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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 15
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 15פרק ג משנה טו
Rabbi Yishmael would say: "be light (submissive) to a head (elder), courteous to the young, and receive every person with joy". רַבִּי יִשְׁמָעֵאל אוֹמֵר, הֱוֵי קַל לְרֹאשׁ, וְנוֹחַ לְתִשְׁחֹרֶת, וֶהֱוֵי מְקַבֵּל אֶת כָּל הָאָדָם בְּשִׂמְחָה.

Bartenura - "be light to an elder" - i.e. before a great man, an elder who sits as head of the yeshiva, be light (swift) to serve him and minister before him.

"courteous to the young (tishchoret=black)" - but for a young man whose hairs are black, you don't need to be so light (swift). Rather stand before him calmly and composedly (bnachat u'byishuv).

"receive every person with joy" - for everyone, whether a head (of yeshiva) or a "black" (young) receive with joy.

Alternatively, "be light to a Head", at your beginning, when you are young, be light (swift) to the will of your Creator. And in your old age, when your face has blackened due to old age, be pleasing to him (noach lo)..
Rambam - "be light to an elder" - when you stand before a great man, make yourself light (small) towards him and serve him and stand before him when he wants and do not honor yourself before him (al tokir nafshecha bo).

And when you are with those of black hair, namely, the young, do not act like this. Rather, honor yourself with him and do not laugh and be too friendly (al titgaga) with him.

Afterwards, he said do not think that which I exhorted you not to be too friendly with the young man, I meant to receive him with a stern and harsh face. This is not the intent. Rather, you need to receive every human being, big or small, free or slave, every member of the human race - with joy. This is more than what Shammai said "receive every person with a pleasant countenance" (Avot 1:15).
Tiferet Yisrael - a man may encounter someone above his level, below his level, or equal in level. One needs to maintain peace with everyone if he wants to attain the greatest success in the world, namely, to be loved by everyone.

Therefore, the Tanna wrote that if you encounter someone who is a head and above you, do not consider yourself as great like him. Rather consider yourself as light dust towards him and humble yourself before him and he will love you like a son.

And if you encounter one who is below you, even if he is so much below you that he must give you a tishchoret, i.e. a fee (ex.honor), nevertheless, don't feel like you are his master. Rather, be nice (noach) and humble with him and he will love you like a father.

And if you encounter people equal to you, receive them with honor and joy so that they will love you like a brother.
Maharal - this teaches on man's conduct, namely, that people are noche (benefit/pleased) from him.. and thus it follows the previous mishna "one with whom people are pleased, G-d is pleased". For both depend on each other..

One should know that the conduct one needs to be just and good with others divides into three categories:

One, how he should conduct himself towards those of greater level than himself.

Two, how he should conduct himself towards those less than himself.

Three, how he should conduct himself towards his peers who are equal or similar to him...

He said to be pleasant (noach) to them and to not speak to them in a high manner (gavhut). Rather only pleasantly (b'noach). And if one of the black-haired (young) people ask him something, he should be pleasant with him and and not be hard on him.

And corresponding to people who are his peers and are on his level, he said: "receive every person with joy". Namely, to give honor to every person. Through this he discharges [his duty] towards all people, whether those bigger and more important than him, those smaller than him, and those equal to him...

"receive every person with joy" - earlier Shammai said: "receive every person with a pleasant countenance" (Avot 1:15).

Each according to his matter. For earlier Shammai came to say that if one does not receive him with a pleasant countenance, then it would appear his fellow is not benefiting from him. And this causes pain to a man when he feels his fellow does not benefit from him.
(Rabbi Hartman - i.e. a person is pained when his fellow who receives him does not enjoy receiving him).

Therefore, he said to receive him with a pleasant countenance. For that is great honor.
(i.e. to prevent him from feeling pain and shame - RH).

And even if one knows for sure that the person is benefiting him such as when the person comes for one's benefit, or one asked him to come, nevertheless, should receive him with joy, as if a great man came to visit, whereby one would be joyous to receive him.
(Rabbi Hartman - Thus Shammai was in the category of "turn from evil", to refrain from causing him pain. While here it is in the category of "do good" - to show him great honor and importance)
Meorei Ohr - "receive every person with joy" - this is more than what Shammai said "receive every person with a pleasant countenance" (Avot 1:13). For a person can show a nice face but in his heart it is the opposite. On the other hand, for joy he must conduct his soul (nefesh) with joy until the joy is part of his nature.
Chida Petach Einayim - "be light to a head" - as the commentaries explain on the verse: "he will crush your head, and you will bite his heel" (Gen.3:15). For man submits the yetzer hara when he does not listen to him from the beginning and strengthens himself at the head (outset). This is "be light" to strengthen yourself "l'rosh" at the beginning of the enticement of the yetzer hara. And once the majority of one's years have passed, he will not sin. Thus, "v'noach l'tishchoret", i.e. in old age as the second explanation of the Bartenura.