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Pirkei Avot / Ethics of the Fathers
with a select treasury of commentaries on all levels of Torah interpretation
Chapter 1 Mishna 18
with select commentaries

Commentaries used in this translation:
Rashi Commentary (1040-1105)
Rambam Commentary (1135-1204)
Rabbi Ovadiah of Bartenura Commentary (1445-1515)
Tiferet Yisrael commentary (1782–1860)
Rabeinu Yonah (1180-1263)
Derech Chaim - Maharal of Prague (1525-1609) (hebrewbooks.org/14193)
Biur HaGra of Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna - (1720-1797)
Rabbi Avraham Azoulai commentary - (1570-1643)
Rabbi Chayim Yosef David Azoulai (Chida) commentary - (1724-1806)
Chatam Sofer commentary - (1762-1839), along with Ktav Sofer, and others
Ben Ish Chai commentary - (1835-1909)
and many more..

Commentary Level:
  • Min - (level 1) for basic commentaries as relating to the plain meaning (Pshat).
  • Med - (level 2) elaborates more into the theme.
  • Max - (level 3) deeper in, Maharal of Prague.
  • Max+ - (level 4) more themes in the text.
  • ShortMix - (recommended) short version of level 4.
Suggestion: Read once without commentaries (or min). Then a second time with.

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Chapter 1 Mishna 18פרק א משנה יח
Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel said: "on three things the world stands (endures), on judgment, on truth, and on peace, as written:'judge truth and the justice of peace in your gates'(Zachariah 8:16)" רַבָּן שִׁמְעוֹן בֶּן גַּמְלִיאֵל אוֹמֵר, עַל שְׁלשָׁה דְבָרִים הָעוֹלָם עוֹמֵד, עַל הַדִּין וְעַל הָאֱמֶת וְעַל הַשָּׁלוֹם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (זכריה ח) אֱמֶת וּמִשְׁפַּט שָׁלוֹם שִׁפְטוּ בְּשַׁעֲרֵיכֶם:

Bartenura - "the world stands" - human society endures.
"on judgment" - to merit the meritorious and obligate the guilty.
"on truth" - to not lie to your fellow
"on shalom" - between nations and between people.
Rambam - "on judgment" - governing the country justly
"on truth" - virtues of intellect
"on shalom" - virtues of middot (character traits).

when these three are found, the existence will undoubtedly be as whole as possible. (yiheyu hametziut b'shelemut sh'efshar lo blo safek).
Rabeinu Yonah - "on truth" - that one goes in the way of G-d, who is Truth, whose Torah is Truth, and who walks in the ways of truth. So too a man should walk in this path, as written: "you shall walk in His ways" (Devarim 28:9)...

"on shalom" - this includes all good in the world. There is no limit to its benefit.
Beit Yosef (beginning of Tur Choshen Mishpat): if you ask: "if the three things the world was created for [as brought by Shimon HaTzadik in mishna 2) were enough to create it, all the more so they should be enough to maintain its existence?" Answer: Shimon HaTzadik spoke according to his time when the Temple stood. While Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel lived at the time of the destruction. Thus he came to say that even though the temple is not standing and we don't have Avodah and also we cannot toil in Torah and acts of kindness properly due to the yoke of the exile, but nevertheless, the world is maintained by three other similar things...
Maharal - this mishna needs explanation. Why did he say on these three things the world stands. Furthermore, in the beginning of this chapter it already says "on three things the world stands.." - and they are not the same three things brought here.

It is proper to explain as follows.

G-d created man as a being containing different parts.

One, the Intellect (Sechel) which is an acquisition (kinyan) of man, as our sages said: "an elder is only one who has acquired wisdom" (Kidushin 32b).

Two, the second acquisition is the man himself. Namely, the "speaking creature" (chai medaber).

Three, his money, which is considered his acquisition.

These three things belong (shayich) to man. One of them is man himself (speaking creature) and the other two are his acquisitions.

Thus, sometimes one finds a man who lacks the acquisition of intellect or who lacks the acquisition of money (possessions).

