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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 9
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 9פרק ה משנה ט
Seven types of retribution comes to the world for seven types of sins.

(1) When some give Maaser (tithe) and some do not - a famine of drought comes: some will be hungry and some will be satiated.

(2) [When] all resolve to not give Maaser (tithe), a famine from tumultuousness and drought comes.

(3) [When they resolve] to not give the first dough-offering (Challah), an all-consuming famine comes.

(4) Pestilence comes to the world for sins punishable by death according to the torah that are not brought before the Beit Din (court), and for the seventh-year fruits.

(5) The sword (war) comes upon the world for the suppression of justice, the corruption of justice, and because of those who interpret Torah not in accordance with the Halacha (accepted law).

(6) [attacks by] wild animals comes to the world for vain oaths and for the desecration of G-d's Name.

(7) Exile comes to the world for idolatry, illicit relations, bloodshed, and [desecrating the] Sabbatical year.

During four periods pestilence increase: in the fourth year (of the Shmittah cycle), in the seventh year, after the seventh year, and after Sukkot of every year.

In the fourth year because of the tithe of the poor (Maaser Ani) [due] in the third year. On the seventh year because of the tithe of the poor (Maaser Ani) [due] on the sixth year. After the seventh year, because of the fruit of the Sabbatical year. After Sukkot of every year because of theft of the gifts designated to the poor [by the torah].
שִׁבְעָה מִינֵי פֻרְעָנֻיּוֹת בָּאִין לָעוֹלָם עַל שִׁבְעָה גוּפֵי עֲבֵרָה.

מִקְצָתָן מְעַשְּׂרִין וּמִקְצָתָן אֵינָן מְעַשְּׂרִין, רָעָב שֶׁל בַּצֹּרֶת בָּאָה, מִקְצָתָן רְעֵבִים וּמִקְצָתָן שְׂבֵעִים.

גָּמְרוּ שֶׁלֹּא לְעַשֵּׂר, רָעָב שֶׁל מְהוּמָה וְשֶׁל בַּצֹּרֶת בָּאָה.

וְשֶׁלֹּא לִטֹּל אֶת הַחַלָּה, רָעָב שֶׁל כְּלָיָה בָאָה.

דֶּבֶר בָּא לָעוֹלָם עַל מִיתוֹת הָאֲמוּרוֹת בַּתּוֹרָה שֶׁלֹּא נִמְסְרוּ לְבֵית דִּין, וְעַל פֵּרוֹת שְׁבִיעִית.

חֶרֶב בָּאָה לָעוֹלָם עַל עִנּוּי הַדִּין, וְעַל עִוּוּת הַדִּין, וְעַל הַמּוֹרִים בַּתּוֹרָה שֶׁלֹּא כַהֲלָכָה.

חַיָּה רָעָה בָאָה לָעוֹלָם עַל שְׁבוּעַת שָׁוְא, וְעַל חִלּוּל הַשֵּׁם.

גָּלוּת בָּאָה לָעוֹלָם עַל עוֹבְדֵי עֲבוֹדָה זָרָה, וְעַל גִלּוּי עֲרָיוֹת, וְעַל שְׁפִיכוּת דָּמִים, וְעַל הַשְׁמָטַת הָאָרֶץ.

בְּאַרְבָּעָה פְרָקִים הַדֶּבֶר מִתְרַבֶּה, בָּרְבִיעִית, וּבַשְּׁבִיעִית, וּבְמוֹצָאֵי שְׁבִיעִית, וּבְמוֹצָאֵי הֶחָג שֶׁבְּכָל שָׁנָה וְשָׁנָה.

