Pirkei Avot - Ethics of the FathersMain Page
Chapter 1 Mishna 1
פרק א משנה א
Moshe received [the] Torah from Sinai and transmitted it to Yehoshua, and Yehoshua to the Elders, and the Elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets transmitted it to the Men of the Great Assembly.
משֶׁה קִבֵּל תּוֹרָה מִסִּינַי, וּמְסָרָהּ לִיהוֹשֻׁעַ, וִיהוֹשֻׁעַ לִזְקֵנִים, וּזְקֵנִים לִנְבִיאִים, וּנְבִיאִים מְסָרוּהָ לְאַנְשֵׁי כְנֶסֶת הַגְּדוֹלָה.
Bartenura - "from Sinai" - since this tractate is not coming to explain a mitzva (commandment) in the torah like the other tractates. Rather, it is all ethics and character traits, and the wise men of the nations also conjured up books of ethics according to their hearts on how a person should live and behave towards others. Therefore, the Tanna (sage) begins this tractate "Moshe received the Torah from Sinai". To teach that the traits and ethics in this tractate were not conjured up by the sages according to their hearts. But rather, even these were said at Sinai.
Chida - Zeroa Yamin - "Moshe received torah" - we can expand the words of Rabeinu Ovadiah in another aspect. The intent of the tanna is to rouse the hearts of the slumberers, who love to lay down and nap. For they consider in their hearts that it is good for a man to carry the yoke of the ethics of the philosophers, and through this the foolishness of one's heart will be subdued since they are built on the foundations of reason. But on the contrary, their evil inclination deceives them. They think wise the wisdom of the gentiles. For their tongue is quick to speak slick words, appearing right, submitting the evil inclination. Therefore, he opened: "Moshe received torah.."
To teach that these words of mussar are gufei torah (actual torah) and were said at Sinai. i.e. look and see the difference between light and darkness. For all the gentile ethics is useless for annulling the yetzer hara (evil inclination), because it cannot be annulled without torah, as written (Kidushin 30b): "says the Holy One, blessed be He, I have created the Yetzer Hara and I have created the torah as its antidote". Thus, it cannot possibly be annulled without torah and the mussar (ethics) of the gentiles (philosophers, etc.) is as nothing. Why should you err in strange things? But the mussar of the torah sages are completely torah and are capable of annulling the yetzer hara...
Translator: furthermore, one does not receive any torah study reward for learning the secular books and also they are mixed with truth and falsehood in various proportions. Another consideration is that when a person reads something, he receives a hashpaa (spiritual influence) from the soul of the author and tends to become like him.
Rabbi Meir Mazuz - notice that the Vilna Gaon's commentary on Pirkei Avot focuses on sourcing every mishna from a verse in scripture. This is because in the talmud Shabbat, it says that something which is called "father" in the mishna is explicitly in the torah. This is why he goes through to source each mishna from a verse.
Tiferet Yisrael - a man should not think that it is enough for his soul's perfection if he toils in torah and fulfills it, and even if he does not rectify his character traits he will merit Olam Haba. It is not so, for "the punishment of middot is more severe [than forbidden relations]" (Yevamot 21a, Bava Batra 89b). Likewise, our sages said: "one who toils in torah but does not have faithful business dealings and does not conduct himself pleasantly (b'nachat) with others - woe to him..." (Yomah 26a).
Maharal - "fathers" - a father is fitting to give mussar (ethics) to his son. For in his being a father, the frivolousness of youth (yaldut) has left him. Likewise for the mother. They are baalei mussar (exponents of morals), and especially since it is incumbent on a father to guide his son in all matters.
Because this tractate speaks of good and just mussar (ethics), it begins by stating that it is proper to receive mussar from the fathers. And without a doubt, these men are the fathers of the world. For certainly Moshe is a father of the world, and so too Yehoshua who received the torah from Moshe, and likewise the Elders, etc... and so too Antigonus and the other sages mentioned.. They are certainly fathers of the world (i.e. of all humanity). Thus, it is proper for one to accept their mussar just like a son should accept the mussar of his father. And it is proper for them to give mussar to the world, since they are fathers of the world. Therefore this tractate is called Tractate Avot (Fathers). For it contains the mussar teachings of the fathers of the world.
Chida - Chasdei Avot - the commentaries wrote that this tractate is called "avot" because the mussar in it is the father of all mussar in the world.. and since the primary good trait is humility, we find the torah mentioned only this trait in Moshe Rabeinu (as written: "and the man Moses was exceedingly humble, more so than any person on the face of the earth" - Bamidbar 12:3). For humility is the main [root] of all good deeds...
