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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 12
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 12פרק ב משנה יב
He said to them: Go out and see what is the evil path that a man should distance himself from. Rabbi Eliezer says: "an evil eye". Rabbi Yehoshua says: "an evil friend". Rabbi Yossi says: "an evil neighbor". Rabbi Shimon says: "he that borrows but does not repay. For he who borrows from man is as one who borrows from the Almighty, blessed be He, as it says (Psalms 37:21) 'The wicked borrow and do not repay, but the righteous one gives graciously'" Rabbi Elazar says: "an evil heart". He said to them: "I see the words of Rabbi Elazar ben Arakh [as better than] all of yours, for his words include all of yours". אָמַר לָהֶם צְאוּ וּרְאוּ אֵיזוֹהִי דֶרֶךְ רָעָה שֶׁיִּתְרַחֵק מִמֶּנָּה הָאָדָם. רַבִּי אֱלִיעֶזֶר אוֹמֵר, עַיִן רָעָה. רַבִּי יְהוֹשֻׁעַ אוֹמֵר, חָבֵר רָע. רַבִּי יוֹסֵי אוֹמֵר, שָׁכֵן רָע. רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן אוֹמֵר, הַלֹּוֶה וְאֵינוֹ מְשַׁלֵּם. אֶחָד הַלֹּוֶה מִן הָאָדָם, כְּלֹוֶה מִן הַמָּקוֹם בָּרוּךְ הוּא, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (תהלים לז) לֹוֶה רָשָׁע וְלֹא יְשַׁלֵּם, וְצַדִּיק חוֹנֵן וְנוֹתֵן. רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר אוֹמֵר, לֵב רָע. אָמַר לָהֶם, רוֹאֶה אֲנִי אֶת דִּבְרֵי אֶלְעָזָר בֶּן עֲרָךְ מִדִּבְרֵיכֶם, שֶׁבִּכְלָל דְּבָרָיו דִּבְרֵיכֶם.

Bartenura - "what is the evil path that a man should distance himself.." - it was necessary to ask them this because it is not necessarily so that for everything good, the opposite is evil. For example, the trait of Chasidut is to go beyond the letter of the law. But one who is not a chasid and goes by the letter of the torah is not evil. Similarly, for being content with little, which is a good eye, the opposite of this is seeking luxuries. It is not an evil path. For he does not harm anyone in this. Likewise for the other traits.
Rabbi Avraham Azoulai - Ahava b'Taanugim - "evil eye" - don't think that since he does not damage anyone, it is not an evil path. Rather, it is indeed evil. It is the mother of all evils. Even if a person is perfect in every other middot (character traits), nevertheless, this trait will bring him to commit all evils.
Bartenura - "he that borrows but does not repay" - this is the opposite of "one who sees what is born". For if he does not pay back, he will not find someone to lend him at a time of need and will face starvation. He did not say merely: "one who does not see what is born". Because it is possible for one to not see what is born and nevertheless not run into any trouble. Namely, he will be able to save himself when that thing born comes.

"but the Righteous One gives graciously" - i.e. the Holy One, blessed be He, who is the Tzadik (Righteous One) of the world, pays the lender what the borrower did not pay back. Thus, the borrower remains obligated to G-d.
Tiferet Yisrael - "evil eye" - when his mind's eye judges everything to the side of evil, he is not content with what he has, he is jealous of his fellow and judges him negatively. He suspects his Rabbi and the Holy One, blessed be He. He becomes in doubt on the foundations of Judaism, on torah from Heaven, on its explanation we received (the oral law). He does not merit the treasure of torah and [eventually] descends to Gehinom.

"evil friend" - who entices him always to sway from the just path.

"evil neighbor" - who angers him always and thus destroys his middot (character traits).

"he that borrows but does not repay" - this is the opposite of "to see what is born". He does not see that if he does not pay back now, in the future he will not find someone to lend him and thus he will die of starvation..

"evil heart" - for the heart is the root of everything. And when the root is rotten in a tree, everything rots. Likewise, if the heart is evil, the (evil) inclination of the body will strengthen over the intellect, and he will join the company of those similar to him, an evil friend, an evil neighbor, and he will not make a fence before sin, etc.
Rabeinu Yonah - "bad friend" - i.e. that he himself is a bad friend and a bad neighbor to his peers and neighbors.

"he that borrows but does not repay" - at the time of the loan, he should have thought and looked if he will be able to pay it back at the due date. If one recognizes that he will not be able to pay it back, then even though he needs the loan very much, nevertheless, he should not borrow now and instead push it off.

