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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 10
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 10פרק ב משנה י
Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai had five disciples: Rabbi Eliezer ben Horkenos, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya, Rabbi Yossi the Kohen, Rabbi Shimon ben Netanel, and Rabbi Elazar ben Arakh. He used to enumerate their praises: Rabbi Eliezer ben Horkenos is a cemented pit which does not lose a drop. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya - praiseworthy is she who gave birth to him! Rabbi Yossi the Kohen is a Chasid (pious one). Rabbi Shimon ben Netanel is one who fears sin. And Rabbi Elazar ben Arakh is an increasingly powerful wellspring.

He [Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai] used to say: If all the sages of Israel were on one side of a balance scale, and Rabbi Eliezer ben Horkenos were on the other side, he [Rabbi Eliezer] would outweigh them all. Abba Shaul said in his name that if all the sages of Israel, including Rabbi Eliezer ben Horkenos, were on one side of a balance scale, and Rabbi Elazar ben Arakh were on the other side, he [Rabbi Elazar] would outweigh them all.
חֲמִשָּׁה תַלְמִידִים הָיוּ לוֹ לְרַבָּן יוֹחָנָן בֶּן זַכַּאי, וְאֵלּוּ הֵן, רַבִּי אֱלִיעֶזֶר בֶּן הוֹרְקְנוֹס, וְרַבִּי יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בֶּן חֲנַנְיָה, וְרַבִּי יוֹסֵי הַכֹּהֵן, וְרַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן בֶּן נְתַנְאֵל, וְרַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר בֶּן עֲרָךְ. הוּא הָיָה מוֹנֶה שִׁבְחָן. רַבִּי אֱלִיעֶזֶר בֶּן הוֹרְקְנוֹס, בּוֹר סוּד שֶׁאֵינוֹ מְאַבֵּד טִפָּה. רַבִּי יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בֶּן חֲנַנְיָה, אַשְׁרֵי יוֹלַדְתּוֹ. רַבִּי יוֹסֵי הַכֹּהֵן, חָסִיד. רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן בֶּן נְתַנְאֵל, יְרֵא חֵטְא. וְרַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר בֶּן עֲרָךְ, מַעְיָן הַמִּתְגַּבֵּר.

הוּא הָיָה אוֹמֵר, אִם יִהְיוּ כָל חַכְמֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּכַף מֹאזְנַיִם, וֶאֱלִיעֶזֶר בֶּן הוֹרְקְנוֹס בְּכַף שְׁנִיָּה, מַכְרִיעַ אֶת כֻּלָּם. אַבָּא שָׁאוּל אוֹמֵר מִשְּׁמוֹ, אִם יִהְיוּ כָל חַכְמֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּכַף מֹאזְנַיִם וְרַבִּי אֱלִיעֶזֶר בֶּן הוֹרְקְנוֹס אַף עִמָּהֶם, וְרַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר בֶּן עֲרָךְ בְּכַף שְׁנִיָּה, מַכְרִיעַ אֶת כֻּלָּם.
Magen Avot - without a doubt, he raised thousands of disciples and in the Talmud (Berachot, chapter Ein Omdim), it seems Rebbi Chanania ben Dosa was his disciple. Thus, he counted only the big disciples through which the Oral Law was transmitted. They are the early Tannaim (sages) mentioned in the mishna and beraitot.
Ruach Chaim - "he would enumerate their praises" - he was careful to say "He (would enumerate their praises)", not "they". For they were extremely humble and did not at all consider themselves as possessing these levels.
Bartenura - "a cemented pit which does not lose a drop" - so too he does not forget even one thing he learned.
Tiferet Yisrael - like a wine pit which does not lose a drop. For the torah is compared to wine. He learned with such tremendous desire that he did not forget anything.
Binyan Avot (by Kabbalist Tzemach haKohen, Jerba) - (kabalistic) "cemented pit" - ie the side of holiness intensified within him until the Sar (angel) of forgetfulness left him. For his soul was from the Olam Hazachar. There is remembrance and not forgetfulness. For forgetfulness is from katnut as known to those who study Chen (Kabala)..
Od Yosef Chaim (book on the hidden Tzadik Rabbi Yosef Dayan) - (Kabalistic) - Rabbi Yosef would say "He who is plagued with forgetting, this comes from the sitra achra (side of evil) having attached itself to him. The sitra achra enclothes itself in him due to lack of shemirat habrit and damaging the midah of Yesod. The verse says 'do not stray after your hearts and after your eyes...in order that you remember' (Bamidbar 15). When you don't stray after your heart and eyes, then the holiness of the brit is guarded properly and it is possible to merit "remembrance" (i.e. perfect memory). He who wants to merit remembrance should repent completely and say the great vidui."