Chida - Chedrei Beten, Parsha Shmini - the reason the name of this tractate is "Avot" (Fathers) is because the words are the fathers of all mussars, as the commentaries wrote. We can also say that it is to rouse one's heart to remember the forefathers who were perfect (Shelemim) in all these things, and our sages of blessed memory said: "a man is obligated to tell himself: 'when will my deeds reach the deeds of my forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov'"...
Chida - Maarit HaAyin - in the way of remez (hint) we can say this tractate was called "Avot" to rouse the heart of a Jew that we are obligated to accept their words like the command of a father to his sons. See how much the descendants of Yonadav ben Rachav merited for guarding the command of their father. And do not say "this is mishnat chasidim, (extra piety), and I am not a chasid (extra pious)". Thus it was called "Avot", i.e. these were the deeds of the forefathers and thus think how to resemble your forefathers. Furthermore, if you take this upon yourself, the merit of your forefathers will be a helper and shield to help you fulfill.
Another hint: "avot" is gematria "shafal" (lowly). For he who is truly humble, it will be easy for him to fulfill everything and he will be holy, which is also gematria "shafal" and likewise, "avot".
Tiferet Yisrael - "from Sinai" - i.e. through being extremely humble, Moshe received the torah which is compared to water. For water flows out of high places and collects in low places. Thus, he received the torah from Sinai, [among] the lowest of the mountains (as Megilah 29a). This is to teach that a man can merit torah only through Humility, the source of all just character traits.
Raz Chaim - "sinai" is letters "nissim" (miracles), to hint that only through the humble does the Holy One, blessed be He, perform miracles, as known.
Chatam Sofer end of Vayikra - "Moshe received Torah" - he wrote "received torah", not "received the torah". For the latter would imply the torah known and understood by us or at least by Moshe Rabeinu, and not more than this. Therefore, he wrote: "Moshe received torah". For he also did not understand all that is said there. Rather, the book was transmitted thus to Moshe Rabeinu with everything in it, even the fiftieth gate of Binah (understanding) was written there and Moshe did not know it. Therefore "Moshe received torah", and not "the torah".
Maharal: Why does it not say "received from G-d"?
FIRST ANSWER - EVERYONE RECEIVES FROM G-D
If it had said "Moshe received the torah from G-d", this would imply that only Moshe in particular received from G-d. It is not so. For He is the G-d of all and bestows wisdom to everyone. Therefore, the Mishna did not say "Moshe received from G-d", but rather "Moshe received from Sinai". He inserted here Sinai since certainly Sinai was designated in particular to Moshe's receiving of the torah... But every day we pray "illuminate our eyes with Your torah". Thus, G-d is not designated to Moshe alone in the flow of the torah... Thus, it is not appropriate to designate Moshe alone as receiving from G-d..
SECOND ANSWER - NOT PROPER HONOR
It did not say "received from G-d" because there is no comparison between G-d and Moshe. For it is not proper honor to associate G-d with Moshe, as a teacher to his disciple, to equate a human with the Holy One, blessed be He. Thus it says Moshe received "from Sinai" - that the voice of G-d came to Sinai, as if speaking to itself, and Moshe received the Torah from Sinai. If it had said "received at Sinai", then "at Sinai" would have taught only which place he received the Torah. Therefore, it said "from Sinai" [to also teach the above].
Question: Why does it change from the term "received" to the term "transmitted"?
Maharal - "Moshe received the torah from Sinai and transmitted" - it says "received" for the receiver receives according to his ability to receive. And Moshe did not receive the whole torah as brought in the talmud (Shavuot 5a), for it is infinite. Thus it is impossible to say Moshe received the whole torah and understood the whole torah. Rather, he received what he was capable of receiving.
Afterwards, it says he "transmitted it to Yehoshua". For it is possible for him to "transmit" all he received to Yehoshua. So too it was possible for Yehoshua to transmit all he received from Moshe to the Elders, and likewise the Elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets to the Men of the Great Assembly. Each was capable of transmitting all he received because their power to receive was strong. But after the Men of the Great Assembly, the generations began to diminish. Therefore, it says "Antigonus received from Shimon HaTzadik" and not "Shimon HaTzadik transmitted to Antigonus". For he did not transmit to him all the torah he received. Because the generations began to diminish in wisdom. It says only that Antigonus received. For he received only according to his ability. Similarly in the talmud: "Rabbi Eliezer the Great said: 'I learned much torah from my Rabbis, but received from them only like a dog who licks from the sea.'" (Sanhedrin 68a).
So too for all the pairs of sages mentioned afterwards. Only the term "received" is used. Because after the "Men of the Great Assembly" the torah became diminished. Thus, they needed to exhort the disciples on the torah as will be explained.