"For he who borrows from man is as one who borrows from the Almighty" - don't think after I don't have any money to pay back and he already brought me to Beit Din and the judges did not find anything to collect from me and I was judged exempt by Beit Din, therefore what is my sin and fault? It is not so. For although you are exempt from the Beit Din below but not from the judgments of Heaven (dinei Shamayim)...
Mili D'Avot - "evil heart" - ie a bad intellect (sechel). Namely, one who is not drawn after the intellect in all his matters. Instead he follows the physicality (chomer). Such a person has a sick and bad intellect and this will lead him to the lusts and the petty things.
Tosfot Yom Tov - not "seeing what is born" is not necessarily evil. Since many people do not see the born (nolad) and nevertheless go in the just path or they fulfill the torah l'shem Shamayim (with pure motives), not out of hope for reward or fear of punishment. Rather, lishma (for its own sake) and this is the highest form of divine service. Thus, Rebbi Shimon did not say that the evil path is one who does not see the born (nolad).
Tiferet Yehoshua - "he that borrows but does not repay" - why is this trait so bad? Because the world is buit on kindness (Olam Chesed Yibane). Without kindness the world cannot endure. Thus,one who lends and does not pay back is the exact opposite of kindness. He smites it by paying back good with evil, and our sages said (Midrash HaGadol Vayera 22:20): "there is nothing as hard on the world as ingratitude".
Chatam Sofer, Bamidbar - "he that borrows but does not repay" - the other sages said something and its opposite. But in the words of Rabbi Shimon how does this apply?

It seems to me to answer based on his previous statement. Namely, he said: "who sees what is born" instead of: "who sees the future".. For the former term: "who sees what is born" applies to both the past and the future (Nedarim 30b).

Now, every Jew is under duty to lend money to his fellow when his fellow asks him. If the lender is unable to pay afterwards, he is not considered a wicked person (rasha) due to this. Thus, the verse did not say "the wicked lend money and do not pay (shilem)" (past tense) but rather it says: "the wicked lend and will not pay (yeshalem)" (future tense), ie in the beginning, at the time of the loan, already the lender borrowed the money with intention to not pay it back.

This way also applies towards G-d. The righteous man "sees what is born", ie his debt to G-d for past and future (favors). For every day he becomes more indebted to G-d. Therefore, he does not seek from G-d any miracle or great abundance. For he knows that he will not be able to pay it back. But nevertheless, his will is always to pay it back. Therefore, this is a good way and the opposite is an evil way. Namely, similar to "the wicked lend and will not pay back" ie at the time he becomes indebted, he does not intend to pay back. For he thinks that everything G-d gives him is not enough for him and what others have is as if it is stolen from him and everything belongs to him (see Shaar Bechina intro) and he is not obligated to G-d for anything. Thus, "he who borrows from man is as one who borrows from the Almighty".
Binyan Avot (by Kabbalist Tzemach haKohen, Jerba) - "he who borrows from man is as one who borrows from the Almighty" - as known, a man's livelihood (parnasa) is in G-d's hands, blessed be He. Everything is fixed on Rosh Hashana for the year. Thus one who lends from a lender and does not pay him back reduces his livelihood from what G-d decreed for the lender. Thus, it is as if he borrowed from G-d..
Chida - Zeroa Yamin - "The wicked borrow and do not repay" - .. one who lends from man and does not pay back loses all his merits. For the Holy One, blessed be He, does not pay back the reward of his merits. This is what he said: "like one who borrows from the Almighty", to equate his debt to man like a debt to G-d. Just like for one who is obligated to G-d, if he does not pay back, G-d also does not pay back his merits, so too for one who owes his fellow and does not pay back, G-d also does not pay back the reward of his mizvot.. Thus he is certainly left a wicked man. For he has in his hand only sins and not mitzvot..
Orot HaMussar on Daat Chachma u'Mussar 2:14 - what is this matter of "evil neighbor" that our sages generalized as being "the evil path that a man should distance himself from"? Who cares if one has an evil neighbor in his neighborhood? What difference does this make?

But the foundation of the matter is that "evil" is an actual existence. And this existence of evil clings so much that if only his neighborhood is evil, there is already is no advice and no strategy [to save oneself] - for certainly the evil will cling also on him.

Likewise for an evil eye, an evil friend, an evil heart - all of them are an existence of evil; "his words include all of yours" - all these things are branches of an evil heart.