The [mishna is] teaching on these things as will be explained. Thus, he said: "on three things the world stands.." These pillars are needed to support the three parts of man to prevent their collapse.

"on truth" - for when falsehood intensifies in the world, it annuls the intellect completely till it no longer exists.

For G-d granted intellect to the world (humanity), and it is one of the three parts of the world. When a man chases after truth, the intellect emerges into the world properly.

"on judgment (din)" - the second part which is an acquisition of man is his money. G-d granted every person an acquisition suitable to him. And it is not proper for man to touch what is designated for his fellow. Rather, each creature according to what G-d granted it only.

Thus, if there is no din (judgment), there will come an annulment in this area. The acquisition of what belongs to one man will go to another, and this is not proper.. But when there is din in the world, each person merits properly and according to how G-d created the world and granted each person an acquisition suited to him. Through din, each person stands on what is his.

The sages said: "every judge who judges truthfully even for one hour, it is as if he becomes a partner with G-d, blessed be He, in the creation of the world" (Shab.10a).

For G-d created the world and granted to each person what is proper to him then. And if the judge judges truthfully then each person keeps what is proper to him, as G-d created the world and granted an acquisition of money (possessions) suitable to each person...

"on peace (shalom)" - this is regarding man himself. For in creating human beings in this world, they entered into dispute (machloket). For each person wants to be everything.

Thus, human beings are in conflict when together. For each one annuls the other.
On this, they said the world stands on shalom, namely, that disputes not come between a man and his fellow. This is not referring to monetary [disputes], but rather to those from the aspect of human beings themselves.

To summarize, these three things are the pillars of the world corresponding to the three parts of the world.

Namely, (1) the intellect. It is not the man himself. For the intellect comes to a man when he grows up and he acquires the intellect. (2) the man himself and (3) man's material possessions which are his money.

These three things depend on Din, truth, and Shalom, so the world does not collapse.

According to all this, it is not difficult that Shimon Hatzadik counted three different things.

For those were the reasons why G-d, who is the reason and Cause of the world, upholds (maamid) the world, as we explained there at length.

While the three things here are so that loss and annulment not befall the world from its own aspect.

Thus, Shimon Hatzadik began with those three things, for through them G-d upholds the world. If they cease to exist, the beginning (root) of the world is annulled. While Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel, who was later, says the three things which are the causes for the world standing on its proper standing and not changing due its own aspect.

These three things maintain the world so it does not incur annulment from its own aspect.

There is more one should know regarding these three things mentioned by Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel.

It is known that the sages said there are three worlds: this lower world (olam hashafel) which is until the olam hagalgalim (world of spheres). This world is one of being and loss (change. ex. conception, growth, and death). This phenomena (of changing) applies only to this lower world.

Every coming into being is through something else (a cause) which brings it into being. For a coming into being does not occur by itself. Rather something else acts to bring it into being.

Next, there is the middle world. It has no (new) being after its creation. For this (middle) world has no lacking which would cause it to need (new) being. Rather everything is perfect (b'shlemut).

Due to this, this middle world is called "the world of Shalom". For due to the perfection (shlemut) there, they have Shalom... (skipping forward)

In this middle world, everything is in Shalom. For there they are not susceptible to being and change after their creation from nothing.

And since they are not susceptible to change, this is the Shalom found there. For one who changes has no Shalom.

Thus, since they remain in their (perfect) state without changing. Therefore, they have Shalom.

But if they did not have the bond of Shalom between them, they would not be considered themselves whole (shleimim b'atzman).

For since each is itself a separate (independent) part, then if this middle world did not have Shalom, namely, connection and joining together each one with the other till all are connected together, then there would not be wholeness (shelemut) there. Each (part) would be by itself, and a part is already not whole (shalem)...

Furthermore, the middle world is the world of Shalom because Shalom is when each one stands without entering in the domain of the other, as it is in this middle world, whereby each one stands on his place (mishmarto). This is Shalom. Thus, the middle world is singular in [the quality of] Shalom and there is complete Shalom. Thus, the sages said: "He who makes Shalom on high..." (ose shalom bimeromav.. in the amidah prayer) From this you can see that it is singular in Shalom.

