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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 17
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 17פרק ג משנה יז
He would say: beloved is man for he was created in the Image [of G-d]. It is an extra affection that man was informed that he was created in the Image [of G-d], as written: "for in the Image of G-d, He made man" (Gen.9:6).

Beloved is Yisrael for they are called "sons of G-d". It is an extra love that they were informed that they are called "sons of G-d", as written: "you are sons to the L-ord your G-d" (Devarim 14:1)

Beloved is Yisrael for they were given a precious vessel. It is an extra love that they were informed that they were given a precious vessel with which the world was created, as written: "For I have given to you a good possession, do not forsake My torah" (Prov.4:2).

הוּא הָיָה אוֹמֵר, חָבִיב אָדָם שֶׁנִּבְרָא בְצֶלֶם. חִבָּה יְתֵרָה נוֹדַעַת לוֹ שֶׁנִּבְרָא בְצֶלֶם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (בראשית ט) כִּי בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים עָשָׂה אֶת הָאָדָם.

חֲבִיבִין יִשְׂרָאֵל שֶׁנִּקְרְאוּ בָנִים לַמָּקוֹם. חִבָּה יְתֵרָה נוֹדַעַת לָהֶם שֶׁנִּקְרְאוּ בָנִים לַמָּקוֹם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (דברים יד) בָּנִים אַתֶּם לַה' אֱלֹהֵיכֶם.

חֲבִיבִין יִשְׂרָאֵל שֶׁנִּתַּן לָהֶם כְּלִי חֶמְדָּה. חִבָּה יְתֵרָה נוֹדַעַת לָהֶם שֶׁנִּתַּן לָהֶם כְּלִי חֶמְדָּה שֶׁבּוֹ נִבְרָא הָעוֹלָם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (משלי ד) כִּי לֶקַח טוֹב נָתַתִּי לָכֶם, תּוֹרָתִי אַל תַּעֲזֹבוּ:

Bartenura - "it is an extra affection that man was informed.." - the Rambam explains that G-d showed great affection to Adam, saying to him: "see that I created you in the Divine Image". For one who bestows good to his fellow and also informs him of this good - this is a greater display of affection than if he had bestowed good to him without informing him of the good.. (for example, sometimes one does a favor for a poor man out of pity and does not inform the poor man of what he did for him due to the poor man being lowly in his eyes - Rambam)

Alternatively, "extra affection" - i.e. an open and public affection which G-d has for man. For not only does He cherish man secretly, but even publicly and openly and made known to all.
Tiferet Yisrael - "image of G-d" - i.e. intellectual power (koach sichli) and free will - this is the image of G-d. For man has the power to act as he wishes. This is unlike other creations above or below the level of man like angels (spritual beings) or animals - all of them are forced in their deeds.
Binyan Avot - "you are sons" - he did not bring a proof from the earlier verse "And you shall say to Pharaoh, 'So said the L-ord: My son, My first born, Yisrael'" (Shemot 4:22). For one may interpret that verse to be referring only to the generation of the Exodus. i.e. only they were cherished but how do we know for future generations? Thus, he brought a proof from this verse which refers to a mitzvah for all generations.. "you are sons to the L-ord your G-d [you shall neither cut yourselves..]" (Devarim 14:1)
Rabeinu Yosef ben Shushan - "beloved is man for he was created in the Image" - this is to rouse a man to regard himself as an important and beloved creature before He who spoke and created the world. He should be embarrassed and abashed of a small mistake, and not fulfill on himself the verse: "It is as a joke to a fool to do wickedness" (Mishlei 10:23).

Rather, he should be exceedingly careful to guard his own dignity. For his honor is his Master's honor, since his Master created him in His semblance and form. Thus, he shoud not profane his honor and not disrespect His throne, as the prophet said: "and on the likeness of the throne, was a likeness like the appearance of a man upon it above" (Yechezkel 1:26).