An evil heart is this existence of evil. It is (mamash) a deadly poison. If we could take apart the heart of an evil person, we would find and see how the heart is teeming and full of evil inside it.

"For the stone shall cry out from the wall, and the beam from the timber shall answer it" (Chavakuk 2:11). As it implies literally, namely, that in essence, evil clings so much that it even literally sticks to stones and wood.

We can see just how awesome is this matter of "evil neighbor" from what our sages said:
"why was the parsha (reading) of the death of Aharon immediately after the parsha of the king of Edom? Because since they associated (nitchabru) with this wicked man to pass through his land, they lost this Tzadik (Aharon)" (Bamidbar Rabba 19:9).

The death of Aharon! Imagine what an unbelievable shock it was for them. This is the man who stood between the dead and the living (who held up the angel of death).. (Bamidbar Rabba 19:11). For he was the wellpring of Shalom. But even so, a bad neighbor caused his death. Such is the great extent of the clinging of death of an evil neighbor - so much so that it can cause the death of Aharon the Kohen!

Likewise for the opposite on the good side. We need to understand it also in the way of an actual "existence". "Which is the straight path that a man should cling to?" - "a good eye", "a good friend", "a good neighbor", "a good heart". "Good" is an existence. Furthermore, the "trait of good is greater [than the trait of evil]" (middah tova meruba). It is the biggest existence there is.

The secret (sod) of such a life (of good eye, etc.) is an existence of good. Even a slight clinging to this has the power to revive the dead literally (mamash).

A good man brings blessings and good, revival and healing to all his surroundings. The slightest joining to him, a mere touching of good brings shefah (divine flow) of life and blessing to everyone.

Our sages said regarding Avraham our forefather:
" 'you shall be a blessing' (Gen.12:2) - Avraham himself became a wellpring of blessing. Everyone who touched Avraham our forefather became blessed. From a look and glance of Avraham our forefather, sick people became healed" (Bereishit Rabba 39:17). In the end there, our sages said that even for desert travellers and sailors, when they would merely utter the name of Avraham our forefather, ie a tiny connection to him - they would be saved in his merit.

This level that a man becomes a channel to bring shefah and blessing to the world, it seems to be the highest level. But after a little contemplation it seems from the words of our sages that it is a level incumbent on everyone [to strive for].
Tiferet Yehoshua - "good heart" - for the heart is the person himself and his essence, and its influence rules all his deeds.
Toldot Yaakov Yosef (Chukat) - for one has an evil heart, his heart tends to condemn others and think bad on them. But when one has a good heart, his heart tends to find the good in others.
Maharal - it is proper to ask why did Rabbi Eliezer ben Horkanos see fit to choose this trait of "good eye"? Furthermore, what did Rabbi Yehoshua see to cling to this trait of being a good friend? Is there really such a lofty trait in this? All the more so for "good neighbor" - what (lofty) virtue is there in this?

Another question: when Raban Yochanan asked the opposite - "which evil trait should one distance from?", all of them answered the opposite trait (ex. evil eye versus good eye) except for Rebbi Shimon who said: "one who lends but does not pay back" instead of the opposite "one who does not see what is born (nolad)".

Another question: Raban Yochanan ben Zakai said that a good heart includes all of them. But a good heart does not include "one who sees what is born". These two traits are not connected to each other..

(the maharal will now bring a simple explanation to answer all the questions and then afterwards a deeper explanation).

"go out and see which is the straight path that a person should cling to" - ie that this way has much good and therefore it is proper for one to cling to it. He said: "go out and see", ie that you investigate and examine people until you discover which is the best midah (trait). For these things were not learned from the torah. Thus, one needs to examine and investigate in the world and therefore he used the term "go out and see".

Rebbi Eliezer ben Horkanos said a good eye. For this trait leads to much good for a man, since all the time, every moment, he sees wealth, greatness, and other qualities (maalot) in people and his eye is good towards others. Hence, this trait applies more often than other traits. One can exercise it more frequently than other traits and he can give a good eye quickly like the blink of an eye. Therefore, he said to cling to this trait more than all the other traits.

Rebbi Yehoshua added "a good friend". For when he is a good friend to someone, certainly this includes having a good eye. Because if he has an evil eye, he is unable to be a good friend due to the evil eye in him. Furthermore, the trait of good friend is better than the trait of "good eye". For it is with speech and advice while "good eye" is only in sight (it is the way of friends to give advice to each other).