Next, is the upper world, the world of intellect (Sechel), which is attainment of truth. It is called the world of pure intellects (sechalim nifradim).. It is a world which has no falsehood, only truth.. it is called - the world of truth.

Thus, in these three worlds, each one is singular in one area. The upper world is singular in truth. The middle is singular in perfection of Shalom. While, the lower world, is the world of being, and this being does not occur by itself. Rather, it receives this being from agents (which cause it to come to being).

It is known that there are agents (poalim) in this lower world. This is as written: "the great luminary [to rule the day]" (Gen.1:16). These agents decree laws on those below..

(translator: perhaps he means the energy of the sun's rays causes drives things to happen down here via the laws of physics.)

This is complete Din. Due to this the Name "Elokim" is used throughout the account of creation. The term "Elokim" means "judge". For G-d decreed being on the world, like a judge which decrees on its subject through the power of din.

From this, you will see that (coming into) "being" is Din itself, when being is decreed according to the law that is befitting it. Thus, they said: "every judge who judges a case to its ultimate truth, even for a short time, the Torah considers him G-d's partner in creation" (Shab.10a)... (skipping forward. see there...)

This is the meaning of: "on three things the world stands". For man was created to include all the three worlds... until he ties together all three worlds.

Thus if he lacks truth, he annuls (batel) the world. For it is proper for him to have truth, since truth is from the upper world and he needs to join together all three worlds. And when this connection is lacking, it is an annulment of the world. Therefore, the world stands on din, truth and shalom....
(see there for a deeper kabalistic explanation)

Regarding the order of the mussar of Rabban Gamliel, Rabban Shimon, and Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel. All the mussar of the early sages (rishonim) was in order to perfect (mashlim) a man in love and fear. But these mussars of the later sages (acharonim) was only to perfect (mashlim) a man with himself.

Therefore, when he completed the mussar of the pairs which completed a man in proper love and fear of G-d, the Tanna turned to man himself, to give him mussar through which he will be whole with himself.

This is what he wrote (Mishna 16): "[Rabban Gamliel would say:] 'make for yourself a Rav and remove yourself from doubt'". We already explained that the primary mussar there was that man be on the level of intellect (madrega hasichlit). This is proper for a man in his being a "possessor of intellect" (baal sechel).

Thus, it is proper that his deeds be of intellect (sichliim), namely, clear (not in doubt). For the intellect is clear, as we wrote earlier. On this he brought that general mussar.

Afterwards, his son Rabban Shimon gave mussar to a man in his being a possessor of body (baal guf). Namely, that he conduct himself properly. Therefore, he said: "all my days I have grown up among the Sages and I have not found anything as good for the body as silence". This matter is a virtue (maala) for man...

Afterwards, Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel said : "on three things the world stands.."

The world precedes man from the aspect of it being first (Rosh) as we explained. Therefore, Shimon Hatzadik mentioned the world first and afterwards the receivers brought mussar on the perfection of man (in love and fear of G-d).

For when man is perfected, he is before the world in level, and the world is lower than him. For man is higher than world (since the world was created for man). Therefore, he brought the words of Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel last saying: "on three things the world endures.."...

(see there for more deep teachings. he ends there:) These things are exceedingly deep and we cannot explain further. Only that you must understand very much the words of the sages.

According to all this, it seems the reason he skipped Rabban Shimon ben Hillel is because he came to separate between the mussar of the early sages (rishonim) and that of the later sages (acharonim). For all the mussar of the rishonim is one matter (love and fear of G-d) while these latter three are other things..

Likewise, he skipped between Rabban Shimon the son of Rabban Gamliel (senior) and Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel (junior), since the mussar of the latter is on the world.

Thus to separate them it is proper to make a separation, and therefore he skipped Rabban Gamliel (junior).

All the words of the sages are ordered with very very great wisdom to he who understands words of wisdom.