After saying that man is beloved and important before his Creator, he exhorted that one who is beloved to G-d is held meticulously accountable for his deeds, similar to the verse: "you only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities" (Amos 3:2) and likewise David said: "around Him it storms furiously" (Tehilim 50:3), which our sages expounded: "this teaches that the Holy One, blessed be He, is meticulous with the righteous even to a hair's breadth.
Shaarei Ramchal, Hakdama l'Maamar HaVikuch - The primary will of G-d in His world is that all matters of the world be Tikunim Mamash (rectifications) and matters of holiness. This is the root of all that was, is, and will be in this world. For the divine will desired (chashak) to draw man close, to imbue man and cling to him. G-d specifically chose man for he is the most cherished [creation]. The reason is clear, since man alone truly serves G-d. He fights a war with the evil inclination and honors G-d more than all other creations. For since they don't have an evil inclination, the honor of G-d does not elevate so much from their service as it does from the service of man.

Because man must stand up against all the difficult wars which his evil inclination wages against him, and all this for the service of G-d and for the honor of His Name, and all out of his own free will. Unlike the other creations which don't have free will. Thus the divine will created this being and gave him this service. Due to this, G-d cherishes him and loves him very much. Therefore, G-d placed great ways and wondrous laws for this man, so that he rectifies himself and his place, namely, this world. Thus the Shechina (Divine presence) conducts this man and all that depends on him with an exceedingly great and deep providence. G-d's intent is to sanctify him and all that depends on him, and to remove the obstruction, namely, the evil which weighed on him, and which caused him all this great effort and heavy war...
Ohr Yechezkel chelek 5 - "precious vessel (kli chemda)" - the vessel (kli) through which it is possible to merit all the precious things (chemdot) of the world.
Einei Kol Chai - "given a precious vessel" - love has two facets: One, desire to do the will of your fellow. Two, love in essence, such as a father's love to his son. The latter entails even to force him with all sorts of sufferings for his benefit. Therefore, the Holy One, blessed be He, lifted the mountain over their heads.. This is "beloved is Yisrael.." and then "an extra love.. that they were given (nitan)" - "given" specifically (nitan davka in passive form), i.e. by force, like a father who forces his son [for his benefit].
Siftei Daat on Avot - "with which the world was created" - this is not a story of the greatness of torah. Rather, the sage is coming to teach us how greatly beloved is Yisrael [by G-d] in giving us the "precious vessel" (kli chemda) used to create the world and through it, the ability to change nature. For since the world was created through it, then it follows that the Torah has a special segulah (power) to change nature, since there is no greater changing of nature than creating the world. Therefore, it is in man's hands to change his natures and come to his wholeness/perfection (Shlemut) through torah study, which is the purpose of man's divine service.

On this Rabbi Yisrael Salanter wrote in his Igeret Hamussar that the primary healing of man is through the in-depth study of the laws (Halachot) which pertain to his matter (that he is working to change, ex. anger) - and especially, "on condition to fulfill". That is to say, while he learns, he should know and have intent in his thoughts that through this, he is going to change his nature. For changing man's nature is impossible except through a miracle and this is an even greater miracle than changing the physical laws of nature.

And among the requirements for creating the miracle is the knowledge and intent in the performing of the miracle. (Daat Chochma U'Mussar 1:2, Daat Torah 3 pg.59)
Maharal - "beloved is man for he was created in the Image [of G-d].." - since he said in the previous mishna "vows are a fence to separation (from damaging things)", on this he said it is proper for a man to make fences and protections. This is analogous to one who has a cherished vineyard. According to the quality of his vineyard will be the corresponding fence. If he has merely a field of vegetables, he will not make much fence and protection around it.

For what does he make a fence? Specifically for a vineyard he cherishes. On this he wrote: "cherished is man etc."

