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)
"Know from where you came "
Me-ayin, the Hebrew for "from where, can also be interpreted as
"from nothingness." Thus the phrase can be interpreted "Know
that you came from nothingness," i.e. the source of the soul is transcendent
G-dliness, above the limits of our mortal conception.
Moreover, this source exerts a constant influence on the soul as it exists
in our world, propelling it to selfless conduct. A persons awareness of
this fact heightens the effectiveness of this influence, and takes the
person further from sin.
"..And before whom you are destined to give an accounting.."
is to be taken literally, and the reason that the verdict precedes the accounting
is simply that all is known and foreseen by G-d. Therefore, He gives the verdict
before an accounting is made. If a person makes an appeal against his sentence,
the Holy One, blessed is He, will show him a detailed accounting of all that he
did in this world.
Midrash Shmuel (3)
from where you came, and to where you are going, and before Whom you are destined
to give an accounting "
Three things cause a person to sin:
1. Arrogance and disdain for others. 2. Indulgence in pleasures and worldly acquisitions.
3. Imagining that there is no ultimate judgment and accounting. Hence, when a
person reflects upon the three things written in our Mishnah, he will uproot the
causes of sin from his soul.
Midrash Shmuel (7)
three things and you will not come into the grip of sin "
simply reflecting on these questions, we have our life's mission. G-d dispatched
man's soul from its sacred heavenly origins into this mundane world knowing that
we can maintain its purity, even while it is encased in the body, by never losing
sight of the fundamental beliefs stated in our mishna.
in the name of Imrei Emes (6)
"Reflect upon three things
and you will not come to sin...."
Reflection in this sense is indicative
of the deepest levels of meditation. When a person takes the mission for which
his soul descended to this world seriously, he will reflect upon the ultimate
elevation of his soul which comes about through his being in this world, and he
knows that eventually he is destined to give an accounting. By reflecting on these
things, he will certainly not come near sin - he will not transgress inadvertently,
and he will fulfill his mission in life fully.
Yitschak of Lubavitch, Ma'amarim 5705, p. 217(3)
"Know from where you came "
the Hebrew for "from where, can also be interpreted as "from nothingness."
Thus the phrase can be interpreted "Know that you came from nothingness,"
i.e. the source of the soul is transcendent G-dliness, above the limits of our
mortal conception. Moreover, this source exerts a constant influence on the
soul as it exists in our world, propelling it to selfless conduct. A persons awareness
of this fact heightens the effectiveness of this influence, and takes the person
further from sin.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe (1)
"Were it not for the fear of it (the government), men would swallow
one another alive."
Men are like fish - the bigger ones swallow the smaller ones. And were
it not for the fear of the government, men would swallow one another alive.
Some say that men are even worse than fish, for a fish swallows only
one that is smaller than it, but not one that is its equal, whereas a
man is prepared to try and swallow even one who is his colleague (re'ah,
here translated as "one another," literally means colleague
" Then the G-d-fearing conversed..."
Hebrew word here for "conversed" - nedabru -- rather than dibru,
indicates that they conversed with one another, i.e. each of them was interested
in the other's view. Unlike those who argue only in order to express their own
Midrash Shmuel (7)
But if two sit together
and words of Torah are uttered between him, the Shechina abides between them.
When two people meet, it is by the plan of Heaven's watchful care and regulation.
Then the intention (of Heaven) is that the encounter should be utilized for the
purpose of Torah learning and mitzvot. In the encounter lies an intimation that
each of the two needs to learn something from the other, and he is equally obligated
to exert some effect or influence on the other in regard to Torah learning and
mitzvot, and not merely with charity or deeds of kindness.
1949, p.45 (5)
"The Divine Presence rests between them…allots
a reward for him"
When two individuals study together, the Divine Presence
— a level of revelation beyond the grasp of mortals — is drawn down. In contrast,
when an individual studies alone, he receives a reward, for he has done a worthy
act, but the reward is limited. What is the difference? When a person communicates
with others, he extends himself beyond his individual limits. Therefore, study
in such a setting evokes a transcendent revelation of G-dliness. When, by contrast,
a person studies alone, his understanding cannot grow beyond the limits of his
own thought. Therefore, the reward is also limited.
"Pray for the
welfare of the [ruling] kingdom, for were it not for the fear of it men would
swallow one another alive."