Rabbi Yossi added a good neighbor. For this is even more than the good friend since the good friend is good only in advice (speech), while good neighbors are good to each other in deed, namely, to lend to each other and help each other in deed. This also includes benefiting each other in speech and in advice. Thus a good neighbor includes speech (of a good friend) and all the more so it includes a good eye which is of sight only.

Rebbi Shimon ben Netanel added "one who sees what is born", i.e. to perform acts of kindness to other people. For the neighbors' favors to each other is only in lending things or the like. This one benefits and the other loses nothing (ze nehene ze lo chaser). The lender does not lose anything. Thus it is not called an act of kindness like one who lends money or the like. Thus he said "one who sees what is born". For he thinks that someday he too will be in need and the fellow will reciprocate kindness to him.. Every kindness stands to be paid back except for a kindness to the dead..

Thus one who sees what is born does not refrain from doing kindness to his fellow.. this is why when he asked them (next mishna) which path to distance from, he said "one who lends but does not pay back". For this is the opposite of one who sees what is born as we explained (for afterwards no one will lend to him again).

Rebbi Elazar ben Arach said "a good heart". For when a man has a good heart, everything is included. He does kindness to others and all the previous good things we mentioned are included in this.

Regarding one who sees what is born, sometimes he will refrain from benefiting someone due to worrying abot loss. For since the good he does is only for the nolad, namely, perhaps he will also need this man. But if helping him incurs some loss, he will not help him. For the future need is only a maybe while the current loss is a certain, and a certain overrules a maybe (ein safek motzi misei vadai).

But he who has a good heart does not refrain from any kindness even if it incurs a loss for him. Therefore, Rebbi Yochanan ben Zakai said "I see the words of Rabbi Elazar ben Arakh [as better than] all of yours, for his words include all of yours".

"which path should a person cling to" - ie that a man needs to cling completely to this good trait and habituate himself very much in it until this trait is fixed in his soul. For thus the good traits need to be fixed in him until they are as second nature. And all the more so is he not called a "possessor of a good trait" (baal midah tova) when he is not habituated in it and it is not fixed in his soul until it is as second nature.

Likewise for the evil traits (next mishna), he said one should distance from it a very great distance. Not it nor anything similar to it. For if he draws close to it then he has some closeness to the evil trait to some degree.

"evil eye" - for one must distance very far from [the trait of] evil eye. Because the eye can do its work in the blink of an eye, giving an evil eye to another. Therefore, this trait is most liable to do evil and one should distance from it. Furthermore this evil trait leads a man to jealousy, hatred, and many other countless sins..

"evil friend" - (speech) he damages his fellow by giving him bad advice and all the more so that he has an evil eye.

"evil neighbor" - (deed) bad neighbors damage each other in many ways through their deeds. All the more so through speech like the evil friend who gives bad advice and through an evil eye.

"he that borrows but does not repay" - worse than all of them is he who pays back evil to one who does good to him. He holds back his fellow's money and pays back the good with evil. This is antithetical to one who "sees what is born", namely, one who bestows good and acts good towards his friend knowing that the good will be paid back. But this person is the opposite. He is wicked and refuses to pay back thus shutting the door for next time. All the more so does he do all the damages of the evil neighbor and the evil eye person.

Rebbi Elazar ben Arach added evil heart. This includes all the evil traits we mentioned previously, as Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai said. With this explanation we have answered all the questions.

Everything is in order. First he brought the good trait one can practise with the eye. Afterwards, he brought what one can practise to his fellow through speech. Afterwards the good one can practise to his fellow through deed as neighbors do good to each other reciprocally whereby one benefits and the other does not lose anything. For that which one neighbor lends his tools or the like, he loses nothing.

Afterwards he brought one who sees what is born (nolad), who benefits others with his money (loans or the like).

More than this, one who does kindness to his fellow and benefits him despite incurring a loss. This is the possessor of a good heart. He benefits others even if he loses in the matter.

Likewise for the evil traits which each one mentioned. Each one adds on to the previous. This is how one would explain this mishna according to logic and reason.

But this mishna is a very wondrous teaching according to Wisdom.
Let us explain this mishna in that manner. Every person of understanding will see that without a doubt this is the correct explanation..

You should know that this mishna has very wondrous matters, not like people think that the words of the sages were said merely by common logic. It is not so. For all the words of the sages contain great [divine] Wisdom.

You should know that a man is comprised of many divisions. We already explained this previously. Sometimes he is divided into two divisions, body and soul. Sometimes he is divided into three divisions as we explained earlier regarding "on three things the world stands, justice, truth, and peace".

Man can also be divided in many other ways depending on the aspect under discussion.

