X hide this box (for printing)

Print Options

Choose Commentaries:

ShortMix Max+ High Med Min None

Choose Language(s):

English Hebrew Both

+ Increase Font Size   |   - Decrease Font Size
<<Back to Pirkei Avot Page
Pirkei Avot / Ethics of the Fathers
with a select treasury of commentaries on all levels of Torah interpretation
Chapter 2 Mishna 7
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 2 Mishna 7פרק ב משנה ז
He too saw a lone skull floating upon the water. He said to it: Because you drowned [others] you were drowned, and in the end those who drowned you will be drowned. אַף הוּא רָאָה גֻלְגֹּלֶת אַחַת שֶׁצָּפָה עַל פְּנֵי הַמַּיִם. אָמַר לָהּ, עַל דַּאֲטֵפְתְּ, אַטְפוּךְ. וְסוֹף מְטִיפַיִךְ יְטוּפוּן:

Bartenura - "Because you drowned [others] you were drowned" - he was a wicked man who robbed people and dumped them in the river. Measure for measure you were dealt with accordingly.

"and in the end those who drowned you will be drowned" - only Beit Din (court of law) was permitted to execute you, not those who murdered you. But nevertheless, G-d allowed them to murder you due to "evil is brought about by Heaven through the wicked" (Rashi - as the verse in Shmuel I 24:13 says: "from the wicked goes out wickedness"). In the future, He will claim your murder from them.
Rabeinu Avraham Pritzel on Avot - Hillel wanted to speak on this wondrous matter of our faith, to teach human beings on divine providence (hashgacha pratit) and that G-d pays back measure for measure, a trait which was not annulled (Sotah 8b).
Rabbi Avraham Azoulai - Ahava b'Taanugim - some explain that Hillel recognized this head and that it belonged to a murderer and robber of the public. Thus, since Hillel recognized him as a murderer and robber of the public, he judged that certainly he was murdered due to being a murderer.

Hillel came to teach us on divine providence (Hashgacha pratit). For he did not say merely: "because you murdered, you were murdered, etc." For the divine providence is even more detailed than this. And if when you murdered others, you did not also dump them in the water, then you too would not have been dumped in the water after being murdered. Rather, just like you committed two evils, so too they murdered you and dumped you in the water. And likewise this will be the fate of those who murdered you and dumped you in the water in all its details. For everything is under hashgacha pratit..
Sefer Ikarim 4:9 - G-d pays back measure for measure so people will recognize that there is divine providence and a righteous Judge in the world.
Sforno - "because you drowned.." - this sage saw the head of a man he recognized as a murderer and knew that he was murdered by other murderers..

those who murdered you will eventually be killed by bandits or executed by the government and their corpse will be dumped in the water measure for measure, as our sages said: "one who incurs death by sword - or he will be executed by the government or he will be killed by bandits" (Sotah 8b).
Meorei Ohr - it must be that Hillel recognized whose head it was and that he was a wicked man and a murderer. For otherwise, how could he say this? Maybe it was a Chasid (pious man) who was killed on kidush Hash-em (as a martyr) thereby suspecting him of something he did not do.
Chasdei David - why did Hillel speak to the skull? perhaps as a nechama (consolation), for a murdered person does not have peace in the next wold until his murderer is also killed (see Devarim Rabba 2:25).
Tiferet Yisrael - Hillel was moved in seeing the disgrace of an unburied body. Without a doubt, you also disgraced others by throwing their skulls in water or some other act to disgrace them, and were paid back measure for measure, as our sages said that this trait was not annulled (Sanhedrin 96).
Chidushei Maharich - "a lone skull floating upon the water" - a skull is a heavy object. It should have sunk to the bottom and not be floating on the surface of the water. Rather, it seems it was decreed on it to float [miraculously] because it drowned another person. This was to make known to the world the trait of "measure for measure". Thus it was decreed on it to float.
Tiferet Yehoshua - from here we learn that every evil a man commits to his fellow returns back to him someday in a specific manner due to the attribute of "measure for measure". So too also when one does good to his fellow, the good returns back to him eventually in some way.
Tosfot Yom Tov - the skull was just a deaf bone, unable to hear. Furthermore, he was talking towards the skull. Why didn't he turn his head to the listeners and say instead: "since he murdered.."..

Thus Hillel was talking to himself that it is proper to be that: "because you drowned, you were drowned". But not that every time this happens. For what we see in reality contradicts this..

and in the Midrash Rabba on the verse: "Whoever sheds the blood of man through man shall his blood be shed [for in the image of God He made man]" (Bereishit 9:6):

"Rabbi Levi says: 'but many murderers die [peacefully] on their beds.. Rather, when all human beings rise up in the future [resurrection], then 'his blood shall be shed'"..

Some say Hillel's intent was only on Gigulim (reincarnations). But it does not at all seem correct in my eyes. For the secret of Gilgulim is a hidden matter and proper to be concealed except to special individuals. And Rabeinu HaKadosh would not have included this in his mishna.

For just like "a verse does not go out of its plain maning", so too a mishna does not go out of its simple implied meaning understood by everyone.. And Hillel even said this in Aramaic which was the language fluent by all the masses at that time..
Shoshanim l'David - according to my humble view, it seems to me to argue on the Tosfot Yom Tov and say that all Hillel's words are in the way of "allusion" (Remez). This is in the way of what was reported of the holy Arizal in the Sefer Hagilgulim that the punishment for murder is that he is mitgalgel (reincarnated) in a section of water (and drowned continuously again and again).

