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Pirkei Avot / Ethics of the Fathers
with a select treasury of commentaries on all levels of Torah interpretation
Chapter 5 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 5 Mishna 3פרק ה משנה ג
There were 10 generations from Noah to Avraham, in order to make known how forbearing G-d is. For all those generations kept on angering Him repeatedly, until Avraham our father came and received the reward of them all.
עֲשָׂרָה דוֹרוֹת מִנֹּחַ וְעַד אַבְרָהָם, לְהוֹדִיעַ כַּמָּה אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם לְפָנָיו, שֶׁכָּל הַדּוֹרוֹת הָיוּ מַכְעִיסִין וּבָאִין, עַד שֶׁבָּא אַבְרָהָם וְקִבֵּל עָלָיו שְׂכַר כֻּלָּם.

"Avraham received the reward of them all - he did as much good deeds as was fitting for all of them combined to do. Therefore, they were all saved in his merit. And just like Avraham took upon himself the yoke of mitzvot in this world corresponding to all of them, so too he will receive reward in the next world corresponding to all of them.

For every person has two portions. One in Gan Eden and one in Gehinom. If he is meritorious, he takes his and his fellow's portion in Gan Eden. But if he is guilty (evil), he takes his and his fellow's portion in Gehinom (Chagigah 15b).
Tiferet Yisrael - "the reward of them all" - ie the reward which was fitting for all of them. Namely, to draw them under the wings of the Shechina (divine presence), to reveal Himself to them as G-d did to Avraham, to establish a covenant with them and give their descendants the torah, to perform miracles and wonders for them and bestow prophecy on them.

All this was the original intent of G-d - that all human beings merit these things. But when these ten generations sinned, they all lost these things. Only Avraham and the chosen of his seed, namely the descendands of Yisrael (Jacob), merited these gifts.
Matanat Avot - "with ten trials Avraham our forefather was tested and he withstood all of them; to make known how beloved was our father Avraham (next mishna)" - if someone were to ask: "why did Avraham merit to be so pleasing in G-d's eyes and to merit the reward of all of them?"

Answer him: because he stood up to these ten great trials. And when he stood up to all of them, he showed that he has nothing in his world besides doing the will of G-d. Nothing was more important to him and he also demonstrated that he fulfilled the will of G-d with joy and zeal..

Thus, G-d revealed His true purpose to bestow the maximum reward and He gave Avraham also the reward of previous generations and chose his descendants to be fitting for this goal of bestowing perfect reward for fulfilling torah and mitzvot.
Maharal - "reward of all of them" - that which Avraham receives the reward of all of them - this is a deep matter. For all these generations from Noach till Avraham were vanity and empty (hevel vetohu), without substance, everything as emptiness, as our sages said: "2000 years of void (tohu)" (Avodah Zarah 9a) - ie until Avraham came.

Avraham was the beginning and head of the creation. Thus since he was the beginning, he is considered more of an existence than all other human beings in the world. For the beginning is the primary existence and the chief existence of the world.

For the generations before Avraham were the opposite of him. For all those generations were vanity, without substance while Avraham was the foundation and primary [existence]. Due to this, he received the reward of all of them. For the opposite of something receives its opposite..

It is proper to ask: why were the generations of the beginning of creation such sinners? (from Adam until Noah).

You should know on what we explained earlier regarding: "he whose deeds are greater than his wisdom [his wisdom does not endure]" (Avot 3:17), that everything is drawn after the body of man. Man's body is considered the foundation and primary of man (yesod v'ikar haadam).

When this foundation is as it should be, namely, removed from pettiness, afterwards he grows and advances higher and higher until he acquires the loftiest levels.

This matter is akin to the roots of a tree. When the roots are strong, the tree grows higher and higher.

But if a man's quality is not in his roots, rather his primary quality is in that he is at a lofty level, and he lacks strength in his roots - this is not considered a [high] level. Most likely, he will suffer a complete fall, as we explained earlier.

He is compared to a tree with much foliage and few roots. It has no standing and permanence. On the contrary, it is fragile and unstable when its foliage is greater than its roots. For the root and foundation must be according to the foliage of the tree.

With this you will understand these things. For Adam, the first man, who was created in the image of G-d (Gen.1:27), he received the loftiest level. Likewise for the generations from Adam until Noah, they were near this lofty level. But they did not have a foundation appropriate to this high level.

Therefore, they were like a tree whose foliage is greater than its roots. This quality (of great foliage) was actually a lacking, as we explained.

You should understand that these three men (Adam, Noach, Avraham), each had a special level by himself.

You will find that Adam had the level of "image of G-d" (Tzelem Elokim, higher soul), as we explained earlier (Avot 3:14) regarding this level.

Below this is the level of Form (tzura, lower soul). This level is not the level of Tzelem (higher soul). Rather the truth of this tzura is that which a man is a speaking creature (chay medaber).
(R.Hartman commentary - the tzurah is the interface between the physical (body) and the spiritual (higher soul). This is expressed by the power of speech. Therefore this is what is man. And in Netiv Halashon( (ch.2), he writes: "know that man is of physicality. Thus the sechel (intellect, higher soul) is not the Tzurah (form, lower soul) of man. For man was not created completely sechel (intellect). But the speaking intellect (sechel dabri) is through the physical limbs, namely, the tongue - this is the tzurah (form) of man." end quote

And there in chapter 6: "the speaking intellect (sechel dabri) is the tzurah (form) of man who is called a speaking living creature (chai medaber). This matter is the primary and root of a man" end quote.. These three levels (Adam, Noach, and Avraham) correspond to Neshama (higher soul), ruach (lower soul), and nefesh (life soul), which correspond to thought, speech, and action..(see there for more).
Below this level (of Noach) is the level of the body of man (ie nefesh).

Thus, Adam had this lofty level of this Tzelem (higher soul) which is the Tzelem Elokim (image of G-d) with which Adam was created, as our sages brought regarding the great light of Adam the first man. But Adam did not have a foundation and root to this lofty level.

This matter was certainly a lacking, namely, when the branches/foliage are greater than the roots.

Therefore, Adam and the generations after him had lackings.

Afterwards, Noach had the level of tzurah (form).

this matter is clear. For this Noach was called "a man of the ground" (Gen.9:20), as we explained elsewhere that man is the Tzura (form)..

He also did not have a complete foundation and root to this level and all the more so for his ten generations. Thus, lacking and deficiency were drawn after them.

Afterwards, Avraham came. He had the level of body wholly. Thus the Gematria (numerical value) of Avraham is 248, corresponding to the 248 limbs in man, and as our sages said: "he coronated G-d over his 248 limbs" (Nedarim 32b). Therefore he was granted the Brit Milah (circumcision, Gen.17:10) on his body.

This is the greatest level. For when man is whole (perfect) from the aspect of his physical body (ie lower soul, character traits), which is considered the foundation and primary - then he can receive wholly the level of Tzurah (form). This is as the foliage to the perfection of the body. And then he can receive the splendor of the Tzelem Elokim, according to the level fitting for him.

Then the level of Sechel (transcendent intellect) can attach on the physical.. Thus he would ascend always level after level and he was the opposite of all the earlier generations.

He was like a tree whose roots were more numerous than its branches/foliage (and thus endured the trials)..