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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 4
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 4פרק ה משנה ד
With ten trials Avraham our forefather was tested and he withstood all of them, in order to make known how beloved was Avraham our forefather.
עֲשָׂרָה נִסְיוֹנוֹת נִתְנַסָּה אַבְרָהָם אָבִינוּ עָלָיו הַשָּׁלוֹם וְעָמַד בְּכֻלָּם, לְהוֹדִיעַ כַּמָּה חִבָּתוֹ שֶׁל אַבְרָהָם אָבִינוּ עָלָיו הַשָּׁלוֹם.

Meorei Ohr - "with ten trials Avraham.." - these are explained in Pirkei d'Rebbi Eliezer: one, when Nimrod tried to kill him, he hid underground for 13 years. Two, Nimrod cast him into a fiery furnace. Three, G-d commanded him to leave his land. There is no greater test, to leave one's land and birthplace and his father's house where he grew up.

Four, the famine in Israel after he arrived. There is no greater test than this. For G-d told him "[leave your land] I will bless you and make your name great, etc.", and after he leaves famine greets him. But he did not become upset nor complained. Rather, "Avraham descended to Egypt" (Gen.12:10).

Five, Sarah was taken to Pharaoh. There is no greater test than this to have your wife kidnapped and this is the opposite of what G-d told him: "I will make your name great" (Gen.12:2).

Six, when his nephew Lot was taken as a prisoner and he was forced to wage war with the four kings..

Seven, the covenant at Bein Habetarim where G-d informed him of the four exiles.

Eight, the command to circumcise himself after he was 100 years old and weak, there is no greater test than this.

Nine, he was commanded to send away Hagar and Yishmael despite that it was very difficult in his eyes as written: "the matter was very evil in his eyes regarding his son" (Gen.21:11).

Ten, the offering of Yitzchak which was the biggest test of them all..
Tosfot Yom Tov - "[Avraham] our father" - we merit and receive good in his merit for having stood up to all the trials. Therefore, the Tanna calls him "our father".
Rashi - "he withstood all of them" - he did not complain in his heart of G-d's attributes (lo hirher achar midotav).
Tiferet Yisrael - "with ten trials.." - why was he tested with these ten trials? If it was in order to know what is in his heart, does G-d have any doubts? Rather, it was: to make known to everyone how great was his love of G-d and it was not for nothing that G-d chose him.
Sforno - "with ten trials.." - to make known how much Avraham cherished his Maker, to call His Name (in prayer) and bring many [converts] under His wings. All this despite that he was full of trials. It is thus proper for all his descendants to do likewise, as written: "look to Avraham your forefather" (Isaiah 51:2).

Corresponding to these ten trials which Avraham stood up to, G-d performed special kindness to his descendants, namely, ten miracles in Egypt. And the Israelites, who were ungrateful, paid G-d back with ten trials in complaining and rebelling against Him in the desert (next mishna).

All this is reported in the holy torah to teach mussar to the thinking person and to turn away from evil.
Sfas Emes on Avot - "ten trials" - for through a trial (nissayon), a person is elevated to a high level. The hebrew word "nissa" connotes elevation, such as "lift up a banner" (se'u ness). Thus, through the ten trials, Avraham our forefather was elevated all the ten levels..
Ahava b'Taanugim - "he withstood all of them" - he did not question (hirher) G-d's ways due to his great love of G-d.

That which G-d tests man, this is for man's benefit. Namely, so that his good thought comes out to actual deed. Sometimes it is for the benefit of other people who see him, so that they learn from him and act like him.

Thus the word "nisayon" (trial) comes from the word "ness" (banner), which is something revealed openly. Likewise it is called "ness" to elevate the one being tested.

Thus it is written: "and G-d tested (nissa) Avraham". Namely, G-d elevated his status in the eyes of men for all generations after him and his matter was a banner to the nations.

"our father" - here he is called "our father" to hint that it is proper for us to hold the deeds of our forefathers in our hands (continue in their ways).

Some explain that the reason he was tested with ten trials was not for his own need but rather for the needs of his descendants. Thus it says "our forefather".. so that in his merit, G-d will perform 10 miracles for his descendants in Egypt and at the Red Sea and save them from the accusers. Thus the next mishna mentions the ten miracles in Egypt and at the sea.
Siftei Daat on Avot (R.Yerucham Levovitz) - "with ten trials.." - just like the world was created with ten sayings, so too through ten trials Avraham the giant of giants was built.

