads to fear of sin. Hence, the fear of sin is a very elevated level, which follows the acquisition of several other positive characteristics. A boor is a worthless individual who certainly does not fear sin.
Midrash Shmuel (3)

If such a person feared sin, he would not remain a boor. Rather, he would make every effort to study and acquire knowledge.

Rav Menachem Mendel of Kotzsk (2)
 

"All those whose fear of sin is greater than their wisdom, their wisdom is retained" (see below 3:9). If someone is clearly a boor, and is devoid of wisdom, this is a sign that he did not give fear of sin precedence. Were he to have had the fear of sin, the secrets of Torah would have been revealed to him, and he would not have been a boor.
Midrash Shmuel (3)

Even if a person is a scholar, but despite his learning he is a boor, i.e. he is like a nutshell which looks pretty on the outside, but which has nothing inside, he cannot be one who fears sin.
Ma'amarei Admor HaZaken, Haketzarim, p. 305 (3)

One who fears sin is more praiseworthy than one who fears punishment. For one who fears punishment is like a person who takes care of his health only because he hates the medicine he must take when he is sick. One who fears sin however is like one who fears the sickness itself; he fears the sin itself and the imperfection it causes. Such fear of sin stems from a great love of G-d, for he knows that with each sin, his love ceases. True love includes the fear of falling out of love.

The Tzemach Tzedek (2)


Mishnah 6

"He also saw a skull floating on the water..."

Once the Rebbe Rayatz explained the significance of the words rabba emunateycha -- great is Your faith, which are recited every morning in the Modeh Ani prayer: "It is not sufficient to have faith that the Creator is the One and Only. Rather, there must be "lots of faith," (a literal rendering of rabba emunateycha), i.e. one must believe that G-dliness is in everything, and in every place.

We can also explain our mishna, "He also saw a skull floating in the water," according to the above principle: When you see a person whose faith does not pervade his entire existence (in the way mentioned above), despite his Torah learning (which is compared to water), so that his emotional responses do not conform to what he knows is proper, nor do his actions correspond to his level of understanding, he is merely a skull floating on the water. He does not have a body, nor a heart, nor arms and legs…"

Sefer HaSichos 5697 p. 240 (3)

"He also saw a skull floating on the water."

Our Rabbis explain that this refers to the skull of Pharaoh, who was drowned in punishment for having Jewish boys drowned in the Nile. When Hillel saw Pharaoh’s skull, he realized that this was an extraordinary phenomenon, and contemplated the matter, gaining this insight.

Why did G-d cause this to happen? The fact that Hillel learned a lesson from the skull and shared it with others enabled the skull to come to eternal rest after thousands of years of drifting on the waters. This is the intent of the phrase “he said to it,” which can also be translated “for it.” Hillel made his statement for the skull’s benefit. Once the skull had communicated its lesson, it had fulfilled its purpose and could rest.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe (1)


Mishna 7


Mishna 8

Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai received [the oral tradition] from Hillel and Shammai. He used to say: If you have learned much Torah, do not claim special credit for yourself etc.

One who takes credit for himself, even though he does not become conceited, is worse than an ordinary, unsophisticated Jew. The latter prays and recites tehillim with all his strength, and with subservience (kabbolas ol) of the loftiest level of Divine service. When a learned scholar takes credit for himself, he shows that essentially he only serves himself, and that his learning is really no better that any of the other passions and delights that people indulge in for their own enjoyment. Such learning is not called Divine service at all.

Kuntreis U'maayan p. 104 (3)

 

 

"If you have learned much Torah, do not claim special credit for yourself, since for that very purpose you were created."

If you have learned much Torah, and you have achieved a high level of comprehension, do not claim it for yourself, as if it were only for you. Rather, disseminate it to others, since for that very purpose you were created-to learn and to teach, and you are duty-bound to transmit Torah to others.

Midrash Shmuel (3)

 

"If you have learned much Torah, do not give yourself credit, because for this [purpose] you were created."

If you have learned much Torah, the insight gained from the Torah will itself ensure that you not take undue credit for yourself. Only one who has learned little immediately gives himself credit for his accomplishments.

Rav Yehuda Leib of Gur, the Sefas Emes (2)

 

Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai received [the oral tradition] from Hillel and Shammai. He used to say: If you have learned much Torah, do not claim special credit for yourself etc.

