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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 23
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 23פרק ד משנה כג
He would say: the born [are destined] to die, the dead to be brought to life, the living to be judged, [it is therefore for them] to know, make known, and to become known that He is G-d, He is the Maker, He is the Creator, He is the understander. He is the judge, He is the witness, He is the plaintiff, and He will summon to judgment, blessed be He, before Whom there is no iniquity, no forgetting, no favoritism, and no taking bribes, for all is His.

Know that everything is according to the accounting. And let not your evil inclination assure you to think that the grave will be a refuge (escape) for you. For against your will were you formed, against your will were you born, against your will you live, against your will you will die, and against your will are you destined to give a judgment and accounting before the supreme King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.
הוּא הָיָה אוֹמֵר, הַיִּלּוֹדִים לָמוּת, וְהַמֵּתִים לְהֵחָיוֹת, וְהַחַיִּים לִדּוֹן. לֵידַע לְהוֹדִיעַ וּלְהִוָּדַע שֶׁהוּא אֵל, הוּא הַיּוֹצֵר, הוּא הַבּוֹרֵא, הוּא הַמֵּבִין, הוּא הַדַּיָּן, הוּא עֵד, הוּא בַעַל דִּין, וְהוּא עָתִיד לָדוּן. בָּרוּךְ הוּא, שֶׁאֵין לְפָנָיו לֹא עַוְלָה, וְלֹא שִׁכְחָה, וְלֹא מַשּׂוֹא פָנִים, וְלֹא מִקַּח שֹׁחַד, שֶׁהַכֹּל שֶׁלּוֹ.

וְדַע שֶׁהַכֹּל לְפִי הַחֶשְׁבּוֹן. וְאַל יַבְטִיחֲךָ יִצְרְךָ שֶׁהַשְּׁאוֹל בֵּית מָנוֹס לְךָ, שֶׁעַל כָּרְחֲךָ אַתָּה נוֹצָר, וְעַל כָּרְחֲךָ אַתָּה נוֹלָד, וְעַל כָּרְחֲךָ אַתָּה חַי, וְעַל כָּרְחֲךָ אַתָּה מֵת, וְעַל כָּרְחֲךָ אַתָּה עָתִיד לִתֵּן דִּין וְחֶשְׁבּוֹן לִפְנֵי מֶלֶךְ מַלְכֵי הַמְּלָכִים הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא:

Machzor Vitri - "the born [are destined] to die" - those born already - their end is to die.

"the dead [are destined] to live" - those dead already - their end is to live (resurrect).

"the living to be judged" - those who resurrected [in the future] - their end is to be judged when the Day of Judgement arrives, in the valley of Yehoshafat which is the valley of the king.

"to know" - I am saying all this "to know" - so that all the people of the land will know this circle that the world turns around and they will improve their deeds.

"and to make known" - so that they too will make known to others and teach their children.

"and to become known" - so that it be revealed to all the nations in order that they have fear (reverence) before G-d.

"He is the Maker" - just like a maker of clay pottery does whatever he wants to the pottery, so too every human being is in G-d's hands and G-d can do whatever He deems proper to him..

"He is the Creator" - He creates man in His image and knows man's secret thoughts. Nothing is hidden from Him..

"He is the understander" - He understands all their deeds.

"He is the judge" - He is the expert judge and discerns the fine line of justice..

"He is the witness" - He Himself will testify in the matter. For He sees everything, as written: "the eyes of G-d roam to and fro throughout the whole earth" (Zecharia 4) and "I will come near to you to judgment and be a swift witness" (Malachi 3).

"He is the plaintiff" - to scream at man and summon him to judgment.

"no forgetting" - He will judge in the future, there is no forgetfulness by Him - do not tell yourself: "by then everything will be forgotten already". Know clearly that he will summon you to judgment. For He will judge in the future. Nevertheless, He will judge you truthfully and rightfully. If you behaved properly do not fear and do not worry that He will charge you unjustly out of mistake or forgetfulness.

"before Whom there is no iniquity" - as written: "a G-d of faithfulness and without iniquity" (Devarim 32:4).