Pirkei Avot is not wont to speak in
metaphors. If the intent is merely to say that people would wantonly kill each
other were it not for the rule of law, the mishnah would have said just
that. Moreover, the purpose of Pirkei Avot is to teach pious behavior, i.e. conduct
beyond the measure of the law. Seemingly, Rabbi Chanina'a advice and the situation
it wishes to forestall are basic matters - relevant to people at even a rudimentary
So we should look for a much deeper message. "Swallow[ing]
one another alive" implies the subsuming of another person within one's own
desires. The other person is alive - he thinks and feels - but one has "swallowed"
him within one's self; i.e. one thinks of him only inasmuch as he can further
one's own purpose. Instead of appreciating who that person is, what he wants and
needs, one thinks only of one's own self and the benefit the other person will
On this basis, we can appreciate the connection between this
teaching and the one which follows:
"If two sit together and .exchange
words of Torah.."
This teaching emphasizes the importance of
communication, of two people sitting together as equals and sharing words of Torah.
Lubavitcher Rebbe (1)
is as if they had eaten of sacrifices to the dead ."
who does not incorporate Torah into his meal shows clearly that his entire life
is motivated by material concerns only. A person who pays attention to his physical
needs only, while disregarding his soul - his eating is comparable to a sacrifice
to a dead person - who also has a body, but no soul.
Midrash Shmuel (3)
"...Three who ate at one table and did not speak words of Torah there,
it is as if they had eaten of sacrifices to the dead ."
together can recite nevarech -- "Let us bless," the opening phrase of
the zimun, and in this way they form a bricha -- a pool of blessing -- so that
each person partaking of the meal can draw off water according to his needs. But
this must be preceded by words of Torah which enable them to form this pool of
Tzemach Tzedek's Or HaTorah, Eikev, pp. 538, 544 (3)
"Sacrifices to the dead"
When one realizes clearly, without doubt,
that his sustenance comes only from G-d, his G-dly soul derives as much pleasure
from his eating as G-d Himself does from a sacrifice. When one eats only to satisfy
his hunger, however. his eating is comparable to a sacrifice to his animalistic
soul, which is like an offering to the dead, To avoid this 'idol worship' the
mishnah urges us to say words of Torah at a meal. For the light of the Torah clarifies
that G-d is the source of everything. This clarity was also the Sages' intent
in mandating a blessing before eating.
Rav Tzsadok HaKohen
wish I did not have to eat, but what can I do? My Creator, may He be blessed,
created me with this need. And since G-d created His world only to serve Him,
eating, too, must be a form of Divine service.
Zushya of Annipoli (2)
who ate at one table "
When three men ate together at one
table and did not discuss Torah, i.e. the table was without G-d, and no sanctity
was drawn into the food which they consumed, then the energy which the three derive
from their meal was merely waste and refuse. Tzemach Tzedek's Or HaTorah,
Shlach, p. 631 (3)
"If three have eaten at one table
and they have spoken no words of Torah over it, etc."
Woe to sons
who have banished from the table of their father. In the name of the Maggid of
Mezritch I heard an account of the way in which the Baal Shem Tov explained this
text, which declares that it is as though these three ate of sacrifices to dead
idols. The Hebrew, though, means literally, "as though they ate of the sacrifices
of the dead." The esoteric meaning is that a dead person may be reincarnated
into an animal that will serve as food for humans, in order that they should say
words of Torah over it at their meal table -- and through this the dead person
that was reincarnated will be given new life in the heavenly realm. But if no
words of Torah are said, the dead person reincarnated into the source of that
food is simply "sacrificed" and cast off to remain an inanimate entity.
is why the text speaks of "the sacrifices of the dead," And this is
why we find in the Talmud (Berachot 3a), "Woe to sons who have banished from
the table"; whom have they banished? -- "their father"! For it
is possible that it was the father of the man who is dining, that was reincarnated
into the creature that provided the food
Be'er Mayin Chaim on the
Passover Haggada; L'shon Chassidim; Midrash Rivash Tov (5)
"He who stays awake at night, travels on the
road alone or turns his heart to nothingness, obligates his soul (i.e., commits
a deadly sin).”
The mishnah is describing the habits of the righteous:
A righteous person stays awake throughout the bitter “night” of exile, constantly
praying for the Jewish people. He walks the path of truth alone, modestly, without
displaying his piety for all to see. And he turns his heart away from all his
personal matters and seeks only to reduce the decrees against Israel to nothingness.
Yet such a righteous person still fears that he has committed some deadly sin.
Ever mindful of imperfections in his Divine service, he imagines that he has not
even begun to truly serve G-d. Rav Elimelech of Lizensk
To transcend oneself, one must “turn his heart to nothingness”.