Know and understand that from the words of Shimon Hatzadik who began to speak on the world until the end of the chapter, there are ten subjects of mussar. This number corresponds to the ten sayings through which the world was created. And in the end there was rest of Shalom and tranquility (Sabbath). Thus, he ended his words here too with Shalom..

Due to this reason also he needed to skip from the generations. For he only came to bring ten teachings corresponding to the ten sayings of creation, and he wanted to make the words of Rebbi head of chapter two, since Rebbi was head of all Yisrael. For by him there was Torah and Gedulah (majesty) in one place...

Likewise for the words of Rebbi which start next chapter. It was not for nothing that he did not put them with the words of his fathers (in chapter 1). For the mussar of Rebbi applies to [all] man's actions generally.

This is not like the words of Rabban Gamliel and Rabban Shimon which are on perfecting man himself from his own aspect.

Rather, Rebbi's words encompass [all of] man's actions generally..

Man's deeds are called his offsprings (toldot). As our sages said that the deeds of the righteous are called "fruits", as written: "praise the righteous man for he is good, for the fruit of their deeds they shall eat" (Isaiah 3:10).

They are his fruit and offsprings. This matter is expressed by the sages, as Rashi explains on Gen.6:1 - "the main offsprings of the righteous are good deeds".

Therefore, Rebbi's words are: "Which is the right path for man to choose for himself" (Avot 2:1), and likewise afterwards: "Be as careful with a minor mitzvah as with a major one" (Avot 2:1) - all things which encompass all of man's deeds which are his offsprings.

It is known that after the account of creation, it is written: "these are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created" (Gen.2:4)

Corresponding to this, the mussar of Rebbi came that man's offsprings (acts) be good and just and not evil and strange (zar).

Therefore, he placed Rebbi's words at the head of the next chapter. For they correspond not to the ten sayings (of creation), but to "these are the generations of heaven and earth" (Gen.2:4). Namely, man's acts. For it is proper for man to produce whole deeds (maasim shelemim) and this is a separate matter.. Thus, it is proper for his words to be at the head of the chapter.

Afterwards the words of Rabban Gamliel his son who said: "beautiful is the study of Torah with the way of the world (Derech Eretz, i.e. work)". For work is also man's acts. Only that it is below Torah and mitzvot. For it is only man's acts regarding his conduct in this world.

This teaching corresponds to what occurred after Adam sinned and was expelled from Gan Eden. Then he acquired a new matter which he did not at all have previously, namely, derech eretz. For he did not need it before. Thus it says: "And the L-ord G-d sent him out of the Garden of Eden, to till the soil, whence he had been taken" (Gen.3:23)...

This explanation is very clear when you reflect and understand words of wisdom and realize how the words of the sages contain such deep wisdom. This is sufficient. We have explained these things in truth if you delve deeply in them.

The correct wording of the text of the mishna is: "on three things the world endures".

Earlier Shimon Hatzadik said: "on three things the world stands".

But here the explanation is so that the world stand and endure and not be destroyed (translator - from within itself). Thus, the three things here are from the aspect of the completion of the world and its maintenance (gemar haolam v'kiyumo).
Ben Ish Chai - Chasdei Avot - "on three things the world stands (endures), on judgment...
"on judgment (din)" - let us first introduce with a (true) story (maase). A thief was caught and the king sentenced him to death by being hanged on a tree. For death by hanging was the standard punishment in previous times.

On the appointed day, the king's officers marched the thief to the place prepared for the hanging, i.e. on a platform in the king's courtyard. The thief's mother came and sat under the tree weeping bitterly. A big crowd formed to watch the execution, as is their way.

The thief requested from the executioner permission to approach his mother to tell her some final words. The executioner granted permission and the thief approached his mother who sat weeping heavily under the tree. He brought his lips to her ear to whisper to her. But he did not say a word. Instead he bit her ear and ripped it off completely!

His mother screamed bitterly and fainted. The king's courtyard had been full of men and women who came to watch the execution, as is the way of the masses to crowd together at executions, and especially public hangings of thieves. All those standing there were astonished at the great evil this thief just did to his mother. She was crying for him and now, before his hanging, he bit her ear off!