"nor forgetfulness" - for everything is inscribed in a book before Him, as written: "then the G-d fearing men spoke to one another (torah), and the L-rd hearkened and heard. And a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who feared the L-rd and for those who honored His Name" (Malachi 3), and "by the hand of every man it is signed" (Iyov 37).

"nor favoritism" - a man should not trust on a falsehood saying that G-d will show him favoritism or that He will accept a bribe..

"everything is His" - as written "silver and gold are Mine, says the L-ord of Hosts" (Chagai 2:8). Thus, why should He accept a bribe if everything is already His..

"know that everything is according to the accounting" - that all your deeds enter the accounting and nothing is left out. All are brought together and sum into a great calculation.

"let not your inclination entice you.." - do not tell yourself "the grave will be my refuge (escape). I will be exempt from judgment after entering the grave and will never wake up from there.

"by force.." - just like you were born against your will and your life is always toil and vexation.. for many times you desired to die but would not. And when your time of death arrives, you will not be able to escape from it. So too you will perforce give a judgment and accounting of your deeds..
Ahava b'Taanugim - "to know" - if one did not learn torah, he is claimed on why he did not learn.
"make known" - if he did learn, he is claimed on why he did not make known and teach others.
"become known" - if he taught others, he is claimed to become known, ie he should have publicized G-d in the world like Avraham, our forefather, such that G-d should become known to the world.
Chachma u'Mussar 1:113 - "to know, make known, and to become known" - "to know", ie to know well intellectually, thinking it over and knowing. Afterwards, "make known" to the powers of the nefesh, namely, the heart. For the heart moves the powers. Then, "become known", ie after setting in the heart, specifically then it is called a whole knowledge. May we merit to whole knowledge and then we will know life.
Rabeinu Yonah - "He is the judge" - since He knows the truth of all matters, He is fitting to judge. For He will judge a true justice.

"He is the witness" - everything is revealed before Him.

"He is the plaintiff" - He claims from the sinners.. For if one hurts his fellow man, do not think he sinned to his fellow alone and not to G-d. It is not so. G-d claims from him just like the fellow. For he also sinned to G-d.
Daat Zekenim - "He is the plaintiff" - Rabeinu Yonah explains: "He claims from the sinners, etc. For if a man harms his fellow man, do not think that he sinned to man only and not to G-d. It is not so. G-d claims from him as a plaintiff Himself, since the man also sinned to G-d". end quote

The explanation is as the Saba of Kelm wrote (Chochma u'Mussar 1:13): "come and see how much G-d cherishes Yisrael (the Jewish people), etc. the good of Yisrael is the good of the Holy One, blessed be He. Why? Because G-d benefits everyone without limit, especially His treasured people.. and one who does good to a Jew, it is as if he did good to G-d, blessed be He. And one who loves a Jew, it is as if he loves G-d. Therefore: " 'love your fellow as yourself' - this is the general principle of the torah" (Bereisheit Rabba 24:8).

For this includes (all the commandments) between man and man and all the traits with which G-d conducts His world, as explained in the book Tomer Devorah. And likewise love of Yisrael is love of G-d.. Thus it is the general principle which includes inside it the entire torah...

Thus according to his words, the converse is also true - one who does evil to a Jew, it is as if he does evil to G-d, so to speak. Thus G-d Himself is the plaintiff to claim the sin from him..
Ahava b'Taanugim - "He is the G-d, Maker (yotzer), Creator (Boreh), Understander (Mevin)" (Kabalistic) - he wrote four parts corresponding to the four mystical worlds (Atzilut, Beriah, Yetzira, Asiyah).

Corresponding to the world of Asiyah, he wrote "He is the G-d". For it is proper to make known in this world that He is G-d and there is no other, namely, the klipot (evil forces).

Corresponding to the world of Yetzira, he wrote "He is the Maker (Yotzer). Corresponding to the world of Creation (Beriah), he wrote "He is the Creator". Corresponding to the world of Atzilut, he wrote "He is the Understanding One". For no creature can grasp nor understand. For it is concealed from all creations and He alone can understand there.

Thus one should make known and publicize that He is the Ruler in all the four worlds..

