JewishAmerica.
Featuring:
jewish continuity
jewish heritage
jewish people
jews of america
jewish community
jewish history
jewish culture
judaism kabala
jewish tradition
jewish life
torah parsha
perspectives
jewish links
jewish interest
jewish humor
jews Israel
holocaust

--

Subscribe - FREE!

Feedback

--

JewishAmerica:
Sharing and caring
on the Internet
--

In Recognition Of
Aish Hatorah
- Reconnecting Jews To Their Heritage

[RWB][RWB]
 
--
[JewishAmerica]
Preserving a near-lost legacy and heritage.
Sharing and Caring on behalf of Torah Judaism
--
--

Thunder From Sinai: Essays on Pirkei Avos

[Mt Sinai]

Chapter: 1
Mishna: 1

Moshe Kibayle Torah M’Sinai.........

MOSHE RECEIVED (kibayle) TORAH FROM SINAI AND TRANSMITTED IT (u’m’sa-ra) TO JOSHUA, AND JOSHUA TO THE ELDERS, AND THE ELDERS TO THE PROPHETS, AND THE PROPHETS TRANSMITTED IT TO THE MEN OF THE GREAT ASSEMBLY.

A. The beginning of the first Mishna begs for some understanding. If the purpose of the statement above is to tell us the location it should have said AT or ON Sinai, a very definable place. Why the use of the word ‘from’?

We are not interested in *location* here; our concern is a realtionship, which the word ‘from’ connotes. We are emphasizing the *source* from whence these ethics derive. They are G-d given; they stem from the same source as all the other religious laws. They have the same validity as the laws of Shabbos, Kashrus, Family Purity (Taharas Hamishpa-cha) because they were given to Moshe by G-d on Sinai. This is fundamental!

True, the human mind is rational and one can argue that even if we were not given the ethical laws on Sinai, a decent human being would perforce observe them nontheless. Who could justify killing? Who could justify stealing, cheating? Who cannot see the ‘morality’ of honoring father and mother or helping the poor? It’s axiomatic!

We offer two responses:

1. The Torah view is that even what we accept axiomatically as ‘good’ and ‘evil’ is something that Hashem implanted in us. This idea is expressed in the Midrash (B’rayshis Rabbah 2:5)

Rebbe Abavhu said: At the beginning of the world’s creation, The Holy One, Blessed be He, gazed at the deeds of the reighteous and at the deeds of the wicked. ...The world was ‘tohu v’vaohu’ (Brayshis 1:3) refers to the deeds of the wicked. "and G-d said Let there be light" refers to the deeds of the righteous. But still I would not know which of them He desires....the deeds of these of the deeds of those. However, once Torah writes..."And G-d saw the light that it was Good (Brayshis 1:4)...it is the deeds of the righteous that He desires and He does not desire the deeds of the wicked.

2. Who could justify killing?!? Look at the holocaust.

It happened. A society created a new ‘morality’ where genocide became acceptable, where selection based on racial qualities was the ideal, and where dishonhor to parents, by spying and reporting on them to authorities became the norm. Look at the Socratian concept of ‘Justice is in the interest of the stronger’ and Hobbes’ ‘dog eat dog’ pessimism about human nature, and you question how inviolate some of our basic concepts of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are.

The Mishna establishes that ethics are from Sinai, and are absolute. Man has no authority to tamper with it lest he destroy himself and the world.

The messages and the codes of conduct what will be henceforth taught are not arbitrary, man-made rationalizations.

B. As a corollary, having acknowledged G-d’s authorship of Ethics, it follows that Fear of Heaven must precede the study of Torah. Later in the Mishna we learn that...he whose fear of Heaven and fear of sin precedes his study of Torah...his Torah will be sustained. But he whose study of Torah is not predicated on fear of Heaven, his Torah will dissipate.

There are teachers of ethics in the universities whose lives have double standards.....one in the classroom and the other on the outside......both in oppostition. One who is truly enveloped by Torah is a whole personality and his life by example as well as precept is the message.

C. There is an interchange of terms in the Mishna. It speaks of Moshe *receiving* and then *transmitting* to Joshua, to the elders, the prophets, etc.

Why the change in format? It could have stated either that each one *received* or each generation *transmitted*.

1. The message here is that the Torah that Moshe received from Hashem, by its very nature of having been given by G-d, is infinite in quantity and depth. No human can fathom its intensity. Notwithstanding what Hashem was prepared to transmit to Moshe, Moshe could only receive what he, as a human, was capable of receiving.

Having received the Torah from Hashem, Moshe could then transmit it to the next generation, ad infinitum.

The Torah recognizes the finiteness of man and suggests that the *understanding* of Torah is something that each individual will attain in different measure according to his capacity. The *fulfillment* of the Mitzvohs of the Torah, however, are independent of a complete understanding of their infinite nature and value. Can a finite mind comprehend the infinite wisdom?

2. The term ‘kibayl’, ‘received’ suggests something which he earned. Indeed, this is hinted at by the use of this word. There is a famous Midrash which describes Moshe’s ascent onto Mt sinai, and engaging in a debate with the angels about Hashem’s granting the Torah to Israel. The angels argued before G-d: Who is Man that you find him worthy to receive such a Divine document? How can You give such a Go-dly document to flesh and blood?

Moshe parried their argument:....Do you have need of a Torah? You are angels; by definition, you have no desires, no lusts no avirices. What would you do with the commands ‘Do not steal’, ‘Do not murder’, ‘Do not commit adultery’? YOU dont need Torah!......The function of Torah is to purify man and to elevate him out of the flesh and blood mentality. The function of Torah is to show man that his soul is a part of Hashem, and to strive for communion with Hashem... by living in an ethical and G-d fearing way.