In the Midrash: "one trial after another, one growing after another" (Bereisheit Rabba 55:1).

In the book Derech Etz Chaim, the Ramchal writes: "a man must think always: 'what did our forefathers do that G-d desired in them?'"

A man must know that one does not grow by chance. Rather, everything through cause and effect. And when one sees the immense greatness of the holy forefathers, he must realize that there was a path and a way to their growth. How? through "one trial after another, one growing after another". For the power of sprouting and growth is trials! (Daat Torah 1 pg.136).

Why is there "nature"? It is only a trial. All of us are under the trials of this "false prophet" called nature.

All of nature is nothing less than a deceitful appearance which G-d put in the world. It is all a misleading appearance, a trial.

From here we can contemplate the difficult service placed upon every man, to stand in a situation of great and difficult trials all of his days..

And that which our sages said that Avraham was tested with ten trials, it appears the common denominator between all of them was that there was no way whatsoever to comprehend them, as the midrash says (brought by Rashi Bereisheit 2:12): "yesterday You said to me: 'through Yitzchak will be your seed (descendants)', and now You tell me: 'go and offer your son as a sacrifice'"

Likewise for other tests.. But nevertheless, Avraham did not suspect G-d's traits. Through this Avraham ascended levels - by standing firmly like a wall, not weakening in his faith, even with difficult matters like these which had no way whatsoever to understand.

Nevertheless, he was wholehearted with G-d to have faith in Him. (Daat Chochma u'Mussar 3:37).
Shevet Sofer, chelek beit drosh aleph - "with ten trials Avraham our forefather was tested.." - 10 generations from Noach until Avraham. In every generation there were people who believed in G-d such as Adam, Metushelach, Chanoch, and Noach. Yet we don't find that G-d tested any of them. Rather, Avraham was the first to be tested with ten trials.

It is so that G-d examines the hearts of men and nothing is hidden from His eyes and everything is revealed before Him from the beginning, and He knows already if the righteous man will pass the trial.

The Midrash expounds the verse: "G-d tests the righteous" (Tehilim 11:5) - this is as a potterer who tests his pots. He knocks only on those pots which he knows will not break. So too G-d tests only the righteous. For He knows they will stand up to the test.

If so, what benefit is there in the trial? Many explanations have already been given.

It seems to me, because the primary purpose of man is not to perfect only himself. He must not look only at himself and not feel for others. In truth, G-d does not desire in these. Rather man is also under duty to rectify other people.

However, many times what we see and experience teaches us that if one rebukes his fellow and wants to straighten him out and he speaks to his heart to be strong in faith and service of G-d, then the listeners say: this preacher sits in his house and all his toil is only in torah and service of G-d. For him, it is easy to preach to others to observe the Sabbath and Yom Tov.. and likewise to not engage in business talk then, etc. for him it is easy to preach this.

But it is difficult to fulfill for one who is forced to engage in business and worldly matters and must travel faraway places.

Who knows if this preacher would say all this if he himself had to stand up to all these trials. Perhaps he himself would not even fulfill them.

Therefore, one who teaches others and wants to rectify them and guides them to recognize that the truth is with him, and everything he asks, he himself would fulfill it if the test came - for such a righteous man, there is a purpose if G-d tests him and places him in a trial - so that he will stand as a banner to others and they will see and learn how much one needs to be strong in his faith.

This is the reason G-d waited with the tests until Avraham. For until him, there was nobody who recognized and understood the purpose of man and what is the will of G-d. For all of them perfected only themselves and did not strive to help the people of their generation..

Avraham was the first who understood that in this G-d wants - to call out the Name of G-d and make Him known in the world.. Avraham made many converts. And to show that the truth is with him, G-d tested him until he demonstrated to the whole world that he was G-d-fearing as he preached..
Maharal - it is proper to ask: "why was G-d forbearing for ten generations specifically, no less and no more?"

We have already explained previously (Avot 3:6,13) that numbers do not go above ten. (after ten it is just an extension of the original ten). Thus, each number of the first ten has a special level and distinction by itself, as we explained earlier.

Therefore, G-d withheld retribution until ten generations. For until ten generations, there is to say: "perhaps this generation, which is a distinct generation by itself, will become a righteous generation." Likewise for all generations of the ten generations.

Therefore G-d granted forbearance until ten generations.. But since they were wicked until ten generations and there was no improvement and the number returns to the beginning (11 is echad-eser=one-ten in hebrew), and the world became corrupted, therefore, the Holy One, blessed be He, paid retribution to the wicked and destroyed them from the world (with the flood).