(Translator: - this is hinted in the mishna "a cemented pit which does not lose a drop". A cemented pit - bor sod, a hint to Yesod. "which does not lose a drop", i.e. who guards the Brit. see also Sefat Emet, Bamidbar, Pinchas 21.)
Bartenura - "praiseworthy is she who gave birth to him" - rich in good traits until everyone says of him: "praiseworthy she who gave birth to him".. And some say because she caused him to become a Chacham (torah scholar). For during her pregnancy she went to all the study halls in her city and asked them to pray for her child that he will become a Chacham (sage). And from the day he was born, she did not take his crib out of the study hall so that only words of torah would enter his ears.
Siftei Daat on Avot (R.Yerucham Levovitz) - see the Bartenura who brought the Yerushalmi that from the day he was born, his mother did not take his crib out of the Beit Midrash (study hall), so that only words of torah would enter his ears. Let us contemplate from here just how far the matter of chinuch (educating) goes and when the work begins already. For even suckling babies, gemulei chalav, from the moment they are formed, they already stand under the influence of their chinuch (education). They already stand affected and imprinted from everything that happens around them. Every occurence, every movement, even the slightest, every waking moment of the baby from the day he is born, has a great effect, a weight which affects the scales of growth of the man and his future. This matter is well known to experts in chinuch. That one must put attention on the early beginning of the child. This was the praise to Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya. For certainly success (osher) depends on this.
Daat Zekenim on Pirkei Avot, writings of Rabeinu Yerucham haLevi of Mir -
I heard from the Saba of Kelm, zt'l: "a father and mother are sitting in a room. Next to them a baby is sitting in a crib. The mother and father converse one lashon hara between each other. Better that they pour molten lead down the baby's throat.
Binyan Avot (by Kabbalist Tzemach haKohen, Jerba) - "praiseworthy is she who gave birth to him" - from the side of the father, the son will have an Ohr Makif (surrounding light), while from the side of the mother, he will have an Ohr Pnimi (inner light). It is known that the Ohr Makif is bigger than the Ohr Pnimi. Thus, if both the father and mother are equal and praiseworthy at the time of union, then, from conception and from the womb, the child will walk in the innocent path and do righteousness, and will not sin quickly.

If the father's thought was not pure, but the mother's thought was l'shem Shamayim, the child will have good middot while young, but when he grows, his evil inclination will grow with him and the Ohr Hamakif on him which is not pure will overpower the good Ohr Pnimi and he will have a nefesh (soul) which is not good. Similarly, for the opposite.

Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai praised Rabbi Yehoshua that in his youth his good deeds became well known, due to the Ohr Pnimi from his mother. For he was a special cande from youth, known for good traits and virtues and all the more so when he grew up and became known for his deeds and wisdom.

Therefore, due to his good deeds in his youth which became famous, everyone praised his mother saying "praiseworthy is she who gave birth to him". And how much more so since she would go around the Houses of Study to ask others to pray for the child as brought in the Yerushalmi (Yevamot 1:6)..
Bartenura - "Chasid (pious one)" - [one] who does beyond the letter of the law.