You will find the torah valued man at five shekalim for a male baby to 50 shekalim maximum for a man (Vayikra 27). From this you can know that man's shekel is five.

This matter contains great wisdom. For man has a body and its powers and a soul and its [spiritual] powers.

The powers of the body carry and join to the soul and its powers. The body and the soul are joined together and the body carries the soul.

Some powers of the soul are not completely separate (from the physical) while others are completely separate, namely, the power of intellect (koach sichli) which grasps (understands) things.

Each power has its own "carrier" (nosseh meyuchad). Without a doubt, that which carries a power which is not completely separate (from the physical) is not the same as that which carries a power which is completely separate (from the physical).

Therefore that which carries the power which is completely separate (the intellect) is more (spiritually) fine and pure than that which carries the power which is not completely separate like the nefesh (life soul).

Thus, we have four matters: power of the (lower) soul (koach nafshi), and power of the intellect (koach sichli), and each one has its own carrier power in the body. Thus, they are four.

However, don't think there is not a fifth power. For the powers are not really independent at all. Rather, they have a single root. Thus there is a fifth power which is like a root to the other powers.

This power is in the heart, which is the root of all of man. There this power dwells. This power is not separated completely nor is it completely in the body.

Soon, we will explain each of these powers from the words of the five sages in this mishna.

Know that these powers were also mentioned in the words of the sages. They called them: "ruach, nefesh, neshama" (B.Rabba 14:9). For they are three powers besides the carriers, as we will explain. Due to this, they are five.

With this you will understand what our sages said in Eiruvin 13b: "two and a half years Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel argued: Beit Hillel said better for man had he not been created and Beit Shammai said better for man that he was created. They finally took a vote and decided that it were better for man not to have been created than to have been created.."

why was it mentioned here "two and a half years" more than anywhere else?.. The answer is that man has five powers as we mentioned, namely, the powers of the body and the powers of the soul. Two and a half tend to the body and two and a half tend to the soul. Therefore, two and a half tend to evil (physicality) and two and a half tend to good (the intellect). For the fifth power has no pair. For it has a connection to the power of the body and also a connection to the separated (non-physical) power (of the soul). Thus, it tends to both sides and is therefore divided.

Hence, these say better for man had he not been created and those say better for man that he was created.

The explanation of "they argued for two and a half years", ie from the aspect of these two and a half, these said better for man that he was created and from the aspect of the other two and a half those said better for man had he not been created. This corresponds to the number of powers which tend to the evil and to the good.

But "they finally took a vote and decided that it were better for man not to have been created than to have been created". For from the aspect that he has parts near to the good it is better for him that he was created. While from the aspect of man himself, [better had he not been created].

This is because man has two aspects. One, from the aspect of his different powers. Two, from the aspect of his being a man which contains all the parts together.

From the [first] aspect of his different powers, half tend to the good and half to the evil. But from the [second] aspect of man which includes all the parts together, he tends to the evil. For generally the man is evil (since he does not have a majority of good). But if he had a majority of good, the good would incline the evil [to the good]. But now since there is no inclining, for he is half and half, it is better for him had he not been created. Since the evil corrupts the good and thus there is no inclining to the good.

Beit Shamai and Beit Hillel also argue in tractate Rosh Hashana (17a) regarding those who are half meritorious (zakai) and half guilty (chayiv). Beit Shamai holds they descend to Gehinom, scream out and ascend, while Beit Hillel holds from the verse "abundant kindness" (shemot 34:6) that He inclines towards kindness.

However, both agree here that since there is half/half and man does not have good [powers] which inclines the scale, better had he not been created.

Therefore, "they voted" all of them together that better had he not been created because there is an aspect of man that it is better for him had he not been created (for the half evil corrupts the half good, as before - R.Hartman).

You can understand these things from the name "Adam" (Aleph-Mem-Dalet). It begins with Aleph corresponding to the power which is one. It continues with Dalet for these four powers we mentioned are pairs. They have a good and evil part. This is what was said on "[G-d] formed [man]" (Ber.2:7), "formed (vayyitzer)" is written with two yuds. For man has two formations as they said in tractate Berachot (61b).

Therefore, afterwards is the letter Mem. It teaches that these five powers are half to here and half to there. For the "Mem" itself indicates division since it divides the hebrew alphabet, half to each side.

That which they said "two and a half years", this is to hint to two times and a half... these forces must be five because a power which is separated (from the physical) must have a carrier (intermediary medium)...