One who takes credit for himself, even though he does not become conceited, is worse than an ordinary, unsophisticated Jew. The latter prays and recites tehillim with all his strength, and with subservience (kabbolas ol) of the loftiest level of Divine service. When a learned scholar takes credit for himself, he shows that essentially he only serves himself, and that his learning is really no better that any of the other passions and delights that people indulge in for their own enjoyment. Such learning is not called Divine service at all.

Kuntreis U'maayan p. 104 (3)

 


Mishna 9

"He used to enumerate their praiseworthy qualities.."

Each of these students possessed a quality in which he surpassed all others. As a teacher, Rabbi Yochanan did not push them all in a single direction. Instead, he appreciated their uniqueness and endeavored to give each the opportunity to develop his own potential.

This concept can be applied on a larger scale. Each person possesses a particular virtue in which he surpasses all others, even the leaders of the generation. He (and those who help him in his growth and development) should not seek universal conformity, but should strive to cultivate this unique gift.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe (1)

"He used to enumerate their praiseworthy qualities."

He would enumerate them, but not elaborate upon them. Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai did not discuss his students' noble qualities at length or in detail. He merely indicated one quality for each of his disciples. After assessing each of his students thoroughly, Rabbi Yochanan singled out that particular quality which would serve as the disciple's starting point and guiding light.

Midrash Shmuel (3)

 

"Yehoshua ben Chananya, praiseworthy is she who bore him."

This expression refers to a "refined physical nature," as we will now explain.
Since our will to do something actually results in action, it is clear that the nefesh is ultimately linked to the body. In contrast to our coarse physical nature that is ready to act for its own gratification, this element may be understood as a refined physical nature that will submit to noble, selfless intentions.
Rabbi Yehoshua's praise is phrased as "praiseworthy is she who bore him" because his exemplary quality is the refined physical nature which he inherited from his mother. Family characteristics are passed from parent to child and physical qualities are primarily derived from the mother. Therefore, Rabban Yochanan alluded to Rabbi Yehoshua's refined physical nature by pointing out that his special quality was inherited from his mother.


Maharal of Prague (8)

 

"He used to enumerate their praiseworthy qualities.."

Each of these students possessed a quality in which he surpassed all others. As a teacher, Rabbi Yochanan did not push them all in a single direction. Instead, he appreciated their uniqueness and endeavored to give each the opportunity to develop his own potential.

This concept can be applied on a larger scale. Each person possesses a particular virtue in which he surpasses all others, even the leaders of the generation. He (and those who help him in his growth and development) should not seek universal conformity, but should strive to cultivate this unique gift.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe (1)

 

He would enumerate them, but not elaborate upon them. Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai did not discuss his students' noble qualities at length or in detail. He merely indicates one quality for each of his disciples. After assessing each of his students thoroughly, Rabbi Yochanan singled out that particular quality which would serve as the disciple's starting point and guiding light.

Midrash Shmuel (7)

 

"…Rabbi Eliezer ben Horkanos is like a cemented cistern that loses not a drop…."

It is particularly remarkable that Rabbi Eliezer ben Horkanos, who did not begin studying Torah until he was twenty-eight years old, nonetheless, acquired complete mastery over every aspect of Torah to the extent that he never forgot anything he learned. (His remarkable retentive powers are likened to a pit sealed with lime that does not lose a drip of water.) His extraordinary memory may be attributed to his exceptional love of Torah. For him, Torah was not merely studied, but actually integrated into his very being, becoming a part of him.

 

“Rabbi Shimon ben Nasanel fears sin”

When he prayed to be spared from sin, it was with the same intensity with which one would pray to be saved from a lion.

Rabbi Yehudah Leib of Gur, the Sefas Emmes (2)

 


Mishnah 10

"Repent…before your death.."

Even though a person was wicked all of his life, he should not despair of
G-d's infinite mercy and forgiveness. Complete repentance is always accepted by G-d.

Midrash Shmuel (7)


"Rabbi Eliezer says ..Warm yourself by the fire of the Sages, but beware of their glowing embers lest you be burnt.."

