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Pirkei Avot / Ethics of the Fathers
with a select treasury of commentaries on all levels of Torah interpretation
Chapter 1 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 1 Mishna 3פרק א משנה ג
Antigonos of Sokho received [the Tradition] from Shimon HaTzadik (the Righteous). He would say, "Do not be as servants who serve their master in order to receive reward; rather, be as servants who serve their master not in order to receive reward; and may the fear of Heaven be upon you." אַנְטִיגְנוֹס אִישׁ סוֹכוֹ קִבֵּל מִשִּׁמְעוֹן הַצַּדִּיק. הוּא הָיָה אוֹמֵר, אַל תִּהְיוּ כַעֲבָדִים הַמְשַׁמְּשִׁין אֶת הָרַב עַל מְנָת לְקַבֵּל פְּרָס, אֶלָּא הֱווּ כַעֲבָדִים הַמְשַׁמְּשִׁין אֶת הָרַב שֶׁלֹּא עַל מְנָת לְקַבֵּל פְּרָס, וִיהִי מוֹרָא שָׁמַיִם עֲלֵיכֶם

Bartenura - "reward (Peras)" - "peras" this refers to what a person gives to someone who served him but he is not legally obligated to pay him anything. For example what a person gives to his young son or his servant due to being pleased with something he did for him. Thus, do not serve G-d even for hope of such a gift. Rather, solely out of love.

"fear of Heaven upon you" - even though you serve out of love, also serve out of fear. For one who serves out of love is quick in the positive commandments, while one who serves out of fear is careful in the negative commandments. Thus, his service will be whole. Likewise our sages said: "serve out of love, serve out of fear. For if you verge on hating, know that you [must] love and one who loves does not hate. Serve out of fear for if you verge on rebelling, know that you [must] fear and one who fears does not rebel."
Rabeinu Yonah - one should not do the mitzvot for the reward even though he should think that there will be reward for his service... but man should serve G-d due to the kindness G-d bestowed on him already and because of the exaltedness of the Master, that it is befitting to serve Him... This is to serve G-d out of love and fear. As a servant who serves his master due to his greatness and also considers that the master is capable of punishing him. Thus he serves him with fear, not fear of punishment but fear of the greatness of the master who has the ability to punish.
Tiferet Yisrael - i.e. do not observe your three duties mentioned previously (torah, service, and acts of kindness) like a servant of lowly character traits who seeks reward for every little act of service he does for his master. For then, his intent is only for himself. Rather, consider yourself like a pierced servant (eved nirtza, see Exodus 21:6) whose body is acquired by his master (gufo kanui l'rabo). How then could he be so brazen to seek reward? Also consider as if all your service is just a small service and is not worthy of any reward.
Zerah Yitzchak - "fear of Heaven upon you" - as written (Ketubot 111a):
" 'but you who cleave to the L-ord are all alive this day' (Devarim 4:4) - but is it possible to cling to the Shechina (Divine Presence)? Is it not written 'the L-ord your G-d is a consuming fire' (Devarim 4:24)..."

For this fear should befall a person. This is why one recites before every mitzva the "l'shem Kudsha Berich Hu, u'Shechintei b'Dechilu u'Rechimu.." (for the unification of the Holy One.. and the Shechina.. with fear and love...)

For when performing a mitzva, one is clinging to the Shechina (Divine presence), and it is proper for fear and awe to befall him, lest he transgress a bit and the great fire consumes him, as the zohar writes on the verse: "ve hachayot ratzo vshav (the Chayot angels would run and return, like the appearance of lightning)" (Yechezkel 1:14) - Zohar: "they yearn to look above and go out of their place. But they are unable to bear the intense light. Thus they run (ratzo) above and immediately return (shav) due to fear of the great fire."

So too, a man should have intent when doing a mitzva that it be with fear and love (b'rechimu ub'dechilu). And the reason he used the term "Heaven" for G-d's Name. This is because the fear here is not fear of punishment, but rather, fear from the aspect of G-d's greatness. The term Heaven teaches this. For the heaven teaches on His greatness and power in creating the heavens and vast celestial spheres, moving them without pause..

