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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 5
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 5פרק ה משנה ה
Ten miracles were performed for our fathers in Egypt and ten at the [Red] Sea . Ten plagues did the Holy One, blessed be He, bring upon the Egyptians in Egypt and ten at the [Red] Sea.

With ten trials did our fathers try G-d, blessed be He, in the desert as it is written: "and they tested Me 10 times, and they did not listen to My voice" (Numbers 14:22).
עֲשָׂרָה נִסִּים נַעֲשׂוּ לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ בְמִצְרַיִם וַעֲשָׂרָה עַל הַיָּם. עֶשֶׂר מַכּוֹת הֵבִיא הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא עַל הַמִּצְרִיִּים בְּמִצְרַיִם וְעֶשֶׂר עַל הַיָּם.

עֲשָׂרָה נִסְיוֹנוֹת נִסּוּ אֲבוֹתֵינוּ אֶת הַמָּקוֹם בָּרוּךְ הוּא בַמִּדְבָּר, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (במדבר יד) וַיְנַסּוּ אֹתִי זֶה עֶשֶׂר פְּעָמִים וְלֹא שָׁמְעוּ בְּקוֹלִי.

Bartenura - "ten miracles were performed for our fathers in Egypt" - they were spared from the 10 plagues. All of the ten plagues afflicted the egyptians but not the Jews.

"ten at the [Red] Sea" - 1. the water split. 2. the sea became like a tunnel which the Jews entered.. 3. the sea floor became dry, without mud or wet sand, as written: "the sons of Israel went on the dry land [inside the sea]" (Shemot 14:16). 4. when the egyptians walked over the sea floor, it became muddy and wet, as written: "[you trampled the sea with your horses] the surging of mighty waters" (Chavakuk 3:15). 5. the water on the sea floor hardened and became like orderly paved rocks. 6. the water on the sea floor became hard as rock. 7. the sea split in 12 places so that each tribe can pass through its own path. 8. the [walls of] water froze like sapphire and glass so that each tribe can see the other tribes. For the pillar of fire shone light for them. 9. the sea water became drinkable and the people drew from it and drank. 10. after drinking, the remaining water froze and became piles.
Tiferet Yisrael - "ten miracles were performed for our fathers in Egypt" - they were spared from the ten plagues even though they were deserving to be afflicted by them just like the egyptians. For they were evil and sinners like them. But they were spared in the merit of their forefathers,

"10 at the sea" - all of them are listed in Avot d'Rebbi Natan (ch.33).
Maharal - "ten miracles in Egypt and ten at the Sea" - after G-d performed ten miracles for the Jews in Egypt, why was it necessary to do so also at the sea?

it seems because G-d performed miracles for the Jewish people in order that they be His completely, as the torah says (ten commandments): "I am the L-ord your G-d who took you out of Egypt" (Shemot 20:2). For since He took you out of Egypt, it is proper for Him to be a G-d unto you.

And since salvation is in two ways. One, from human beings who have free will and intelligence. Two, from nature.

A human enemy has intelligence and is more difficult from one perspective than nature. For he thinks constantly how to overpower his enemy. On the other hand, he is sometimes less difficult than nature. For he may change his mind and annul his threat. But nature is not like this. It stands in its way always.

Therefore, G-d took out the Jews from Egypt through miracles, saving them from an intelligent enemy, Pharaoh and the Egyptians who came on them with force and might. He also performed miracles for them at the sea which was a natural opponent even after they left the domain of Pharaoh. He took out the Jews from the sea and split the sea which stood before them, saving them from a natural opponent.

Through saving them from the two types of opponents, He acquired them completely as His people. Thus these two things are equal, the exodus from Egypt and [the salvation] from the sea, and each one had ten miracles.
Bartenura - "with ten trials did our ancestors try G-d.." - two at the sea. before entering, they said: "are there no graves in Egypt?.." (Shemot 14:11). After exiting the sea: "they came to Marah and complained". One in Refidim "the people disputed with Moshe. Two by the manna, "do not go out [on the Sabbath!]", and "do not leave over". Two by the "Slav" (birds). One by the golden calf. Qne by the complainers (mitlonenim) and the spies which is the tenth.
Daat Zekenim - "with ten trials did our ancestors try G-d.." - it seems very strange that the Israelites would rebel against the word of G-d and test Him ten times, as written by the bitter waters: "why did you (Moshe) bring us in this desert to die of thirst..", "why did you bring us out of Egypt..", and more.

In truth, why did they not believe despite all the miracles they saw with their own eyes? We may explain as follows.

As known, G-d conducts the world through two types of systems - nature and the miraculous.

In the desert, the conduct with the Israelites was through the miraculous system. The difference between the miraculous system and the nature system is that in the nature system, even if they do not merit, G-d will not change the natural order so easily. This is as our sages said: "the world pursues its natural course, and as for the fools who act wrongly, they will have to render an accounting" (Avodah Zarah 54b).

On the other hand, for the miraculous system, any time they do not merit, G-d will change His conduct.

We may say that on this was the matter of these ten trials (the Israelites tested G-d). For the Israelites were repulsed by the miraculous system. For a person is not assured in his service of G-d. Thus they were afraid all the time, lest G-d remove His miracles from them and they will die.

This was the main point of dispute: "why did you take us out of Egypt?", ie out of the natural system (R.Yitzchak Blazer, Kochvei Ohr).
Matanat Avot - after the Tanna (sage) explained the great love G-d showed for us, now he demonstrates the other side - how much we repayed good with evil and angered our Creator with ten trials, namely, the ten times our ancestors did not believe in G-d or did not honor His will.