That is. he must annul his ego and become a “nothing”. Since self-transcendence
requires undisturbed, solitary contemplation, it is best achieved by one “who
stays awake at night,” when others are sleeping and unlike to bother him, and
by one who “travels on the road alone”, where he will not be disrupted by passersby.
Once one has transcended his ego, he unites with the Oneness of G-d and becomes
a “necessary existence”, just as G-d is a necessary existence. For the existence
of everything in the world is contingent — that is, it is possible but not necessary.
But when one unites with the Oneness of G-d, he leaves the realm of the contingent
and enters the realm of the necessary. Thus, he “obligates his soul”, i.e., he
makes the existence of his soul obligatory.
Rav Nachman of
“He who..travels on
the road alone"
The mishnah is speaking of one who seeks only to
prefect himself while ignoring the welfare of others. He “turns his heart to nothingness”
by reasoning, “What can I do for others? Surely any reproof I could offer would
be worth nothing for no one would take it to heart.” Such a person obligates his
Rav Baruch of Kosov (2)
" The yoke of government.."
The yoke of government and the yoke of worldly cares mentioned in the Mishnah
have parallels in our world, even according to the Torah, such as the Talmudic
ruling that "the law of the land is law" [where it does not oppose the
law of the Torah], and the requirement that a person earn a living and support
However, when a Jew goes against his nature in order to serve
G-d, and, although he experiences delight in his Torah learning, he accepts upon
himself the yoke of Torah as his primary motivation, and he is willing to surrender
his delight in learning, then the Holy One, blessed is He, reciprocates in like
measure, in a way that transcends and even opposes the natural limitations of
this world (which are also according to Torah).
rejects the yoke of Torah" and continues to be motivated to learn chiefly
by the delight he experiences, will be burdened with "the yoke of the government
and the yoke of worldly cares," which are part of the natural order of this
world. Hisva'aduyos 5745, vol. 5 p. 2706 (3)
Shechinah rests among them"
Regarding the difference between that
statement of our Mishnah and the statement of our Sages elsewhere, "On every
group of ten [Jewish men] the Shechinah rests" (Sanhedrin 39b), the Rebbe,
the Tzemach Tzedek, explained that the former teaches that the Shechinah dwells
within them, i.e. within their innermost being and essence, whereas the latter
statement means only that the Shechinah rests upon them.
HaSichos 5704 p. 29 (3)
" If ten people
sit together etc."
The Torah is given from Above, and comprises
two aspects: 1. "The Holy One, blessed is He, sits and occupies Himself
with Torah" - that is, He saturates the Torah with Himself for the benefit
of the entire Jewish people. The extent to which He "saturates" the
Torah with His Divine Presence and holiness is independent of the degree of willingness
and eagerness that the Jewish people have to absorb this holiness. In technical
terms, it is independent of issarusa d'l'tata ("the arousal from below").
2. The response from Above - issarusa d'l'eila - is indeed dependent
on the degree to which man seeks attachment to G-d (issarusa d'l'tata). As regards
this latter aspect, there is a difference between a group of ten, five, three,
two or one.
Maamarim 5627 p.429 (3)
“Give to Him of that which is His, for you and whatever
is yours are His”
In many instances, although a person is willing to fulfill
the obligations the Torah places upon him, it is natural for him to attach a certain
degree of self-importance to his deeds. Take for example the mitzvah of
giving tzedakah. We are obligated to tithe. Most people feel proud when
they choose to give their money away for such a purpose. Our mishna
teaches us to perform such deeds with humility, for the very opportunity to possess
property is granted by G-d. Therefore we should perform deeds of charity as a
matter of course, without attaching great importance to them. As proof, the mishna
cites the verse — “from Your own we have given You”, which speaks of the donations
given to construct the Beit HaMikdash, the ultimate expression of human
activity, the building of a dwelling for G-d. Yet even these donations were given
in a spirit of humility.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe (1)
"If someone is walking on the road and reviewing
the Torah he has learned, and he breaks off his study and says, "How lovely
is that tree; how beautiful is this meadow," Scripture regards him as though
guilty to pay with his life."
It means that he acquires grandeur
and pride because of his Torah study, thinking this learning is his own acquisition,
thus severing his bond with the blessed Lord. So he says, "How lovely is
that tree" - that is, he says about himself in his heart that symbolically
he is a great and sturdy tree. As Scripture says, "For a man is [as] the
tree of the field" (Deut. 20:19). Then he says further, "How beautiful
is this meadow." It means that he thus savors the thought that he is preparing
himself a portion in the world-to-come through his Torah study. As Scripture says,
"Plow for yourselves a meadow" (Jer. 4:3). Therefore "Scripture
regards him" in violation of the verse of Scripture, "You shall be wholehearted
with the Lord your G-d," and thus, as though guilty to pay with his
life (since it applies even if one learns the entire Torah).