The Torah is compared to fire - "My words are like fire," and every person must warm himself by their heat until he is capable of revealing novel insights (chiddushim) in Torah. However, one must also beware. Rabbi Eliezer instructs us, "Warm yourself by the fire of the Sages" - make sure that your innovations are according to the teachings of our Sages. And "beware of their glowing embers lest you be burnt," if you contradict their teachings.

Midrash Shmuel (3)

 

“A good eye”

If an “evil eye” can harm even one who has done no wrong, all the more so can a “good eye” bring benefit to one who has no special merit.

Rabbi Avraham Mordechai of Gur (2)


Mishna 11

"Let your friends honor be as precious to you as your own."

Let the honor your friend gives you be as precious to you as the honor you give yourself. Just as the latter is quite insigificant, since one who honors himself is considered foolish, so is the honor you receive from others.

Rabbi DovBer, the Maggid of Mezritch (2)


Mishnah 12

"Let all your actions be for the sake of Heaven"

Your "for the sake of Heaven" should also be for the sake of Heaven.

Rav Menachem Mendel of Kotzsk (2)

 

"Let all your deeds be for the sake of heaven."

It is written, In all your ways, know Him (Proverbs 3:6). This is a great principle…. In all his actions, even in ordinary physical, material things that a man does, it is necessary that they should be a service, a worship for the need and purpose of Heaven alone, without any other motivation. Even to the very slightest degree there should be no personal motivation, but all should be only for the sake of Heaven.

Baal Shem Tov (5)

 

Our Rabbis identify this directive with the verse, “Know Him in all your ways.” But it is possible to distinguish between the two.

Performing a deed “for the sake of Heaven” implies that although it is performed with G-dly intent, the deed itself is mundane. To “know G-d in all your ways” implies a deeper bond — one that plays a part in every worldly activity.

To cite an example: When one eats a meal with the intent of using the energy generated from the food to serve G-d, one’s eating remains a mundane act. In contrast, when one eats on Shabbat, or when one partakes of sacrificial offerings, the eating itself is considered a mitzvah, an act of connecting to G-d.

In a large sense, this difference reflects two approaches with regard to the oneness of G-d. In the first, our material world serves as a means by which to establish a bond with G-d. This implies, however, that its actual material substance remains separate from G-d. The second approach maintains that even material existence can become unified with Him.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe (1)


Mishnah 13

"..Do not make your prayer a routine, token act…."

"Prayer without concentration is like a body without a soul." Since a person prays three times a day every day, there is a fear that his prayers will become mere habit. For this reason, the author of our mishna declares, "do not make your prayer a routine, token act," without any concentration or intention. Pray like a person who has to beseech the king for his life.

Midrash Shmuel (3)



"Be meticulous in Kriyat Sh'ma and Prayer (the Amidah)…."

Particular importance is attached to reciting Shema and praying on time, for those hours are a time of grace, and are particularly favorable. In addition, the supernal "unifications" which take place during the Shema and prayer are effective only when they are recited at their proper time.

Shulchan Aruch HaRav [mehadura basra] 1:8 (3)

 

"Do not make your prayers a fixed, set matter."

This denotes that a man should not pray about matters that concern only his own needs, but he should rather pray constantly for the Shechinah, the Divine Presence, that is should be redeemed and rescued from exile. This is why the Mishnah adds "but rather an appeal for mercy and an entreaty for grace before the omnipresent G-d": It signifies that a man should pray constantly before the "omnipresent" - meaning on behalf of the Shechinah, which is called "omnipresent," as we know.
Similarly, the Zohar (Tikkuney Zohar, vi) states that those who pray for themselves and not for the Shechinah are called dogs of arrogant spirit who shout and exclaim, "Hav, hav!" - "Gimme, Gimme!" (In other words, their entire prayer amounts to so much barking.) This too, is the sense of the verse, One thing I have asked of the L-rd, that I will entreat (Psalms 27:4). It means to convey: "For the sake of the Shechinah I entreat and pray before Thee, to repair the imperfection and defect that was made by sinful deeds."

Keter Shem Tov; Likkutey Amarim (5)

 


Mishna 14

"Rabbi Eliezer said: Be diligent in the study of Torah; know what to answer a heretic; and know before Whom you toil, and Who your employer is that will pay you the reward of your labor."