Question: Why does it specify Yehoshua? Didn't Moshe teach all of Israel, including Eliezer the high priest?
Maharal - "to Yehoshua" - even though Moshe taught all of Israel, the term "transmit" is used only by one who receives and it remains by him. Therefore, the term "transmitted to Yehoshua" is used instead of "taught to Yehoshua". For "taught" implies learning it even though one may forget it. But the term "transmits" connotes something transmitted and which remains in the person's hands. Likewise, it says in Nedarim 38b: " 'He gave the torah to Moshe..' - at first he learned and forgot, until the torah was given to him as a gift". For "to grasp the torah according to its halacha requires siyata d'Shmaya (divine help)" (Megilah 6b), and this divine help was only by Yehoshua. For he was undoubtedly worthy of this. So too, that which it says "and Yehoshua to the Elders", the Elders were worthy and uniquely capable of receiving the torah from Yehoshua (in being the greatest sages of the generation).
Question: Why does it specify these 5?
Maharal - "Moshe, Yehoshua, Elders, Prophets, Men of the Great Assembly" - these 5 were all special levels. Moshe was like the sun, all light, as if he did not have a physical body. He was completely separate from the physical. But Yehoshua was compared to the moon, which has a [solid] body to receive the light of the sun. Thus, Yehoshua received from Moshe as written "you shall bestow of your splendor on him.." (Bamidbar 27:20). Yehoshua was on a special level. Similar and related to Moshe, like the Sun and the Moon.
The Elders' special level was "wisdom". For an "Elder is only one who has acquired wisdom". They were exceedingly fit for wisdom. Thus, they were more fitting to receive from Yehoshua because [the level of] "wisdom" is closer to Yehoshua than [the level of] "prophecy" as they said "a wise sage is greater than a prophet" (Bava Batra 12a).
But the levels of Moshe and Yehoshua were special in being like the sun and the moon, and certainly their level was above the level of "wisdom" and included it due to their exceedingly high level of prophecy. This is why it says "Yehoshua to the Elders" (and not Yehoshua to the prophets) since they are closer to him.
"The Elders to the Prophets" - for the prophets are close to the Elders (in level).. and likewise the "Prophets to the Men of the Great Assembly". These latter were a special level by itself. They exceeded in Holiness to such an extend that "Idolatry" was annulled in their times (Yomah 69b). This is a special level not like the level of prophecy. Therefore, it was necessary to designate them a special level to exclude the level of prophecy. For prophets is on one person just like on many. But these had a level of holiness close to G-d, blessed be He... they were 120 members for an amazing reason and this is not the place to elaborate...
Thus, these 5 levels mentioned are all special levels by themselves, and it is proper for the Torah to go from Yehoshua to the Elders. For the level of the Elders is close to Yehoshua, and likewise from the Elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets to the "Men of the Great Assembly". And since the level of Elders is all one level, it was not considered as a special level that which the Elders received from the Elders... and likewise for the other levels.
Ben Ish Chai - Zechut Avot - that which he said "from Sinai" (m'Sinai) instead of "at Sinai" (b'Sinai), this is to hint with the letter "mem", that Moshe merited to receive the torah through the power of remaining there (fasting) 40 days. The reason for the forty is because a man has 4 physical foundations (which are aligned to the spiritual roots), and they became purified through his fasting 40 days until he became like an angel in the spiritual world. His body became ohr chiyunit (life force light).
Ben Ish Chai - Chasdei Avot - why did the light of the Shechina descend on the mountain to teach him torah? As we explained, if he went above to learn there, his body would have been purified to be like the angels on high and even more. Then, Yehoshua would have been incapable of receiving the torah from him. For it is impossible to receive from an angel on high.
If Moshe went for himself only, it would have been possible. But since he needed to transmit his learning to the lower creations (humans), they would have been incapable of receiving from him. For the physical of man is totally remote from the "body" (guf) of an angel to the opposite extreme.
Therefore, the lower creations would not be able to stand on his view (l'aamod al daato) and they would not understand what he taught them nor grasp his intent in what he tells them. But since he sat on the mountain, physical ground, and the Holy One, blessed be He, spread His cloud over him, and learned torah in the cloud stationed on the physical mountain, through this, Moshe Rabeinu became included of above and below.
His physical side became purified but not completely like the upper ones. Rather, he was like an intermediate type between the upper and the lower. Due to this, the lower ones were capable of receiving from him torah and wisdom and could understand what he taught them. If he were not an intermediate type, neither Yehoshua nor others could receive from him, since he would have been completely distant from them to the opposite extreme. Through this, you will understand well what the Midrash Rabba says on the verse: "which Moshe the man of Gd blessed" - (Midrash:) "half and below, man. half and above Gd"...