Moshe won! He *received* the Torah.

(Question: What was the presumption of the angels in claiming the Torah for themselves? They knew its contents could never apply to them)

D. Moshe received Torah from Sinai. The chronology of that event is as follows:

After having heard the Asseres Hadibros, the Ten

Commandments from Sinai, Moshe ascended onto the mountain and remained there for 40 days and nights. The Torah describes that he ate no bread nor drank no water.

WHAT DID MOSHE DO ON SINAI FOR 40 DAYS AND NIGHTS ? ? ?

He received the Torah on Sinai. Now this can’t be the Written Torah, as we know it as the Five Books of Moses, since we know that some mitzvos, like Shabbos, were given prior to Sinai, and most were recorded after the event at Sinai. There is a debate in the Talmud as to whether the Torah was written all at one time by Moshe, or section by section throughout the 40 year trek through the desert.

But one thing is certain that the text of the Written Law was not given on Sinai, with the exception of the Ten Commandments, which were oral and which were then given to Moshe engraved by Hashem in stone. So, the question: What was given to Moshe on Sinai during those 40 days?

Moshe received the Oral Law on Sinai. The Oral Law is the basis for the Written Law. Without the Oral Law, the Written Law, that what we all see in the Hold Ark in the synagogue, is meaningless. The Written Law is merely a set of cryptic notes, symbols, shorthand abreviations for a more expansive, fundamental and complete sytem of a blueprint for the world and life.

Let me illustrate. The basis for our liberty in these United States is the Constitution. Can a short concise document like the Constitution contain all the laws that cover every facet of a nation’s life? It is absurd to think so. It is a compendium of all the values upon which our freedoms and rights are built. It abstracts the values of the Torah, the Magna Carta, and the vision of our founding Fathers. It is a blueprint which guides the designers and the builders of the nation in each generation.

In effect, then, the Written Torah is an abstract of a fuller expanded gift that Hashem gave Israel, the Torah sh’b’al Peh, the Oral Law. The Oral Law is the underpinnings of the Written Law and by its very nature of being a Weltanschaung, it could not be frozen in stone or parchment.

The Written Law can understood ONLY in conjunction with the Oral Law.

The Torah says:

‘V’za-vach-ta ka-ahser tsee-vee-see-cha’

‘You shall slaughter <the animal> as I commanded you’.

Nowhere in the Torah do we find G-d commanding Moshe about the laws of Schita (slaughter).

The Torah says:

‘Hachodesh Ha-zeh La-chem rosh cha-da-shim’

‘This month (Nissan) is the head of all the months’

When G-d uses the term ‘zeh’, this....which is a demonstrative word, what does he refer to? How did Moshe know the basis for the calculation of the month? What determined it? It is nowhere written in the Torah.

The Torah says:

‘Ayin ta-chas ayin. Shayne ta-chas shayne’

‘An eye for an eye. a tooth for a tooth’

Torah Law at ALL TIMES meant that as monetary compensation; _never_ literally. Where can see find that in the written Torah? It’s not there.

The Torah says:

‘Seven days shall you dwell in a succah’

Where is the source of how to build the succah, it’s height, its size, the acceptable materials that may be used and the definition of the essential parts of the succah? The Written Torah is silent on all this, and yet every Jew knows what a succah should look like.

The Torah says:

‘And you shall take for yourselves the fruit of a beautiful tree"

What fruit does the Torah mean? Where is there any reference in the Torah to the citron, the Esrog? There is none, and yet Jews the world over know what an esrog is!

It is the Torah sh’b’al Peh, the Oral Torah that supplies the details. These are but a few examples of why, without the Oral Law, the Written Torah has no meaning.

Moshe spent those 40 days and nights receiving the Oral Law, in its entirety, with all the details and nuances, so that in future generations, should there be an outstanding scholar who might extrapolate and infer from what he has received by the Messorah, (the transmission of the Torah), .....that, too, was what Moshe learned on Sinai from G-d.

<<THEY (the men of the Great Assembly) SAID THREE THINGS:

1. BE DELIBERATE IN JUDGEMENT

2. ESTABLISH MANY STUDENTS

3. AND MAKE A BOUNDARY AROUND THE TORAH>>

<<They (men of the Great Assembly) said three things>>

<<1. Be deliberate in Judgement>>

<<2. Establish many students>>

<<3. And make a boundary around the Torah>>

The Anshei Knesses HaG’dolah (men of the Great Assembly) was formed at the beginning of the restoration of the Second Commonwealth in Judea. c.517 BCE. With the return of the poor classes of exiles from Babylonia (only 42,000 made aliya with Zerubavel), and the rebuilding of the second Temple, Ezra, the Scribe convened an Assembly composed of Prophets, such as Chaggai and Zacharia, scholars, such as Mordecai (of Purim fame) and other leaders of the community.

The function of the Assembly was to reconstruct a viable Jewish society, reestablish the Jewish community and rejuvinate the observance of Torah Law among the inhabitants. Because nature abhors a vaacum, the small Jewish community that had continued to survive in Judea even after the exile by Nebuchadnezzar, was innundated by foreign immigrants who began living in the desolate land. Their influences intermingled with what remained of Torah Judaism in Judea....and the strange admixture resulted in a hybrid form of society. The foreigners adopted Jewish practices and customs, intermingled and then intermarried with the surviving Jewish community....all in a span of 70 years. (Sounds something like what happened to our brotheres and sisters in Russia from 1917 to to 1987!)