This is why one must do kriah (rip his shirt) when witnessing yetziah nefesh (death of a Jew). For yetziah hanefesh is like a sefer torah which is burnt. The torah similarly has five books like the soul has five powers as we said, and the fifth book includes everything. This matter is exceedingly deep regarding these five powers and we cannot explain further.

You should just know that the soul is the candle of G-d, as written: "the candle of G-d is the soul of man" (Mishlei 20:27). This candle's spark spreads and branches out to five branches,namely, these five powers we mentioned. Half of them tend to the body and half to the nefesh (soul). Understand this.

Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai saw that each of his five disciples excelled in a good trait which corresponded to one of these five parts in man. Thus it says "he would count their praise" instead of "he would tell their praise".

Because here it was a count. For their praise included all praise so that there is not anything to add nor to substract, since it encompassed all the five parts...

He began with Rebbi Eliezer ben Horkanos saying "a cemented pit which does not lose a drop". This is a praise on the koach nafshi (spiritual soul power which is not completely separated like the intellect - R.Hartman). He said that he has the power of (perfect) memory, a spiritual power. It is the most praiseworthy of all. For on it stands the acquisition of wisdom.

This itself teaches that his soul was separated (nivdal), not immersed in the physical. For that which is completely separated is unchanging. But something physical changes and reacts.. Therefore, he said that his soul is a "a cemented pit which does not lose a drop", ie that his a spiritual power is separated (nivdal)..

Thus it says regarding the soul: "but the soul will not be filled" (Kohelet 6:7). For the soul receives things, it receives knowledge of things and holds them..

He praised Rebbi Yehoshua ben Chanania saying: "praiseworthy is she who bore him". We already mentioned that the power of the soul has a bodily carrier (nossei gufani) which "carries" the separated (transcendent) spiritual power. Rebbi Yehoshua had this quality, namely refinement of the physical (zachut hachomer). Therefore, he said: "praiseworthy is she who bore him", to teach on the good physicality he came from. For if the woman he came from did not have good physicality, such a person of refined and good physicality would not have come out of her..

Without a doubt, the woman is more physical than the man.. Therefore, he said on Yehoshua ben Chanania: "praiseworthy is she who bore him". For Rebbi Eliezer ben Horkanos had the power of nefesh nivdelet (separated soul), while Rebbi Yehoshua ben Chanania the level of purity of the physical (zachut hachomer), which is the power that "carries" this soul power which he praised Rebbi Eliezer ben Horkanos for. Note that Rebbi Eliezer and Rebbi Yehoshua were peers (chaverim) throughout the whole talmud, they are likewise peers here..

After mentioning the spiritual power and its carrier, he praised Rebbi Yossi HaKohen that he is a Chasid (pious one). This too is a quality in the bodily power of man, it carries the intellect (nossei hasechel).

The explanation is that Chasidut indicates that he has extremely refined and fine physicality, more than the first (of Rebbi Yehoshua - RH). From this comes Chasidut, to do good beyond the letter of the law, as explained earlier (Avot 2:5). Therefore, it is not relevant to say: "praiseworthy is she who bore him". Because this level is so divested of the physical that it is as if he is not at all connected to physicality which is connected to the woman...

Afterwards he said: "Shimon ben Netanel fears sin". He praised him for the refined and clean intellect that he has. Thus he said that he "fears sin". For this trait teaches on pure and refined intellect. This is what they said earlier "a boor canot fear sin nor can an am haaretz (man of the land) be a chasid" (Avot 2:5). This is as what we explained there, namely, that when he has the coarseness of physicality and due to this he is called an 'am haaretz' (man of the land). For he is of gross physicality like the land. Thus it is impossible for such a person to be a Chasid. For Chasidut is when one has refinement and good of the physical as we explained.

And when he is a boor, namely, that there is no wisdom in him, it is impossible for him to fear Heaven as we explained. Because one who fears Heaven is moved (mitpael) by G-d and fears Him. Such a situation is only possible for one who is close to G-d. For one who is far from the king certainly does not fear the king. Only one who is close to the king, and near to him. Then, he will feel fear of the king.

Therefore, "a boorish man cannot fear sin". as we explained there. We will explain further later on by the mishna: "if there is no wisdom, there is no fear. If there is no fear, there is no wisdom." (Avot 3:17). For these two things, wisdom and fear are tied and joined together such that one cannot exist without the other.

Thus, that which he said: "Rabban Shimon ben Netanel fears sin", he was really praising him for having a pure, fine, and clean intellect, and therefore, he fears sin. For the pure and clean intellect is the opposite of the boor, who is far from the intellect...