And the first and last letters of Sinai are Samech-Yud, which are the letters of Yesod-Mach (mem-chuf). For Moshe Rabeinu merited that the torah be given through him for two reasons. One, he was the Yesod of Chachmah, and two, he was mach, i.e. humble.
Chida - Zerua Yamin - Moshe is gematria Pardes plus one. Pardes hints to the four worlds (Atzilut, Beriah, Yetzira, and Asiya), and the four levels of soul (nefesh, ruach, neshama, chaya, and the four levels of torah interpretation (pshat, remez, drosh, and sod). Each part includes the others and there is also the Sod of Sod corresponding to a [sublime] fifth level - Yechida.. It is possible that Moshe also merited a bit of torah at the level of Yechida, as written: "Yet You have made him slightly less than the angels" (Tehilim 8:6). Due to this, his holy name was one more (than Pardes). To hint that he merited to some portion of the level of Yechida. It is known that each world has the Name Havaya (Yud-Heh-Vav-Heh). Therefore "Sinai" is gematria five times Havaya (26x5=130=Samech-Yud-Nun-Yud), corresponding to the four worlds and what is above them which the Name Havaya hints to in the crown of the Yud. This is the meaning of Moshe, gematria Pardes plus one, received the torah in its divisions (Pshat, Remez, Drosh, Sod) from Sinai (five Havayot)...
Chida - Roshei Avot - likewise the Sofei Teivot (last letter of each word) of Moshe Kibel Torah = Heh-Lamed-Heh=40. To hint that he received it in forty days. This corresponds to the four Yuds in the Name Havaya (when letters spelled out), whose gematria is forty.. This is the reason they remained forty years in the desert and after forty years: "Moses commenced [and] explained this Law" (Devarim 1:5). For during those forty years they were receiving the torah which Moshe received in forty days. One year for each day. This is the Oral Torah. They correspond to the four parts of Torah - Pardes (Peh-Reish-Dalet-Samech=Pshat, Remez, Drosh, Sod). And he who does not admit to the Sod (kabalistic meaning) remains a Pered (Peh-Reish-Dalet=mule). On him it is written: "Be not like a horse, like a mule (Pered) that has no understanding" (Tehilim 32:9). These four correspond to the four worlds, four souls, and four receivers of torah from flesh and blood (Yehoshua, Elders, Prophets, Men of great assembly).
Chida - Kiseh David derush dalet - Sinai is gematria 600 thousand, Samech x Yud x Nun x Yud=60x10x50x10=300 thousand, plus the Sinai on high (in the mystical worlds) aligned with Sinai below...
|They said three things: be deliberate in judgment, raise up many disciples and make a fence for the Torah||הֵם אָמְרוּ שְׁלשָׁה דְבָרִים: הֱווּ מְתוּנִים בַּדִּין, וְהַעֲמִידוּ תַלְמִידִים הַרְבֵּה, וַעֲשׂוּ סְיָג לַתּוֹרָה|
Rabeinu Yonah - "be deliberate in judgment" - a man who is quick to judge is called "poshea" (negligent). And even though he thought he was saying truth, he is not considered unintentional (shogeg), but rather close to intentional (karov l'mezid). For he did not put to heart to say to himself: "a swift heart will not understand knowledge". For error is common to all men, as they said: "" (4:12). On this Shlomo said: "did you see a man swift in his words? A fool has more hope than him" (Mishlei 29:20), and like our sages said: "be careful in ruling, for an error of learning is tantamount to a willful transgression" (Avot 4:7). Therefore, a man who rules needs to deliberate the matter and mull over his thoughts, as they said: "one must delay and let the din ferment" (Sanhedrin 35a). For through pondering and waiting, he will find new arguments and deductions until the Din (judgment) will be absolutely true. For on second thought, he will see what he failed to see at first...
Tiferet Yisrael - "be deliberate in judgment" - be patient before deciding any matter, whether [for a Beit Din] in judging someone if he is righteous or wicked, or when deciding one's own affairs, not being concerned that perhaps he is mistaken. It is also not proper to justify himself and his family in all his matters. But rather he must guide them and others in the ways of righteousness. For his rebuke is more effective... Thus he said, "raise up many disciples", and all the more so does this apply to his own sons (that he must teach them torah).. Every person is also under duty to enact personal fences for himself so as to not go to places where he will easily sin. Thus, every person is a judge, teacher, and law-maker.