Ezra returned to Judea from Babylonia (Iraq). He was both a Kohen and a learned Scribe. What he found appalled him. A Jewish society could not exist in a hybrid state. His function was to discern who was geneologically Jewish and who was not. It was not an exercise in chauvanism; it was a national imperitive.

The Temple was being rebuilt and he had to know who could enter and offer sacrifices. While a non-Jew could always send his offering he could not participate in it. (He would, of course receive the same expiation of his sins, nontheless). It was neccesary to determine who was obligated to perform Mitzvohs. In order to preserve a heritage everyone was asked to present their ‘sefer yuchsin’ geneology chart, whereby they could trace their descent.

As a result The Great Assembly enacted certain Takanos (legislation). Under the threat of expulsion from the Jewish community, Jewish men and women divorced their respective spouses. The Assembly collected and arranged the makings of our Siddur. They legislated that the Torah reading, which was until now, performed on Shabbos morning, as per Moses’ instruction, was now to be read on Shabbos afternoon (at the Mincha service, Monday and Thursday mornings. These were the market days when outlying farmers would bring their produce to town for marketing, and would have an opportunity to hear the words of the Torah.

They undertook to reconstruct the sources of parts of the Halacha of the Torah, that were forgotten or fell into disuse due to the difficult political times. Their gargantuan challenge was undertaken, using the Hermenutical principles of interpretation which Moshe had been given by G-d, on Sinai.


What is significant about these three statements that they are recorded here of all the proceedings of the Anshei Knessess Hagadola (Great Assembly)?

<<1. Be Deliberate in Judgement >>

1. Admonition regarding the *appointment* of judges.

Having established that the Law was received from Hashem and transmitted to the nation at large, the first duty of the Jewish society was to establish a system for dispensing the Law, through the the courts and judges. Society can exist only if true justice administered by learned and honest judges will prevail.

So here, the Mishna addresses the first need of society and admonishes the authorities who appoint the judges. Be very deliberate, careful, in the selection of your judges because should you select improper judges you can destroy your society. In Chapter 5 of Avos, Mishna 9 the Mishna reads: ‘The sword comes upon the world for delaying justice and for perverting justice’.

How true this rings! Consider the revolutions that erupted because justice was delayed, because the people felt that their legitimate needs and demands were ignored, and because of the perversions and corruptions of men in power.

2. Admonition to the judges themselves. 

The judge has the power over the life and fortunes of members of society. He bears a heavy responsibility in determining that no one is unjustly deprived of his rights and property. Therefore he is admonished to examine everything slowly, deliberately and involve all the factors before he arrives at a decision. He bears an awesome burden, so that the Torah likens him to G-d, as a judge. With regards to the judges, the Torah states in Exodus 22:8 ‘Before Elo-kim shall come the matter of the two (litigants)’ and that refers to the judges.

The Torah admonishes the judge to approach his authority with awe and to imagine as if a sword were upon his throat.

The Gemora in Bava Basra states that whoever determines a judgment to its ultimate truth, becomes a partner in creation with G-d. What does ‘ultimate truth’ mean? Tosefos on location explains that a judge may see the merits in an argument of a litigant, but feel intuitively that the man is a liar. On the surface the inexperienced arbiter might feel that he must decide in that man’s favor, but the true discerner of human nature, and the one who can perceive thru the facade and pursues the matter to its ‘ultimate end’ will determine correctly.

There is a concept in halacha which is called ‘Shuda, d’dayana’. This refers to the right of a judge to ignore certain arguments and to decide on the basis of deeper understanding of the situation at hand. Of course, it is needless to say, that the judges must be of the highest caliber of person, learned, G-d fearing, and with a thirst for truth.

3. Admonition to the judge and to the litigant to defer seeking judgment in favor of compromise

The Torah in Deuteronomy 6:18 states: "You shall do the straight and the good in the eyes of Hashem".... Rashi quotes our Rabbis and says the ‘straight and the good’ refers to P’SHARA...compromise, beyond the literal law.

This admonition applies to both the judge and the litigants. P’shara is primary! It is primary because it ends is shalom, peace. P’shara is evolved by the _consent_ of both parties; no one has compelled them to do so, but they themselves have chosen to settle their differences by compromise, rather than by a decision imposed from the outside. No one litigant receives all he wants, but neither does he lose everything.

Because the litigants agree to accept a compromise, they walk out of the court in a mood of peace and accomodation, rather than strife and emnity as a result of a court decision.

Law, should be the last resort. The Torah frowns upon those who have to resort to the ultimate. The Talmud relates that Jerusalem was destroyed because its inhabitants judged by the law of the Torah. The listeners were astounded and questioned: By what other law should they have judged? The Gemora then qualifies its statement and says: Jerusalem was destroyed because its inhabitants judged only by [the letter of] the law of the Torah. When you stand on the letter of the law, it’s a reflection on how bad human relationships have deteriorated.

4. Admonition to the litigants

The Mishna advises the litigants. When you present your case be very slow in rushing to the courts. Prepare your arguments well, have them clearly arranged in your mind ....because once you have stated your case you cannot retract your arguments (with specific exceptions) and you have to live with it.

Speak slowly, softly, and not abusively. ‘Divrei chachamim b’nachas nishma-im’. The words of scholars are accepted when spoken in calmness.

<< 2. Establish many students. >>

Why was this important?

1. The insurers of the continuity of Torah understood that only with widespread dissemination of Torah will it be preserved. An educated nation will continue to live. The more students, the stronger the body and the stronger the communal committment.