בָּרְבִיעִית, מִפְּנֵי מַעְשַׂר עָנִי שֶׁבַּשְּׁלִישִׁית. בַּשְּׁבִיעִית, מִפְּנֵי מַעְשַׂר עָנִי שֶׁבַּשִּׁשִּׁית. וּבְמוֹצָאֵי שְׁבִיעִית, מִפְּנֵי פֵרוֹת שְׁבִיעִית. וּבְמוֹצָאֵי הֶחָג שֶׁבְּכָל שָׁנָה וְשָׁנָה, מִפְּנֵי גֶזֶל מַתְּנוֹת עֲנִיִּים:

Rabbi Avraham Azoulai - Ahava b'Taanugim - "seven types of retribution (puraniyot)" - they are called "puraniyot" (literally: payments) because they are measure for measure, collecting payment for what man borrowed.

For G-d's intent is not to take revenge on man, but rather to rouse man to repent before G-d. It is because of this that the punishment comes measure for measure.
Bartenura - "a famine of drought" - there is little rain and thus the price [of food] increases.

"a famine from tumultuousness and drought comes" - due to [danger of] the armies [waging war], they are unable to gather in the produce of the field.

"an all-consuming famine comes" - the heavens are like iron and the land like copper (no rain at all).

"pestilence come to the world for sins punishable by death according to the torah that are not brought before the Beit Din" - i.e. they did not fulfill the judgment [capital punishment] of the torah.

"and for the seventh-year fruits" - people do business with them and do not treat them with the [laws of] holiness of Sheviit.

"suppression of justice" - the judges know where the final judgment leans but they withhold and do not give a ruling.

"corruption of justice" - to make the guilty innocent and the innocent guilty.

"those who interpret Torah not in accordance with the Halacha" - to forbid the permitted and permit the forbidden.

"vain oaths" - in vain, without need.

"desecration of G-d's Name" - one who transgresses a sin publicly with a high hand. Alternatively, that people see and learn from his deeds (to do like him).

"[desecrating the] Sabbatical year" - they plow and sow during the Sabbatical year.

"tithe of the poor (Maaser Ani)" - during the 3rd and 6th years, tithe of the poor (Maaser Ani) is given instead of Second Tithe (Maaser Sheni).
Tiferet Yisrael - "to not give the first dough-offering (Challah)" - it is more severe than maaser (tithe). For after one separates Challah and eats it, he incurs [the penalty of] death by Heaven (unlike maaser).

"desecration of G-d's Name" - he commits a sin publicly, brazenly and with a high hand. Or he does something which people can think he is doing a sin and does not care.
Rabbi Avraham Azoulai - Ahava b'Taanugim - "Pestilence comes to the world for sins punishable by death.. that are not brought before the Beit Din (court)" - some explain such as in the case where the sinner was not given warning (whereby the Beit Din cannot execute him) or that he escaped. Some explain it refers to sins which incur death by Heaven or Karet (being cut off). Just like one who is executed by Beit Din dies when he is perfectly healthy, so too one struck by pestilence sometimes he is here today and tomorrow in the grave.
Rabeinu Avraham Pritzel on Avot - "Pestilence come to the world for sins punishable by death according to the torah that are not brought before the Beit Din" - it is clear that pestilence (Dever) is the messenger of G-d. Since the sinner was not executed by Beit Din (court), G-d sends His pestilence and executes him.

"[attacks by] wild animals comes to the world for vain oaths and for the desecration of G-d's Name" - this too is from G-d and it is measure for measure. For an oath in vain desecrates Heaven, as written: "you shall not swear by My Name falsely, and so profane the Name of your G-d" (Vayikra 19:22). Thus, since one who swears in vain/falsely and one who desecrates G-d's Name belittles G-d his Master, not recognizing His exalted level - so too G-d brings upon these sinners wild animals to decimate youth, animals, and men.