It is said of this fear: "the fear of G-d is pure enduring forever" (Tehilim 19:9). For the fear of punishment, suffering, poverty, death, etc., is destined to be annulled in the future. For there will be liberation from death, governments, etc. There will be no Satan nor bad mishaps. But the inner fear due to G-d's greatness will exist in the future and more, when one beholds His greatness and Almighty power.
Ben Ish Chai - Chasdei Avot - "and may the fear of Heaven be upon you" - the term "Peras" was used and not "reward" or "good", since "Peras" connotes "half", such as "your kingdom has been split and given to Madai and Persia" (Daniel 5:28)..

Some conduct themselves in fear of Heaven in the manner of a man with his wallet of money. It is hidden away in his pocket and he does not see it every second. Only when he needs to purchase an object or purchase food from the shop. But after purchasing the thing he becomes obligated to pay and the seller claims from him the money, he then takes out the wallet from his pocket and uses it to pay his debt.

So too here. The man does not remember his fear of Heaven always and he does not place it before his eyes. Only after he transgressed and stumbled in a sin, the fear rouses in his heart. For he is worried perhaps he will be punished. Then he does teshuva (repentance) on his sin. This is not the way "to the abode of light" (Job 38:19). Rather, the fear needs to be placed upon him, like a garment that he wears on his body. Every second he sees it and does not forget it momentarily (mesiach daat).

On this [fear] Rebbi Meir says in the Beraitha of Avot regarding learning torah lishma: "it clothes him with humility and fear", through this: "it makes him fit to be righteous, pious, correct and faithful". On this it is written: "I put on righteousness and it clothed me" (Job 29:14). For fear is termed with the name "tzedek" (righteousness) as known. This is what he said here specifically: "and may the fear of Heaven be upon you". That it be visible to your eyes like a garment over you. Not like a wallet of money hidden in your pocket which you do not see, except when you need to pay to your debtors.
Ben Ish Chai - Chasdei Avot - there are some people with fear [of Heaven] who refrain from a forbidden thing and are careful to do mitzvot, but do this only when the refraining from the forbidden or the doing of the mitzva does not run counter to their temperament and nature. But if the thing runs against their nature, they will not fulfill them and will transgress the forbidden or not fulfill the positive commandments.

Certainly, there is not fear of Heaven in this. For fear of Heaven needs to be whole, without difference whether or not things run against one's nature. This kind of whole fear you will find in the Heaven as our sages said on the verse "who makes peace on high (oseh shalom b'imromav)" regarding the fire and water which comprise the Heaven which make peace against their nature to fulfill the decree of the Creator... (note that this refers to deep spiritual matters of kindness versus justice, i.e. chesed and din)
Maharal - we have already explained that since these men were fathers of the world and the greatest [torah sages] of their times, they would teach mussar (ethics) to the world. And the level of their mussar teaching was according to their level of greatness. For the mussar said by Shimon HaTzadik encompassed the whole world, as he taught: "on three things the world stands.." Thus too is the mussar of Antignos Ish Socho. For his words are on the service of G-d and without a doubt, the service of G-d encompasses all of man's actions. Because all of a man's actions should be directed towards the service of G-d. Therefore, he said: "Do not be as servants who serve their master in order to receive reward.. and may the fear of Heaven be upon you". We will also explain the order of Antignos after Shimon HaTzadik.

It is often asked on this:
how could he possibly say: "Do not be as servants who serve their master in order to receive reward". Isn't the whole torah full of this? - "in order that it be good for you" (Devarim 22:7), "in order that your days be lengthened" (Shemot 20:12), and many other places. Furthermore, we learned:

"One who says: 'I hereby give this money to Tzedakah in order that my son may live' or 'in order that I merit a share in the World-to-Come', is considered a complete Tzadik" (Rosh Hashana 4). How then can he say: "rather, be as servants who serve their master not in order to receive reward.."?