They all said to themselves that this must be the most wicked man on the earth. In his final moments of life in this world, he adds on sin and commits such a horrible act to bite off his mother's ear, and while she is weeping on his coming to be hanged! If we could only kill him twice! Certainly he deserves to be hanged just for that alone!

When the thief heard the commotion and outrage of all those standing there, he called out in a loud voice: "please allow me to speak and do not be angry with me on this. For I did not do this out of wickedness but rather for the rectification of my soul. Perhaps through this I will receive atonement for the sin of theft I commited."

They asked him: how will your sin be rectified by an even greater sin?!

He answered: know that this mother was the cause of my evil way of stealing which is now the cause of my death. For when I was young, I lusted greatly to eat sweets. And since the sweets cost money which I did not have, I was forced to steal a few childrens' books from school. I would then bring them to my mother so she could sell them and give me money to buy sweets to eat.

I was also forced to go stealthily in shops to steal from them whatever I could, and bring the goods to mother so she could sell them and give me some money.

Not only did she not rebuke me on my deeds and did not teach me mussar (ethics) on my evil way, but on the contrary, she rejoiced in my deeds and said "smart boy! my son is smart".

Due to my mother's reaction, I would strengthen more in my evil ways of stealing until I habituated in this.

Even after I grew up and was successful in business, my hands were still habituated in this. Although I did not need the money and was intelligent and knew that the end of a thief is the gallows, but nevertheless, I was unable to rule over my hands and prevent them from stealing. I had become unable to change my nature and habit in this area. And as people say: "many wise men toiled to try to straighten the natural crookedness in the tail of the dog but they all failed". so too, I tried to change my nature and failed. For this habit had become second nature..

I saw many people standing here now. Therefore I did this astonishing thing before everyone here so that afterwards I can tell you all the reason and all who hear my words will recognize and know how much evil a father and mother cause to their children when they don't rebuke them and discipline them in their youth while their children are still under their hands, eating under their shadow, and listening to their words. And how much good comes to a father, mother, and child through rebuking mussar and teaching of derech eretz. Then, certainly, every person who hears this will strive to be careful in this and through this the evil of the wicked will diminish and there will be less wicked people in the world. Thus, I thought this thing I did will avail for the rectification of my soul.

The people standing there said to him:

"What you say is good. For certainly all of us here received big mussar from your words and they have roused our hearts greatly that each man and woman must put their eyes and hearts on their children to discipline them and guide them in the proper path from their youth, to benefit them in their final end.

But please tell us why you cut off her ear and not her nose or some other flesh on her face?"

He answered: "this too I did with thought and wisdom, to make known that in my youth, I was not wild and rebellious. I lent my ear to listen to mussar and rebuke. On the contrary, I listened to my mother's words and lent ear to what she uttered to fulfill her words and commands. Thus, she did not need to punish me and force me with a rod. Rather, with her words only it would have sufficed to refrain me from all abominations.

But she did not do so, and since she kept her mouth shut from me and did not utter any words into my ears, therefore, now I opened my mouth against her and bit off her ear".

All those standing there who heard his words found favor in his words. The mother also heard even though she had fainted when he ripped off her ear. She opened her mouth and said: "he is right in his words and did not testify any falsehood on me".

When the king who was sitting in his palace was told what happened. It pleased him and he immediately hit his bell and announced to the executioner to exempt him from being hanged.

For the king saw that his words bore fruit of rebuke and mussar in the hearts of all the listeners.

Therefore, king Shlomo, peace be unto him, said: "He who holds back his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him early" (Mishlei 13:24), and "educate a child according to his way; even when he grows old, he will not turn away from it" (Mishlei 22:6), and "Foolishness is bound in a child's heart; the rod of discipline will drive it far from him" (Mishlei 22:15), and likewise he wrote: "Do not withhold discipline from a child; when you strike him with a rod, he will not die; You shall strike him with a rod, and you will save his soul from the grave" (Mishlei 23:13-14).

