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Pirkei Avot / Ethics of the Fathers
with a select treasury of commentaries on all levels of Torah interpretation
Chapter 2 Mishna 4
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 2 Mishna 4פרק ב משנה ד
He would say: Make His (G-d's) will like your will, so that He will make your will like His will. Nullify your will before His will, so that He will nullify the will of others before your will. הוּא הָיָה אוֹמֵר, עֲשֵׂה רְצוֹנוֹ כִרְצוֹנְךָ, כְּדֵי שֶׁיַּעֲשֶׂה רְצוֹנְךָ כִרְצוֹנוֹ. בַּטֵּל רְצוֹנְךָ מִפְּנֵי רְצוֹנוֹ, כְּדֵי שֶׁיְּבַטֵּל רְצוֹן אֲחֵרִים מִפְּנֵי רְצוֹנֶךָ

Bartenura - "make His will like your will" - give your money generously for matters of Heaven as if you were giving for your own matters. For if you do thus, He will make your will His will, namely He will generously bestow good to you.

"He will nullify the will of others" - He will foil the plan of all those who rise up against you.
Rashi - "make His will like your will" - even when you do your own wish, do it l'Shem Shamayim (for the sake of Heaven) so that from Heaven you will be bestowed good with a generous eye.

"nullify your will before His will" - think on "loss of a mitzvah against its reward" (Avot 2:1).

"He will nullify the will of others" - those who rise against you for evil.
Rabeinu Yonah - "make His will like your will" - just like you do your will with desire (cheshek) and lust (taava) so too do the will of the Holy One, blessed be He. Do not have any distinction between the two.

"He will make your will like His will" - if you merit to find favor before Him, He will do your will even for matters of your small world and grant you your livelihood (easily).
Meiri - "make His will like your will" - serve G-d out of love until out of great love you will do His will even though it is against your nature. You will do it with love and affection as if it were your own will by nature.

"so that He will make your will like His will" - i.e. He will pay your reward abundantly and overflowingly, as His soul desires..
Sforno - "make His will like your will" - not only should you strive l'Shem Shamayim as one indebted to Him and fearing His punishment, but in order to attain His favor you should do His will to strive to save His people. For He wants this and rejoices in this.

"so that He will make your will" - then He will do your will and you will attain what you want and desire to attain.

"like His will" - for He desires kindness and He pays back measure for measure.

"nullify your will.." - in striving for this, nullify your desire for enjoyments and tranquility or the like in order to attain His will of saving His people..
Tiferet Yisrael - when you toil in torah which is the will of Heaven, do so with zeal (b'zerizut) and joy, without having your thoughts scattered on other things, just like you do for matters of your livelihood. Namely, you focus all your thoughts singly in your occupation.

"so that He will make your will His will" - your livelihood will come swiftly and without effort. For "when they do the will of G-d, their work is done by others" (Berachot 35b).
Tiferet Yehoshua - "make His will like your will, so that He will make your will like His will" - it is incumbent upon you to toil much and strengthen your will to have intent to this - that all its essence be aligned to the will of the Holy One, blessed be He alone, without any deviation or attachment to any other will. Do not let your thoughts fill up. Rather, focus everything around the will of the Holy One, blessed be He.

If after great toil and labor, you reach this lofty level, that no other will exists in you besides to do His will. Then He will help you to remain in that path and you will always have intent for His will. Thus you will always have intent for the will of G-d.
Yavetz - why does it say: "make His will", and not "make His command"? The answer is that one who guards from forbidden relations or the like but does not "sanctify himself from what is permitted to him", may be doing the command of his Creator, but not His will. For one can fulfill all the mitzvot and yet be "a glutton (naval) with the permission of the torah" (Ramban, kedoshim). But one who breaks his lusts according to his ability, such a person fulfills the will of his Creator. Thus, he wrote do His will instead of do His command.
Tiferet Yehoshua - "Nullify your will before His will" - when a will arouses in you to attain something, search carefully if this is indeed the will of the Holy One, blessed be He. If it is not, annul your will since it is against the will of G-d. As reward for this, the Holy One, blessed be He, will annul the wills of "others", namely, the Satan, who seeks to push a man in the pit of destruction.