Tov, II; Likkutim Y'karim (5)
"Whoever forgets even
one thing out of his Torah learning, etc." Remembering (in
this connection) means the observance of the entire Torah; and the opposite of
that constitutes "forgetting" And as this holds for an individual
person, so it applies to the community of Jewry. The exile drags on because of
"forgetting," whereas "remembering" would bring the final
Tzofnath Paane'ah, Teruma (5)
"Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa said: Anyone whose
fear of sin precedes his wisdom, his wisdom will endure; but anyone whose wisdom
precedes his fear of sin, his wisdom will not endure."
people have two types of spiritual guides: Shepherds: those who inspire and guide
through their Torah teachings; and a higher sort, Princes: those who inspire through
their piety and devotion to G-d. R. Chanina is the latter sort. Although
no Torah law is cited in his name in the Mishnah, it was he that the great Torah
teacher Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai called upon to pray for his sick son. When people
beheld R. Chanina's saintliness and attachment to G-d, they were inspired to follow
in his pious ways
Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Chabad (from "Weekly Insights
" Anyone whose fear of sin precedes his
wisdom, his wisdom will endure "
When performing a mitzvah,
we receive an infusion of fear of Heaven. Those individuals whose perspective
on life is defined solely by intellect, unseasoned by fear of Heaven, frequently
experience a conflict with this incremental dose of fear of Heaven. As a result
of this clash, the individual becomes confused and is unable to retain his wisdom.
On the other hand, the individual whose fear of sin precedes his wisdom is able
to integrate the fear of Heaven that he receives from performing mitzvot with
Maggidei HaEmes (6)
whose fear of sin is greater than their wisdom, their wisdom is retained"
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
The Tzemach Tzedek (2)
Fear as a Key to the Outer Gates
of sin which must come before wisdom is the lower level of fear. A person fears
to rebel against the Holy One, blessed is He, and cause a blemish in his thought,
speech, or power of action. Such fear is the key to the outer gates of Torah,
and in this way his wisdom will endure. This is what Rabbah bar Rav Huna said:
Any man who has Torah learning but not awe of heaven is comparable to a treasurer
who was given the keys to the inner sanctum but not the keys to the outer courtyard.
Hence, how can he enter at all?
Tzemach Tzedek, Or HaTorah Pinchas
vol. 1 p. 219 (3)
Fear of sin and Torah
Mishnah refers to a person who embodies two special qualities: 1) He is wise -
he himself learns Torah, and he teaches it to others; 2) He fears sin - he loves
mitzvos and hates sin. Regarding both of these, the Mishnah informs us that
not only must the fear of sin come before the acquisition of wisdom, but that
fear of sin is directly connected with fulfilling and reinforcing the Torah.
The reason for this: The Torah relates to the faculties of intellect, whereas
fear of sin is an emotional quality. There is a fundamental difference between
the nature of emotions and the nature of intellect. A person does not always live
an intellectual concept, nor is the concept always absorbed into his essence.
A person of broad understanding can generally live with ideas which are abhorrent
to him. In contrast, when a person embraces a certain emotional quality, he hates
with a passion whatever opposes it. When a person learns Torah and he does
not place the fear of sin before the acquisition of wisdom and knowledge, there
is no guarantee that he and the Torah will become fully wed. On the contrary,
at times the Torah could turn into an elixir of death for him. Only when his fear
of sin comes before his wisdom will he live the Torah and wed himself to
it, so that it becomes an elixir of life, and in this way it will endure.
Sefer HaMa'amarim Yiddish p. 167 (3)
Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa used to say: ..."Anyone whose good deeds
exceed his wisdom, his wisdom will endure; but anyone whose wisdom exceeds
his good deeds, his wisdom will not endure."
Through study a person learns how to do a mitzva. Nevertheless, the final
deed is the main thing, for the deed causes an additional measure of spiritual
light to infuse the level of wisdom. In this way, a person's wisdom will
not merely survive, but also endure.