2. Since Torah was both Written anmd Oral, its wide dissemination and its constant study would provide an insurance against errors in its transmission. While it is possible for one or two people to forget or err...when matched with a multitude who study, it is easily discerned what is a valid text or oral transmission and what is incorrect.

3. The statement has another meaning also.

The text reads: ‘v’hemidu’ ..and ESTABLISH many students.

It does not say ‘Limdu’ ...TEACH many students.

We are dealing here with a situation analanogous to the "grants" system in our universities. The Mishna says:

SUPPORT students so they can study! True scholarship demands committment of time almost to the exclusion of anything else. We would not have reknowned scientists and mathematicians if they did devote their lives to the theory and practice of their respective disciplines.......nor would we have Torah scholarship if men did not devote their lives to the study of Torah! There is no difference.

The Mitzvah of Talmud Torah is unversal for all Jews, but how much time can a Jew who is a realtor or a pharmacist or a storekeeper devote, even on a fixed regular basis? Deep scholarship is exclusive....but it requires the financial support of the community, for its own interest, to allow its ‘Doctoral’ graduate students to learn and bring their guidance and teachings to the Jewish community.

This is what is meant by ‘ESTABLISH’ many students.

<< 3. AND MAKE A BOUNDARY AROUND THE TORAH>>

On what source did our Teachers base the concept of "a fence" around the Torah? What was its purpose?

1. The authority was given to the Torah scholars to erect boundaries or fences around the Torah and is derived from Vayikra 18:30 (Leviticus) ...Ushmartem es mishmarti....."And you [plural form] shall observe my observances, so that you not do any of the abominable practices that were done before you, so that you do not become defiled by them. I am the Lord your G-d"

Rashi quickly references that directive to the Beis Din; that is, it is the duty, and power is granted to it to create a ‘mishmeres’, an ‘observance’ to guard My (G-d’s) ‘observances’ (the Torah). The rationale is this: The command of G-d in his mitzvos is supreme and abrogation of them carries with it severe penalties. The Beis Din then is empowered to create legislation that will prevent situations conducive to transgressing the laws of the Torah.

While the Torah issues the directive to the Beis Din, it also cites examples within the Torah law itself.

2. Vayikra 18:19 - the Torah states: ...’To a woman in her unclean state of Niddah, do not approach’... It’s intent is not to engage in sexual relations. .... Would he then be permitted to embrace her or kiss her? ....asks the Sifra....to which it responds....No! the use of the word in the text...’Sikrav’ = ’approach’ broadens the restriction even to touching and kissing to avoid a person being put into a situation where he can easily fall victim to loss of control. That’s where the Torah itself indicates the use of a fence.

3. Acts on the part of our patriarchs as related in the Torah also served as models for the use of ‘fences’. As Israel approached Sinai at the beginning of the month of Nissan, G-d instructed Moses to direct the nation to prepare for ‘today and tomorrow’ for the historical event. Moses directed them to prepare and to purify themselves for three days, allowing one extra day to become ‘Tahor’ clean, lest they still be Tamay (defiled), before the granting of the Torahs at Sinai.

4. Genesis 2:17 - G-d commands Adam not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. However, Eve replies to the Serpent (Genesis 3:3) that Hashem commanded us "don’t eat from it and do not touch it". It is the Mei’ri’s contention that Adam conveyed that message to Eve in order to construct a ‘fence’ around G-d’s command.

The Avos d’rav Nassan cites a plethora of examples illustrating this very concept.

5. Vayikra 18:19, quoted in paragraph #1, is also the source for ‘fences’ constructed by our Rabbis. Review Chapter 18, verses 6-30 and you will see a list of forbidden sexual relationships that are commanded by the Torah. A new category of "shnee’os l’araayos", derivative prohibited sexual contacts, was added by our Torah scholars, as ‘gezayros’, fences. (When the term ‘sexual contact’ is used here, we mean through proper marriage)

As an example of a ‘fence’ is, one’s paternal grandfather’s wife. The Torah prohibited the wife of one’s father, but not the wife of the grandfather. By engaging in the permitted sexual contact with the latter, one might learn to infer that sexual contact with one’s father’s wife is also permitted. This the Rabbis sought to disabuse, and they constructed this list of "snee’os l’arayos". A detailed list can be found in the Rambam. Laws of Prohibited Sexual contacts chapter 2.

How far could the Rabbis extend that fence?

This question is a sore spot with many who are unfamiliar with the Torah system, and is used as a wedge against Rabbinical authority. Our Torah scholars did not create arbitrary gezayros and takanos. Every enactment of theirs had to have a rhyme and reason, and they were constrained by the command of the Torah in the verse quoted in Paragraph 1. ...."and you shall observe My observances" ...which empowers the authorities to enact laws ‘observances’ to protect G-D’s laws (observances).

The Torah directs that he power of the Rabbis is limited to only one derived observance....no more than that. Anything beyond that is invalid and void. It is patently false that the rabbis have added ‘fence upon fence’ over the millennia to make the law more stringent. This has been the false argument of those who desired to detract from the Torah. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The Talmud is replete with instances of challenging a law made by rabbinical decision with the statement.."How can you do this? It is a second "fence" around a first "fence". and we have a principle that you cannot erect a fence around a fence! Refer to Mesecches Baytza 2:2 and Rashi on loci.