Another difficulty: he said "rather, be as servants..." Who are these servants who do not serve on condition to receive reward? He should have just said: "do not serve to receive reward.."

Another difficulty: why did he say: "fear of Heaven upon you", and not "fear of HaMakom (the Place) upon you" or "fear of the Holy One, blessed be He, upon you".

The explanation of this teaching is that certainly the primary service is for one to serve G-d out of love. And if he does serve for the reward, this is not the primary service of G-d.

But nevertheless, even if he serves for the future reward, he is a complete tzadik. For the good of the Jewish people is G-d's will, blessed be He. Thus, that which he said "to be in the World-to-Come" - this is G-d's will.

The explanation [of "he is a complete tzadik"] is not that he is a big tzadik. But rather, that he is a tzadik without deficiency and without added piety (bli Tosefet Chasidut).

But the higher trait is for one to be called: he who serves completely out of love, i.e. one who is completely devoid of this [trait] of: "serving on condition of receiving reward".

They said thus explicitly in the first chapter of tractate Avodah Zara (19a):
"'He delights greatly in His mitzvot' (Tehilim 112:1) Rabbi Elazar says: The person delights in His mitzvot themselves and not in the reward for performing His mitzvot. And this is the as we learned in a mishna (Avot 1:3): 'Antigonus of Sokho would say: Do not be like servants who serve their master in order to receive reward; rather, be like servants who serve their master not in order to receive reward'"
Thus, it is clear that the primary mitzva is for one to yearn for His mitzvot. On this David said: "fortunate is the man..." (Tehilim 1:1). That is to say, he is the most fortunate when he desires G-d's mitzvot and not their reward. But nevertheless, he is a tzadik even if he serves in order to be in the world to come. The torah spoke of such a tzadik and therefore said: "in order that it be good for you" (Devarim 22:7).

Alternatively, one can also explain that the verse is not saying to make the good, i.e. the reward, as one's goal. Rather, the verse means that thus it will be, that the good will come from G-d. But not that one should serve the Holy One, blessed be He, for this good. Rather, the main service is for one to serve G-d out of love and to not have any objective for receiving reward. Only that the reward comes from G-d by itself. Thus, the intent of "in order that it be good for you" (Devarim 22:7), is not that you should do the mitzvot for this... but rather that this follows from Him. This is a clear explanation - that it is not proper for the primary service to be in order to receive reward.

Regarding that which he did not say: "serve out of love", this is because it would not have implied that one should love G-d due to His own intrinsic aspect instead of [loving G-d] from the aspect of the good He bestowed to him or will bestow to him.

It would only have implied that whoever G-d has bestowed good to, he should love Him and serve Him. For that is also a form of love, namely that he loves G-d because of the good He bestowed to him.

Therefore Antignos said that one should serve G-d not on condition of receiving reward. For this is not the primary service. Although he is certainly and clearly a complete Tzadik when he serves G-d for the good He bestowed on him or will bestow on him. But the primary service is for one to love G-d and desire to do His commandments. In this, one clings to G-d from His own aspect.. For the primary love [of G-d] is when one loves G-d from G-d's own aspect, namely, when he recognizes G-d's greatness and exaltedness, and that He is Truth and His commandments are Truth.

Therefore, one loves to do His commandments. This is certainly greater than one who serves G-d [only out of gratitude] for good He bestowed to him or will bestow to him...

"may the fear of Heaven be upon you" - after he exhorted on love, he also exhorted on fear. This is because it is the way that when one loves another, his heart cleaves to him and this causes an annulment of fear. For it is proper for a man to be fearful and moved upon hearing the Name of G-d uttered, due to fear [of G-d].

Therefore, Antignos said that even though I have exhorted you on love of G-d, do not consider G-d to be your beloved which you are casual with. Rather, consider it as if G-d is in the heavens while you are on the land. Thus you should regard it - the Holy One, blessed be He, is in the heaven and you are on the earth. Through this fear of heaven will be upon you and the love will not annul the fear. Thus, he said "fear of Heaven" and not "fear of HaMakom (the Place)".