The words of the Mishna can also be rendered as, "whose good deeds
exceed (or literally, are many) because of his wisdom. His wisdom induces
him to do more and more good deeds, until even material objects become
part of what he does for the glory of G-d's name, and thus his wisdom
endures. However, anyone whose wisdom exceeds his goods deeds, does not
have this wisdom, and even if he understands what he learns, his wisdom
will not endure. This applies to all Torah which is learned without love
Rav Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezritch (3)
"He used to say: If the spirit of one's fellows is pleased with him,
the spirit of the Omnipresent is pleased with him; but if the spirit of one's
fellows is not pleased with him, the spirit of the Omnipresent is not pleased
We may deduce from our mishna that popularity
is not related to our ability to influence people but rather is contingent upon
divine assistance which is provided to those who observe the Torah. If so, the
best remedy for unpopularity is doing teshuva. By doing teshuva,
one can be assured of securing Divine assistance in order to win popular acclaim.
One whose wisdom exceeds his deeds...:
The mishnah does not
say, "One whose deeds are too few for his [considerable] wisdom," for if one's
wisdom exceeds his deeds, he must not be that wise. Hence the literal meaning
of "his wisdom will not endure" in Hebrew: "his wisdom does not exist."
Rav Yisrael of Ruzhin (2)
“When a person who profanes sacred things….has no share in the World
A Jew has the power to make the mundane holy, to imbue every dimension
of worldly experience with G-dliness. In the World to Come, the Era of
the Resurrection, the ultimate worth of these efforts will be revealed,
for then the barrier separating the spiritual from the physical will be
dissolved. All the acts mentioned by the mishnah involve making
the sacred profane. A person who conducts himself in this manner acts
in direct opposition to the intent of the World to Come. Therefore he
will not be granted a share in this revelation. More specifically, the
different sacred entities mentioned by the mishnah refer to holiness
brought about through man’s efforts.
“Sacred things” refers to animals or other objects consecrated for
the altar. By and large, it is man who consecrates such offerings. “The
festivals” are also consecrated through the divine service of the Jewish
people. Thus in our holiday prayers, we praise G-d who “sanctifies Israel
and the festive seasons.” For as our Sages comment, G-d sanctifies Israel,
and Israel in turn consecrates the festive seasons. With regard to one
who publicly humiliates his colleague, it can be explained that although
all Jews share a fundamental unity, the fact that a person is one’s colleague,
i.e., that these inner bonds have been given outward expression, is a
result of human activity. By publicly humiliating his colleague, a person
betrays the bonds of friendship that have been established. The covenant
of our father Avraham was originally established by human activity — Avraham’s
act of circumcision — and is renewed by man’s deeds. Similarly, the interpretation
of Torah law and its application in our lives in an area in which a person
interprets the Torah in a manner contradictory to its true intent: he
misuses this potential and profanes the sanctity of a Torah lifestyle.
It must, however, be emphasized that the mishnah’s statement applies
only to a person who has not turned to G-d in teshuvah. Teshuvah
has the potential not only to erase the negative effects of a person’s
conduct, but to actually transform his sins into merits, and assure him
a full portion in the World to Come.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe(1)
" Anyone whose fear of sin precedes his wisdom, his wisdom
will endure; but anyone whose wisdom takes priority over his fear of sin, his
wisdom will not endure."
When performing a mitzvah, we receive
an infusion of fear of Heaven. Those individuals whose perspective on life is
defined solely by intellect, unseasoned by hear of Heaven, frequently experience
a conflict with this incremental dose of fear of Heaven. As a result of this clash,
the individual becomes confused and is unable to retain his wisdom. On the other
hand, the individual whose fear of sin precedes his wisdom is able to integrate
the fear of Heaven that he receives from performing mitzvot with his intellect.
Maggidei HaEmes (6)
“When a person who profanes sacred things….has
no share in the World to Come”
A Jew has the power to make the mundane
holy, to imbue every dimension of worldly experience with G-dliness. In the World
to Come, the Era of the Resurrection, the ultimate worth of these efforts will
be revealed, for then the barrier separating the spiritual from the physical will
be dissolved. All the acts mentioned by the mishnah involve making the
sacred profane. A person who conducts himself in this manner acts in direct opposition
to the intent of the World to Come. Therefore he will not be granted a share in
this revelation. More specifically, the different sacred entities mentioned by
the mishnah refer to holiness brought about through man’s efforts.
“Sacred things” refers to animals or other objects consecrated for the altar.
