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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 3
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 3פרק ג משנה ג
Rabbi Chanina ben Teradyon would say: if two sit together and no words of torah are [spoken] between them, this is a sitting of scoffers, as it is written: "nor sat he in the sitting of scoffers.. [rather, the Torah of G-d is his delight]". But if two sit together and there are words of torah [spoken] between them, the Shechina (Divine presence) abides between them, as written: "then they that fear G-d spoke to each other; and G-d listened and heard; and a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear G-d and give thought/honor to His Name" (Malachi 3:16). From this verse we only know concerning two. How do we know that even if one sits and is involved in torah that the Holy One, blessed be He, designates for him reward? Because it is written: "Let him sit in solitude and be [involved] in silence, for he shall take for it [reward]" (Eicha 3:28). רַבִּי חֲנִינָא בֶן תְּרַדְיוֹן אוֹמֵר, שְׁנַיִם שֶׁיּוֹשְׁבִין וְאֵין בֵּינֵיהֶן דִּבְרֵי תוֹרָה, הֲרֵי זֶה מוֹשַׁב לֵצִים, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (תהלים א) וּבְמוֹשַׁב לֵצִים לֹא יָשָׁב. אֲבָל שְׁנַיִם שֶׁיּוֹשְׁבִין וְיֵשׁ בֵּינֵיהֶם דִּבְרֵי תוֹרָה, שְׁכִינָה שְׁרוּיָה בֵינֵיהֶם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (מלאכי ג) אָז נִדְבְּרוּ יִרְאֵי יְיָ אִישׁ אֶל רֵעֵהוּ וַיַּקְשֵׁב יְיָ וַיִּשְׁמָע וַיִּכָּתֵב סֵפֶר זִכָּרוֹן לְפָנָיו לְיִרְאֵי יְיָ וּלְחֹשְׁבֵי שְׁמוֹ. אֵין לִי אֶלָּא שְׁנַיִם, מִנַּיִן שֶׁאֲפִלּוּ אֶחָד שֶׁיּוֹשֵׁב וְעוֹסֵק בַּתּוֹרָה, שֶׁהַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא קוֹבֵעַ לוֹ שָׂכָר, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (איכה ג) יֵשֵׁב בָּדָד וְיִדֹּם כִּי נָטַל עָלָי.

Shevet Sofer, chelek beit Shlach - "if two sit together.. letzim (scoffers)" - if two people sit and toil in useless talk, certainly in the end they will come to words of letzanut (scoffing) and it is as if they are already now a sitting of letzim (scoffers).
Rabeinu Yonah - "sitting of scoffers (moshav letzim)" - they fix a sitting for idle talk. This is called a moshav letzim regarding bitul torah (wasting time from torah study). For this chapter talks on the matter of bitul Torah.

But for two people who sit and toil in torah, the Shechina rests between them, as written: "then they that fear G-d spoke to each other.." - the plain meaning (pshat) of the verse is that it is referring to the righteous in the future. When people will see their exalted level and ask "why did they get all this?" They will answer: "because they spoke in words of torah to each other, and G-d wrote this in the book of remembrance and now gives them the reward of their work.
Sforno - even though their words do not contain any scoffing (letzanut), but nevertheless since there isn't any words of torah, it is considered a sitting of scoffers. For his whole matter is vanity and a waste (kol inyano hevel v'davar nifsad). He brought a proof from the verse: "nor sit in the company of scorners; But his desire is in the Torah of G-d" (Tehilim 1:1-2) - ie every sitting is a sitting of letzim except that which has words of torah.

But two who sit and there are words of torah between them, even though their main conversation was not on this - the Shechina is among them.

In saying the outcomes of both opposites, he teaches the greatness and importance of the matter in order to also rouse the masses...
Chida - Chasdei Avot - "sitting of scoffers" - i.e. they are talking useless things without benefit such as wars of kings or the like..certainly they are scoffing (mitlotzezim) on the great reward of in-dwelling of the Shechina (hashraat haShechina) and having their words inscribed. All these things are not important in their eyes or heresy has been injected in them to scoff (mitlotzetz) the sages who said this, and there is no greater sitting of scoffers (moshav letzim) than this.
Rabbi Avraham Azoulai - Ahava b'Taanugim - "if two sit together and no words of torah are [spoken] between them, this is a sitting of scoffers" - the two are sitting quietly and nicely but nevertheless wasting their time and there are no "words of torah between them, etc."

That which he did not say "they are not toiling (oskim) in torah, this is because "words of torah" implies a verse or agadah or simple teaching, while "toil in torah" implies in depth analysis (pilpul v'svara) to bring out the matter in truth.

On this he said: "two who are sitting and there is not between them even "words of torah" which is light - this is a sitting of scoffers (moshav letzim).