It is important to recognize, that this was not an exercise in ego; it had its foundation in halacha. Torah scholarship required that we know whether a law was of Divine origin or rabbinic origin because the observance of a law of Torah and its respective penalties for transgression were more stringent than that of a rabbinic law. If it were a rabbinic law, there may be certain conditions that the law may be breached or not applied. Torah is a way of life, not a course of study, and Jewish conduct is guided by what the halacha is.

To whom was 'Make A Fence' directed?

1. Avos R’rav Nosson states that just as G-d made a "fence", guarded his Words, (as in Par. #2) so should every person guard their words. Whatever he utters should not be a burden upon his listeners. It should be said in a timely and in a measured fashion, in the right place and under the right conditions. Otherwise it will not be accepted.

2. This applies to one’s conduct, as well. The Rambam in Hilchos Dayos advises that if an individual finds a blemish in his character or actions he should strive to correct it in this fashion. He should go to the opposite extreme and, knowing that this may not be in his nature, he will eventually work towards the middle.

For example, if he is hot tempered, he should consciously refrain from any reaction, even to the point of pain, when he is angered. He will eventually habituate himself to a modicum of self control which, will then become second nature to him. Life is filled with many examples of this.


Chapter 1
Mishna 2

SHIMON HATZADIK (Simon the Just), WHO WAS OF THE LAST OF THE GREAT ASSEMBLY...WOULD SAY: ON THREE THINGS DOES THE UNIVERSE 'STAND'....ON TORAH....ON SERVICE....AND ON ACTS OF KINDNESS.

Shimon Hatzadik was the High Priest during the period of the second Temple, and was a contemparary of Alexander the Great in the 3rd century BCE. The Talmud relates the dramatic scene of the meeting of the two at the gates of Jerusalem, where Alexander descended from his horse and bowed to Shimon Hatzadik.

He explained his action in the following manner. Before embarking on his mission to conguer the Persian empire to avange the death of his father, Philip, an image of a white robed man appeared to him in a dream, directing him to proceed, and he would be successful.

With all his successes, he now was ready to conquer Israel. The scholars of the period decided it was best to make peace with Alexander and pay him homage, and accordingly they proceeded to meet him in the night at his camp outside the walls of Jerusalem. The High Priest Shimon adorned himself in the white Priestly attire and with a line of lighted torches, led the procession out. Upon seeing this stately man Alexander recognized him as the man in his dream...and felt the his success was due to the Priest's directive.

Alexnder was welcomed into Jerusalem and accorded the honor of having every Jewish child born that year to be named after him, Alexander. Alexander was a wise and judicious ruler. As a student of Aristotle, he appreciated scholarship and accorded his new conquest, Judea, complete freedom of worship and the freedom to live in accordance with the Torah. Only an annual tribute was the requirement.

 >>THE UNIVERSE STANDS ON TORAH<<

In Mishna 18 of this Chapter 1, Rabbon Gamliel restates this propostion in the following way: "On three things does the universe EXIST..on truth and on law and on peace" There is a difference between STANDS, and EXISTS. STANDS implies a foundation upon which the structure rests. Without it, it falls and there is no structure. Exists implies that it is already standing but it requires certain qualities for it to continue its proper functioning.

You can't have a building stand if it violates every rule of an architect's plan and sound engineering design, and you can't have a building function properly if it lacks heat, water, sewer and electric power. It may function for a while on momentum, but then it stops.

The Midrash tells us that the Torah was created by Hashem 2000 years before the universe was and that G-d looked into the Torah and created the universe. The significance of this statement lies in the fact that the Torah served as an architect's plan to determine on what principle the world would stand.

What are those principles?

Nachmanides, at the outset of the Book of Bereshis (Genesis) observes that the purpose of the entire first book of the Torah is to reveal to us the principles upon which the world is founded. It reveals that when there is murder (as in the case of Cain and Abel) there is punishment. When there is thievery, dishonesty, injustice... the world is detroyed (as in the flood) and so is everything that serves man and which was created for man. When a people pervert their ways for cruelty, as in the case of Sodom and Amora, they destroy their lives and society. And when a nation or society practices abominations like the Canaaites did with human sacrifices, orgies, defilement, they are destroyed. And when Israel fails to heed and follow those principles which G-d bequeathed them through the Torah, and fell into the ways of its neighbors...they suffered the penalty of exile!

Today we are all familiar with the physical ecology of the world. We know that much of our acts destroy the world and ourselves. We see how we deplete the ozone and how DDT setroys our lives. There is also a moral ecology, and the function of Torah is to emphasize that we also destory the world when we undermine the basic foundations of its structure.

So the world stands on Torah!

>>ON SERVICE......<<

Service, or AVODA, usually refers to the offerings, the karbanos, that a person makes to G-d. It didn't originate with Jews; we find that both Cain and Abel, Noah and others, prior to the formation of a Jewish nation, made their offerings to G-d. Torah refined it for the Jew. It defined what the function and meaning of each sacrifice served. It included grain and fowl offerings as well as animal offerings, which had to be accompanied by a form of 'vidu'ee, confession and acknowledgement.

With the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, this form of offering ceased. The Torah specifically limited these offerings to the Temple, and nowhere else. In its place a different type of offering, one which already existed, to be sure, gained prominence. That was 'avodah sh'be'lev' ...Service in the heart, or prayer. But one must understand that the foundation for offerings is the same in both instances...acknowledging our benefactor, G-d.

This is called..."hakaras ha'tov" .... acknowledging the good that one does for you. Our lives are constantly a gift from G-d, our sustenance is continually a blessing from Hashem. Is there anyone who receives some good from another and would not pay for it with a simple 'thank you', or in the case of an impersonal deal, with payment of money, goods, or services? That person is an ingrate!

