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<<Back to Pirkei Avot Page
Pirkei Avot / Ethics of the Fathers
with a select treasury of commentaries on all levels of Torah interpretation
Chapter 6 Beraitha 6
with select commentaries


Abbreviations used in this translation:
RSHI - Rashi Commentary (1040-1105)
RMBM - Rambam (1135-1204)
BRTN - Rabbi Ovadiah of Bartenura Commentary (1445-1515)
TFRT - Tiferet Yisrael commentary (1782–1860)
YONA - Rabeinu Yonah (1180-1263)
MHRL - Derech Chaim - Maharal of Prague (1525-1609) (from hebrewbooks.org/14193)
VLNA - Biur HaGra of Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna - (1720-1797)

Commentary Legend:
- for basic commentaries as relating to the plain meaning (Pshat).
- elaborates more into the theme.
- deeper in, Maharal of Prague.
- more themes in the text.

Chapter 6 Beraitha 6פרק ו ברייתא ו
 
Do not seek greatness for yourself and do not covet honor. Practice more than you learn and do not desire the table of kings. For your table is greater than theirs and your crown is greater than their crowns. And faithful is your Employer to pay you the reward of your work. אַל תְּבַקֵּשׁ גְּדֻלָּה לְעַצְמְךָ, וְאַל תַּחְמֹד כָּבוֹד, יוֹתֵר מִלִּמּוּדְךָ עֲשֵׂה, וְאַל תִּתְאַוֶּה לְשֻׁלְחָנָם שֶׁל מְלָכִים, שֶׁשֻּׁלְחָנְךָ גָדוֹל מִשֻּׁלְחָנָם, וְכִתְרְךָ גָדוֹל מִכִּתְרָם, וְנֶאֱמָן הוּא בַּעַל מְלַאכְתְּךָ שֶׁיְּשַׁלֵּם לְךָ שְׂכַר פְּעֻלָּתֶךָ

Rashi - "do not seek greatness for yourself" - to chase after positions of dominion/leadership (sherara).

"do not desire honor" - to be honored for your torah. For then you appear as one who serves "shelo lishma" (i.e for personal gain).

"your table is greater than theirs" - the reward you will receive for learning torah.

"practice more than you learn" - do good deeds and fulfill mitzvot more than what you learned, as we learned: "one whose [good] deeds exceeds his wisdom - his wisdom will endure" (Avot 3:11).
Sforno - "this is the way of torah.. bread with salt... do not seek greatness for yourself.." - he exhorted on two matters. For in most cases, these are undoutedly what prevents a man from toiling in torah. The first is desire for physical pleasures. Thus he said one who toils in torah must subsist with the necessary for temporary life [of this world] and not waste his time seeking the superfluous.

The second is yearning for honor and status in this temporary world. Thus he said to not desire to increase honor in this world more than his learning, i.e. more than what he is used to getting presently according to his status in this temporary world. He also said that in torah, he will find life and honor more than anywhere else.
Meorei Ohr - "do not desire the table of kings.." - after exhorting on afflicting the body [by abstaining] from [superfluous] foods and pleasures and by not chasing after honor, he now clarifies the great pleasures and great honor he will attain in Olam Haba. For this is greater than delights of kings and their exalted glories.

This is what he said: "do not desire..kings", even though their table includes delights and honor. For your table regarding pleasures is greater than theirs and your level and honor is greater than their crowns in Olam Haba..
Rabeinu Avraham Pritzel on Avot - "do not seek greatness for yourself" - ie since Rebbi Meir said earlier that among the segulot (powers) of the torah is that it grants kingship and rulership to those who study lishma (for its own sake), he warned and exhorted to not seek for yourself greatness and honor. For that is not torah lishma but "a crown to inflate oneself". Rather from torah [lishma], automatically greatness and virtues (maalot) will come to you.

And likewise "do not desire the table of kings" who eat the fruits of their merits in this world and benefit from their crown of royalty. Rather just learn.. certainly your crown is greater than theirs.. and if the reward does not appear to reach you in this world, known and understand that "faithful is your Employer to pay you the reward of your work" (in the afterlife).
Yismach Moshe - "do not desire the table of kings" - for the yetzer tells a man who toils in torah: "if you take on yourself the yoke of torah, you will not make a good livelihood. For you will not be among the merchants". Likewise, "if you will have only for yourself stale bread and water it is good for you but what about other people? How can you feed others, to satiate the starving and that 'poor people should be guests in your house' (Avot 1:5) and anyone hungry can come in, etc. as the wealthy and important people do... they have on their table fattened chickens and good wines. This is a tremendous mitzvah without limit, to feed the poor and destitute but you cannot do this even a litle bit. Therefore it is good for you to drop this torah study and toil in business.Then you can come to their level and have both this world and the next". On this he said: "do not desire the table of kings.. for your crown is greater than theirs"...
Ruach Chaim - "do not seek greatness for yourself and do not covet honor" - likewise Yaakov our forefather asked G-d only for bread to eat and clothing to wear, things necessary immediately. For Yaakov divested himself of this world and took for himself Olam Haba as written in the Midrash (Tanna dBei Eliyahu zuta ch.19)...