The tanna brought this great mussar so that we also make an accounting of all the good G-d bestowed on us versus all the evil we payed Him in return. This is not just for the general congregation but also for each individual. When a person contemplates to himself how much good G-d bestowed on him all the days of his life and all the bad he payed G-d in return, certainly he will feel abashed.

Without a doubt, he will take on himself to strive to be a bit more concerned for the honor of G-d his Benefactor. He will also strive to not complain on G-d's choice if some trouble befalls him. For he realizes that due to his many sins, he deserved much worse and G-d spared him a lot as written in Eicha "what should a man complain, a living man, because of his sins?" (Eicha 3:39) (ie it's enough that he is a living man, i.e. alive).
Yachel Yisrael - "with ten trials did our ancestors try G-d" - Avraham our forefather stood up to ten trials, demonstrating his righteousness. On the other hand, our ancestors in egypt tried G-d ten times, i.e. they rebelled against Him ten times until G-d testifies: "they have tested Me now these ten times, and have not listened to My voice" (Bamidbar 14:22).

Despite the great miracles in Egypt, at the sea, their song there, the miracles in the desert, and their witnessing the punishment of the Egyptians, nevertheless, they angered G-d, testing Him if He is able to fulfill their wishes.

After the tenth rebellion, namely, the sin of the spies, the measure was full and G-d decreed on them to wander 40 years in the desert and that they would die there. Only their children would merit to enter the land of Israel (Bamidbar 14)..

This teaches that a man can behold open miracles with his own eyes and nevertheless it won't affect him and won't bring him to a more elevated level. How is this possible?

The Tanna wants us to know that this phenomena is rooted in the trait of ungratefulness. It is an evil trait. One afflicted with it thinks he deserves everything. He receives every gift as if it is self-understood. A man who does not recognize the good G-d does to him every second, he will not feel any duty to return the good.

Even if he does the mitzvot of G-d, he does them without desire, as one forced. He who does not recognize the good does not appreciate the help of those around him, nor see a need to repay the good to his fellow. In the end, he will demean everything, whether mitzvot between man and G-d or between man and his fellow.

The root of a person's growth is the trait of gratitude. The driving force to fulfill mitzvot between man and G-d and man his fellow springs from the trait of gratitude. A person who feels gratitude for what G-d bestows to him - wants to make a return. He rejoices to do the will of G-d. For such a person, it is not a burden to dedicate time to his religious duties like prayer or grace after meals with intent, or guarding the Sabbath properly.

There are many mitzvot whose entire being is gratitude. We find many mitzvot in the torah that are "a remembrance to the Exodus from Egypt", so that we don't forget G-d's kindness and don't stumble in ingratitude like our ancestors.

The torah teaches us that we must be grateful even to a dog, as written: "you are not to eat flesh torn apart in the field; you are to throw it to the dogs" (Shemot 22:30). Why a dog? Rashi says: " 'but to all the children of Israel, not one dog will whet its tongue' (Exod. 11:7). Said the Holy One, blessed is He, 'Give it its reward' -[From Mechilta]".

The mitzvah of honoring your parents is rooted in gratitude. Only a person who is aware of the good bestowed to him by his parents will rejoice to return good to them and help them. Thus one needs to relate to the people around him - to see the good they did for him and to be happy to try to make a return out of gratitude.

In his parting words, Moshe Rabeinu emphasizes this trait. In the song of Haazinu, Moshe gives his final, concluding rebuke: "is this how you repay G-d?.. is He not your Father, your Maker, He made you and established you. Remember the days of old, contemplate the years of every generation.." (Devarim 32:6).

Contemplate what G-d did for you. If you don't know, "ask your father and he will tell you, your elder and he will say to you" (Devarim 32:7). "They were in a desert land...", "He surrounded, cared for, and guarded him as the pupil of His eye" G-d guarded the Jewish people like one guards the pupil of his eye..." What happened in the end? "Yeshurun became fat and kicked.. your forsook G-d who formed you" (Devarim 32:15).

In his final words Moshe spoke on the foundation and necessity to fulfill the mitzvot. But he does not specify any particular mitzvah. Rather, he speaks on the root of the mitzvot. If you possess the trait of gratitude, you will be happy to fulfill the will of the Creator and to refrain from angering Him and transgressing His commandments.

But if not, "Yeshurun became fat and kicked" - one will come to removing the yoke completely.

The prophet Isaiah opened his words where Moshe left off. In the beginning of chapter 1: "Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for G-d has spoken, I have raised up and elevated sons, but they have rebelled against Me" (Isaiah 1:2).

In truth, the first prophecy of Isaiah is found in chapter 6.. But nevertheless, the book begins with the prophecy in chapter 1. Why? Because this prophecy is a summary of the prophecies of Isaiah. There he speaks on the foundation, the root of all mussar - the duty of gratitude and the disgrace of ingratitude.

When we contemplate the generation of the desert who tested G-d ten times, ten rebellions in a short period of less than a year and a half - we wonder at what happened.

The Tanna of our mishna comes to teach us an important lesson. The generation of the desert is called "the generation of knowledge" (dor deah), the generation which the prophet Yirmiyahu testifies on them: "Go and cry in the ears of Jerusalem, saying, So says G-d, I remember you, the kindness of your youth, the love of your betrothals, when you went after Me in the wilderness, in a land not sown; Israel is holy to G-d, and the first fruits of His crop" (Yirmiyahu 2:3)- they were the bikurim (first fruits), the choicest of the nation.

Nevertheless, even this noble generation stumbled in testing G-d because they sinned in the trait of ingratitude.

This implies that this danger lies in ambush at the entrance of each one of us. If they did not stand up to the test despite their very high spiritual level, certainly we must be concerned that perhaps we also contain this bitter herb of ingratitude.

From here we see just how dangerous is this trait of ingratitude and how important and necessary is the trait of gratitude.