Likewise, that which G-d withheld wrath for ten generations from Noach to Avraham was for the same reason - perhaps there will be a generation different than the others. This was until ten generations. From then on, it returns back to the beginning.

Thus this mishna follows the previous one: "the world was created with ten sayings". Ten sayings specifically so that the world will not lack any parts until it is completely whole. Thus it was created with ten sayings so that it includes everything.

For this same reason G-d tested Avraham with ten trials (Avot 5:3) - so that he will be tested with all types of different trials. For sometimes a person stands up to one trial but not on another.. Thus he was tested with ten trials which includes all trials.. So too for the ten miracles in Egypt and the ten plagues, etc... (see there for more). Thus these mishnas are ordered one after the other...
Ruach Chaim - "Avraham our forefather" - here he says "Avraham our forefather" while last mishna he says only "from Noach until Avraham", without "our forefather". This is as written: "The righteous who walks in his integrity - blessed are his children after him" (Mishlei 20:7).

For many traits which the righteous man toils and works hard to attain, they become like second nature to his descendants after him. With just a bit of toil, they can reach it. We can see tangibly that many simple Jews gave up their lives al kidush Hash-em (martyrs). This is ingrained in us from Avraham our forefather who was willing to give up his life for his faith at Ur Kasdim.

So too for all the ten trials. They were to straighten the path before us.

Likewise when a man is suddenly inspired to travel to the holy land. This is from the trial of "go out from your land" (lech lecha).

And to accept all that comes from G-d as good - this is from the trial of famine. Avraham did not suspect G-d in His judgment...
Meorei Ohr - "he withstood all of them" - in the Duties of the Heart (gate 8):

"Know, my brother, that for the ten trials which G-d tested Avraham our forefather with, we would not be praising Avraham for standing up to these trials, if it were not the case that he had received everything from G-d willingly and with a good heart, as written: 'And found his heart faithful before You' (Nechamia 9:8)". end quote.

This teaches there is another condition in standing up to trials. Namely, even if one stood up to the test but did not do so with joy - it is a sign that he did not yet reach wholeness (shelemut).
Yachel Yisrael - "ten trials.." - the trial of Ur Kasdim is not mentioned in the torah explicitly (where Avraham was given a choice to bow to Nimrod's idol or be cast in a fiery furnace). The Bartenura counts it as one of the ten trials, but the Rambam does not count it.

The torah mentions it only in hint. In the brit (covenant) bein habetarim, G-d says to Avraham: "I am G-d who took you out of Ur Kasdim" (Bereisheit 16:7)..

Likewise, Avraham hints to the miracle done to him there when telling himself "I am but dust and ashes" (Bereisheit 18:27).

The Midrash says that Avraham meant to say: "if not for G-d's help, I would have become "dust" - through the four kings who battled him, and "ashes" through Nimrod who cast him in fire at Ur Kasdim..

Why is such a difficult trial not mentioned even in one verse of the torah? Many seemingly much easier trials are mentioned in the torah explicitly. Why specifically this trial is omitted and mentioned only in hint.

We can answer according to the verse in tehilim: "who will ascend the mountain of G-d" (Tehilim 24:3), this is indeed not easy to ascend, to climb and contend against the force of gravity. But the verse continues "and who will stand in His holy place" - this is even more difficult, to stand firmly at the mountain summit, to be constantly inspired in the service of G-d.

Every person has a moment where he can be inspired greatly to the point where he can give up his life. Throughout history, many Jews chose to be burnt at the stake rather than give up their faith. This self sacrifice is indeed a high level, but it requires only a brief inspiration, a one time elevation.

But it is very difficult to maintain inspiration in a fixed manner. Only with very great efforts can one guard an elevated spiritual state in every day life.

For example, Yom Kippur is guarded more meticulously than the Sabbath. Even though the punishment for violating the Sabbath is greater and one must fast on Yom kippur.

Nevertheless, Yom Kippur is guarded more and there is greater inspiration. Why? Because it is only once a year whereas the Sabbath is over fifty times a year.

Likewise, for the mitzvah of Tefilin. For some Jews, on the day of their son's bar mitzvah they go with great fanfare to the Western Wall and the Bar Mitzvah boy dons the tefilin with great emotion. But after a short few days, the tefilin remain in his drawer all alone.

A single inspiration is easy, but to keep the flame burning afterwards is extremely difficult.