All these verses Shlomo said tell that the primary guarding and good of a person is through the judgment and accounting his father and mother did on him in the days of his youth. And this was the strong foundation building for his body and soul all the days he lives on the face of the earth.

Know please, that the courthouses (batei dinim) and judges sit only on mondays and thursdays to judge. And even in places where they are open daily, nevertheless, they don't sit all day. Rather, they sit only fixed hours of the day.

But the beit din of the child, namely, his father and mother, this beit din needs to sit each and every hour of the day, and not only the day but also at night. It needs to sit in judgment on him and rebuke him, and investigate and interrogate, asking him: what did you do? where did you go? from which place did you come and with who did you speak? What did they speak to you about? what do you do with child such and such and what did you speak to each other? Where did you two sit and where did you go? What did you do with the money you took? what did you buy? and other similar questions of chakira and drisha (examination), on his whereabouts, words and times, day and night. Those who conduct thus are assured that afterwards the child will grow up with good and just middot which will benefit him in this world and the next.

Furthermore, after a man grows up and is independent from his father and mother, he needs to bring himself to judgment on himself. To be on himself both judge and defendant.

Namely, if he stumbled in some sin whatever it is, he should not tell himself: "who knows what I did? who will judge and prosecute me? what's done is done!"

Rather, he needs to be a judge over himself to make a judgment and accounting on himself and he knows what he committed.

Let him go to a Chacham and ask him a way to rectify the sin through afflictions, fasts and tzedaka (charity) as proper for each and every sin by itself. The Chacham will inform him of the severity of each sin and just how far its destruction goes.

Then even if the Chacham does not instruct him and inform him on the number of fasts for each sin and where its destruction reaches above and the Chacham instead makes for him a compromise according to his capacity to bear, whether in torah study or tzedaka.

Then, in Heaven, the Heavenly Beit Din (court) will exempt him through the partial obligation he has been obligated in (by the Chacham). For since Din was done below, there is no Din above. This is as brought in a Midrash regarding the zealousness of Pinchas who saved all of the Jewish people through the little Din he did below. And as written there an analogy:

"a king was traveling on the road with his servants behind him. A group of young men came against the king and began to mock and laugh at him. The king's servant saw that the king became full of anger. He feared lest his wrath boil over and he decrees their death and then there will be no way to save them. What did he do? Before the king spoke, he took his staff, ran after them, and struck them on the head a mighty blow.

According to the king's honor, certainly these strikes are not enough of a punishment. But they helped to cool down the king's wrath in seeing his servant run to exact justice on his own to them. Then the king did not decree anything on them.

So too here. If a man initiates din on himself below, then the attribute of Din will be sweetened and will not exact the din above that he deserves.

Thus, according to all that we said, it is understood that through the Din that a father and mother do to their sons every day at all times, until they leave their domain, and also through the Din a man makes on himself after he grew up and separated from his parents - through this Din there will be a continuance and standing of man, who is a miniature universe in this world.

On this it is written: "on three things the world stands...", one of which is Din, namely, the Din done to a person, who is a miniature world, by his father and mother and afterwards by himself when he grows up.

"on truth" - since if one is a liar, people will catch on and eventually his words will not be believed by anyone, even when he is telling the truth.. sometimes this will cause him great damage or worse, as the story of the boy who cried thieves (wolf)...

The third matter is Shalom. One who holds on to the trait of Shalom, all his days are calm, tranquil, peaceful, and secure. He eats and drinks calmly and sleeps peacefully and securely. He leaves home peacefully and enters peacefully. Everyone loves him. He is happy to see them and they are happy to see him. He is surrounded with tranquility. There is no Satan and no evil mishap. Thus, the letters of Shalom are "Shelo-Mem", i.e. "to him is Menucha" (tranquility).

But for the person of disputes and arguments, all his days are pains. When he goes out to the marketplace, he finds dispute. When he enters his home, he finds dispute. When he eats and drinks, the whole meal is arguments and bickerings. When he sleeps on his bed, all his dreams are of arguments and bickerings, such that he has no tranquility.

Thus, the three things which uphold the body who is the miniature world is Din, Truth, and Shalom...