This praise corresponds to what he praised Rebbi Yossi HaKohen. For he praised Rebbi Yossi for the power of carrying the power of intellect (nossei koach sichli). Thus, the order of these four sages is very precise..

"Rabbi Elazar ben Arakh is an increasingly powerful wellspring" - for he had the root of the sechel and a powerful sechel (intellect). Therefore, he compared him to an an increasingly powerful wellspring". For the spring has a root and source from which it flows and increases. So too Rabbi Elazar has the root and power of sechel completely whole. Due to this he always increases wisdom. For this is the way for something which has a powerful root, it spreads out from the root and increases continuously. But something without a strong root ceases immediately..

Thus he praised Rebbi Elazar with this praise we mentioned earlier. Namely that man has a power which is a root to all the powers.. This power is in the heart. Thus the heart is considered like the root from which the powers of the neshama (soul) branch out.

Due to his having this power as completely whole as possible, therefore he was like an increasingly power wellspring.

You should know that one who has this quality becomes like a wellspring and spreads out on all sides, including all the wisdoms and all good traits. Rabbi Elazar had all the praiseworthy traits of the other sages mentioned previously and included everything.

We have explained these things but there is more depth when you understand the Sod (secret) of the Neshama (soul), as written: "and the breath of the Almighty permits them to understand" (Iyov 32:8). From there the soul emanates (atzula). Therefore, the soul has five names: "nefesh, ruach, neshama, yechida, chaya" (Ber. Rabba 1:5). And the value of a male is five shekalim (Vayikra 27:6). Corresponding to this, there are five books in the torah, and from this you will understand the matter of the five disciples mentioned here..

"Rabbi Eliezer said: A good eye" - here the Tanna called them "Rabbi" because they said a matter (dvar) of Halacha. Therefore, it is proper to call them with the title "Rabbi"..

As we said earlier, the level of Rebbi Eliezer ben Horkanos is that he had the power of nefesh nivdelet min haguf (his soul was separated from the physicality of the body), and through this he had a good soul. Therefore, he praised the trait of "good eye". For one who has a good soul has a good eye. Likewise for the opposite, one who has an evil soul is evil eyed. We find in several places that one with an evil eye is called an "evil soul"...

In truth, the power of (inner) sight is the most separated spiritual power of all the senses.. sight is a separated power close to the intellect. For in scripture sight is associated with the intellect.. such as "my heart saw [much wisdom]" (Kohelet 1:16). Thus, Rebbi Eliezer was drawn after his level and potential of having a separated soul and the trait which follows this, namely a good eye. Thus, he praised the trait and said: "a good eye".

"good friend" - as we explained earlier, the level of Rebbi Yehoshua was from the aspect of the power which "carries" the nefesh nivdelet (separated soul) and connects to it. He had perfection (shlemut) in this power. We explained earlier clearly that there are powers which are like carriers and connect to the power of the nefesh (soul), and that it cannot be otherwise.
(Translator: "the Ohr Hachaim on Emor says that the soul and body are more opposites than fire and water. Thus an intermediate medium between them is required).

When this Chaver (friend, ie carrier) which connects to the soul is good, it is considered a good creation which does not do evil to the person. Therefore, Rebbi Yehoshua praised "a good friend". For he had the level of being pure and good in the power which is the friend to the soul and its carrier. It is a good friend and because of this a man does good to others. For when man is divested of the pettiness of physicality and he becomes of good and pure physicality until he becomes a good friend to the soul, then he himself will be good (and thus good to others - RH).

Therefore, he said that the trait a man should choose is to be a "good friend". The intent is to be a good friend to the soul.

Thus, the praise Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai gave to Rabbi Yehoshua was "praiseworthy is she who bore him". Earlier, we explained this to mean that he was of pure and good physicality. And one who has pure and good physicality necessarily says that the good trait a man should cling to is to be a "good friend". The plain meaning is also intended. Namely, that Rebbi Yehoshua praised a good friend, like his own trait of being a good friend to the soul.

Therefore, he praised a good friend. For it is all the same thing - that which he was a good friend to the soul and also literally a good friend to other people. Because a good friend [to others] does good. He inclines his friend to the good. So too, the friend to the soul - he inclines everything to the good until the man becomes good.

Thus, Rebbi Yehoshua praised the trait of "good friend". For all the intent of a good friend is to incline his friend to the good. Therefore he said that the trait one should cling to is to be a good friend. For through this man becomes completely good.