And since man is cherished, and he has a very exalted level, G-d gave him the parsha (teachings) on vows (Nedarim 78b) so that man can make fences and protections to not corrupt his level of being created in the Image of G-d...
Maharal - "Image of G-d" - the explanation is not that G-d has an image or form. For that is not at all so. Rather, the verse is using the physical form (of man) to hint at what exists in the Holy One, blessed be He, in a non-physical manner. For certainly a man can picture using physical matters that which is devoid of physicality.

For example, when one wants to picture G-d who is King over all and nothing is above Him, he will picture an upright figure.

Although certainly one should not attribute any picture to G-d. For this is definitely forbidden according to man's intellect which [tries to] grasps things as they are.

But nevertheless, that which exists in G-d is pictured in physical man.

For man was created upright unlike other living creatures which walk bent over. For one who walks bent over indicates he has a master over him, like a slave who walks slouching before his master.

G-d has no master over him. Thus on man's upright posture, it is said that he is in the "image of G-d".

Namely, when one comes to give a physical picture of what exists in G-d who is devoid of physicality - then one says man is in the image of G-d. For man is in the lower (physical) world and from the aspect of the physical, man is in the image of G-d.

For here in the physical world, one would picture G-d according to what is fitting to this physical world...

Thus, when G-d appeared to the prophets, He appeared in the form of a man. For the prophets did not look with a "clear window" (asplakya hameira) like Moshe Rabeinu. For their prophecy was not completely divested of the physical.. Thus it is written: "and on the throne a figure in the form of man" (Yechezkel 1:26). For thus G-d relates to this physical world...

It is known that this physical world is like a garment to the divested world. And just like a garment is in the form of its wearer, even though it is not truly the wearer, so too G-d is described in the physical world in terms of physical terms. Thus, it is said on man that he was created in the Image of G-d.

Namely, from the aspect that man walks upright as explained and the other creatures walk bent down. For they are subjugated to man who is king over all and below there is nothing above him.

Thus, he walks upright according to his level.. And likewise, that which G-d sees and watches over this world, the good and the evil, the picture of this is that G-d has two eyes.. As our sages said on "the eyes of G-d are upon the land (of Israel) from the beginning of the year till its end" (Devarim 11:12) - " 'eyes of G-d' - this was said in plural, sometimes for good and sometimes for bad (punishment)" (Rosh Hashana 17b).

On this Iyov said: "from my flesh I see G-d" (Iyov 19:26)..

Deeper Explanation
If you want to explain the term "image (of G-d)" according to the "image" (Tzelem) which G-d truly has, then explain the verse "let us make man in our image and form" (Gen.1:26) as follows.

Although certainly the term "Image and Form" (Tzelem v'Temunah) normally apply to an appearance and picture, but here it refers only to the primary image and picture. For anything which has an image and (spiritual) form (Tzelem v'Temunah), also has a radiance (ziv). For this (radiance) is the primary image and form. Namely, the light and radiance of the image (Tzelem).

This is as scripture writes: "the image (tzelem) of his face changed" (Daniel 3:19). And without a doubt the physical form (of his face) did not change.

Rather, it is like when something happens to a man and the "radiance" and "light" of his face changes.

This is the explanation of the verse: "let us make man in our image and form". For a certain radiance and supernal spark (nitzutz elyon) attaches to his face. This is the image of G-d. And with this man is distinguished from all the creations - through this radiance and light of the Tzelem (divine image).

This light is not at all a physical light. Rather, it is a spiritual light and divine radiance which attaches to man.

On this it is written: "in the image of G-d, He created man".

For G-d is called "light" because the term "light" is used everywhere to represent something separate (nivdal) and non-physical. For light is not physical at all (translator: there is still much mystery on light).

We explained this in the introduction on the verse "a mitzvah is a candle and torah is light" (Mishlei 6::23).

For light teaches on that which is separate and non-physical. This is the matter of the Tzelem (image of G-d). Namely, this physical man has something separate and non-physical attached to him - the radiance of His Tzelem.

Just like man receives the supernal soul with the physical, so too (this) physical man receives this supernal radiance and light. And from the aspect of this special light which attaches to man, when he is divested of the physical - it is an image of G-d completely.

