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Pirkei Avot / Ethics of the Fathers
with a select treasury of commentaries on all levels of Torah interpretation
Chapter 4 Mishna 20
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 4 Mishna 20פרק ד משנה כ
Shmuel Hakatan (the small) would say: "when your enemy falls, do not rejoice; when he stumbles, let your heart not be glad, lest G-d see it and be displeased, and turn away His wrath from him [onto you]" (Mishlei 24:17) שְׁמוּאֵל הַקָּטָן אוֹמֵר, (משלי כד) בִּנְפֹל אוֹיִבְךָ אַל תִּשְׂמָח וּבִכָּשְׁלוֹ אַל יָגֵל לִבֶּךָ, פֶּן יִרְאֶה ה' וְרַע בְּעֵינָיו וְהֵשִׁיב מֵעָלָיו אַפּוֹ

Bartenura - "when your enemy falls do not rejoice.." - it's a verse from Mishlei/Proverbs. Shmuel Hakatan was used to rebuking people with this trait.

"lest G-d see it and be displeased" - that in your heart you consider it as if G-d is your messenger to fulfill your desire.

"and turn away His wrath from him" - he did not say "remove" but rather "turn away", implying not only will G-d remove the anger from your enemy, but He will also redirect it upon you.
Tiferet Yisrael - "Shmuel Hakatan (the small) says:" - he was used to telling himself this verse in order to not stumble in something people are used to stumbling in.

"when your enemy falls do not rejoice; and when he stumbles.." - "falls" refers to bodily harm while "stumble" refers to spiritual harm.

The verse refers to someone who you believe is a wicked man. For otherwise it is forbidden to hate your fellow (Pesachim 113b). Even so, do not rejoice when physical harm befalls him or if he stumbles in sin or some foolish act he did in public.

Even though scripture states: "when the wicked are destroyed, there is song" (Mishlei 11:10), nevertheless this refers to a person evil to G-d and men who is not your [personal] enemy. But if he is your [personal] enemy, hatred skews your perception to judge him negatively even though he is not really so wicked.
Ruach Chaim - "when your enemy falls do not rejoice.." - better you pray that they repent and don't perish (as we find by the wife of Rebbi Meir in Berachot 10b).
Rabeinu Avraham Pritzel - for the trait of seeking vengeance and bearing a grudge is an evil trait as the torah exhorts: "you shall neither take revenge from nor bear a grudge against the members of your people; [you shall love your fellow as yourself]" (Vayikra 19:18). This is in order that all of Yisrael be beloved friends, as written: "you shall love your fellow as yourself..". Thus this sage comes to exhort against bearing a grudge, to not bear a grudge and rejoice in the fall of his enemy...

"lest.." - Furthermore, it is not proper for a man to tell himself: "this downfall that I am seeing in this enemy is due to me, for I am righteous and just."

Although king David said: "the righteous shall rejoice when he sees vengeance" (Tehilim 58:11), this is referring to a context where the righteous man is certainly righteous and the wicked man is certainly wicked. But every person should not rejoice at the downfall of his enemy and the person he hates.
Meorei Ohr - in Magen Avot: our sages already said in Megilah 16a that this mishna refers to a Jew. But for a gentile (idolater), it is written: "when the wicked are destroyed, there is song" (Mishei 11:10). Likewise for a dissident Jew (poshei yisrael), it is permitted to rejoice, not out of personal hatred but because he is an enemy of G-d.. as written: "those who hate You, I hate, those who rise against You, I contend.." (Tehilim 97:10).
Imrei Noam - it is written: "when your enemy falls, do not rejoice", yet in Mishlei: "when the wicked are destroyed, there is song". The answer is well known. All the time the wicked is still falling but not completely destroyed, then: "do not rejoice", for "lest G-d withdraw His wrath". But when the wicked are completely destroyed - then there is song. For this, the Jewish people did not sing song when leaving Egypt until the splitting of the sea. Only at the splitting of the sea where Moses said: "you will never see the Egyptians again" and all of them perished [in the sea] - then the Israelites sang song.
Sfas Emes on Avot - "when your enemy falls, do not rejoice.." - but does a man always have an enemy? Rather, it is referring to the evil inclination. For man has no greater enemy. The explanation is that even though a man is assisted sometimes to overpower him, nevertheless do not rejoice and trust that he is defeated. For he can return as before.
Maharal - "when your enemy falls, do not rejoice.." - for it is written: "he who rejoices at a misfortune will not go unpunished" (Mishlei 17:5). One who rejoices at evil desires evil. For if he did not desire evil, he would not desire even the evil of his enemy. Thus, since he desires evil, he receives evil for himself.
Yachel Yisrael - the Rashbetz explains in his book "Magen Avot", and likewise other commentators, that the reason why one should not rejoice in the downfall of his enemies is because G-d is pained at that time. The Creator of the world does not rejoice when punishing His handiworks. Thus it is not proper for creations to rejoice during the pain of their Creator...