Meorei Ohr - "raise up many disciples" - For in many students wisdom will increase. For the students sharpen the mind of the Rav and ask him questions. Through this he needs to think on what to answer them and will clarify many doubts, and our sages said: " 'it is a tree of life' - why was the torah compared to a tree? To teach you that just like a small tree can ignite a large tree, so too small torah scholars sharpen big ones" (Taanit 7a)...
"make a fence" - from the verse "fenced in with roses" (Shir 7:3). For the torah is as a vineyard. If the stones of the fence have fallen, people and animals will enter and destroy it. The fence is a great guardian for the vineyard. Thus, for every mitzva in the torah - to make a fence around it, such as the Rabbinical prohibitions on forbidden relations...
Chida, Kikar Laeden - you can see that all three things stem from humility. "be deliberate in judgment", this is from the aspect of humility, that one does not consider himself a "Chacham" (wise man), and he suspects himself that perhaps he erred. thus, he deliberates and debates it on all sides until it is totally clear. "raise (stand) up many disciples" - for then they would learn torah while standing, until weakness came to the world afterwards. And through many disciples the study will be clarified. This also stems from the aspect f humility, that one does not rely on his own wisdom and he needs many disciples, and as written: "I learned the most from my students" (Taanit 7a). "make a fence for the Torah" - for one should not trust himself that he will not stumble. Rather, he needs fences. This also stems from the aspect of humility. For he fears that he might come to tread on the Biblical prohibition and he doesn't trust himself that he will be able to guard well.
Maharal - Question: Why was tractate Avot placed at the end of Seder Nezikim (laws of damages)? Rambam (intro to zeraim): when the Tanna (author of the mishna) completed what the judge needs to know, he began with tractate Avot. This was for two matters.
One, to make known that the rulings and the Tradition is true and correct, received generation from generation. Therefore, it is proper to honor the [torah] sage and place him in an honorable position. For the Law has reached him, and he in his generation is like them in their generation.. There is in this great mussar to people. They should not say: "why should we accept the ruling of this judge or the enactment of this judge? It is not so. For the ruling is not of this judge, rather, it is the Holy One, blessed be He, who commanded us in it, as written "the mishpat (justice) belongs to G-d". It is all one mishpat (justice), received from one sage to another, generation after generation.
The second matter is that the Tanna wanted to bring the mussar of all these sages in order that we learn from them good middot (character traits). No one needs this more than the judges. For when a common man is not a baal mussar, the damage is not to all the masses. Rather, he damages only himself. But when the judge is not a baal mussar (ethical) and tzanua (refined), he will damage himself and also other people. Therefore, his opening words in tractate Avot were mussar to the judges, as written: "be deliberate in judgment". The judge must reprove himself in all the matters of tractate Avot...
Maharal - Why did the "men of the great assembly" say these three things..? There is no doubt that such wise men could have said many words of wisdom and understanding without limit.
(the Maharal will now give several explanations. In the end he says: "all the explanations we gave follow along the same line if you understand")
SUMMARY:FIRST ANSWER - GENERAL RECTIFICATION OF WISDOM
- To rectify Din (Halacha), torah study, and mitzvah performance.
- To rectify Gedolim, scholars, and unlearned.
- To rectify the 3 branches of intellect: Chachma (wisdom), Binah (understanding), and Daat (knowledge).
- To rectify man's intellect while bound to a physical body.
- To rectify the 3 branches of Torah - Chukim (irrational laws), Mishpatim (rational laws), Mitzvot (in-between laws).
The men of the great assembly saw that the intellect already started to diminish and mastery of wisdom was lacking. When a doctor sees weakness in a patient's limb, he prescribes a medication which will help complete where the patient's nature falls short. Thus, when the men of the great assembly saw the beginning of diminishing of wisdom, they came to repair this ailment.
The lacking in wisdom causes change in three areas. One, the mishpatim (judging) between man and his fellow. Two, in [understanding] the words of torah, and three in the deeds of mitzvot. There is a need for these three things and each of them is a separate matter by itself.
In the mishpatim (judging), one must understand the root of the law in order to judge correctly, to not obligate the innocent and exempt the guilty. This area depends on the reasoning powers of the mind to delve to the depth of the mishpat (law). It is not included in words of torah. For this is solely reasoning powers of the mind (svara), even for things not explicitly written in the torah. Because the laws in the torah are just main principles. But practical cases between man and his fellow are not written in the torah.
Words of torah are also a separate matter by itself, namely, to understand the torah's words.
Likewise the deeds of the mitzvot are also a separate matter, namely, to not come to transgress a mitzvah. For example, when one sees it is permitted to cook chicken (with milk), he will also cook meat (with milk). Thus, the Rabbis forbade even chicken meat. So too, for the Rabbinically forbidden relations (arayot). If these were permitted people will come to permit those biblically forbidden. Similarly, for the other Rabbinical fences of the torah.
