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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 18
with select commentaries

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

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

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Chapter 2 Mishna 18פרק ב משנה יח
Rabbi Tarfon would say: the day is short, the work is great, the workers are lazy, the reward is much, and the Master of the house presses. רַבִּי טַרְפוֹן אוֹמֵר, הַיּוֹם קָצָר וְהַמְּלָאכָה מְרֻבָּה, וְהַפּוֹעֲלִים עֲצֵלִים, וְהַשָּׂכָר הַרְבֵּה, וּבַעַל הַבַּיִת דּוֹחֵק

Bartenura - "the day is short" - the life in this world is short.
Rabbi Avraham Azoulai - Ahava b'Taanugim - "the day is short" - he did not say "the time is short", but rather "the day is short". This is so one does not think he has [plenty of] time to live in this world and toil in Torah. Rather, only one day. And the day is not long like in the summer, but it is short only like the winter.

Some explain that he said "the day is short" and not "the time is short", to teach a man that even in the short life he has, most of his time is considered as night. For in all of a man's days various troubles befall him.

The time man has that he can sit tranquilly and toil in Torah is little. This is the meaning of "the day is short". Namely, the time which can be called "day" and not "night", whereby one can toil in Torah is short, and especially in this exile where troubles have intensified on us.
Tiferet Yisrael - "the day is short" - i.e. the days of man are short for attaining the proper Shelemut (Wholeness). For almost as soon as his intellect's eye is opened to see that the world and its matters are vanity, old age has already seized him and soon he will be no more.

"the work is great" - i.e. the number of his duties to G-d and man are many in number and quality.

"the workers are lazy" - the powers of the body and nefesh (lower soul) are lazy and tend more to evil than to good.

"the reward is big" - in this world and in the next, as written: "for it is your life and the length of your days".

"the Master of the house presses" - do not say that G-d does not care whether or not a man makes himself whole in Torah and mitzvot. For how greatly does a [human] father care (makpid) that his son makes himself whole. All the more so for the Holy One, blessed be He.

The main intent is for man to muster zeal with all his strength in fulfilling the Torah due to the five points mentioned..
Rabeinu Yonah - "the day is short" - these are man's days. They are short relative to the work of Torah whose measure is greater than the sea.. This is what was said that all those forty days Moshe Rabeinu ascended mount Sinai, he did not sleep. It is like a king who told his servant: "go and count gold coins from now until tomorrow, and everything you count is yours!"

How could he sleep? Every second he wastes on his lusts will be a great loss. So too Moshe said: "how can I sleep?! I will lose so many pearls of Torah!"

All the more so for us, lest we give [excessive] sleep to our eyes and slumber to our eyelids.
Ben Ish Chai - Chasdei Avot - "the day is short" - all of a man's life in this world is called one day. The reason is to teach us a great mussar (teaching). Namely, a man should not look at the seventy or eighty years of his life as if they are many.

For then he will tell himself that he still has time to do for G-d. Rather, he needs to see in his eyes as if all his life in this world is only one day and he has no more than today. Similarly, Rabbi Elazar said: "repent one day before your death".

The talmud (Shab.151) explains that the intent is because one does not know when he will die. Thus all his days will be in repentance. For he will repent today since maybe he will die tomorrow.. In truth this is a great mussar which every person with a brain will admit to.

For no flesh and blood is assured in this world of tomorrow, and one only has today. Every person who truly puts this to heart is assured that he will not sin...

Rabbi Tarfon is also teaching us another mussar. Namely, we need to picture in our minds that the holy work asked of us in this world is great in quality. For in two hours of prayer and fixed Torah study, which is a short time, a man builds great and awesome [spiritual] worlds.

Therefore, one should not be concerned nor worry on his toil and efforts, even if it is a great and even if he loses money.
He should also think in his mind that in this holy work, the workers are lazy. Namely other people who are obligated in the holy work.. they do not toil in it properly. Therefore, realize that if one toils energetically (b'zerizut), as is proper, he will be praiseworthy in this work and his reward will be very very great..
Shaarei Teshuva, shaar sheni - "the day is short" - among the things a man is obligated to remember is the day of death. This is in order that he not become idle or lax in the service of G-d. Rather that he pushes off sleep from his eyes to toil in Torah. He contemplates in fear of G-d and rectifies his character traits. He attains levels of fear and love [of G-d] and thinks thoughts how to increase and augment mitzvot to be a treasury and repository for his soul, as written: "The wise-hearted acquires mitzvot (commandments)" (Mishlei 10:8). For he will know and remember that the days are short, as our sages said: "the days is short..". But for one who does not remember the day of death always, it seems in his eyes as if he has free time and can slowly attain his desire.
Bartenura - "the work is great" - the Torah's measure (yardstick) is greater than the earth.