Thus, regarding fear it says "fear of Heaven", but regarding love it does not say "love of Heaven". For regarding fear, one needs to consider that the Holy One, blessed be He, is completely remote from Him. But regarding love, one needs to consider that he is clinging to Him, blessed be He, as written: "to love the L-rd, your G-d.. and to cleave to Him" (Devarim 11:22)..

We already said that this teaching is proper for Antignos since it encompasses all of the service of G-d, [establishing it] with proper love and fear. This teaching comes after Shimon Hatzadik who gave pillars to the whole world. Now the mishna comes to give a man, who exists in the world, how he should conduct himself towards his Creator, through love and fear. For the world was created for man, so that he may serve his Creator, and the service is through love and fear.

This teaching is certainly proper to be given by Antignos. For he is one person in place of two (subsequent mishnas are taught by pairs of sages). Because the primary love and fear stem from the same root (recognizing G-d's greatness and exaltedness as before). For a man needs to love G-d and fear Him. This is proper for man. It is not proper for him to fear without love or love without fear. For some acts have love alone while others have fear alone. But the man himself should have both love and fear simultaneously. Thus, for Antignos who comes to exhort on both love and fear, it is proper for him to be alone, without a pair. But for the pairs of sages who came afterwards, one comes to exhort on an act which has love alone, while the other exhorts on an act which has fear alone, as will be explained. Always one exhorts on an act which has love while the other exhorts on an act which has fear.
Chida - Roshei Avot - in the Likutei Rabeinu Chaim Vital he writes: the other sages were pairs. Yehoshua ben Perachya was the Nassi in the Sod of Chasadim (side of kindness [right line in the Sefirot]). Therefore, he said a positive commandment: "make yourself a Rav, acquire for yourself a friend and judge every person as meritorious". All positive commands from the Chasadim (kindness).

Nitai HaArbeli was the Av Beit Din (head judge) in the Sod HaGevurot (secret of justice, left line of the Sefirot). Therefore, he said a negative command: "Distance yourself from a bad neighbor, do not join a wicked person and do not despair from retribution", in the Sod HaGevurot.

But Shimon HaTzadik was in the Sod of Yesod, which is by itself (middle line of Sefirot, which is why he was called "tzadik" which corresponds to Yesod). Thus he was the remnant who collected all the Chasadim which collect there in the Sefira of Yesod. He continued there to explain the whole mishna kabalistically. That which he said they are pairs afterwards, the intent is after Antignos who received from Shimon HaTzadik. and that which he said regarding the Nassi and Av Beit Din, you will see that almost all of the pairs afterwards are in this same way.
Ben Ish Chai - Chasdei Avot - (Kabalistic) "in order to receive reward (Peras)" - the term "Peras" was used and not "reward" or "good", since "Peras" connotes "half", such as "your kingdom has been split (Peras) and given to Madai and Persia" (Daniel 5:28)..

For the three worlds Beriah, Yetzira, and Asiya contain a mixture of evil. Thus, the good in them is not whole since they have a mixture of impurity. Thus it is "Peras" (half), and man needs to serve Hash-em, blessed be He, in order to receive Shefa (divine flow) from the Atzilut (fourth world), of which it is written: "evil does not abide with You" (Tehilim 5:4, a reference to Atzilut). For it is the complete good.
Chida - Chasdei Avot - (Kabalistic) "and may the fear of Heaven be upon you" (vihi morah shamayim) - the Sofei Tevot (final letter of each word) is gematria 91, same as Havaya-Ado'nai, to hint that everything should be l'shem Kudsha beruch Hu u'Shechintei (the Holy One, blessed be He and His Shechina).
Rabbi Avraham Azoulai - Ahava b'Taanugim - (kabalistic) - Since Shimon Hatzadik said above that one needs to toil in torah, Avodah, and acts of kindness for these are the kiyum (existence/maintenance) of the world, as mentioned. Now Antignos comes to teach the manner of toiling in torah and mitzvot and the kavana (intent) in doing them. He said: "do not be as servants..." The explanation is as follows.