The general principle: these three things rectify everything, namely, the Din (judgment), torah, and the practical mitzvot themselves.
Thus, corresponding to the rectification of Din, he said "be deliberate in judgment". Corresponding to rectification of the words of torah, to clarify their words, he said "raise up many disciples", and corresponding to not coming to transgress the deeds of mitzvot, they said: "make a fence for the Torah". For when there is a fence to the torah, this is the rectification of the deeds of the mitzvot. Thus, through these three things everything will be rectified.
Maharal - SECOND ANSWER - RECTIFICATION OF THREE CATEGORIES OF MEN
Furthermore, these three things correspond to the three categories of men. The first category is the Gedolim (great torah scholars). The second is the Talmidei Chachamim (torah scholars), and the third is the rest of the people. For the Din requires very, very, great wisdom, to the extent that even exceedingly wise torah scholars need rectification, as they said (Sanhedrin 81, Yerushalmi): "in Din, there is no wise man, and as Shimon ben Shetach said: if one requests 'on condition that you judge me a Din torah', I answer: 'I don't know Din torah' ".
But for the words of torah, the Gedolim do not need so much rectification. For they are already wise in torah and mitzvot. But the disciples (of the Gedolim, i.e. the medium torah scholars) do need rectification here. Corresponding to this he said: "raise up many students". For through many students, the torah will become clarified to them (i.e. to the medium torah scholars).
Corresponding to the lowest category, namely, the people who do not learn, they need a fence to the torah.
When the men of the great assembly saw the diminishing in wisdom, such that it affected all categories of men, namely, the Gedolim, the disciples, and the rest of the men, they rectified the lacking.
By the Gedolim, the great torah scholars who sit to judge, he commanded them to "be deliberate in judgment", to not rule judgment quickly.
For the lacking in the torah scholars: "raise up many disciples". For when they "raise up many disciples", they stand on the torah due to the many disciples, as the sages said: "from my students I learned the most" (Taanit 7a)..
Corresponding to the rest of people who don't know, he said: "make a fence for the torah". For they need a fence and protection. The torah scholars don't need. Only one who is not a torah scholar needs.
These three things are a general rectification. Thus, he said them in a counted manner, "they said three things". For there is nothing at all more than this. These three things rectify everything. Thus, the men of the great assembly chose to say these three mussar teachings. For this was the most relevant for their generation.
THIRD ANSWER - LACKINGS OF THE MIND
Furthermore, these three things are all for lackings of the intellect. For the generation began to diminish in wisdom, and the divisions of wisdom are three: "Chochma (wisdom), Bina (understanding), and Daat (knowledge)", which are mentioned everywhere in Tanach. And when they saw the generation's lacking in wisdom, the men of the great assembly came and rectified all three. Namely, the lacking in "Chochma", "Binah", and "Daat", as they are written in scripture: "I filled him with wisdom, understanding, and knowledge" (Shemot 31:3), and "G-d founded the earth with wisdom, established the heavens with understanding, with His knowledge the depths were split" (Mishlei 3:19).
You will find some people who err in Chachma (wisdom). Namely, their logical argument (svara) is the opposite of a true logical argument (svara).
There are others whose logical argument (svara) is not crooked and is sound, but when they come to deduce one thing from another through pilpul (deductive reasoning), they have a lacking.
The former is called Chachma, the logical argument (svara) of the mind. The latter is called Binah, the deducing of one thing from another through pilpul (deductive reasoning).
There are also people who lack knowledge, who don't know a thing.
Corresponding to these, he exhorted on these three things. For Din (judging) depends only on logical argument (svara). There is nothing that is more inside the realm of Chachma (wisdom) than Din, as the sages said: "there is no branch of wisdom like monetary laws" (Bava Batra 175b). It is thus necessary to exhort on not erring in the logical argument of the mind. Therefore, he said "be deliberate in judgment".
Corresponding to the lacking that comes in the pilpul (deductive reasoning) of Chochma (logical argument), which is a different level, he said: "raise up many disciples", so that he won't come to err in the pilpul (deductive reasoning) of Chochma.
The thirds depends neither on logical argument (svara) nor on pilpul (deductive reasoning). It is only for one who lacks knowledge such that he has no knowledge. And if you don't fence the torah for those who lack knowledge, they will come to transgress the mitzvot. On this they said: "make a fence for the Torah".