Rabbi Avraham Azoulai - Ahava b'Taanugim - "the work is great" - with a "Heh yadua" (emphasizing "THE work"). For it is not because the day is short that the work is great but if there were a lot of time, the work would not be considered great. Rather, even if there was a lot of time, the work is intrinsically great.
Ben Ish Chai - Birkat Avot - "the work is great" - the work incumbent on man to rectify all the roots of his nefesh, ruach, and neshama is great. And the masses of people are lazy in their work. For each one does the lust of his heart and does not care about rectifying himself. Thus, when one finds a man who is not lazy in rectifying himself and he is very zealous to complete the tikun of his nefesh, ruach, and neshama which is incumbent on him, certainly, his reward is very great, doubled over many times without limit..
Rabeinu Yonah - "the workers are lazy" -
this refers to human beings who are lazy to learn Torah. For even the zealous sages become lazy in it for it is human nature to be lazy, without exception. Only some are more and some are less.
Rabbi Avraham Azoulai - Ahava b'Taanugim - "the workers are lazy" - i.e. not only the idle people who sit on street corners are lazy. But even the workers who toil in Torah day and night - they are called lazy relative to what is proper for them to do.
Rabbi Avraham Azoulai - Ahava b'Taanugim - "the workers are lazy" - the laziness of workers is due to one of two reasons.

One, because the wages are low. Thus, he works lazily.

Two, even if the wages are high, the workers work lazily since the owner (baal habayit) does not stand over the workers to push them.

On this he said that in the work of Torah and mitzvot, the workers are lazy despite that there are two qualities. Regarding the wages, he said: "the reward is great". For there is no measure of the reward of the Tzadik even in this world., and all the more so in the next world.

Likewise, the baal habayit stands and presses saying "hurry to finih your work!". He pushes and exhorts them every hour and every second through sufferings and sending the prophets. Despite all this, the workers are lazy.

He said "the workers" in plural tense instead of singular tense as he continued "it is not incumbent upon you to complete the work..", to teach on the great power of the Yetzer Hara (evil inclination). Namely that even when many people gather together to serve G-d and learn Torah where by nature each person helps the others, even so they are lazy and don't do the will of their Maker.
Chida - Zeroah Yamin - "the day is short, the work is great, the workers are lazy, the reward is big, and the Master of the house presses" - it seems he should have said: "the workers are lazy" in the end. It appears the answer is that a talmid chacham is not suspected of this. Namely, he is not suspected of becoming lazy if he puts to heart that the reward is great and the baal habayit presses.

Rather it is because he does not put to heart these two things that he becomes lazy. Therefore, Rabbi Tarfon comes to remind and exhort saying wake up look and see that the reward is great and the baal habayit presses. Through this, you will be energetic (zariz) and drop the laziness.
Rabbi Avraham Azoulai - Ahava b'Taanugim - "the reward is great" - even for the worker who toils in Torah, he is called lazy relative to the greatness of the reward.
Ben Ish Chai - Chasdei Avot - "the reward is great" - it is not proportional to the time you toil in it. For in a short time, you profit a thousand, thousand, mutiplied many tens of thousands of precious pearls. Therefore, do not worry if three or four hours of the day have passed in Torah study and prayer. For if you had gone out to the marketplace for material work, what would you have profited in this time? What worth is this time of material work relative to the profit you would have gained in holy spiritual toil which is priceless and unimaginable? It is not even like a drop in the ocean.
Rabbi Avraham Azoulai - Ahava b'Taanugim - the reward is great - the spiritual pleasure of the radiance of the Divine presence (haschar hu hataanug haruchani bziv haShechina).
Bartenura - "the Master of the house presses" - as written: "you shall contemplate in it day and night".
Rabbi Avraham Azoulai - Ahava b'Taanugim - "the Master of the house presses" - the Holy One, blessed be He, brings sufferings so one will wake up and repent and return to his G-d, and toil in Torah day and night. For the Holy One, blessed be He, does not abandon a person to let him remove the yoke of Heaven from himself.
Rabeinu Yonah - "the Master of the house presses" - it is not like a percentage job where if one does a little, he gets paid a little according to the percentage of the whole job and the owner does not care. Rather, the Holy One, blessed be He, commands you to do the work of Torah and not to delay your work in what you can do. If you transgress His command, you will be severely punished. For you do not have permission to be idle from it for even one hour (shaah achat).
Maharal - it is proper to ask on what Rabbi Tarfon said. Namely, that man's time is short and the Torah is vast - but he himself said afterwards: "it is not incumbent upon you to complete the work" (next mishna).