Thus it says: "he too saw", ie he [too] gazed with his mind's eye (einei sichlo) and the ruach hakodesh (holy spirit) within him on a "gulgolet" (skull), i.e. that there is a man "megulgal" (reincarnated, the word is similar to gulgolet/skull) on the surface of the water.

Do not be amazed at this for Rabeinu Arizal also attained this with his ruach hakodesh and was able to see and know of gilgulim (people reincarnated) in stones, plants, animals, and humans.

Through this Hillel certainly knew that it was due to the sin of murder... And because this was something proper to be concealed from the masses, he said it in such a manner that the plain meaning is that he literally saw an actual skull of a murderer. Thus the masses will understand it simply...with this we have answered all of the Tosfot Yom Tov's questions.

And if you examine deeply Rashi's words on this Mishna (in Sukkah 53a), you will find that it is close to certain that his intent there is on what we said. Only that he too concealed his words and only hinted on the above explanation.
Chida - Zeroa Yamin - "in the end.." - he did not say merely "those who drowned you will be drowned", but rather "in the end those who drowned you will be drowned", to hint that even if your murderers die [peacefully] on their beds, nevertheless, they will come back in a gilgul (reincarnation) and be murdered.

Thus he said: "in the end..", i.e. nevertheless in the end they will be murdered, if not in this incarnation (gilgul), then in another gilgul. This matter is among the wonders of He who is of perfect knowledge...

Rabeinu Arizal explained our mishna that Hillel was as Moshe Rabeinu. Just like Moshe Rabeinu lived for 120 years, so too Hillel lived for 120 years. Just like Moshe Rabeinu led the Jewish people for 40 years, so too Hillel. Moshe was extremely humble, and so too Hillel. And just like Moshe drowned Pharaoh in the sea, so too Hillel in his generation saw a skull - which was the skull of Pharaoh, floating on the raging waters.

And he said: "Because you drowned others" - "and Pharaoh commanded all his people saying every son who is born you shall cast into the Nile" (Shemot 1:22) - "you were drowned". And then he turned to the Jews and said: "and in the end those who drowned you will be drowned". For whoever oppresses the Jewish people, at the time of the ressurection, they will be drowned and [ressurected] and drowned again and again, as our sages said (Sanhedrin 92a) on the verse: "[And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life] and some to shame and everlasting contempt.." (Daniel 12:2).

(Translator: and in the Arizal's Shaar HaGilgulim, Hakdama 22:
"one who murdered a person in this world is reincarnated in water.. His punishment is that he stands on a flow of water. He tries to stand up constantly but the water constantly throws him off balance and he has no rest whatsoever.. and he is drowned continuously.." end quote.
"he too saw" - a hint that just like Moshe saw Pharaoh drown at the Red sea, so too Hillel saw the skull.)
Maharal - it is proper to ask: does this matter (lesson) depend on seeing a skull floating on water? For if he saw the skull on dry land, would he not say also this? Why does this matter depend on water?

(translator: if the mishna brings this detail, there must be a reason. It could have just said: "he saw the skull of a murderer..")

And if the matter does not depend on water, then what about all the great men in history who were murdered (but who themselves did not murder)?..

The explanation is that the intent of "water" is that Hillel saw a person who was completely washed away, ie completely uprooted with nothing remaining in the world..

The head represents the person's root. For man is like an upside down tree as we explained in many places.. Only water has this power to wash out completely and with great force.. On this Hillel said that if he himself did not completely wash out someone else, he would not have been washed out completely..

And the person who washed you out will in the end be washed out. If not in this world, then all the more so in the next world, which is undoubtedly a far greater destruction..

This will answer why he chose a plural tense "[Because you drowned] others" and likewise "in the end those who drowned you will be drowned". For normally a single individual does not wash out another completely and uproot him so that he has no remembrance left.

But there is more [wisdom] why he used plural tense... For the primary washing away is with water. Water is everywhere in plural tense. Yoy will never find water in singular tense anywhere in hebrew. It is also written: "only a flooding (Shetef) of great waters [that] should not reach him" (Tehilim 32:6). The reason is that flooding (shtifa) does not apply to the single individual. He does not have the power to "flood". For it is an act which spreads out and eradicates everything. Therefore, flooding (shtifa) is attributed to water. For it has the power of the many, to spread out and eradicate from all sides... end of Maharal.

Translator: some interesting cross references I found in Rabbi Hartman's commentary: in Gevurot Hash-em ch.18 the Maharal writes:
It is proper to ask on the verse: "She named him Moses, saying 'For I drew him from the water'" (Shemot 2:10). It should have said: "for I drew him from the river", to indicate which waters she took him out from.

I say that the name "Moshe" teaches on the primary matter of Moshe and his greatness. For he was removed and taken out from the water.

The explanation is that water does not have a form (tzura) which stands and remains.. when you understand this, you will understand that the level of Moshe Rabeinu is the level of the form (tzura).

For it is separated in level from the physical. For the separated spiritual beings (sichliim nivdalim) are only form (tzura)..

But water is the opposite, for water does not have a complete form (tzura gemura). Therefore, water is always called in plural tense. You will not find water in singular tense anywhere. For since any unity is from the power of the form (tzura) which unites the matter, and water lacks a complete form, therefore since water is without enduring form, it is always in plural tense.

But Moshe was the opposite of them. He was a divested form (tzura nivdelet)... This is the opposite of water which lacks a unifying form. For this he was called Moshe, since he was removed from the water. end quote.

And on Nidah 31a, the Maharal writes:"for water is extremely physical (chomriim), until it has no form (tzura) at all, and there is nothing more distant from Form like water.."