These three things correspond to Chochma, Binah, and Daat mentioned everywhere, and through them is the rectification of everything. Corresponding to Din (judgment), which depends on the logical reasoning (svara) of the mind, he wrote: "be deliberate in judgment".
Corresponding to The rectification of pilpul of the torah, he wrote: "raise up many disciples"...
Corresponding to the error that comes through lack of knowledge, namely, transgressing the torah, he wrote: "make a fence for the Torah".
These three things include everything. Thus he specified them in counted number (minyan). For every counted number implies there is nothing more. So too here, he comes to say that these three things include the total rectification of a man when there is a lacking whether in Chochma, Binah or Daat.
FOURTH ANSWER - INTELLECT WITHOUT BODY
And even though there was no lacking in their generation, and it was proper without lacking. But their generation was not excelling like the Elders and the Prophets. Nevertheless, these instructions are proper for a man in his [inherent limitation in] being a human being. For a human being is not completely intellect. Therefore, it is proper for a man to conduct himself according to his level of human being. Although man has an intellectual soul, but nevertheless, he also has physicality with this.
Therefore they said: "be deliberate in judgment". For a man is not all intellect. If he rushes to judge in Din, without mulling over, it would be as if he were only intellect, without physicality. Because the intellect without any physicality becomes clear, namely, the intellect which is not inside a physical body, it does not need to wait. But when it is in physicality like the intellect of man, it is not completely an actual intellect. Therefore it is proper for a man to conduct himself in the proper way for a man, namely, to "be deliberate in judgment", and not rush as if he were an actual intellect, without physicality.
Likewise regarding "raise up many disciples". For a man does not have a clear intellect for deep matters, because his intellect dwells in physicality. Thus, he needs many students. Through this, it is possible for him to attain a true intellect. Therefore, "raise up many disciples" to not come to error, as the sages said: "A sword is upon the boasters [baddim] and they shall become fools? A sword is upon the enemies of the disciples of the wise who sit separately [bad'bebad] and study the Torah. What is more, they become stupid. It is written here, 'and they shall become fools', and it is written elsewhere, For that we have done foolishly"..." (Berachot 63b).
Likewise regarding "make a fence for the Torah". All this applies to a man inherently in his being human, with a physical body, while his soul dwells in a physical body. For if he does not make a fence for the torah, he will come to transgress it..
Therefore the men of the great assembly said three things. But before their time, in the era of the prophets and all the more so, in the era of the Elders, their intellect was on such a high level that it was as if separated completely from their body. For the prophets were not like ordinary men. Therefore, they would not exhort a man just for his being human. For the level of the prophets was above this.
But for the men of the great assembly, since they were not on the level of the prophets, their level did not go out of the realm of other humans. Unlike Moshe, Yehoshua, the Elders, and the Prophets, whose level went outside the realm of "human". For they were designated a special name of "Elders" or "Prophets", and thus their whole generation was on a super-human level. Therefore, it was not necessary to exhort them. But the "men" of the great assembly would exhort on these things. For they are inherently necessary for a man in his being human and his intellect is not completely separated from the physical.
This is the meaning of "they said [three things]..", i.e. they [alone said] but the prophets and all more so, before them, we do not see at all any words of mussar from the Fathers to the sons exhorting them to go in the path of the just and not in the path of a human who is inherently earthy and physical, just like it is the way of a father to rebuke his son in his youth when the son's nature is still attached to physicality, and the father exhorts him not to go after these things. But for the prophets who were not like normal humans, there was no words of mussar rebuke at all. Only for the men of the great assembly who did not have a special name designated (for they were called "men" of the great assembly) which would have indicated a special level, and all the more so for the sages who came after the men of the great assembly, that they needed to give mussar to their generation. But before the men of the great assembly, it was not relevant to give mussar rebuke to the generation (for they were like pure intellect).
FIFTH ANSWER - RECTIFICATION OF TORAH
You must know also that these three things stated by the men of the great assembly are a rectification of torah. The men of the great assembly wanted to rectify the generation's lacking in torah, and the torah comprises three categories: statutes (Chukim - laws without reason), laws (mishpatim), and commandments (mitzvot). All the commandments of the torah are included in these three categories.
Mishpatim are those known and which reason (conscience) understands. The opposite of them is Chukim. Their reason is not revealed. There are also mitzvot that are not evident like the mishpatim but are also not revealed like the Chukim, and one can grasp their reason through study. These latter are called mitzvot. These three divisions are mentioned in scripture in many places. The men of the great assembly came to rectify them. They said "be deliberate in judgment" corresponding to the mishpatim. For the primary mishpatim in the torah are the Dinim, as written (Parsha Mishpatim) "these are the Mishpatim that you shall place before them..." (Shemot 21).