For this is the difference between a man and an angel. An angel is separated from the physical by essence. From this aspect, he is on a higher level than man. But physical man receives a separated power, namely, this Tzelem, which is a non-physical light radiance that attaches to him.

We will explain this further in chapter 6 by "all that is called by My Name.." (Avot 6). For all creations have this. Namely, a non-physical radiance attached to them.

But it is called an image of G-d only by man. For it is more G-dly (Eloki) in him.

This matter is clear. For regarding the angels, although they are separate from physicality, but they are not completely separate. But regarding man, that which he receives is a power completely separate (from the physical).

Although it has a (physical) carrier (the body) and needs a carrier but nevertheless that which man receives is more separate from the physical (peshitut yoter) [than the angels].

This is something you should understand in the Sod (secret) of wisdom. It is written on the angels that they have wings like living things (birds). This matter is in their essence and hints that in their essence, the angels are not completely separate from the physical and they have a leaning towards the physical animals.

Only G-d is completely and absolutely separate from the physical and man receives a separate power which resides in a carrier. Namely, this supernal radiance which shines on him and man receives this spark... On this it is written: "in the image of G-d, He created man". For this radiance and light which he receives is completely separate. Understand these things.

You should also come to know to understand regarding the light of this Tzelem. For we already explained that light and radiance (ohr v'ziv) has a great degree of existence (metziut) because light is the complete existence. For a thing which has light exists and is visible, such that everything exists through light.
(Translator: interestingly, according to quantum mechanics, things don't fully exist in a definite state until they are observable).
Maharal (continued) - We already explained that darkness (choshech) is called by this name because darkness is the opposite of light. For light grants existence to other things while darkness is the opposite of this. Anything that is in darkness does not exist and is not visible.

Thus, darkness which is the opposite of light, is called "choshech" a term connoting inexistence, the opposite of existence, such as: "you did not withold (chasachta) your son" (Gen.22:12) which is from "I withheld also" (Gen.20:6).

And in the Midrash on the verse "behold man has become like one of us, having the ability of knowing good and evil" (Gen.3:22) - Midrash: " 'like one of us' - i.e. like the Singular One of the world (Yechido shel Olam, i.e. G-d)" (Midrash Rabba 21:5).

The explanation of this is that which man knows good and evil, this is due to his being singular in this lower world similar to G-d in the upper worlds.

Due to this aspect, man is capable of knowing good and evil, unlike before the sin.

Afterwards, G-d said: "lest he eat fom the tree of life and live forever.." (Gen.3:22). For after man has attained this level of grasping good and evil, he may cleave to the tree of life which is the torah, "and eat from it and live forever".

This is because acquiring the knowledge brings a man to cleave to life, as written: "it is a tree of life to those who hold on to it" (Mishlei 3:18).

We find in the words of our sages, many who wanted and tried to hold tight to the tree of life, namely, the torah, to repel death from themselves, such as in Shabbat 30b (regarding king David) and many sages of the talmud such as Rabbah bar Nachmani (Bava Metziah 86a).

For when death is decreed on man due to his being separated from the Cause, blessed be He, and he seeks that the eating from the tree of life be as a city of refuge (to escape death).

The explanation of this "eating" from the tree of life, is that of complete eating from the tree of life, namely, to become one in essence (mitatzem) with the torah. For that which one eats becomes one in essence (mitatzem) with the one eating until he becomes completely nourished from it.

And certainly through this, he (Adam) would have lived forever when he was nourished by it (the tree of life). But this was only possible when he was close to the Tree of Life, namely, when he was on a high level. Then, he was capable of eating from the Tree of Life and become completely nourished by it, to grasp all the secrets of torah and live forever.

This is what he said: "lest he send out his hand and eats and lives forever" (Gen.3:22), i.e. when he is near the Tree of Life due to still being in Gan Eden.