One might conclude that if a person learned those parts of Torah which would provide an answer to a heretic, but he never met one to defeat, that he learned in vain. This is not so - "know before Whom you toil." G-d desires the heart of man, and He will certainly pay you your reward, just as if you had actually met a heretic and had defeated his spurious arguments.

Midrash Shmuel (3)

A heretic
It should be noted that an apikoros, who believes that the world was not created, and who denies the existence of G-d, has no rectification and elevation. The Ba'al Shem Tov taught that a gentile idol worshiper has more of a chance of being rectified than an apikoros. In the future G-d will pour out his wisdom and truth even upon the nations of the world, but not on a heretic. Their only rectification is total annihilation.

Tzemach Tzedek, Or HaTorah, NaCH, p. 782 (3)

A man once came to the Tzemach Tzedek, the third Lubavitcher Rebbe. He complained of being plagued with thoughts of doubts about the Creator. The Rebbe asked him, "Why do you care?" Surprised, the man hesitated for a moment, then replied, "Because I am a Jew." The Rebbe promptly responded, "If that be the reason, everything is fine."


"Do not consider yourself wicked"

Literally, the mishnah states, "do not be wicked by yourself." One who divorces himself from the community and remains by himself is automatically considered wicked.

Rav Moshe Yechiel of Azrov (2)

 

"Know before whom you toil."

As explained in Tanya, knowledge refers to an inner bond. Every person has the potential to develop such an inner bond with G-d. Although he labors for Him as a servant, there is nothing preventing him from establishing a deeper connection.

This also affects the nature of a person's relationship with G-d with regard to reward and punishment. Although there are many intermediaries by which G-d dispenses the reward granted for observance, a person must know "who his Employer is, and who will pay him the reward of his labor," and realize that the source for the reward is always G-d Himself and not the intermediaries.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe (1)

 


Mishna 15

"..the workmen are lazy.."

Man is naturally lazy, some more so than others, but no one is really immune to this shortcoming. This does not only apply to wagon drivers, but also to those who learn Torah day and night. This is particularly true when they are required to toil in Torah, in the manner of middos Chassidus, beyond the requirements of the law.

Rabbeinu Yonah; Midrash Shmuel (3)

"You are not required to complete the task, yet you are not free to withdraw from it."

From this mishna we can infer an extremely vital principle -- that it is never too late to change the moral course of one's life. If indeed we were obligated to complete our mission, then one might rationalize that it is already too late. But since we only need to commence it, then it is never too late in life to at least begin.

Sfas Emes (6)

 

The Workmen are Lazy

Our Sages demand that "a person apply himself to the words of Torah like an ox to the yoke, and a donkey to a load." But his yetser makes him sluggish and casts a spell of laziness upon him (from the element of earth in the animal soul), so that he will not toil in serving G-d in a way that demands effort…(Tanya chap. 25)
The yetser hara does not trouble itself for nothing in making him sluggish and casting a spell of laziness upon him. For the Midrash informs us that laziness is especially effective in initiating a person's downslide!

Maskil l'Eitan p. 739 (3)


Mishna 16

"It is not incumbent upon us to complete the work, and he is not free to desist from it."


A person is never required to do more than he can. On the contrary, G-d gives each person a mission which he can fulfill without having to face challenges which he is unable to overcome. Even if at times a person feels daunted by the task facing him, he must know that "he is not free to desist from it" and must persist. Even when he does not naturally feel joy in his Torah service, he should persevere; such full-hearted dedication will lead to personal fulfillment.

(Lubavitcher Rebbe)

"…Much reward will be given to you; and your Employer is trustworthy to pay you the reward for your labor."

This indicates that in addition to the reward you earned, an additional gift will be given to you. And "your Employer is trustworthy to pay you the reward for your labor."

Midrash Shmuel (3)

 

"It is not incumbent upon us to complete the work"

A person is never required to do more than he can. On the contrary, G-d gives each person a mission that he can fulfill without having to face challenges that he is unable to overcome. Even if at times a person feels daunted by the task facing him, he must know that…. "He is not free to desist from it" - and must persist with kabbalas ol. Even when he does not naturally feel joy in his Torah service, he should persevere; such full-hearted dedication will lead to personal fulfillment.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe (1)

 

 


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