It is so innate that even an untutored child will smile when given something he wants. That too is an acknowledgement. How piqued do we get when you have extended yourself to someone you care and love and they forget to show appreciation!

Appreciation is an extension of one's self. This is the foundation of the offerings of all mankind to G-d. It is ironic to think of many of the ancients who worshipped idolatry as being primitive, while many of our cututred contemporaries are considered advanced when they questiont the existence of a Creator and Benefactor, G-d. It is said that the ancients, with all their idolatry were more humane than some of our moderns; they expressed their appreciation to a Power for what they knew were the bounties of life. Their problem was they had too much appreciation. They expressed it to trees, fish, stars, moon, sun etc. They were well meant....but misguided. Like Einstein who uncovered a _unified_ field theory of the universe, Torah taught the Jew that there is ONE creator of all existence, and that everything else were manifestations of His handiwork, and serving His purposes.

So, the second foundation of the universe is AVODA, service...appreciation.

>>GEMILAS CHASADIM<< ...... acts of kindness.

The third foundation upon which the universe stands is the inter-raltionship between persons. A gmilas chesed is more than a good deed. It is more than helping someone and then receivng a payment, from a 'thank you' and up. It is a deed for which no acknowledgment can ever be expected nor reciprocated. Its highest form, but nowhere limited to it, is burying the dead.

So the third foundation on which the universe stands is ...acts of kindness.


Chapter: 1
Mishna: 3

<<ANTIGONUS, OF THE CITY OF SOCHO, RECEIVED (the Mesorah) FROM SHIMON HATZADIK. HE WOULD SAY: DO NOT BE LIKE SLAVES WHO SERVE THE MASTER ON CONDITION OF RECEIVING A REWARD. HOWEVER, BE LIKE SLAVES WHO SERVE THE MASTER WITHOUT CONDITION OF RECEIVING A REWARD.

AND LET THE FEAR OF HEAVEN BE UPON YOU.>>

1. Antigonus, of Socho, was a student of Shimon Hatzadik and was the head of the yeshiva following his rebbe, during the days of the 2nd Temple. His statement is one of ambiguity and has raised many eyebrows among our commentators.

The Baal Ha-akeda and the Abarbanel question the quoted mishna. The Torah is replete with statements to all Israel.....Honor father and mother, l'ma'an ya'arichun yu'me'cha.....in order that your life be long. (Exodus 20:12 and Deut. 5:16). ....... Deal with honest weights in order that you life be lengthened (Deut. 25:15). The Torah says many times...Observe all the Mitzvos of Hashem so you will lengthen you life on the land that Hashem gives you (Deut 6:2; 11:9; 30:17)....Send away the mother bird before you keep the fledglings so that your life be lengthened (Deut 22:7).

On the latter statement, Rashi observes ...'If on such an easy Mitzvah to fulfill (sending off the mother bird) Hashem promises the reward of long life, how much more so is there reward for fulfilling the more difficult mitzvohs!' What does Antigonus mean, then, when he seems to negate the expectation of reward, which the Torah itself holds forth as a motivation for serving G-d?

2. We have here a picture of growth in understanding.

True, Hashem treats us to the reward for the performance of his commands. This is the elementary level of service.

Like a child, who has to be enticed to do a deed which his parents want, and entice him with the candy, so Hashem deals with us, to introduce us to the mitzvohs.

It was a common practice, when a father brought his child to the rebbe in the yeshiva, the child was given a slate with honey or candy on it, which he licked off. When he completed licking off the candy the following verse from the Torah lay exposed on the slate....TORAH TZIVA LANU MOSHE.... Moshe Commanded us the Torah, as a bequest to the Community of Israel!......

The child's first association with Torah was with sweetness. His first connection with the recognition of Torah's source was with honey. That was the reward!

And that's why he was ready to come back again the following day, and then again. Reward.

But the same child, now a man studies the same Torah. Can we say that he savors that honey, and studies Torah and conducts him life in accordance with its commands, because some one is going to reward him some candy?

3. Growth in Torah means a deeper understanding of the purposes of Torah. Our rabbis teach us that the mitzvohs were given to us "l'tzref es ha'briyos"....to refine G-d's creatures, man. The performance of the Mitzvah brings its own reward. It does so in its effect on our relationship with Hashem, and in our relationship with our fellow man and in our relationship with ourselves.

How?

In our relationship with Hashem ---the neshama, that we all have, and which is that part of us that is a part of Hashem, strives to elevate and draw us closer to G-d, to feel His presence. King David sings out..."But one thing I ask from G-d; _that_ I will seek.... To sit in the house of G-d; to envision the sweetness of Hashem, and to search [after the commandments of Hashem] in His dwelling place...."

Torah and the mitzvos are the medium to forge the closeness with Hashem.

In our relationship with our fellow man ---the message in the Torah of the love that Hashem bestows upon us...."banim atem La'shem"...You are children of G-d (Deut 14:1) is transferred to our fellow humans. When we receive love from our parents we can transfer and show love to our children. When we feel love from Hashem we can exude that emotion on all mankind. It means we look kindly upon people; we treat them with tender feelings; we respect their rights, property and life....and all that flows from that approach to life.

Living in accord with Hashem's mitzvos: Give tzadah, Judge another person favorablly, Treat the stranger with love, Apply the law equally to all people, do not steal, murder, lie or decive another human being......are examples of Torah's influence upon our relationship with others.

