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Pirkei Avot / Ethics of the Fathers
with a select treasury of commentaries on all levels of Torah interpretation
Chapter 3 Mishna 2
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 3 Mishna 2פרק ג משנה ב
Rabbi Chachina, the deputy high priest, would say: pray for the peace of the government, for if not for fear of it, each man would swallow his fellow alive. רַבִּי חֲנִינָא סְגַן הַכֹּהֲנִים אוֹמֵר, הֱוֵי מִתְפַּלֵּל בִּשְׁלוֹמָהּ שֶׁל מַלְכוּת, שֶׁאִלְמָלֵא מוֹרָאָהּ, אִישׁ אֶת רֵעֵהוּ חַיִּים בְּלָעוֹ.

Bartenura - "pray for the peace of the government" - even of the (gentile) nations.
"for if not for fear of it, man would swallow his fellow alive" - as written: "You made man like the fish of the sea" (Chavakuk 1). Just like by fish, every bigger fish swallows the smaller fish, so too by human beings, without fear of the government every bigger person would swallow the smaller person (Avodah Zara 4b).
Tiferet Yisrael - "swallows his fellow" - his mercy became corrupted to the extent that he swallows his fellow alive while the fellow feels the pain of being swallowed, but he does not care.

"alive" - i.e. he swallows him whole, without taste of chewing. He does not care that he is doing this abomination to his fellow for only a little benefit.

"if not for fear of the government" - only the fear that he will be punished for this by the government prevents him from harming his fellow.
Daat Zekenim on Pirkei Avot, writings of Rabeinu Yerucham haLevi of Mir - there is an obligation on every man to always be grateful towards the world (public). For without them, how could he live alone? The source of this is in the Midrash: "this teaches a man must be grateful towards the place he benefits from" (Ber.Rabba 79:6).

And if he does not put to heart and does not feel grateful to those things which all his life depends on, this is nothing but pettiness and disgracefulness...

This is what the mishna is teaching us. "pray for the peace of the government". From the aspect of the obligation of gratitude. For "if not for fear of it, each man would swallow his fellow alive". And our survival and existence depends on the guarding and protection of the government on us. Due to this, let us express our gratitude and pray for them.
Rabeinu Yosef ben Shushan - "man would swallow his fellow alive" - similar to "let us swallow them alive like the Sheol" (Mishlei 1:12). Sheol is the grave which swallows people whole. So too, we will swallow them and won't need to cut their limbs in pieces due to our overpowering them with our might.

Likewise the prophet said: "you made man like the fish of the sea.." (Chavakuk 1:14) and our sages said: "Just like by fish...".

the Tana is coming to rouse us and exhort us that our minds alone are not enough to straighten and civilize our ways. Because: "sin lies crouching at the door" (Gen.4:7), and all of us stumble in it. Thus we need the stick of the government. So too the torah of truth screams out: "If a matter eludes you in judgment.." (Devarim 17:8), and the torah decreed death on one who acts brazenly to not heed the words of the judges. I elaborated on this to distance from the ways of the philosophers who rely on their minds and lean on their understanding and [eventually] deny the torah.
Chachma u'Mussar 1:11 - for man's nature is evil. All his aspiration is to look at his fellow with an evil eye and to feel hatred, jealousy and anger towards him. If not for fear of the government, how many corpses would fall in every city and the world (mankind) would become extinct.

"every man would swallow.." - people ask : "why do we find that [religious] people are more careful [of mitzvot] between man and G-d than those between man and his fellow man?" For in matters between man and G-d, he dedicates a few hours per day such as in prayer or the like. But for matters between man and his fellow people almost disregard them. This is truly a wonder.

The answer is that man knows of his Creator more than he knows of his fellow next to him.. If man were to "coronate" (mamlich) his fellow like he coronates (mamlich0 his Creator, without a doubt, his conduct towards his fellow would be completely different. But since he does not contemplate his fellow and does not think about him, thus he does not "know" his fellow. Due to this, we can know already what kind of outlook he has towards his fellow.

It is to such an extent that "each man would swallow his friend alive". For he does not know of him at all.

The sage emphasized "a man and his friend", i.e. even his friend who is always with him and almost never leaves his side. Even so, he is foreign to him. (Daas Torah 2:234)
Avot al Banim (R.Shaul Brock) - "be praying for the peace of the government" - he said "be praying" and not "pray". The Tiferet Yisrae wrote that one shoud pray always until he is called by the title "the praying man". It seems to me to explain that the evil inclination wants to annul a person from proper prayer. He shows him how he sinned and is not worthy to pray and all the more so for others and all the more so still for the whole congregation and the whole country. On this the sage comes to teach that one should not listen to the words of the Yetzer as we say on the confession of Yom Kippur "even though I am not worthy to pray for myself and all the more so for others.." On this he said "be praying" that you are worthy of praying and do not belittle your prayer. For "Hash-em is close to all who call out to Him".
Ben Ish Chai - Birkat Avot - (kabalistic) "pray for the peace of the government (Malchut).." - all our intent in seeking the Geulah needs to be for the honor of the Shechina which is the Malchut. For when the Shechina has shalom, we and all of Yisrael will have Shalom, amen.

Alternatively, it is known that Malchut is represented by the final Heh and one needs to join it always with the letters "Yud"-"Heh"-"Vav" of the Shem Havaya (G-d's Name), blessed be He.

This is what he said: "Hevei" (hinting to the letters "Yud"-"Heh"-"Vav" of the Shem Havaya, blessed be He) pray (i.e. joining. For "prayer" is a term connoting joining) for the Shalom of the Malchut. For through the hashpaah that will be drawn down to Malchut, there will be a joining (chibur) of the letters Yud-Heh-Vav with the final Heh, for they Mashpiah to her.
Ben Ish Chai - Zechut Avot - (kabalistic) "for the peace (b'shloma) of the Malchut" - b'Shalom-Heh. Namely, that the Malchut be buit up with 5 partzufim (Heh=5), whereby Shalom connotes Shelemut (wholeness).
Maharal - when you contemplate the creation, you will find that there was a change in man's creation, something not found in the other creatures. For all of them were created many simultaneously.

But man was created alone. Even his female counterpart was not created independently by herself as would have been fitting. It was not so. Rather, man was created alone.

And in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 37a): "therefore man was created alone, to teach that whoever destroys a Jewish soul, it is as if he destroyed the entire world, and whoever saves a Jewish soul, it is as if he saves the entire world"...

The explanation is that according to Wisdom and the creation of the world, it was necessary to have only one man and not more.. For man is the king of the lower creatures (tachtonim), as the torah writes in the creation (Gen.1:26). And it is known that it is proper for there to be only one king, as our sages said: "two kings cannot wear the same crown" (Chulin 60b).

Thus since man is the king of the lower creatures, due to the way G-d ordered the world, it is proper for man to be alone. Thus one who saves a Jewish soul is as if he saves the whole world. And likewise, one who destroys a Jewish soul is as if he destroys the whole world.....

Thus by nature, man's heart always tends to arrogance (gavhut, grandeur). If not for fear of the government, man's heart would tend to arrogance to such a great extent that each man would want to be everything, that there would not be anyone else in the world besides him and he would be singular.

All this is due to the arrogance in man's heart. He does not want that there exist another man with him in the world. This is due to the nature of the creation as we explained..