"so that He will nullify the will of others before your will" - to be saved from him and you will merit that the evil inclination will not rule over you, as our sages said: "[a man's evil inclination rises up to destroy him every day, and were it not for the Holy One's help, no man could withstand him" (Kidushin 30b).
Ruach Chaim - likewise our sages said (Berachot 20b):
The ministering angels said before the Holy One, blessed be He: Master of the Universe, in Your Torah it is written, "The great, mighty and awesome God who favors no one and takes no bribe" (Devarim 10:17), yet do you not show favor to Israel?, as it is written: "The Lord shall show favor to you and give you peace" (Bamidbar 6:26) He replied to them: "And how can I not show favor to Israel, seeing that I wrote for them in the Torah: "And you shall eat and be satisfied, and bless the Lord your God" (Devarim 8:10) and they are particular [to say the grace after meals] even if the quantity is but an olive-bulk or an egg-bulk. Since they go beyond the requirements of the law, they are worthy of favor."
This is [the explanation of:] "so that He will make your will like His will".

Two Levels
"Make His will like your will" - the first level is to do His will even though you don't want. Nevertheless, do it for the will of G-d as if you did want.

On a higher level he said: "nullify your will before His will", that one has no personal will at all in all his matters and occupations. Rather he casts his own will aside and looks only at the will of the Holy One blessed be He. And then he will lack no good, and as David said: "the L-ord is my shepherd, I shall not lack" (Tehilim 23:1).

This is the meaning of "nullify your will before His will", that you have no will besides the will of G-d. Then he will annul the will of others which obstruct and prevent your good.

"so that He will nullify the will of others before your will" - similar to: "When the L-ord is pleased with a person's ways, He will cause even his enemies to make peace with him" (Mishlei 16:7)..

Another explanation, to see to it to have intent l'Shem Shamayim even for physical things such as when eating to have intent to maintain his body [health] for the service of his Creator.

Likewise regarding "be fruitful and multiply" (marital relations) also, to not have intent at all for one's personal pleasure, and if it were possible to not have any pleasure at all he would much prefer. Or at least to have intent for both one's pleasure and also the service of his Creator..

The Tanna began here with the middle level saying: "make your will like His will, etc", i.e. make the two equal, have intent to both G-d and your own benefit.

"so that He will make your will like His will", i.e. this (lower level) too He will accept with love as if you did everything for His will.

Afterwards, you will reach the higher level (of annulling your will completely) whereby you do not have any intent at all to your own pleasure.
Rosh Avot (5777) - on the verse: "G-d is your shadow" (Tehilim 100), the Baal Shem Tov explained that just like a man's shadow follows him along wherever he goes and whatever he does the shadow does with him, so too the Holy One, blessed be He pays a person back according to his deeds and traits. For "as he did will be done to him", and "the attribute of measure for measure was not annulled" (Sotah 8b). Therefore, if one does the will of G-d according to the letter of the law, G-d will do his will also according to the level of nature. But if one completely annuls his will before the will of G-d, ie. that his will is like a broken shard and as nothing tangible and he conducts himself in Chasidut (extra piety), beyond the letter of the law, then G-d will also conducts Himself like this towards him. And He will annul the will of all those who seek to harm or obstruct him even in a supernatural way. For (measure for measure) this is his way...

"in the measure a man measures out he will be measured" (Sotah 8b) - namely if he helps a poor man generously and with a good eye, G-d will bestow upon him from above great shefa (blessings). But if he gives with a bad eye and a stingy hand, so too will he be dealt with. For as he did will be done to him. And our sages already said: "more than the baal bayit does to the poor man, the poor man does to the baal bayit" (Midrash).
Chida - Zeroah Yamin - the sages of the Kabala wrote:
"When a man prays to G-d, he is answered immediately in all that he asks and the divine flow (shefa) immediately descends according to what is fitting for his request.

But since the shefa goes through the north, there is there a great Beit Din to examine his case and it passes only that which is proper to give to him. The rest is witheld until he merits." end quote.
Thus G-d's will is to give every asker all that he asked for. And if you "Make His (G-d's) will like your will", through this you will merit that He will make your will like His will, i.e. to fulfill your request. For when the Beit Din sees your deeds, they will draw you close and pass through the divine flow (Shefa) to you.

"Nullify your will before His will, so that He will nullify the will of others (Acherim) before your will" - (Acherim) - these are the Sitra Achra who rouse judgments always. But if you are a Chasid who "sanctifies himself from what is permitted to him",and you annul your will even though it is permitted (for we are not referring to wicked people here), then certainly through your prayer, the mercy will be aroused and will annul the will of the Sitra Achra and prosecutors.

For a tzadik annulls the decree. In his merit, the Shefa (divine flow) intensifies and automatically the Din (judgment) is annulled as written in the holy Zohar (Bereishit 45b, see there).
Chida - Kiseh David Derush 11 - we know that it is His will that we fulfill His commandments wholeheartedly, with zeal and joy. We also know that what He did not command in particular, He commanded generally: "you shall be holy" (Vayikra 19:2), as the Ramban wrote there.