In our relationship with ourselves ---when the Torah declares 'u'ldavka bo' (Deut 30:20)...."to love the Lord your G-d and to ATTACH yourself to Him, because He is your life and your length of days...." ....'ATTACH' cannot mean physically, because Hashem has no physical properties. It means, as our teachers instructed us, "Attach yourself to His ways, His qualities. As He is merciful, you be merciful; as He is honest, you be honest; as he loves the stranger and cares for the widow and the orphan, you love the stranger and care for the widow and the orphan".

Our souls become more refined, our senses are heightened and our sensitivities are attuned to the outside because WE are a better person on the inside.

This is the effect of Torah on our relationship with ourselves. Torah and the mitzvos have created those changes within us.

4. Antigonus of Socho is instructing us, his students, who have reached a level of maturity, that the the reward of the Mitzvah is inherent in itself. The reward lies in the growing appreciation of how the Mitzvah affects us, who perform it.....and that as the appreciation grows it draws in other mitzvohs....'Mitzva go'rer'es Mitzvah'...It feeds on itself.

Antigonus, declares: Don't set your sight on external benefits. The Mitzvah is its own reward.


Chapter: 1
Mishna: 4

<<YOSI BEN YO'EZER, OF TZRAYDA AND YOSI BEN YOCHNAN OF YERUSHALAYIM RECEIVED (the Mesorah) FROM THEM (Shimon Ha'tzadik and Antigonus of Socho).

YOSI BEN YO'EZER OF TZRADA SAYS: LET YOUR HOME BE A MEETING PLACE FOR THE WISE; SIT AMIDST THE DUST OF THEIR FEET; AND DRINK IN THEIR WORDS WITH THIRST.>>

1. It is essential to observe the precision with which the Mishna relates the line of tradition. The two scholars, heads of their generation, "received from them", as another link in a systematic chain of tradition starting from Moses at Sinai. In the next few Mishnas we find that phrase "received from them" oft repeated as each new generation of scholars carries on from the previous ones. The emphasis is, of course, from the source, Sinai.

2. Who were these pairs, "zugos"? The next few Mishnas mentions these zugos. The first one held the office of the Nasi, the President of the Sanhedrin, and the second was the Av Beis Din, the Chief of the Court of Law. The sanhedrin was the Supreme Court and National Council. It was comprised of 71 member/scholars, and administered the political as well as the religious life of the nation in the later centuries of the Second Temple.

3. Growth in Torah means a deeper understanding of the purposes of Torah. Our rabbis teach us that the mitzvohs were given to us "l'tzref es ha'briyos"....to refine G-d's creatures, man. The performance of the Mitzvah brings its own reward. It does so in its effect on our relationship with Hashem, and in our relationship with our fellow man and in our relationship with ourselves.

How?

In our relationship with Hashem ---the neshama, that we all have, and which is that part of us that is a part of Hashem, strives to elevate and draw us closer to G-d, to feel His presence. King David sings out..."But one thing I ask from G-d; _that_ I will seek.... To sit in the house of G-d; to envision the sweetness of Hashem, and to search [after the commandments of Hashem] in His dwelling place...."

Torah and the mitzvos are the medium to forge the closeness with Hashem.

In our relationship with our fellow man ---the message in the Torah of the love that Hashem bestows upon us...."banim atem La'shem"...You are children of G-d (Deut 14:1) is transferred to our fellow humans. When we receive love from our parents we can transfer and show love to our children. When we feel love from Hashem we can exude that emotion on all mankind. It means we look kindly upon people; we treat them with tender feelings; we respect their rights, property and life....and all that flows from that approach to life.

Living in accord with Hashem's mitzvos: Give tzadah, Judge another person favorablly, Treat the stranger with love, Apply the law equally to all people, do not steal, murder, lie or decive another human being......are examples of Torah's influence upon our relationship with others.

In our relationship with ourselves ---when the Torah declares 'u'ldavka bo' (Deut 30:20)...."to love the Lord your G-d and to ATTACH yourself to Him, because He is your life and your length of days...." ....'ATTACH' cannot mean physically, because Hashem has no physical properties. It means, as our teachers instructed us, "Attach yourself to His ways, His qualities. As He is merciful, you be merciful; as He is honest, you be honest; as he loves the stranger and cares for the widow and the orphan, you love the stranger and care for the widow and the orphan".

Our souls become more refined, our senses are heightened and our sensitivities are attuned to the outside because WE are a better person on the inside.

This is the effect of Torah on our relationship with ourselves. Torah and the mitzvos have created those changes within us.

4. Antigonus of Socho is instructing us, his students, who have reached a level of maturity, that the the reward of the Mitzvah is inherent in itself. The reward lies in the growing appreciation of how the Mitzvah affects us, who perform it.....and that as the appreciation grows it draws in other mitzvohs....'Mitzva go'rer'es Mitzvah'...It feeds on itself.

Antigonus, declares: Don't set your sight on external benefits. The Mitzvah is its own reward.

New Material


Chapter: 1
Mishna: 8

<<YOSI BEN YOCHANAN OF JERUSALEM SAID: LET YOUR HOUSE BE OPEN WIDE; AND LET THE POOR BE MEMBERS OF YOUR HOUSEHOLD; AND DO NOT ENGAGE IN MUCH GOSSIP (sicha) WITH ONE'S WIFE. THIS APPLIES EVEN TO ONE'S WIFE; HOW MUCH MORE THEN TO YOUR NEIGHBOR'S WIFE

HENCE THE SAGES SAY: WHOSO ENGAGES IN MUCH GOSSIP WITH WOMEN BRINGS EVIL UPON HIMSELF, NEGLECTS THE STUDY OF TORAH, AND WILL, IN THE END, INHERIT GEHINNOM. >>

A. LET YOUR HOUSE BE OPEN WIDE...... Yosi Ben Yochanan is reminding his students that the first quality worthy of emulating Abraham is "hachnasos Orchim"...welcoming guests. To make a stranger in a foreign environment feel at home and to be wanted is the greatest mitzva.