"there is not words of torah between them" - some explain that the intent is not that they are not toiling in torah.. Rather, the intent is that even if they are toling in torah. But since each one is sitting on his own in his own place and they are not toiling together - this is called a sitting of scoffers (moshav letzim). For the reason they are not learning together is because each one takes lightly the view of his fellow and mocks his knowledge. Because he thinks: "what benefit will I gain to join him?" Due to this there are no word of torah between them and each one learns alone.
Daat Zekenim on Pirkei Avot, writings of Rabeinu Yerucham haLevi of Mir - "a sitting of scoffers" - the foundation and root of letzanut is not putting to heart and not considering things important. And in Shaarei Teshuva 3:177:
"the fourth category (of letzanut) are those who fix themselves always to idle talk and useless conversation like those who sit on street corners... For he is idle from torah study.. How could he not remember and not put to heart during those times which he wastes that he could attain eternal life if he would fix those times for torah study.. The sages would exhort their students not to mitlotzetz (jest) even haphazardly".
Daiot Yechezkel (R.Yechezkel Sarna) - "how do we know that even if one sits and is involved in torah that the Holy One, blessed be He, designates for him reward?" - what is he coming to teach? That there is reward for a mitzva?? (this is obvious). Rather, it seems the explanation is that even though there is not the lofty level of Hashraah (dwelling) of the Shechina that exists when two make a place for the Shechina, but nevertheless, even by one the Holy One, blessed be He, fixes reward for him. Namely, the Holy One, blessed be He, Himself in His honor and glory. Due to the person having honored Him and given thought to His Name, He fixes for him special reward besides the reward of torah study which is exceedingly great.
Matanat Avot - we learn from here that the opposite of a "sitting of scoffers" is not a "sitting of wise men" (moshav chachamim) or a "sitting of sharp scholars" (moshav lamdanim). Rather, every place where they are toiling there in words of torah, this is already a place where the Shechina resides. It does not need to be a place where two great sages discuss deep matters of halacha, "uprooting mountains and grinding them together" through sharp logic and deep arguments (pilpulim). Rather any time two Jews sit together and one of them speaks to the other some thought of mussar or a vort on the weekly parsha (torah reading) - this is already a place where the Shechina resides. Amazing!!!
Matanat Avot - in the talmud (Berachot 6a): "two are written in the book of remembrances but one is not written in the book of remembrances".

This is a wonder! For "all your deeds are written in a book" (Avot 2:1). Why then does it say two inscribed but not one?

We can answer that for one's personal book of deeds, certainly all torah study is inscribed even that of a single individual. But when two learn torah, in addition to the mitzvah of torah study, there is also bringing benefit to the public (zikui rabim). For each one benefits his fellow and sharpens his fellow. This is what is inscribed in the book of remembrances. Besides the torah of each one, there is an additional matter written in a book. Namely, each person brough merit to his felllow in torah study. As understood, this does not apply for one person learning by himself.
"Merkavat Hamishna" - by nature when two people sit, words will come out between them. We already explained on the mishna "whoever increases speech brings sin" (Avot 1:8) that speech is divided into 5 categories: forbidden, disgusting, warned against, permitted and mitzvah.

Thus as long as they are not speaking torah, inevitably they will come to the other categories and "all chatter (pitput) is forbidden except the chatter of torah" (Yerushalmi Berachot 9:5). "ki im btorah cheftzo" - of all speech (sicha), the Holy One blessed be He wants only speech of words of torah..
Daat Zekenim on Pirkei Avot, writings of Rabeinu Yerucham haLevi of Mir - "if two sit together and there are words of torah [spoken] between them, the Shechina abides between them" - the mishna is teaching us a great foundation regarding the greatness of torah. For we were taught in Sanhedrin (39a): "whenever there are ten people (in a minyan), the Shechina rests." But less than this, the Shechina does not rest. The mishna is teaching us that this is only for prayer. But for torah, it is not so. Rather, any place where there is torah, the Shechina rests there.

The reason is as our sages said: "the Holy One, blessed be He, said to Yisrael: 'I gave to you the Torah, to separate from it, I am unable.." (Shemot Rabba 33:1).

Rather, in every place you go, make for Me that I should dwell there, as written: "they shall make for Me a sanctuary and I will dwell amongst them" (Parsha Teruma).

The explanation of "to separate from it, I am unable" is not that it is difficult to separate from it. But rather that literally (mamash) He is unable.

If it were not written, it would be impossible for us to say it.

The explanation is that we find in Sifri (brought in Ramban on Bamidbar 30:3) that there is an aspect called: "the life of the king" (b'chayei hamelech) and there is the aspect of "the king himself" (melech atzmo).

The secret of the matter is that the torah is of the aspect of "the life of the King". Thus, "to separate from it, I am unable". This is what we learned that "even if one person sits and toils in torah, the Shechina rests with him.