Furthermore, he only needed to say that "the work is great" and I would have known that "the day is short" relative to the work. For otherwise, it would not be called that the day is short.

Furthermore, "the Master of the house presses" - if the intent is that G-d is the Baal Habayit (Master of the house) and wants that man learns [Torah] always, he already said "the work is great". For if the baal bayit (master of the house) does not want the worker to do his work, then it is not called that the work is great.

Furthermore, that which he said: "the workers are lazy". What does this teach us? It would have been better to say simply that one should not be lazy,

Know that Rabbi Tarfon came to tell a person not to turn to idleness (batala), and if he turns to idleness, he is called completely negligent (poshea l'gamrei).

For even though our sages said:

"The one who [sacrifices] much and the one who [sacrifices] little have the same merit, provided that the heart is directed to Heaven" (Berachot 5b), and he said "it is not incumbent upon you to complete the work" But if he was negligent (poshea), then this does not apply. Because it is incumbent on a man to toil in Torah as if he is coming to finish everything (learn the whole Torah). Thus, he should do.

And when he looks at the work to do, whether from the aspect of the baal habayit or from the aspect of the man himself, or the time, reason necessitates that he should not turn to idleness and also do his work with the utmost zeal possible. If he does not do thus, he is called a poshea (negligent).

For man is obligated to do as if he is coming to finish everything. And then he is not called a poshea when he does his side.

This is because from the aspect of time, "the day is short". For our days are like a passing shadow (Tehilim 144:4).

He said: "the work is great". For David said: "I have seen an end to every purpose; but Your commandment is exceedingly broad" (Tehilim 119:96), i.e. something which has boundaries and limits, like all physical things.

For all physical things have boundaries and thus have limits (are finite). Hence, it is possible for physical man, who is also of borders and limits, to encompass them.

But for the Torah which is Intellect (Sechel), physical man cannot encompass it. For man is of boundaries.

Therefore, even if the day was not short and man were alive for all the days of this world, nevertheless, since this world is of finiteness, the work of Torah would still be great to him. Thus, "the day is short, the work is great".

"the Master of the house presses" - i.e. G-d who gave the Torah - He presses [man] to do with zeal (b'zerizut). For G-d is removed from the physical and as known, the non-physical's work is not inside time. Rather, He acts without time. This is the greatest zeal.

But since man works through physical powers, laziness applies to him. Thus, if we compare the work of man in Torah relative to the Baal habayit, i.e. G-d, to which this work is towards, it comes out that He is pressing very very much.

For He is completely divested of fatigue due to His enormous power. And since G-d gave the Torah of Intellect to man, it is proper for man to conduct himself as if he were not physical as much as he can.

"the workers are lazy" - there are two opposites here.

One, the baal habayit presses very much due to His acting completely without time.

Two, by nature man is the opposite of this. For he is of completely physical body.

Man is not similar to any of the supernal ones (angels). Thus, due to his being of completely physical body, therefore he is intrinsically lazy. Because thus it is for every thing which operates by the physical, his work is with laziness..

This does not mean to say that man should do more than he is capable of doing. Only that from the aspects of time, the work, the Baal Habit, and the worker, it is impossible to do what is proper.

Now, if a man increases laziness and turns to the idleness, then certainly he is a complete posheah. For how could he consider turning to the idleness, and increasing eating and drinking, or the like of the idle things.

How could he not be diligent (shakud) on the Torah and learning with zeal despite his being a physical man. For even if he were eagerly learning Torah with great zeal, it is considered laziness, as we said.

For every physical creature is considered lazy relative to the Intellect (Sichli). Since G-d gave the Torah of Intellect to him.

But he should engage in the Torah with zeal and not turn to idleness as if he is coming to finish the Torah. For he who has much work, and the day is short, and the Master of the house presses, will work with the utmost zeal possible. The truth of this is very clear. And he said this here because [Rabbi Elazar] said previously "be diligent in the study of Torah"..