We already mentioned briefly earlier that there is no yichud (unification) above (in the mystical worlds) except through the actions of the righteous Jews (below), through toil in torah and mitzvot, and in Tefila (prayer).

Even if all the angels above and all the hosts of the heavens and all existing beings were to join together in a combined effort, nevertheless, they would not have the ability to do anything whatsoever except through the deeds of those below (humans), through their divine service, as mentioned in the Zohar (Teruma 155a, Acharei Mot 66, see also what Rabeinu wrote in Chesed l'Avraham Meain Rishon, Nahar 6).

And according to the amount of hitorerut (rousing) and hechsher (correctness) of the deed and kavana (intent) will be the corresponding widening of the tzinor (spiritual channel) and the shining of the shefa elyon (divine flow). For one who has intent for the pshat (plain meaning) of the words in his prayer is not like one who has intent for the Sod (mystical meaning).

Now, those who toil in torah, tefila, and mitzvot are of two types. Those whose service and toil in torah and mitzvot is in the way of "pshat" (plain meaning) of the words. These people are called "serving in order to receive reward". For one who did not study in the way of Sod (Kabalistic), even if he is perfect in his service, serving out of love and without any outside motive whatsoever, serving out of great love of G-d's lofty greatness, and his motive is not for any reward whatsoever. Rather his intent is absolutely perfect.

But nevertheless, he will always be referred to: "one who serves in order to receive reward". For when he prays to his Master or takes a lulav or brings an offering in the temple, etc. likewise, when he says "refaenu Hash-em veNerafe" ("heal us and we will be healed" in the Amida), or the like, all his intent is according to the meaning of the words he is uttering.

If he says "bless for us this year" ("barech aleinu.."), or "heal us..", etc., all his intent is for his own benefit, to mashpia (bring down) great good to the world. The more he increases and exerts himself in intent of his prayer, the more he is asking for a bigger reward from his Master, blessings, life, peace, etc., as it says "remember us for life" (zachrenu l'chaim..) Likewise, for his intent when shaking the Lulav to "stop bad dew" (l'atzor telalim ra-im) (Sukkah 37b), or the like. Thus, he is always taking a reward from his Master, since he did not learn the Sod of the matter.

But one who serves not in order to receive reward, he is the one whom has been graced by his Master to enter inside the inner chambers of the hidden wisdom. He knows and understands that when he says "barech aleinu" or "refaeinu", the intent in them is to draw down beracha and shefa to a certain Sefira. each blessing for a particular Sefira, as known by us. Behold, such a man serves HaKadosh Baruch Hu u'Shechintei (the Holy One, blessed be He, and His Shechina), like a son or servant who serves his master perfectly, out of love, without hoping for any benefit from him.

"and may the fear of Heaven be upon you" We may say that there is a big difference between the act of one who possesses wisdom of Sod versus the act of an Am Haaretz (ignorant person). For when the wise man has [kabalistic] intent in his prayer, his soul ascends through his rousing (hitoreruto) from level to level and from cause to cause until it reaches favorably and appears before its Master and clings to its Source, the Source of life.

Then G-d will (mashpia) send on him great shefa (divine flow) and he will be a vessel and receptacle for the flow and from there to all the worlds, as brought in the Zohar (Teruma 133, Reyah Mehemna 177), until he cleaves to the Shechina. This is the meaning of "and may the fear of Heaven be upon you". Namely, the light of the Shechina itself, it is called "fear of Heaven", it will rest on you and you will be a throne (Kiseh) for it, and the Shefa will flow to you as mentioned. For you are in place of the great tzinor (spiritual channel), in the place of the tzadik yesod olam.