By and large, it is man who consecrates such offerings. “The festivals” are also
consecrated through the divine service of the Jewish people. Thus in our holiday
prayers, we praise G-d who “sanctifies Israel and the festive seasons.” For as
our Sages comment, G-d sanctifies Israel, and Israel in turn consecrates the festive
seasons. With regard to one who publicly humiliates his colleague, it can be explained
that although all Jews share a fundamental unity, the fact that a person is one’s
colleague, i.e., that these inner bonds have been given outward expression, is
a result of human activity. By publicly humiliating his colleague, a person betrays
the bonds of friendship that have been established. The covenant of our father
Avraham was originally established by human activity — Avraham’s act of circumcision
— and is renewed by man’s deeds. Similarly, the interpretation of Torah law and
its application in our lives in an area in which a person interprets the Torah
in a manner contradictory to its true intent: he misuses this potential and profanes
the sanctity of a Torah lifestyle. It must, however, be emphasized that the
mishnah’s statement applies only to a person who has not turned to G-d
in teshuvah. Teshuvah has the potential not only to erase the negative
effects of a person’s conduct, but to actually transform his sins into merits,
and assure him a full portion in the World to Come.
" vows are a [protective] fence for abstinence;.."
Beis Yisroel emphasized the vital role played by the attribute of abstinence from
the material pleasures of This World as a prerequisite for accepting Torah and
attaining fear of Heaven. Indeed, the Giving of the Torah at Sinai was preceded
by three days of abstinence (cf. Shabbos 86a). While Torah study is certainly
potent, it is not enough to totally deflect the lures of the Yetzer Hara. Only
by abstaining from worldly pleasures while immersing oneself in Torah can one
be assured of respite from the Evil Inclination.
Maggidei HaEmes (6)
are a fence for abstinence "
When a person forbids himself
something which is in fact permitted in order to make a fence for abstinence,
he gains the ability to subdue the side of unholiness and smash its power.
HaTorah Matos, Vol. 1, p. 273 (3)
" ..vows are a fence for abstinence "
are of an extremely elevated status (as if one vows by the life of the King).
Therefore, in former times, when the Jewish people were on a higher spiritual
level, they were able to make vows to G-d and thereby elevate such mundane matters
as eating, etc. to a level of holiness. However, in our days, since the quality
of men's hearts and souls is of a lesser stature, we must say bli neder, thus
avoiding making a vow. A person must only sanctify himself in that which is permitted
-- and abstinence eventually brings to holiness.
Sefer HaLikutim of the
Tzemach Tzedek, vol. nun p. 62 (3)
“Rabbi Akiva said: Laughter
and light-headedness accustom a man to lewdness. Tradition forms a fence around
the Torah, tithes form a fence around riches, vows form a fence around abstinence,
and a fence around wisdom is silence."
“Tithes form a fence around riches”
The first two and last two sentences of this mishnah teach us how to serve
G-d. Why, then, does this middle phrase discuss how to preserve our riches?
Study and prayer are so inherently holy that the evil inclination dare not
seek to sabotage them. Eating and drinking, in contrast, are fertile ground
for the evil impulse, and require great self-restraint and sanctification.
Likewise, one must ensure that all his financial dealings are honest and for the
sake of Heaven
This is the message of the mishnah: One must sanctify
his business transactions to such an extent that his tithes are only a fence around
his riches. The riches themselves, and the activities surrounding them,
should be even holier than the tithes.
Rebbe Elimelech of
fence the Source of Wisdom."
"And you must remain silent,"
Moshe told the Jewish people before G-d split the sea. Through silence a person
expresses the ultimate degree of self-nullification which characterizes the most
elevated aspect of his soul called yechida. In the language of Kabbalah,
this aspect of self-nullification stems from the highest of all the Divine emanations,
the sefira of Keser. Now Keser is the source of the next
sefira, chochma, (wisdom). Hence, self-nullification, which characterizes
Keser, is called a fence for wisdom, since it encompasses it.
Ma'amorim 5666 p. 376 (3)
"...a fence for wisdom is silence."
This instruction is given to one who has grasped the secrets of Kabbalah
and ma'aseh merkava (the secret of the manifestation of the Divine
Presence). As our Sages state, "Sages beware of your words."
It is proper for a sage to be careful that no one will exceed the limits
permitted by the Torah, and so he will not transmit his Divine wisdom
to one who is unfit for it. However, other aspects of Torah may not remain
concealed, for this is like withholding food and sustenance from others.
"Rabbi Akiva used to say: 'Beloved is man, for he was created
in the image of G-d; and it is a special love that he was informed that
he was created in the image of G-d.'"