Namely, after commanding us in the forbidden relations and [forbidden] foods, a man may tell himself to go after permitted food and drink and marry many women through chupa and kidushin as the law of Moshe and Yisrael. And every day and every night, he will indulge in various physical pleasures, for they are many. On this He wrote: "you shall be holy" (Vayikra 19:2) in general manner.

This is what our sages said: "sanctify yourself [by abstaining] from what is permitted to you" (Yevamot 20a). That every person should separate from (physical) indulgences, and sanctify himself slowly, slowly. This in essence is the mitzvah of "you shall be holy" (Vayikra 19:2), see the Ramban there at length.

Thus, even though there is no particular commandment, but nevertheless a general commmandment came.

Hence, a man knows G-d's will that man sanctify himself, to separate from the physical pleasures, and to cling [instead] to the torah, mitzvot, and fear of Him, blessed be He.

This is: "make His will", that which you know is His will - do it with all your strength...
Ahava b'Taanugim - we may say, "make His will your will", even Shelo Lishma (not for His sake). Do His will as you want, even shelo lishma. The reason is in order to habituate your will and to eventually do the mitzvot as He wants, namely, Lishma (for His sake). This is like what our sages said: "One should always engage in Torah and Mitzvot even Lo Lishmah, for this will lead him to do them Lishmah" (Erchin 16b).

Some explain this mishna in the way of "in all your ways know Him" (Mishlei 3:6). Namely even when you eat and drink for the pleasure, i.e. your will, do them l'Shem Shamayim, [intending] so that you have strength to serve your Creator..

Then "so that He will make your will like His will", i.e. He will make and consider that eating and that pleasure a mitzvah and give you reward of mitzvah for it.

"Nullify your will before His will, so that He will nullify the will of others before your will" - and if you ascend further and you don't have any intent at all for pleasure. Rather your intent is entirely to Shamayim, none for your pleasure and you annul your will completely. Then, He will also annul the will of others, namely His decree. He called it others (Acharim) out of respect for above. The intent is that He will annul His will due to your will, that He decrees and the tzadik annuls it.
Sfas Emes on Avot - "Make His will like your will" - i.e. that you have no will. Rather, only to do His will.

"so that He will nullify the will of others before your will" - Hash-em will submit the evil inclination so that one does not at all lust for things against the will of G-d. This is the meaning of "the will of others (acherim)". For one's evil will is called "others (acherim)", from the side of other gods (sitra d'elohim acherim).

But the primary will of a man of Yisral is good. For "the portion of G-d is His people". Only that it is concealed in other wills. And through guarding the negative commandments to annul the will of the evil inclination against the will of G-d, it helps to remove other wills from before his true will, which is only to serve G-d...

There are many "loves" in the world, each person according to his nature. But in essence, the true will in every person needs to be to be drawn after his Creator. This is the essence of love.

But the Holy One, blessed be He, concealed the truth through enclothing every thing in "nature". And the various wills which emerge from [human] nature conceal the true will [of a person].

On this he said: "Nullify your will before His will", i.e. so that your true will to G-d should reveal itself to you.. Through annuling the wills which are not to G-d, one then merits to reveal his true will.
Chachma U'Mussar 2:197 - make His will your will - for me the difference between something done with longing (teshuka) and something done without longing is like the difference between an action and a non-action. From here is powerful mussar for a man. For if he did everything with longing (teshuka), who knows what great level he would reach? For longing expands his powers and elevates his mind above his head. Laziness departs from him and he will feel soul emotions to run like a mighty warrior in the path of wisdom and virtue. Therefore, the torah was very strict (makpid) on lack of joy, as written: "because you did not serve the L-ord, your G-d with joy" (Devarim 28:47). For lack of joy is lack of desire. Both are the same thing and the more one increases longing the more he increases success.
Chachma U'Mussar 1:461, 464 - that which a person wants endures and remains.. thus the root of the service of man is to delve into contemplations and mussar with intellect (sechel) and understanding, in order that the natural desire and will enter his heart to know wisdom and mussar. Specifically then will the torah exist (yitkayem) in his heart.
Daat Chachma u'Mussar 1:129 - the foundation and cornerstone of our service is to rectify and elevate to the loftiest level even the body, so that it be able to stand in the palace of the King and behold the light of the face of G-d.

This is similar to: "I shall walk among you" (Vayikra 26:12). Rashi explains there: "I shall stroll with you in Gan Eden", as was the level of Adam before the sin. For even his body was in Gan Den and his heel shone with such radiance that it would dim the [light of the] sun (Midrash Tanchuma, Acharei Mot).