But it is not so for one who has intent for the pshat (plain meaning) of the words and does not have intent in the way of Sod, as mentioned in the Zohar (Chukat 183b). He will not enter to see the face of the Shechina, and if he will be answered, it will be through an outside messenger for he is in hester panim (concealment).
Chida - Marit HaAyin - if you will truly merit to serve not in order to receive reward, you will merit to the resting of the Shechina and the fear of Heaven will be upon you, and you will be a merkava (chariot) to the Shechina. Some explain this to mean be careful to serve not in order to receive reward. Perhaps you will say, chas v'shalom, that He needs our service. To this he answered: "may the fear of Heaven be upon you" - everything is for man's benefit. For if he merits to serve wholy and cleanly, not in order to receive reward, his reward will be multiplied over many times. Understand this well.
Ruach Chaim - in the zohar (I-11:2): "there are various forms of fear, but the primary fear is to fear G-d because He is great and sovereign (shalit), and He is the source and root of all worlds".

The explanation is as follows:
"fear G-d because He is great" - i.e. due to His greatness and glory.

"and sovereign" - due to his having dominion and power to punish and exact retribution to all.

"and He is the root and source of all the worlds" - the state of all the worlds depends on His will. He grants life to everything every second... Thus it is fitting to serve Him even without reward.

To illustrate, consider if a great king would pass through the town and the king asked those standing on the street: "give me a bit of water". Certainly, all the townsmen would run to fulfill his will. The man who merited to bring the water first would undoubtedly pride himself in this always, even though the king does not recognize him and the king is from another kingdom and has nothing to do with him...

But if the visitor were from his own country then even if he was not the king and was merely a general or minor ruler, then every person would hurry to serve him due to fear of him. And if the commander were his benefactor who provides his sustenance and livelihood, he would run even if the command was for the pettiest matter. And if the visitor combined all three matters, a great king, from his own kingdom, and provider of his sustenance, how much more so, is it proper for him to be watchful and energetic, fearful and careful, to fulfill his will..

This is the intent of the Zohar. The "primary fear is to fear G-d because He is great and sovereign, the root and source of all the worlds." (all 3 conditions)

Furthermore, consider that in a kingdom, whoever is closer to the king receives greater reward. The lowly slave receives far less wages than the officer in the king's inner circle who sits with the king and can look at his face. But this high pay is only if he were an important and honorable official before this.

Namely, that due to his exceptional wisdom or talents, he merited to be in the king's inner circle. But if previously he were a mere peasant farmer working the ground and suddenly he found favor in the eyes of the king, and the king elevated him above all his officers and appointed him to be among those who sit in his innermost circle, then there is no room whatsoever to be so brazen as to ask for more reward from the king for his work..

For this privilige is already the greatest possible... so too we thank and praise on every mitzva "who sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us", and as the Zohar writes that he is among those in the King's palace, and especially for those who toil in the torah to guard it and fulfill it, whereby from every word is made a crown and garment to the Eternal King, so to speak, and he merits to be among the "sons of the King's palace"...

Thus one who seeks reward is like a peasant farmer invited to sit at the king's table and instead of basking in the king's presence, he focuses on the food on the table...

Nevertheless, on a deeper level, since G-d's primary intent in creation is to bestow good to his creations, then it follows that the highest and most accepted level of service is "on condition of receiving reward". For he is serving so that G-d will bestow good to him thereby granting gratification (nachat ruach) to G-d. In truth, if one has only this intent in his service, this is the lofty form of service. But if his intent is for his own benefit, then it is the lower form which we are exhorted against.

The test is if one were to tell him "serve so that your fellow will receive reward". For in the good of his fellow, G-d will also receive gratification. If he does not want this, but instead wants that the good be to specifically to himself, then his true desire is for his own benefit, not to fulfill G-d's will. But if he truly wants to serve in order that his fellow will receive good thereby granting gratification to G-d, then this Chasid (pious person) is performing the higher form of service which ascends above. For this was G-d's purpose in creation, to bestow good...