Corresponding to the mitzvot they said: "raise up many disciples". For one can grasp the words of torah through many students and through study..
Corresponding to the Chukim which cannot be grasped at all, he said: "make a fence for the Torah". For the Chukim are more in need of a fence and boundary due to their reason being unknown...
All the explanations we gave follow along the same line if you understand...
Know that all these three things stated by the men of the great assembly include most of the mussar of the sages (who came after), which are to perfect a man from all sides, as we will explain. For the number three includes a thing, its opposite and the middle between them. Thus, most of the mussar teachings in this tractate are to make a person whole in one area, its opposite, and the middle between them.
The men of the great assembly said: "be deliberate in judgment", which is completely Din. The opposite of this is: "make a fence for the Torah". This is the opposite of "be deliberate in judgment". For a fence is not Din, since according to the torah, one is not completely obligated. He said "raise up many disciples" - to clarify the torah. This is not like Din. For Din obligates every person who knows that he is thus obligated in Din, and likewise, reason obligates a person on this.
But for the words of torah, even though they themselves are obligatory, and the torah is called "mishpat" (justice) in a few places, nevertheless, it is not obligatory according to man's reason (conscience). For according to man's natural reason, the mitzva is not obligatory, unlike mishpat (justice) which a man's reason obligates him (ex. don't steal). Thus, the men of the great assembly's words include the obligatory Din, its opposite, "make a fence for the torah", which is not at all obligatory, and "raise up many disciples". The latter is not like Din which man's reason obligates, nor is it non-obligatory (like the fences). Rather, it is obligatory according to Daat Torah (torah view) For this is the matter of the students - to clarify what the torah obligates, and this is the tikun (rectification) of the torah itself, and in this they included everything. Understand this well.
So too according to what we said earlier that the men of the great assembly included Chukim, Mishpatim, and Mitzvot - it is also thus. For Chukim are the opposite of Mishpatim, whose reason is known, while mitzvot are in between - they are not so revealed but not completely concealed (like Chukim). All this is because their words are coming to rectify everything, as we said. You should understand this very well.
Ruach Chaim - they said three things: "be deliberate in judgment", corresponding to true in-depth study (iyun), to the utmost possible (daka min hadaka), "raise up many disciples" in order to increase torah and that it not be forgotten from the seed of Jacob.
These latter two traits, raising disciples and true in-depth study assist and bring divine help in grasping the torah...
Furthermore, be exceedingly careful to deliberate in Din, and examine it much and thoroughly. Afterwards, "raise up many disciples" who make their teacher wise by speaking out the questions that came to their minds. For the mouth is like a finger which senses imperfections. Thus when the mouth speaks it out each time, he will feel the imperfections of the intellect, as a fingernail feels the blemishes on a shechita knife. And even after all this, do not think that you have certainly arrived at the truth, after both the intellect and the speaking out have reached a consensus. On this they said nevertheless: "and make a fence for the Torah". And then halevai (would that it were) that you did not step on the ikar din (primary part of the mitzva).
They also said these three corresponding to the three parts of the soul: nefesh, ruach, neshama, which are thought, speech, and deed. For deed is in the realm of the nefesh as written "the souls (nefesh) which do" (Vayikra 18:29), "the soul that will do" (Bamidbar 15:30). Speech is in the realm of the ruach, as written: "ruach Ha-shem spoke through me" (Shmuel II 23:2), and "by the ruach of his lips" (Isaiah 11:4). Thought is in the realm of the neshama. A man needs to rectify all these three levels. This is what they said "three things": "be deliberate in judgment", corresponding to thought, do delve deeply in his thoughts into the depths of halacha, to draw out the true Din. Afterwards, to teach it to the students, corresponding to speech, and "make a fence for the Torah" corresponding to deed. Understand this.
Ben Ish Chai - Chasdei Avot - to hint that if one sees sufferings and judgments befall him, he should not get angry and say bad things on Above. Rather, he should be patient and silent, and hope to Ha-shem till he turns the bad into good...
Ben Ish Chai - Chasdei Avot - the oral law is called "din". On this, it is written: "min hashamayim hishmata din". As to why it is called "din", in the tikunim, the oral law has 60 tractates, and it is known that each tractate has four parts - pshat, remez, drosh, sod... thus it is called din. din is dalet-yud-nun = 4, 10+50, i.e. to hint that there are 4 parts of pardes in the sixty tractates... and likewise "make a fence (siyag) for the torah" hints to samech, yud-gimmel, i.e. expound the 60 tractates using the 13 attributes with which the torah is expounded. They said "make" to hint the learning needs to bring to action, even when learning, he should "learn on condition to do".