"He is the witness" - He is THE (quintessential) true witness. For there is no forgetfulness at all by Him.

"He is the judge" - likewise He is THE (quintessential) Judge. For there is no favoritism nor bribery at all by Him.
Yachel Yisrael - "the born [are destined] to die" - it is not enough to know that the end of man is death. Man needs to also live with the feeling that every second he approaches his end. The sage emphasizes this saying "the born to die". He didn't say "the living to die" like he said afterwards "the dead to resurrect". Rather, "the born" - their end is death. Already from the time of birth, a man walks towards his death.

Thus it is written: "for man walks to his eternal home" (Kohelet 12:5), in present tense not in future tense. All of a man's life, he walks to his grave. A man needs to live in this world with the feeling that he is constantly approaching his death. All his life is a preparation to the day of death and with this awareness he needs to examine every deed and every step he makes..

"the dead to resurrect" - just like it is clear to every person that the end of every newborn is death, so too he must clearly know that the end of the dead is to resurrect.

From here is another reason why he chose the expression "the born to die" and not "the living to die" - this is to teach us that man does not die forever. Only the physical part is born and dies. The physical body is merely a garment and covering of the soul. And when the time comes, the soul divests of the body.

"to know, make known, and become known that He is G-d..." - after realizing our station in this world, the big question becomes what is the purpose of life?..

The answer is folded into three words "to know, make known, and become known that He is G-d.." The entire creation is aligned towards one purpose - knowledge of G-d. Man's job is to recognize the existence of the Director of the world and to know His ways.

the mishna says:
"to know" - every person is under duty at first "to know" - to realize through study and toil. To learn from others and also to try through his own efforts to know as best as he can the knowledge of G-d and the walking in His ways. For this purpose the torah and mitzvot were given.

Afterwards, every intelligent person must "make known" - to share his knowledge with other people. Through this, he draws the world closer to its intended purpose.

"to become know" - in the end of days, the knowledge of G-d will eventually be known by itself, without need to toil to attain it..

This future revelation will occur on the great day of judgment. Then every act done in the world will be seen in the perspective of world history. Everyone will understand the solution to the riddle of everything that ever happened in the world. It will be realized that nothing occurred by accident and thus that there was always a Director of the world.
Yachel Yisrael - "to GIVE a judgment and accounting" - why does it say "to give" a judgment and accounting. Does the person "give" the judgment? Isn't he the one being judged?!

In the Midrash Shmuel (3:1) it is written that when a person comes before the Heavenly court, G-d wants that the person accepts the ruling they judge on him. However, "a man does not see guilt on himself" (Shabbat 119a).

On every sin he committed that they rebuke him, he will find reasons why he does not deserve punishment. He will find an excuse for every sin and make light of every sin. What does G-d do?

First a man is taught all the laws of the torah. Now he understands the depth of the severity of sins and he knows the punishment for every sin. Then he is presented with various cases and asked to judge them. What is the judgment for transgressing this sin? What is the punishment for that sin? And so on. The person confidently calls the judgments and condemns without hesitation as he learned.

Afterwards, he is shown that these are his own transgressions and sins and that he himself "gave" his own judgment with his own mouth. Now, he can do nothing other than to accept the judgment and say: "Master of the World, you have judged rightly.." (Eiruvin 19a). (Nathan the prophet used this method to judge king David regarding the story of Batsheva. See Shmuel II 2:12)

"judgment and accounting" - judgment refers to the sin itself while accounting refers to the time lost which he could have used for torah and mitzvot. (Vilna Gaon).

"against your will you live, against your will you will die" - according to this that one's birth and life is by force and against his will, the question comes up: "why should a person give a judgment and accounting for a life he did not desire? Why should he pay for 'merchandise' he did not want"?

The Dubna Magid answers with a parable:
In a city lived two sisters which nobody wanted to marry. One was very ugly and the second was hot-tempered, always yelling, and full of complaints on everything.

Years passed and a clever person had an idea to marry the ugly sister to a blind man and the hot-tempered sister to a deaf man.

The two couples lived a happy married life.
After some years a special doctor came to town who was able to heal almost all illness. The blind and deaf man went to see him in hopes of curing their condition.