But when Yaakov sought to sit quietly (leshev shalva), immediately the troubles with Yosef befell him as written in the Midrash (Ber.Rabba 4:6). For it is not for him to seek also this world as before. Likewise for R. Chanina ben Dosa it was enough for him to eat one kav (measure) of carobs from one Sabbath to the next. For he did not want to take more from this world. For this is not his portion. This is the meaning of "do not seek greatness for yourself", ie he should not seek this [world] as before. And if he does not seek it, then eventually honor and greatness will come by themselves.

"do not desire the table of kings/noblemen" - for the yetzer hara (evil inclination) entices a person to seize matters of this world and [strive to] become wealthy saying: "is it not so that rich people acquire for themselves Olam Haba through the tzedaka (charity) they do? And they also delight in this world. So too if you were like them and not as one imprisoned in the Beit Midrash".

On this he said: "do not lust to become rich" in this world. "for your table is greater" since the Holy One, blessed be He, will pay you as "according to the pain is the reward" (Avot 5:22).

And likewise our sages said: "in Olam Haba the tzadikim sit with their crowns on (literally:in) their heads" (Berachot 17a). For the crown in this world is taken from one person to another. But in Olam Haba each person has his own independent crown. This is what he said: "their crowns" - each person according to his level is the greatness of his crown..

He said "crown IN their heads" and not "crown ON their heads". For a crown on the head can be taken off. But in the head is fixed always.
Chida, Zeroa Yamin - "do not desire the table of kings.." - for matters of the body - food, drink, clothing, a man should not look at the great wealthy people of the generation. For though this, he will lose his world, never be satiated, always lust for more, and all day sigh to attain things not suited for him, as written: "jealousy, lust and honor remove a person from the world".

Rather he should look at those less fortunate than him, as R.Akiva told his wife: "see there are some people who do not have even straw" (Nedarim 50b).

Through this he will be happy and joyful, quiet and secure.

But for spiritual levels, toil in torah, fear of sin, humility and the like, he should put his eyes and thoughts to those greater than him, to ascend higher and higher every day..
Maharal - "do not desire the table of kings. For your table is greater than theirs.." - the table is a symbol of wealth. For a king owns cities, countries, silver and gold. On this he said: "do not desire the table of kings". Even though a king has much wealth, nevertheless the torah has greater wealth..

The wealth of torah is greater for the torah lasts and is eternal but physical wealth is not eternal.

On this he said: "your table", ie your wealth is greater than the wealth of kings. For all the wealth of kings is something which is eventually lost. But for torah, loss does not apply. Thus since the wealth of kings is destined to be anulled, it is not called "wealth" relative to the wealth of one who has torah.
Maharal Tzantz - "your table is greater than theirs" - for even though a whole and rich man bestows good to others. But nevertheless the torah scholar bestows good to the whole world through his torah as the talmud brings: "the whole world is sustained in the merit of Chananiah.." (Berachot 17b).

Thus your table is greater than theirs. For through your torah, you bestow all good and blessing.

Likewise, the torah scholar bestows of his torah to others which is food for the soul, namely, to his students who sit and listen at his table. This is more valuable. For the soul is eternal. While bestowing food for the body is only a temporary bestowing.
Daat Zekenim on Pirkei Avot, writings of Rabeinu Yerucham haLevi of Mir - "do not seek greatness or yourself.. - on one side there is the trait of humility, namely, to be completely lowly/humble (b'tachlit hashiflut) as we learned earlier: "be very very lowly of spirit" (Avot 4:4) and "be of lowly spirit before every man" (Avot 4:10) until "as dust which everyone treads", and Moshe said: "but [of] what [significance] are we?" (Shemot/Ex.16:7).

But on the other hand, there is the trait of "pride/uplifting of heart" (gavhut halev) as written: "and his heart was uplifted in the ways of G-d" (Divrei Hayamim II 17:6). This trait is completely the opposite. For the trait of gadlut and gavhut (greatness and highness) of heart does not have even one hair of lowliness. Rather "everything is as nothing", "all are annulled completely against me".

Without having this trait, there isn't even a beginning of fulfilling the torah (ein af hatchala lekiyum hatorah). For this is the introduction (hakdama) to torah.

This is as our sages said: "before Rabba began (his class) to the Rabbis he would say words of jest" (Shabbat 30b), ie he would joke and jest on all that came to his hand, annulling the whole world completely in order to elevate and enter the students in the secret of gadlut (greatness) which is an introduction to torah.

Likewise, this is what our sages taught: "A favorite saying (margala) of the Rabbis of Yavneh was: I am G-d's creature and my fellow is G-d's creature. My work is in the town and his work is in the country. I rise early for my work and he rises early for his work. Just as he does not presume to do my work, so I do not presume to do his work" (Berachot 17a).

For this is a necessary margala before learning torah. For one who approaches to learn torah with all his lowliness/humility - he will not succeed.

Rather, one must immediately have the consideration of: "I am G-d's creature.." and "I do not presume to do his work". Rather "and his heart was uplifted in the ways of G-d".

Thus after the mishna of "this is the way of torah, eat bread with salt, etc." comes our mishna. For the trait of gadlut and gavhut halev (greatness of heart) is the way and introduction to the torah. Therefore: "do not seek grandeur, etc." to chase after dominion and "do not covet honor.. and do not lust for the table of kings".

Rather, know certainly that "your table is greater than their table and your crown is greater their crown".

And do not limit yourself to what they have. Rather, clarify and verify to yourself the greatness of your table and crown and let your heart be uplifted in the ways of G-d. If you do thus, "fortunate are you and it is good for you (ashreicha v'tov lach)".