Man was no longer worthy of this. For he already turned to the lowly when he ate from the Tree of Knowledge and knew good and evil. This was turning away from the Cause as explained earlier.

Thus, he was no longer fit for eternal life when he turned to the lowly. And when G-d banished him from his level in Gan Eden, he was no longer near the Tree of Life to eat from it. Understand this very well.

We have explained that he attained the knowledge of good and evil by being in his own domain. Namely, by not turning to his Cause which is the good. For there, there is no evil.

Likewise that which man has been given permission to choose of his own free will - this is due to man's being created in the Image of G-d and that he is singular in the lower world. This is what caused him to be like G-d, knowing good and evil.

For it is better for him to be in the domain of the Cause (in the good) rather than to have free will. For in the latter, it is possible for him to commit evil.

Thus, that which he is like G-d, knowing good and evil, this is not a quality of man. Rather, it is a consequence of man's being created in the image of G-d and thus man is like G-d knowing good and evil. But for man, this is not a quality.

So too, that which man is in his own domain and has free will similar to his Cause, even though it is not for his good, this too is a consequence of the image of G-d. Understand these things...

According to this, what our sages said in Tractate Avodah Zarah 54b will not be difficult:
"The philosophers asked the torah sages in Rome: 'if your G-d does not want idolatry, why doesn't He destroy it?' The sages answered: 'if they worshipped something useless, he would destroy it, but since they worship the sun and the moon, should He destroy the world for these idolaters?!"
The torah sages answered them nicely regarding not destroying the world but the question remains as to why doesn't He just destroy the idolaters?

The answer to that is that if He were to destroy the idolaters, man would not at all have free will. For man would fear utter destruction.
Maharal - "the world is judged with goodness" - i.e. don't think that since G-d does not rebuke the sinners then He must not desire the good of the world.

For when a human father loves his son and the son seeks to do a sin, the father intervenes and does not allow his son to do it. But if the father hates his son, he lets the son do the sin, similar to: "feed it to the wicked and let him die" (Bava Kama 69a). Namely, he lets the son do as he desires so that the son destroys himself.

But is it conceivable that G-d allows man to sin because He seeks the bad of the world? For if G-d loves man and cherishes him, why doesn't He intervene? Rather, certainly it seems G-d must seek to incline man to the side of evil [and hates him].

On this he said that it is not so. For even when G-d judges the world, He does not seek its evil. Rather "the world is judged with goodness". He seeks to vindicate the world and bestow good to it and that there be only good in the world.

Thus, He judges the world with good, namely, G-d's attribute of good desires that there be good in the world. Therefore, He brings punishments to the world to pay those who commit evil and then the evil is removed from the world and the good remains.

This is the meaning of "the world is judged with goodness", namely, the world is judged with G-d's good. For since He is good, therefore, He desires good and does not want evil.

This is what our sages said: "a person is obligated to bless [G-d] on the bad just like on the good" (Berachot 54a). The talmud there asks:
"What should he bless? If you say: 'just like on the good, he blesses 'He who is good and bestows good', so too on the bad, he blesses 'He who is good and bestows good' - but this cannot be so, for we have learned: "on the good, he says 'He who is good and bestows good, but on the bad, he says: 'the true Judge'". Rather, Rava says it means 'to receive it (the bad) with joy'" end quote
Why would one think that he should bless: 'He who is good and does good' on the bad such that a verse is needed to say otherwise?

Rather, it is because one may think that since even the bad comes from the attribute of good, as we mentioned.. For that which He brings punishments in the world, this is to pay back a man for his [bad] deeds. Through this, evil is removed and the good remains. For this itself, one is obligated to receive with joy G-d's attribute of judgment and bless "the true Judge". Man cannot bless "who is good and bestows good" because he did not receive good.

This is the meaning of "the world is judged with goodness", i.e. even the bad G-d brings to the world comes only from His goodness.

This is not like when a man does bad to his fellow which stems from the bad in him. But for G-d, even the bad stems from the good...