For the body of Adam was [on the level of] Neshama (soul), all light. This was the highest level and the pinnacle of man's service - to rectify the body in nullifying its physicality completely; for the body itself to become "Neshama" (soul). Namely, that the body itself senses, feels, and recognizes the sweetness and pleasantness of torah and mitzvot, and makes the will of the Holy One, blessed be He, like its own will. That is to say with wholehearted will (b'ratzon shalem). This is the ultimate perfection (tachlit hashlemut).
Daat Zekenim on Pirkei Avot, writings of Rabeinu Yerucham haLevi of Mir - "make your will His will.." - man is designated for great and lofty things. We can see this from the great duties the torah placed on him, as written:
"And now, Israel, what does the L-rd your G-d ask of you, but that you fear the L-rd your G-d to walk in all His ways, and to love Him [and serve the L-rd your G-d with all your heart and all your soul, to keep the mitzvot (commandments) of G-d and His statutes]..." (Deut. 10:12)

This is astonishing. How can man be asked to reach the lofty levels of fear and love of G-d? And likewise to "walk in all His ways", as they said: "just like He is merciful and gracious so too you be merciful and gracious" (Shab.133b), i.e. that a man resemble the Holy One, blessed be He and truly go after His attributes, not just some "frumkeit".

Likewise, it is written: "you shall cling to Him" (Devarim 10:20), and "to cling to Him" (Devarim 11:22).

It is a wonder that such requests are placed on man to climb up the mountain! And even though man is appointed (meyuad) for this, but from where is the ability and power for man to demolish and vanquish all the difficulties of this world? These difficulties waiting for him on the path are as hard and heavy as mountains!

The secret of the matter is as follows. When one plants a seed in the ground, it is possible that eventually the seed will sprout and emerge even through a rocky path. Nothing can prevent its growth. How is this possible? The answer is that this is the secret of the power of growth (tzemicha) which has no impediment. Even through rocks and boulders, the growths eventually crack through and emerge.

So too for our matter, for we don't realize what storm and earthquake can occur and what hard and heavy mountains can be demolished when a word of wisdom enters inside the heart of man.

Even for the tiniest word of wisdom, when it enters the heart, already it is impossible to know the vast effects which can come out of this, even to the extent of reaching the loftiest and most exalted levels, and to make the will of the Holy One, blessed be He, as one's own will. No impediment or obstacle in the world can then stand in his way. For this is the power of growth (tzemicha) when wisdom is seeded inside a man!

This is what the torah says (in the Shema): "these things which I command you today shall be on your heart" (Devarim 6:6) and likewise "and you shall know this day and lay it to your heart" (Devarim 4:39).

For knowledge alone is not enough. Rather one must put the knowledge in his heart. And then already it is impossible to imagine or describe the storm and earthquake which wisdom can effect inside a man in the service of his Creator, as written in the Mesilat Yesharim (ch.7):
"You can see that a man whose soul is afire in the service of his Creator certainly will not become lazy in doing the Mitzvot. Rather, his movements will be like the quick movements of fire. For he will not rest nor be still until he has finished completing the deed.."
Likewise this is what our sages said: "the purpose of wisdom is repentance and good deeds" (Berachot 17a). For the purpose is for the wisdom to enter inside the heart of man, and then perforce it will already bring to repentance and good deeds. But if it does not bring to repentance and good deeds, this is a certain sign that the wisdom did not enter inside him.

Now we will understand and grasp what our sages brought several wondrous stories whereby a small rousing resulted in such a great metamorphosis in man, from one extreme to the other.

This is what our sages reported (Midrash Ber.Rabba 65:22):
"Yakum of Tzerurot was the nephew of Rabbi Yossi ben Yoezer of Tzereida. He rode a horse on the Sabbath. as they were about to hang his uncle, Yossi ben Yoezer. Yakum said to Yossi:

'look at the horse my master gave me to ride and the (hangman) plank which your Master gave you (to be hanged upon)!'

Yossi ben Yoezer replied: 'if thus to those who anger Him (that G-d pays good), how much more so to those who do His will'.

Yakum said: 'But did any man do His will more than you? (and He payed you back evil)?'

Yossi ben Yoezer replied: 'if thus to those who do His will (that He punishes them for their few sins), how much more so for those who anger Him (like you)'.

The words entered his heart like the venom of a serpent. Immediately, he went and subjected himself to the four executions of Beit Din, etc.