"Rabbi Yossi said 'a good neighbor'" - as before, Rabbi Yehoshua said "a good friend" due to his power of being a good friend to the soul. Rabbi Yossi was praised for being a "Chasid". We explained previously this was from the aspect of being a "carrier".

He had (perfected) the power which is a neighbor to the intellect's power. It was good. Therefore, he said "a good neighbor".

Understand the difference between a friend and a neighbor. For the friend (chaver) joins (mitchaber) completely with his friend and does not separate from him. He is with him completely. But the neighbor is only due to sharing residence with him and being a good neighbor.

This itself is the difference between one who joins (mitchaber) to the soul power versus one who joins the intellectual power. For one who joins the soul power has a connection and mixing with him (chibur v'eruv imo). But one who joins with the intellectual power does not have mixing with it. He only has a connection with it.

The reason is because the intellectual power is completely separated (from physicality). It jas no joining and mixing with the carrier. Only it exists with it and has a connection only due to this. But it has no mixing whatsoever.. Thus, while the former is called friend, the latter is called neighbor... (see also Maharal on Avot 1:4).

We explained earlier that the level of Rebbi Yossi was from the aspect of purity and good in him. This aspect itself is Chasidut, as we explained earlier. Therefore, he said the trait a man should cling to is "good neighbor", ie that a man be divested of the gross and thick physicality to purify his physicality, to become a good neighbor to the intellect.

For when he is a good neighbor to the intellect, he is good and a chasid to the public. Thus, Rabbi Yossi was drawn after the quality in him.

The explanation is also as the plain meaning, that one should be a good neighbor to his fellow human being just like he is a good neighbor to the intellect. For a good neighbor is completely good...

When you understand these things we said, you will have no doubt on our explanation. For they are very clear matters in wisdom. There is no doubt on them except to one who does not understand words of Wisdom.

"Rabbi Shimon says: one who sees what is born" - without a doubt, this too is clear testimony to the explanation we mentioned. For the good trait he said follows from his virtuous level.

As before, Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai praised him saying: "Shimon ben Netanel fears sin". We explained that fear of sin exists when the intellect is fine and pure (dak v'zach). For then one has more fear of sin.

The opposite of this is one who is a boor. Thus, "a boor cannot fear sin" (Avot 2:6), ie completely.

That which Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai praised Rebbi Shimon ben Netanel for the virtue of "fear of sin", this teaches that he had a fine and pure intellect. From this is fear of G-d, and this obligates "to see what is born". For only one with a fine and pure intellect can see the nolad (what is born). We explained this already by "who is wise? One who sees the future" (Avot 4:1).

Thus because Rebbi Shimon had a pure and fine intellect, he would see the future. For the intellect is like a candle which illuminates well. Through it one sees the nolad (future consequences). This is the opposite of the fool "who walks in darkness" (Kohelet 2:14). He fails to see what is before him...

The level (maalah) of this trait of "seeing what is born" is that he has a divested and clear intellect (sechel pashut v'zach). Therefore, his intellect sees the nolad, as we said earlier. His level is certainly lofty from the aspect that he is similar to the upper ones who are divested (peshutim).

Therefore, we said that his trait is fear of sin. For whoever is close to the upper ones (elyonim) has fear of sin and he is far from the lower ones who are not divested (peshutim)...

"good heart" - Rabbi Elazar ben Arach said: "a good heart", ie that one habituates himself to have a good heart. For this is the root of man, since the heart is the root of man and from it stems all the powers of the body and soul.. In all of them, the heart is the beginning and root (Zohar, Midrash Nelam 1:138 - RH).

As before Rebbi Eliezer was like an overpowering wellspring. A wellspring has a flowing root and source. Therefore, he said: "a good heart" since the heart is the root and beginning of man and everything branches out from it just like the wellspring flows and ascends from its source and root. Thus, that which he said "a good heart", this also follows from his trait. Namely, that he was an "increasingly powerful wellspring". In this power which is the root of everything and from which everything stems, he had it perfectly (b'shlemut).

This is what Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai said: "I see the words of Rabbi Elazar ben Arakh [as better than] all of yours, for his words include all of yours".

For when the heart is good, everything is whole (b'shlemut), whether the powers of the soul or the powers of the body. Because the heart is the source and root of living creatures. This is indicated by its being in the middle of the body. For everything which is in the middle is the root and beginning of everything...

(see there for much more... He ends off:) "..without a doubt these are the words of the Chachamim, despite that it is impossible to explain their words according to the [full] depth in them."