G-d created man in His image, charging him, by virtue of his intellect,
with dominance over the rest of creation. This is reflected in the fact
that human beings walk erect with head held high, whereas all other creatures,
whose source is earthly, walk on all fours looking down.
precious article was given to them, etc."
The Torah is referred
to as being longer than the earth and wider than the sea so that a person can
never comprehend it in its entirety. Nevertheless, what he can comprehend in Torah
brings him to cherish (lachmod) it more and more. The love of Torah constantly
grows so that a person will yearn (yachmod) to grasp it more and more. For this
reason it is called a kli chemda.
is man, for he was created in the image [of G-d].."
In the image:
the Holy One, blessed is He, created man and gave him mastery over animals by
virtue of the power of intellect which He placed within him. Man has an upright
stature to show that his source and origin is Above. Animals, however, walk on
all fours to indicate that their root is down below on earth. The Divine Image
with which man was created comprises all the wisdom which it is possible to acquire.
The community of Israel shares this with other nations of the world. However,
we have a special status, for the Shechinah dwells upon us, and we were found
worthy of the Divine Torah, which does not fall into the realm of intellectual
inquiry because it is superior to it, and completely transcends it.
Shmuel in the name of Rabbi Yehuda HaChossid (3)
are [the people of] Israel, for a precious vessel was given to them [the Torah]; ."
holy Torah is called both a "precious vessel" and a "Torah of light"
(Prov. 6:23), for it is both light and the vessel that contains the light. This
is why the righteous study Torah immediately after prayer and after Shabbos: to
place the light and inspiration of both in their proper vessel. The dark forces
antithetical to holiness in the word have no vitality of their own - they live
off the vitality of the holiness they seek to destroy. Consequently, whenever
G-d-d enlightens and inspires a person, they seek to rejuvenate themselves through
his newfound light. Therefore, one must immediately guard this light by placing
it in its precious and proper vessel, the Torah.
of Slonim (2)
"Beloved is Man"
two aspects of the Divine Image mentioned in the Mishnah refer to two different
types of people. Beloved is man who was created in the Image refers to the intellectual
soul which is the inheritance of all mankind. However, "specially beloved"
speaks about the intellectual soul of the Jewish people, whose intellectual soul
is particularly sensitive to spiritual matters and can absorb such matters easily.
Ma'amorim 5702 Chaviv Adam (3)
"Children of G-d"
Here too there is a double aspect of love: Beloved are the people Israel who are
called sons of G-d - this refers to the physical bodies of the Jewish people.
It is even a greater love that it was made known to them that they are called
children of G-d - this refers to the Divine soul.
5702, p. 108 (3)
is foreseen, yet freedom of choice is granted "
A person's conduct
is determined by the free choice which he is granted. That G-d foresees everything
does not affect a person's decisions. The Holy One, blessed is He, is omnipotent.
Just as He can create a thing if He so desires by thinking of it, He can also
prevent His foreknowledge from affecting His creatures. And it is G-d's will that
His foreknowledge does not affect man's free choice.
Sefer Halikutim s.v. Bechira p. 73 (3)
"Everything is Foreseen"
This statement can be interpreted as a support for the Baal Shem Tov's teaching
that everything - not only the events that involve man, but even those which influence
inanimate matter, plants, and animals - comes about with Divine knowledge. Everything,
even the most seemingly insignificant aspects of creation, such as a leaf fluttering
in the wind, is foreseen by G-d and controlled by His providence.
this phrase can be interpreted within the context of the mishna at hand. By saying
"everything," the mishna teaches that all of a person's potentials and the challenges
that he will encounter are "foreseen." G-d knows His creations and does not confront
them with unfair demands. Every person is granted a mission that he has the potential
to fulfill. Yet Freedom of Choice is Granted - Every person has the potential
to fulfill his personal destiny, but the choice to fulfill that destiny is his
alone. No one can stand in his way, nor is there anyone compelling him.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe(1)
is this possible? G-d is omnipotent. By mere knowledge or thought, He can create
whatever He "desires." So where is there room for free choice. Rather,
it is simply G-d's will that His foreknowledge not preclude man's freedom of choice.
Tzemach Tzedek (2)
is given on collateral and a net is spread over all the living "
net is spread: A net is spread by the yetzer hara over all the living.
Even when a person makes a firm decision to fulfill all of the mitzvot,
and he even gives collateral for this, he must nevertheless take care that he
will not fall into the net of the yetzer hara.
Midrash Shmuel (7)
" a net is spread over all the living..."