Regarding G-d it is written: "His mercy is on all His handiworks" (Tehilim 145:9). He does not wish to punish any creature. The necessity to pay retribution to His enemies causes Him pain. Therefore, king Shlomo teaches us: "when your enemy falls, do not rejoice". How can you feel joy when your Creator is in pain?

In the book "Even Shelema" it is brought that this is the reason why: "anyone whose fellow is punished due to him is not allowed to enter the mechitzah (enclosure) of the Holy One, blessed be He" (Shabbat 159b).

Thus, the punishment which befalls a person for committing evil to a Tzadik (righteous man - this also damages the perfection of that Tzadik. This is what scripture says: "to punish, also the righteous man is not good" (Mishlei 17:26) - it is not good for the tzadik (righteous man) that another be punished due to him. Why? Because through him there was caused pain to the Shechina (divine presence) which was forced to punish the sinner.

The righteous man should have instead tried to appease the wicked man. For it is written: "when G-d is pleased with a person's ways, even his enemies will make peace with him" (Mishlei 16:7). It is also possible that the righteous man could have prayed that his oppressor not be punished through him. All this in order to not cause pain to the Shechina through him.

"lest G-d see it and be displeased, and turn away His wrath from him" - why does this rejoicing cause a diminishing of G-d's wrath towards the person being punished?

Until now, we understand why the one rejoicing is not innocent. But why should his rejoicing exempt the enemy from the punishment he deserves?

How can the sin of one person atone for the sin of another?

Furthermore, some early sages have a version of this mishna which adds the words: "for it does not say 'His furious wrath' (Charon Apo) but rather 'His wrath (Apo)' - this teaches he is forgiven for all his sins".

According to this text version, Shmuel Hakatan expounded from the verse [and did not just quote it]. For not only does the enemy's punishment cease but his sins are even forgiven..

The answer is that G-d sentences the punishment fitting for the person exactly according to what is fitting for him. The amount of suffering he will bear will not exceed what he is due, not even by a hair's breadth than what was decreed for him.

However sometimes besides the suffering he bears, he must bear the look of his rival rejoicing at his downfall. This additional agony was not [necessarily] decreed and is sometimes extremely difficult to bear, even worse than any punishment.

The Rashbatz brings that Iyov (Job), who was the epitome of human suffering, - was asked: what was the most difficult part of your suffering? He replied: "the sight of my enemies rejoicing at my troubles".

Likewise king David thanked: "I will exalt You, O L-ord, for You have raised me up, and You have not allowed my enemies to rejoice over me" (Tehilim 30:2), he praised G-d for elevating him. But that was not enough. The main gratitude for which G-d elevated him was in that "You have not allowed my enemies to rejoice over me" (ibid)..

From this we can answer that the verse teaches us that the pain the punished person feels due to seeing his rival rejoicing at his troubles - this is not included in the amount decreed. The rock the rejoicing person threw in the pit is extra and not in the calculation. Thus, the rejoicing causes greater suffering than what he was supposed to get. This extra pain causes forgiveness for all his sins.

The Yaavetz brings an analogy to a father who punished his son in his anger more than he intended at first. When he sees what happened, he regrets and forgives his son for the rest of the punishment he intended to mete out to him. On the contrary, now he tries to console him and appease him and be more careful next time he deserves punishment.