The key is to maintain the fire, to fulfill the mitzvot with emotions in day to day life. Three prayers a day, reciting the Shemah, washing hands, grace after meals, Sabbath, Tefilin,in the spirit of "know Him in all your ways" (Mishlei 3:6). In every act, to remember to Whom we are doing the mitzvot and to be aware of the privilege we have to perform them.

Avraham, the epitome of faith and self-sacrifice, was prepared to offer his whole being for G-d's honor. For him, the trial of Ur Kasdim was not so difficult. For it was a trial of merely one second.

On the other hand, the trial of Lech Lecha (leave your country) was a day to day, hour to hour trial. At the age of 75, he was told to leave his country. Until when? Until his death..

Avraham versus Iyov(Job)

There was another person in history who was tested with an extremely difficult test - Iyov (Job). Iyov remained a servant of G-d, but the results by him were different. By Avraham our forefather, it is written "he stood up to all of them".

But Iyov said: "Let the day perish on which I was born, and the night that said, 'A man is conceived'" (Iyov 3:3). He cursed the day he was born. Although he passed the test, but not with the same standing as Avraham. On the contrary Avraham grew and became more elevated with each additional trial.

The Sfat Emet says that not everyone passes their tests in the same way. Some people pass the test like Iyov. Even though he passes the test, but his spirit breaks. The trial bends him down. He walks around sad, worried, without life.

On the other hand, some people pass the test like Avraham our forefather. He stood up to the test firmly. Every trial reinforced his faith and elevated his stature.

This is the true purpose of a test - to elevate a person and show him to what high levels he has the ability to reach.

The trial of the offering of Yitzchak
"After these things G-d tested Abraham.." (Gen.22:1) - the most difficult trial was the sacrifice of Yitzchak.

The torah emphasizes with this verse that the trial is attibuted to the merit of Avraham our forefather. Why does the torah not write: "G-d tested Avraham and Yitzchak"? Is it a small thing to stick out one's neck to be slaughtered? To offer up one's life to obey G-d's command - is this not considered a trial? Why is this not a trial also for Yitzchak?

Rather, as we explained regarding the trial of Ur Kasdim, namely, why is it not mentioned explicitly in the torah, so too we can answer regarding Yitzchak.

As before, the trial of Ur Kasdim was a test for a moment, a one time test. And for a giant like Avraham, it is almost not considered a test.

So too regarding the trial of the offering of Yitzchak, Yitzchak grew up in the home of Avraham and Sarah. For him, this was not such a difficult trial. To offer his life for the will of G-d; "there is no man who does not have his hour" (Avot 4:3) - every person can elevate himself for a short time. Throughout Jewish history, many Jews offered their lives for the sanctification of G-d's Name.

The much more difficult trial was on the father - Avraham. It is a more difficult trial to live sanctifying G-d's Name than to die sanctifying His Name. To return home after the offering of Yitzchak as a destitute father, knowing that he himself slaughtered his own son - the same only son which was said on him: "through Yitzchak your descendants will be called" (Bereisheit 21:12).

Furthermore, this trial would shatter all his spiritual makeup. It was a complete contradiction to his whole life. Avraham spent his whole life spreading G-d's Name in the world. All his days, he waged war against idolatry. He also converted masses of people (away from idolatry), as written: "and the souls Avraham made in Charan" (Bereisheit 12:5) which our sages explained: "Avraham converted the men and Sarah converted the women" (Bereisheit Rabba 39:14). The Rambam writes that these converts numbered in the tens of thousands (Hilchot Avodat Kochavim 1:3).

One of the most heinous forms of idol worship in those times was known as "Molech". It involved a father passing his son through fire, offering him as a sacrifice to "Molech".

Now, after Avraham offered up his son Yitzchak as an offering to G-d, what will he answer to all his many disciples?! They will tell him: "you speak of kindness - and you murdered your own son! you speak against idolaty and you yourself sacrificed your own son!"

All the teachings of Avraham were in danger of collapse, all his life work was about to be destroyed. The offering of Yitzchak appeared a complete contradiction to everything he stood for.

Avraham journeyed for three days to the place of the Akeida (sacrifice). He had plenty of time to think, to question, and perhaps to complain. But he did not question. He did not complain on the command to offer up his son. Rather "both of them went together" (Bereisheit 12:6) - Avraham and Yitzchak - with joy.