Yossi ben Yoezer fell asleep and saw Yakum's bed flying in the air. He said: "in a brief moment, he has preceded me in Gan Eden".
Likewise they reported (Avodah 17a):
"They said of Rebbi Eliezer ben Dordaya that he did not leave out any harlot in the world without coming to her. He heard of a harlot in one of the towns by the sea, etc. As he was with her.. she said: 'just like this wind does not return to its place, so too for Eliezer ben Dordaya his repentance will not be accepted'.
He thereupon went, sat between two hills and mountains and exclaimed: O, hills and mountains, plead for mercy for me! etc., Then he placed his head between his knees and wept aloud until he died. A heavenly voice proclaimed: 'Rebbi Eliezer ben Dordaya is destined to life in the World to Come'".
We find other similar stories such as in Shab.56b, see Rashi Sanhedrin 31b on the story of Natan of Tzotzita.

On the surface, these stories appear very wondrous. For these people were on such a low spiritual level and due to one small remark, they experienced such a metamorphosis to the extent of fulfilling the four executions of Beit Din on themselves and acquiring their world to come in one hour!

Who can contemplate and picture the stone mountains that crumbled there and what truly happened?

But actually this is what our sages revealed to us: "the matter entered in him like the venom of a serpent". For it is impossible to grasp what existence of "venom" is contained in a word of wisdom when it enters the heart of a man. And even for the smallest matter of wisdom, if it enters the heart of a man, he can transform from one extreme to the other. "Fortunate is the man who found wisdom" (Mishlei 3:3), and "How much better is it to acquire wisdom than gold!" (Mishlei 16:16).
Maharal - "make His will like your will.." - what does this have to do with Raban Gamliel's previous words, that he brought them together?

It seems that he is coming to teach that this itself is the will of the Holy One, blessed be He, - when one toils for the needs of the tzibur. For all the matter of the tzibur is "His will" (retzono). A proof of this is from what our sages said:

"What is the meaning of the verse: 'But, as for me, may my prayer to You, O Lord, be in an acceptable time?' (Tehilim 69:13) - when is the time acceptable? When the congregation prays" (Berachot 8a).

Hence, it is clear that the Holy One, blessed be He's will is specifically in the tzibur and His will/favor is at the time of prayer of the needs of the tzibur. Therefore, he said here: "make His will..", i.e. "to toil for the tzibur" (Avot 2:2). For the tzibur is the will of the Holy One, blessed be He.

This matter is deep. For there is no matter of "accuser" (mekatreg) for the tzibur. Since in being a tzibur, it has the power of a "klal" (general entity). And from the aspect of being a "klal", there is no sin. For sin applies only to the individuals. But in the klal, sin and accusation does not apply. Therefore, the accusation (kitrug) on the tzibur is only from the aspect of the individual, namely, what the individuals did. But from the aspect of the "klal", there is no accusation (kitrug).

The prayer of the congregation in the synagogue is from the "klal" aspect. Therefore, it is a time of favor. Thus, the tzibur is connected to the will/favor of G-d, blessed be He, as known.

"Make His will.." - with this mussar, he is coming to teach that a man has the ability to rectify all his will (needs) such that man will not say that he lacks something he wants.

All that a man needs is divided into two categories:
One, a man needs to have all the requirements he lacks.
Two, that he does not receive bad from others.

For even if he had all the needs he lacks and something bad happens against him, what good is all this that he has?

Likewise, if no one does harm to him, but he lacks what he needs, this is also considered a lacking person.

On this he said that when one does the will of G-d out of live, his own will is done, namely, all the needs he lacks.

Likewise, when out of fear of G-d, he [annuls his will], he will be protected so that the will of others against him will not be done.

The explanation is that when one loves Hash-em and makes Hash-em's will as his own will, to love Him with all his heart, for a man seeks to obtain what he wants with all his heart. Through this, he makes G-d's will as his own. For G-d's will is that man love Him with all his heart.

Then G-d will do the will of man as if it were His will, and man's will (needs) will be done.

For when man does the will of G-d as if it were his own, his will becomes bound (nikshar) to the will of G-d, and through this, the will of G-d also becomes bound to his will and G-d does the will of man. This matter was said corresponding to "love" (of G-d), that man's will be bound with G-d's will to do it with al his heart as if it were his own. This matter is exceedingly deep..

"Annul your will.." - corresponding to fear (of G-d), that man not do his own will. Rather, only the will of G-d. Thus, when a man lusts to do his own will in a sin and out of fear he abstains from the sin due to the will of G-d who does not want the sin, thus it is considered that his will is also the will of G-d and then the will of others against him will not be done.

This corresponds to fear, that he annuls his will, i.e. his wish to do a sin, due to the will of G-d. This is fear.

Thus, through complete love and complete fear, it is possible for a man to rectify all his matters.