The doctor successfully healed them. However, upon returning home, their life became full of strife. The previously blind man suffered from the appearance of his ugly wife while the previously deaf man suffered from the screams and constant complaints of his wife. Their lives became very difficult.

In the meantime, the doctor's bill arrived. In the bill was the amount to be paid for the treatment. However, the two refused to pay claiming that the doctor caused them only pain and suffering and that their lives became a living hell.

The two sides went to a judge to decide between them whether or not they are obligated to pay the doctor's fee.

The judge listened to their claims and ruled:

"Correct, the doctor caused them only pain and suffering. Therefore, I rule that the doctor is obligated to revert the two patients to their previous condition. Namely, to blind the now seeing man and to make deaf the now hearing man."

The two patients did not accept this ruling. The blind man was not prepared to return to the world of darkness and likewise the deaf man refused to return to the world of silence.

The judge said: "if so, pay your debt to the doctor. For you admitted that you benefited from his work".

The Dubna Maggid ends off saying that so too for every mortal towards his Creator. Although the Creator brought his soul down to this world against his will, but what sane person would want to leave this world willingly? Who would want to die before his time? Even a severely ill person full of sufferings - he seeks out the biggest doctors, fighting for every day of life.

We desire to live in this world. Thus, even though we were sent to this world against our will, but nevertheless we want this "merchandise" and we are not prepared to forego it. Thus it is clear why we must give a judgment and accounting for our lives.
Matanat Avot - "to know" - first of all, the Tanna (sage) explains to us that all of us need "to know" ourselves, "and to make known" to others. By speaking this to ourselves all the time and with our surroundings, near or far, in the end we will reach the level of "to become known", which is a very clear and tangible perception.

What will we know exactly? The awesome depth of judgment. This includes several important matters.

Firstly, that we realize before Whom we are going to judgment: "He is G-d, He is the Maker, He is the Creator, He is the understander".

That is to say, He is the G-d which we know is the Maker of all the worlds and also the Creator who sustains their existence every second. He also understands all the actions of the creations and nothing is hidden from Him. It is Him!! No less!

"He is the judge" - thus He determines the rules of judgment. Do not think that if you disregard some small or big matter in the torah and that it is not at all important in your eyes in the least, then G-d will also judge you according to the standards and rules which you yourself invented and He will also ignore the things you ignored.

It is not so.. Rather, by Him the rules are completely different from what every person thinks. The judgment will be only according to those laws and statutes. Every thought, word, and deed of yours will be judged by this standard.

This is one of the reasons why the depth of judgment is hidden from people (Pesachim 54a). For nobody imagines just how meticulous is the judgment on every tiny grain of deed, word, or thought, despite that in this world it appears completely insignificant.

"He is the witness" - do not think that when you go to judgment there, some witness will come who barely knows you. Rather, G-d Himself is the witness for all your deeds and He knows you all too well and remembers everything you did all the days of your life and every place you went all over the world. When you realize this, you will understand that there is no action of yours which will not be judged in the Beit Din (Heavenly court) above.

"He is the plaintiff" - He will claim from you on every second of life you received from Him. He will ask you: what did you do in every second of your life? Did you utilize the time to increase the honor of Heaven or the opposite, ch'v?..

"He will summon to judgment.." - do not think this meticulous Judge will retire at some point or that He is busy with old records and has no time to examine your case. Rather, everything I told you until now on the depth of judgment - this is exactly what will happen to you in the future. Know this with complete certainty. That same judgment with the same laws and statutes, and that same Witness who knows everything, and that same Plaintiff who claims on everything...

"let not your evil inclination assure you to think that the grave will be a refuge (escape) for you" - I once heard an old secular man who apparently had a difficult life, say: "fortunately this difficult life of mine has an end". In my heart, I felt such pity for him. For this poor man thinks that although in this world, it was hard for him, but when he dies all his problems will end. This is exactly what our mishna writes. The evil inclination tells the sinners and wicked men who followed his advice all their lives and finally see that they did not benefit at all from this and are near the end of their lives: "don't worry. granted you had a rough life, but soon you will die and rest in peace..."