It is not a wonder that after standing up to such a difficult trial, G-d says to him: "now I know that you fear G-d" (Bereisheit 22:12) - a clear knowledge, without a shadow of a doubt.
Daat Zekenim - "with ten trials.." - in the talmud: "G-d said to Avraham before the final (tenth) trial of the sacrifice of Isaac: 'I tested you with several tests and you stood up to all of them. Now stand up to this trial so people won't say the trials were nothing (not so hard)" (Sanhedrin 89b).

This needs explanation. The midrash says (Yalkut Shimoni, kedoshim 626, quoted by Rashi on Vayikra 20:26):
"How do I know a man should not say: 'I don't like pork meat' or 'I don't like to wear kilaim' rather 'I do [like] but what can I do? My Father in Heaven decreed on me [to abstain]'. Thus scripture states: 'I have separated you from the nations to be Mine'. For one who separates from sin takes upon himself the yoke of the kingdom of Heaven."
The midrash speaks of a man who stands and guards all the statutes of the torah such as to not eat pork meat or wear kilaim and it is out of his own view and understanding. What more do we need! But nevertheless, he did not reach the end purpose of the service. For this is not considered taking upon himself the yoke of the kingdom of Heaven since his deeds are due to his own understanding.

Through this we will understand the matter of the ten trials of Avraham our forefather. For the first nine trials were primarily on the traits of Avraham, the man of kindness.

But the final test was on the general level of Avraham. That which he stood up to the previous nine tests, was this due to fear of G-d, namely, because thus G-d decreed or did he do them because of his own [natural] perception and goodness? For the previous tests were not a contradiction to his being.

But the final test (sacrifice of Isaac) was against the entire outlook and being of Avraham. It was a complete contradiction to every trait of his service of G-d (ex.kindness) and to the promise of G-d that his descendants will come through Isaac. The purpose of this trial was to know and make known if he was truly G-d fearing (or just doing what is right in his own eyes).

When he stood up to this test, he certainly demonstrated and proved that all the previous trials were also done because G-d decreed and that he was indeed a servant to the will of G-d. This is what scripture states "now I have known that you are G-d fearing" (Gen.22:12). But if he did not pass this final trial, then all the previous trials were nothing and he did not reach the perfection of service, namely, fully accepting the yoke of the kingdom of Heaven.
Maharal - according to our sages, all the forefathers (Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov) were tested (Sanhedrin 107a, 111a). Only that by Avraham the torah states it explicitly (Gen.22:1).

This matter is deep. For the forefathers, in their being forefathers - they were not human beings like other ordinary human beings. Rather they were g-dly men. Therefore, they were tested. For the hebrew word "trial" (nisayon) comes from the word "ness" (miracle). For just like a miracle is supernatural, so too [passing] the nisayon (trial) is supernatural. For if the person tested does not conduct himself outside the natural order, he cannot stand up to the trial. Human nature does not allow a man to slaughter his own son. Likewise for the other trials.

Thus, perforce the forefathers were tested because they are not ordinary human beings. If they acted according to human nature, they would not be worthy of that lofty level.

Avraham was the first of the forefathers and even more special than the others. Namely, he was above [human] nature. Namely, he was elevated above the natural order.. Thus by Avraham, the torah writes explicitly that he was tested. For he needed to act above the natural order [to pass the test]. Therefore, he merited this lofty level.

David also had somewhat of such a level, as is known regarding the level of David. Therefore, he wanted to be tested like the forefathers. But he did not stand up to the trial. For his trait was near the natural world, as is known to those who have wisdom and understanding (ie the sefirah of Malchut which receives - R. Hartman).

Therefore, he did not stand up to the trial, despite that he was not completely worldly. This matter is of very deep wisdom..

We already explained why Avraham was tested with ten trials. For ten are distinct parts, some stand up to one trial but not another. Through ten trials, he was tested from all trials. This matter is clear.

And furthermore, just like the world was created with ten sayings. For the world has a lofty level (inwardly) divested (spiritual) which the number ten points to. So too, Avraham was tested with ten trials specifically and through these ten trials he also became completely divested from nature. This is the matter of a trial as we explained... until he became completely godly (Eloki lagamrei, ie spiritual). For every trial is a test whether he will go after his nature. This itself is the test.

After the ten trials, he demonstrated that he does not go after nature, rather he is divested of it. Thus, he is worthy of the whole world which was created with ten sayings. For the whole world received a level divested above the natural order.. and thus in his merit, G-d performed supernatural miracles for his descendants (in egypt, etc.)