This is what our sages said: "even though there were twelve synagogues in Teveria, Rabbi Ami and Rabbi Assi prayed only between the pillars (which support the Beit Midrash where they learn)..

In the Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni Mishlei 938):
"both the soul and the torah were compared to a candle, as written: 'the soul of man is G-d's candle' (Mishlei 20:27), and 'a mitzvah is a candle and torah is light' (Mishlei 6:23). Says the Holy One, blessed be He: 'My candle is in your hand and your candle is in My hand. If you guard Mine I too will guard yours'. This is analogous to two people who owned vineyards. One lived in Galil but his vineyard was in Yehuda, while the other lived in Yehuda but his vineyard was in Galil. One day they met and one said to the other: "guard my vineyard in Galil and I will guard your vineyard in Yehuda. If you lay desolate my vineyard, I will lay desolate your vineyard". So too, the Holy One, blessed be He, said: "guard My torah and I will guard you.."
It is clear from the Midrash that the torah is the candle of G-d mamash (without exaggeration). "My candle is in your hand", an aspect of "the life of the King", and "to separate from it, I am not able".

If it were not written, it would be impossible for us to say this. The secret of the matter is that the candle of G-d is mamash (without exaggeration) in our hands.

"My candle is in your hands" - "you ascended on high, you took captives; you took gifts to be among men" (Tehilim 68:19).

The ways of G-d are truly known to us. For behold we have been commanded to walk in His ways (Devarim 11:22). He too is also known to us, so to speak, as written: "My beloved is white and ruddy... His head is as the finest gold;...His eyes are like doves beside rivulets of water,...His jaws are like a bed of spice, etc. etc. this is my beloved, and this is my friend" (Shir HaShirim 5:10-16).

All this knowledge is due to "the candle of G-d in our hands" - mamash!

This is what the Midrash says: "says Akilas to king Andrinus: 'I wish to convert and be a Jew'. He replied: 'what do you see in them that you wish to convert?' He said: 'even the smallest of them knows how G-d created the world, what was created on the first day.. on the second day.. on what the world stands and their torah is true".
For due to His candle in our hands, everything is revealed to us.
Chida - Zeroa Yamin - (kabalistic) - man was created mixed and intertwined with all the worlds. He draws shefah to vivify his soul through torah and avodah (service) which are the causes to draw on us the Shechina which is the life (chiyut) of the Nefesh, Ruach, and Neshama. Through this, Shefah is drawn down to all the worlds.. This is what is said "yoshev badad", "badad" is gematria 10, that he has intent to join the 10 sefirot in the four (bedalet ) word, "veyidom", with correct thoughts, "ki natal" - he takes the shefa to all the worlds and "alav" to his nefesh, ruach, neshama due to this...
Maharal - even though when a person says something to his fellow which is not words of torah, just useless stories, he is not called a "letz" (scoffer/jester). For a letz is one who is drawn after words of laughter and a man very much enjoys words of laughter. And when a man tells useless things to his fellow, this is not laughter that he enjoys. But nevertheless, when two sit together and converse useless talk, a man is also drawn to this. Thus it is similar to words of laughter that a person is drawn towards due to the enjoyment (of laughter).. and it is called a sitting of scoffers (letzim).

Furthermore, when two sit together, they are fitting to speak words of torah and when they refrain from this, and instead engage in idle talk, relative to the torah it is called completely a sitting of letzim. For they are refraining from words of torah which was proper for them...

When two are speaking words of torah it is torah completely. For torah is when the torah is uttered verbally. This is called "complete torah" (Torah gemura). This is relevant only with two for one needs to utter the words verbally. But for one person, even if he utters the words verbally, since it is possible without this, it is not at all called words of torah. And sometimes he does not utter the words and just thinks on them without speaking. Thus the thought is primary not the speech.

But when they are two, then it is impossible without speaking, this is called "words of torah"...

Therefore, he said: "two who sit... the Shechina is with them". For when they are two, their torah is called "divrei torah" and therefore the Shechina is with the Torah. This matter is explained in the torah. For immediately after the giving of the torah to the Jewish people, G-d commanded to build the Mishkan, as written: "they shall make for Me a mishkan so that I will dwell amongst them" (Shemot 25:8).

And in the Midrash (Shemot Rabba 33:1) " 'they shall take for Me teruma' - this is analogous to a king who had an only daughter. One person asked from the king to marry her. The king gave her to him. The person sought to return to his homeland with his wife.

The king said to him: "my daughter which I gave you is my only child. I am unable to separate from her because of this. Now, I cannot tell you not to take her since she is your wife. Rather, do me a favor, wherever you go, make for me a small room so I may dwell among you.

So too the Holy One blessed be He says to Yisrael: "I gave you the torah. To separate from her I cannot. Rather every place you go make for Me a small sanctuary that I may dwell among you". end quote.