It is, of course, much nicer to have "fine" guests at your table...but the Teacher insists....Let the poor be members of your household! What a lesson for children to see and learn. When father brings home and makes welcome a poor, dejected man who needs more that a few dollars, but a new spirit to raise him from dejection......no book lesson in ethics can match that living example of kindness and empathy that will lie indelibly etched in the heart of a child.

There are two ways to help a stranger, a poor man. One can take out a few dollars and send him on his way. With that he will most certainly fulfill the mitzvah of tzedaka. But he can also open his door wide and welcome him in to join him at his dinner table. That's more than tzedaka. That's G'milas chasadim. That's heart!

The badge of the Jew bequeathed from Father Abraham is "Hachnasas Orchim"....welcoming guests. The Midrash relates to us that Avraham Avinu pitched his tent at his crossroads and that it had four entrances, so that when strangers passed by they were always made welcome by this unusual host, Abraham.

He offered them food and drink, gave them a place to rest, and he taught his son Ishmael, by example, to do the same. When they thanked him he would reply...Thank Hashem, creator and provider for all the living. In this manner, by the force of his personality and dedication to his mission he "created" new souls, opened the eyes of the world to the concept of a universal benevolent G-d.

References: Torah's injunction to treat the Egyptian kindly because "you" were a guest in his land

B. AND LET THE POOR BE MEMBERS OF YOUR HOUSEHOLD

The Hebrew for POOR is "anee'yim". Others read that word as _"a'na'vim"_, meaning _humble_.

Yosi Ben Yochanan is advising.....let "anavim" be the attributes of the members of your household. Let the members of your household act with humbleness...not haughtiness. The way to make a stranger or guest feel that he is _really_ wanted and welcome is to put yourself in his place as the guest. The guest is more usually timid, reticent and even shy. Let the members of your family display the same kind of sensitivity and ease the stranger into comfort and acceptance.

C. AND DO NOT ENGAGE IN MUCH GOSSIP (sicha) WITH ONE'S WIFE.

The subject of discussion, _sicha_ is "chatter" or "insignificant talk". Yosi Ben Yochanan is addressing those kinds of situations where a man comes home and reports to his wife the disagreements, fights or verbal battles he may have had with someone. What is he causing by bringing home and relating the pettiness of his encounter?

He creates animosity buildup in his wife towards another, thereby involving her in his encounter, where she only knows part. He causes her pain, and even causes a diminuation of himself in his wife's eyes as she reacts to his ill-success in 'beating' his opponent. This is not what we seek.

The words of Yosi Ben Yochanan are not to be taken to mean that a man is not to discuss matters concerning themselves, their children, education, finances and their home. Quite the contrary.....the Talmud is replete with admonitions to the husband....."If your wife is short, bend down and listen to her"...."Bracha is found in a man's home ONLY because of his wife".....Chapter 31 of Mishli, Proverbs, contains the whole selection of the Ayshes Cha'yil, dedicated to the description of the Woman of Valor....whose husband's heart trusts in her...who cares for his business, children and home.

No culture has raised the position of the woman as high as Torah has. When Hashem created woman, the Torah describes it by the use of the word "va'yi'ven" ....He _ built_ ...the rib into a woman. The word "va'yi'ven" has the root "ba'no"....which is also the root for the word "bi'na", understanding. Our Rabbis observe that the Torah is telling us that Hashem created woman with an additional measure of understanding, beyond that of Man.

D. THIS APPLIES EVEN TO ONE'S WIFE; HOW MUCH MORE THEN TO YOUR NEIGHBOR'S WIFE.

In addition to the previous admonition, we now have an additional factor. The Torah recognizes the frailty of humans. Sexual attraction is both a creative and destructive force in the life of an individual, depending upon the situations and condition. Torah has required then that both sexes minimize their contact with one another.

The construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in the desert, and later, the design of the Beis Hamikdash had the Machaneh Shchina (area of the Shchina) where only the Kohanim functioned, the Ezras Yisrael, which included the area all males could enter, and the Ezras Nashim, the women's area. Family purity, geneolgy, are so forcefully stated in the Torah. Holiness (kedusha) is the Torah's contribution to the Jew and to the world, and the Torah riles against the licentiousness, immorality and sexual looseness of the nations of Canaan, as a basic reason for their displacement by Hashem.

Therefore......Yosi Ben Yochanan advises...minimize contact with your wife....but certainly so with your neighbor's wife. The fruits of the breach of this guideline is so obvious in our world today. The blessings of its observance is the wholesome, beautiful, productive life that characterizes a Torah home.

QUESTIONS TO PONDER

1. What is meant by the terms "yetzer tove" and "yetzer ra"?

2. What does the word "ra" mean and connote?

Copyright 1998 by Leo Schwartz

Click here to send Leo your opinion or message.

[bar]

[Home]


------
In Loving Memory Of Our Father, Mr. Joseph Black (Yosef Ben Zelig) O"H
In Loving Memory Of Our Mother, Mrs. Norma Black (Nechama Bas Tzvi Hirsh) O"H
------

[bar]

© 1996- by Harlan Black, JewishAmerica. All rights reserved.

[bar]