Baal Shem Tov (of blessed memory) said that in this teaching, the word prusa
(is spread) can be linked with the word pras (reward), which occurs in
the earlier teaching. (Av.1:3) in the phrase "for the sake of receiving a
reward." This word, pras, is to be linked in turn with the word parnasa
(a living, a livelihood). It thus means that a net of parnasa, the need
to earn one's means of support, is over all those who live. For a person seeks
his livelihood, and so is greatly burdened and distracted; and his heart is thus
not free and clear for the service of G-d.
Bat Ayin, Bamidbar
"..a net is spread for all the living..."
the Ba'al Shem Tov, of blessed memory: The Hebrew word for "spread"
is related to the word for "livelihood." For the net, or trap, of making
a living is spread over all the living, distracting them from serving G-d.
Avraham Dov of Avritch (2)
you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am G-d." When two Jews
love each other, then "I am G-d": The numerical equivalent of the Hebrew
word for love, ahava, when doubled, is the same as G-d's ineffable four-letter
Name. Rabbi Chaim Vital (2)
"You shall love your fellow
as yourself." How can a person love another Jew as much as himself?
We have to understand that we all consist of two parts, a body and a soul. While
our bodies are separate from each other, all of our souls are a part of G-d. Realizing
this, it is easier to love another Jew as oneself, because through our souls we
are all one. Tanya (2)
payment from a man, whether he is aware of it or not."
in the name of the Baal Shem Tov that before any decree of fate is issued by Heaven
against anyone in the world, everybody in the world is assembled to indicate if
all agree to that verdict. So too the very man against whom this sentence has
been passed -- he is asked if he agrees; and when he does, then the verdict is
given (may Heaven spare us).
Now, of course, if he is asked explicitly about
himself, he will certainly deny his guilt and protest that it is not a right verdict.
He is deceived, though: He is asked about another case, similar to his, and he
pronounces judgment about that -- and then that verdict is rendered against him.
[see II Samuel 12:16]
In this way "they exact payment from a man with
his knowledge," with his awareness (as the Hebrew text can alternatively
be translated): it means that his opinion is asked; he is consulted; and still
and all it is "without his knowledge" or awareness -- because he does
not know that the judgment in question is really about himself.
Maharan, 113 (5)
"Where there is no flour, there is no Torah; where there is no
Torah, there is no flour."
Flour (bread) is food for the body; Torah is sustenance for the soul;
both are necessary to sustain the Jew properly. Each type of nourishment
the other, for when one is lacking, the other suffers as well.
(Maharal of Prague)
" If there is no wisdom, there is no fear [of G-d];
if there is no fear [of G-d], there is no wisdom "
which is completely evil, for example something which is forbidden, even if only
by our Sages. In order to avoid this type of evil one does not need any special
wisdom. Fear of sin, which precedes wisdom, is sufficient. 2. The evil which
lurks within permissible matters. Regarding this our Sages state, "Sanctify
yourself in that which is permissible to you," so that you do not become
a boor with the Torah's permission. In order to avoid this type of evil, a person
needs wisdom. This will enable him to draw down G-dliness into the world through
Likkutei Torah, Bamidbar 88a (3)
is no flour, there is no Torah; if there is no Torah, there is no flour"
comes first, Torah or food? One should not say, "First I'll learn Torah and
then I'll earn a living," for the Torah is endless. Rather, the Holy One,
blessed be He, must first bestow on His people Israel a bountiful livelihood.
Then we can learn Torah in security.
Rav Yisrael of Vishnitz
"If there is no flour
[sustenance], there is no Torah etc."
If there is no flour - if
a person does not have sustenance, he cannot learn Torah, for his life is dependent
on sustenance. But if there is no Torah, there is no flour, for of the Torah
it is written, "Long life is at its right hand, and wealth at its left."
From this, one can understand what follows when there is no Torah.
"..If there is no
flour there is no Torah.." Regarding a man's wife, the Torah states,
if he is worthy, she will be his helper, but if he is unworthy, she will oppose
him." The same is true of a person's livelihood - if he is worthy, his parnosso
helps him in serving G-d; and if he is not worthy, his parnosso is a hindrance
to his Divine service. If there is no flour, there is no Torah, and in order
that a person's livelihood help his Torah, it must be completely permissible and
above board, without any trace of anything forbidden. A person must know that
his parnosso is nothing other than a vessel for G-d's blessing. If there is
no Torah, there is no flour: If a person's parnosso is forbidden by the Torah,
he will receive his sustenance from the sitra achra - from the opposite of holiness,
which is called husks and chaff, not flour. Ma'amarei Admor Hazaken, Bereishis