The reason the torah is called a "daughter" is because a daughter is an offspring of her father and comes from him. So too for the torah, Hash-em brought it to actuality to ordain it. Just like a daughter comes from the father himself, so too for the torah.

This is not like those who think that G-d gave the torah only according to what is proper for man and no more. For if that were the case, the torah would not be a means and path for man to be with G-d.
(Rabbi Hartman - in Tiferet Yisrael ch.9, he writes: "the torah takes a person out of nature and brings man to cling to G-d, blessed be He.. the torah teaches and guides one to the path of life, whereby one acquires the final success, namely, clinging to G-d through doing the torah (asiyat hatorah). This is the difference between the torah and the other wisdoms. Other wisdoms do not bring a man to this clinging. Even though through wisdom also one certainly becomes "intellectual" (sichli). But nevertheless that which he acquires of the intellect (sechel) is not enough to cling with Hash-em, blessed be He, who is completely separated from everything.

That which brings man to this clinging is the torah. For it teaches the path to G-d through which one can cling to Him... man has a connection to G-d through the torah..."

Thus if the torah was only tailored according to the receiver, how could it be a means to cling to its Giver? The Giver and receiver are separate.

Thus he writes here that the torah is a means and path to bring one to be with G-d.. and in Tiferet Yisrael ch.26: "all the mitzvot of the torah are divine. The torah is not a natural or cultural law or civil law for the maintenance of society, as some people claim. Rather, the torah is divine. All its words are divine. It is due to this that one merits Olam Haba. If its words were merely cultural, one would not merit Olam Haba through them.."... and in Netiv HaTorah ch.5: "a man cannot approach G-d except through the torah. For man is flesh and blood and thus there is no way for him to approach G-d except through the torah sichlit (of intellect). Through this man has a closeness to his Creator"... "the torah is the intermediary between man and his Creator..")
Rather the torah is an intellect/wisdom which necessarily follows from the Truth of G-d (hatorah hi hamuskal shemitchayiv m'amitat Hash-em yitbarach).

Therefore, the torah brings man [near] to G-d and G-d is with man when he toils in torah. Thus the torah is called the "daughter" of the Holy One, blessed be He. For wisdom is called an "offspring" (tolada) as the Rambam elaborated on (Moreh Nevuchim 1:7)...

He said "an only [daughter]". This is because the torah is an intellect/wisdom (muskal) which is obligatory. For everything in the torah, it is impossible for it to be otherwise. And it is impossible for it to be in a different manner. Due to this, the words of torah are singular and this is the reason that the torah is one, as we will explain later (Avot 6:10). Thus the torah's beginning is "Aleph" - "I am the L-ord your G-d" (Shemot 20:2) to say that the Torah is one. That is to say, all the torah's words are obligatory and perforce. It is impossible for them to be otherwise. Even for a small dot in the torah, it is impossible for it to be in a different way. Rather it must be the way it is.

This does not mean to say that it is not proper for the torah to be otherwise. But really it is not obligatory to be like this and it could possibly have been different.

It is not so. For then the torah would not be "singular" since something which is merely proper but could be different is not singular (meyuchad).

Rather the words of torah must be thus perforce and it is impossible for them to be in a different manner. That which is obligatory is singular. This is the meaning of "an only daughter".

Due to this, it is impossible [for G-d] to separate from the torah (as earlier) since He has a singular, inseparable connection to the Torah (which contains the singular ways of G-d of which there are none other). For that which is singular does not have any leaning to either side. This is the meaning of: "To separate from it, I am unable".

Because G-d is with the torah. He is unable to separate from it due to the torah's being ordered (mesuderet) from G-d in an obligatory manner. Thus it is inseparable from Him...

"even if one sits and is involved in torah that the Holy One, blessed be He, designates for him reward" - ie he takes and accepts upon himself the decree of G-d. Because there is no greater accepting of the decree of G-d like one who sits and toils in torah. For the torah is a decree of G-d on man, to toil in the torah and labor in it. Thus, this person who sits and toils in torah accepts upon himself the decree which G-d decreed on man.. And thus G-d fixes reward for him.. And certainly whoever accepts upon himself the decree of G-d is worthy of payment [of reward].

For he accepts the yoke and every yoke is the primary work (for only then does one subjugate himself to the work) - R.Hartman).

And every work stands for payment. Thus after the verse says: "it is good for a man to accept a yoke in his youth" (Eicha 3:7), it says right after "Let him sit in solitude and be [involved] in silence, for he shall take for it [reward]". That is to say, when he sits alone and accepts upon himself the decree of G-d, namely, the yoke, this fixes the reward.... Without a doubt, the Shechina is with him. For he is a servant of G-d and His yoke is upon him...

This teaching was brought close to the words of Rabbi Chanina sagan Hakohanim who said: "if not for fear of the government, each man would swallow his fellow alive", which refers to a man who is without torah..