"one who fears sin" - he is stringent on himself and forbids on himself permitted things out of fear lest they lead to sin. For if we don't say this, what extra piety is there in this? Even an am haaretz can be sin fearing (Avot 2:5).
Meorei Ohr - he did this (add stringencies) more than all other people. Likewise for Rebbi Yossi who was a Chasid more than all other people.
Ruach Chaim - "fears sin" - but earlier it was taught: "a boor cannot fear sin" implying an "am haaretz" can be one who fears sin. Rather, here the intent is on a different aspect of fear of sin. Namely, that he would fear the sin itself, as one who fears and runs away from a viper or a burning inferno. The sin was actually like this in his eyes, and this is a great praise and wondrous level.
Bartenura - "an increasingly powerful wellspring" - his heart is broad and he adds pilpul and sevarot (intense analysis and reasoning) on his own.

"Abba Shaul said.." - I found written that he is not arguing on the previous Tanna (sages). Both statements were said by Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai and both are true. For regarding bekiut (breadth of knowledge) and memory, Rebbi Elazar outweighed all. But regarding sharpness and pilpul, Rebbi Elazar ben Arach outweighed all.
Tiferet Yehoshua - we should strive to understand why this mishna was placed in tractate Avot. This tractate is all entirely about teaching us the ways of life and instructing us pious traits so that we may ascend up the rungs of perfection as befitting the descendants of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov. Athough we learn here of the greatness of the holy Tannaim, but are we worthy of becoming like them?

In truth, it was not for nothing that this mishna was placed here, and not so we know the greatness of the Tannaim. For even without this, we know that these great men, upon whom the talmud is based, achieved great heights.

Rather, it was in order to make known to us the path they tread and reached such great perfection. This is the pure perfection which the Jewish soul is worthy and capable of reaching.

The view (shitato) of Rebbi Eliezer ben Horkonos is to not forget any drop of the written and oral torah, like a pit which does not lose a drop. For each and every drop of torah stands to the right of a man always and helps him to overcome difficulties and empowers him to reach the desired perfection.

The view of Rebbi Yehoshua ben Chananyia is to strive that every person say "praiseworthy is she who gave birth to him (ashrei yoladto)". Namely, that a person should reach such a high level in spirituality (ruchniut) until every one who sees him will praise him in seeing the Adam hashalem (whole man), and will burst forth praise on such a person saying: "praiseworthy is she who gave birth to him"! This path is the path of the good character traits. Namely, to imbue oneself with good character traits to their utmost extent. Only in this way can a person reach this kind of perfection.

The view of Rebbi Yossi haKohen is that a man should strive to deal with people in the way of "beyond the letter of the law (lifnim mishurat hadin)". To not stand on one's demands and to overlook (mevater) regarding other people beyond the letter of the law. If he goes in this path, he will certainly attain true perfection (shlemut amitit). For he seeks from himself much and expects nothing from others. This is the way of the Gedolei Yisrael (great sages of Israel), who when insulted, do not insult back (ne'elvim v'einam olvim).

The view of Rebbi Shimon ben Netanel does not need explanation. For fear of sin precedes torah and all other needs of people. For without it, a person makes the torah disgrace.

Rebbi Elazar ben Arach was the greatest of all of them, as known and as others testified in the name of his Rebbi. His trait was to strengthen himself every day in torah and fear of Heaven like an "increasingly powerful wellspring" by itself which gushes out always without intteruption. In this way he ascended up the levels of perfection. For only pure torah and fear of Heaven elevate a person up the rungs of true perfection.

Thus, the Tanna taught us the view of the great sages of Israel so that each person could strive to follow after their footsteps to the best of his abilities according to his own personal strengths and talents...
Tiferet Yehoshua - "he [Rabbi Elazar] would outweigh them all" - Raban Yochanan ben Zakai is teaching us that the spiritual is not like the physical. In the physical, regardless of how mighty a man is, it is impossible for him to have so much might that his strength can outweigh that of all human beings in the whole world.

But in the spiritual, namely, torah study, such a thing is possible, like Rebbi Elazar ben Arach who was capable of outweighing all the sages of Israel. He was on the level of what our sages said of Moshe: "Moshe Rabeinu weighed like all of Israel" (Mechilta Yitro 1).. Namely, his grasp (hasaga) included all the grasp of all of Israel in all generations, as our sages said: "it was said to Moshe at Sinai even what an old student taught before his Rebbi" (Yerushalmi (2:6). That is to say, all the wisdom of the torah was included in the grasp of Moshe Rabeinu.