The wild animal will likewise not recognize man's elevated status despite that it was said: "The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth.." (Gen. 9:2). For since man did not recognize his Creator, so too the wild animals will not honor the face of a wicked man. This punishment is mentioned in the torah: "And I will send the wild beasts of the field against you, which shall bereave you of your children and destroy your livestock and make you few in number" (Vayikra 26:22).
Meiri - "Pestilence comes to the world.. and for the seventh-year fruits" - ie that he does not mafkir (abandon) them and thus causes death to the poor since they don't have what to eat. For people did not plant this year and thus the poor did not receive maaser (tithe) and matanot (gifts). Measure for measure, pestilence comes..
Rambam - "theft of the gifts designated to the poor" - this refers to leket, shikcha, peah, peret, and olelot. For on Sukkot all these are paid out since then all the work of the land is completed. Then he who gave them, gave them and he who did not give them stole them.
Rabeinu Yosef ben Shushan - "during four periods pestilence increase" - all these sins are in the category of stealing from the poor. And regarding the poor, the wise man said: "Do not rob the poor, because he is poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate; for the L-ord will plead their cause and rob of life those who rob them" (Mishlei 22:22-23).
Chatam Sofer, sefer hazikaron pg.100 - "Exile comes to the world for idolatry, illicit relations, bloodshed, and [desecrating the] Sabbatical year (Shmitta)" - for this is the entire fruit of the Shmitta - to make known that the land belongs to G-d. For they do not sow the land nor harvest and yet the land produces enough for three years.. But when the Jewish people desecrated the Shmitta, they were exiled. And it is written: "And if in spite of these things you are not chastened to Me, but will walk contrary (keri) unto Me" (Vayikra/Lev. 26:23).

For one who denies the Shmitta year believes in accident (keri) and fate (instead of G-d's providence)..
Sfat Emet on Avot - "Exile comes to the world for idolatry, illicit relations, bloodshed, and [desecrating the] Sabbatical year" - that which the second temple was destroyed due to baseless hatred, there is to say that the destruction of the temple is a different matter. For the exile already started from the first temple. In the second temple era, they were already subjugated under a different [gentile] kingdom most of the time.
Yachel Yisrael - "seven types of retribution (payment) comes to the world.." - although we do not have the ability to understand the riddle of every bad thing, why it came and for what, but nevertheless this we can know clearly - there are no coincidences in the world. There are no random accidents. No troubles befall us by chance and without a reason. In many places in the torah, there are detailed descriptions of reward to those who do G-d's will and punishments destined to those who transgress His word..

G-d does not bring upon us good or bad for no reason or according to changing will, Heaven forbid. Rather, it is man's deeds, man's free will whether for good or evil which brings to the world good or bad.

If a person integrates this knowledge - that there are no accidents, even though he does not understand every event and why he suffers - nevertheless, it will be easier, at least a bit, to bear the burden.

We must know that the troubles do not come out of vengeance, G-d forbid, but rather as "payment" - like collecting a debt whereby afterwards the person is clean of debt and purified of sin.

We can see from Jewish history that when the Jewish people did the will of G-d, all the blessings were fulfilled. But unfortunately we also saw the flip side, what happens when the people do not go in the proper path.

in the second parshah of Shema we recite every day: "guard yourselves lest your heart be enticed and you stray and worship other gods" - ie the sin of idolatry. The consequence of this sin is exile: "G-d's wrath will kindle against you.. and you will perish quickly off the good land which G-d has given you" (Devarim/Deut.11:16-17).

Idolatry causes siluk Shechina (withdrawal of the Divine presence) from Israel. G-d, so to speak, exiles Himself from His place in the land of Israel. Therefore, the consequence of idolatry, measure for measure, is the withdrawal of Yisrael from their land and their going out to exile.

In Avot d'Rebbi Natan (38:4), an additional reason is given for the connection between the sin of idolatry and the punishment of exile: "says the Holy One, blessed be He: 'since you desire in idolatry, I too will exile you to a place of idolatry' - to the land of the nations, there is the source of idolatry.

In this punishment there is also a blessing. For in the foreign lands the people will see idolatry up close and recognize its emptiness. They will perceive the true worthlessness among its worshipers - and even sense this in themselves. For sometimes a person cannot sense how lowly his conduct is, until he sees someone else acting just like himself.

"When some give Maaser.. when all resolve to not give Maaser" - here we see a tangible example of "sin drags more sin" (Avot ch.4). For at first: "part of them Maaser and part of them do not Maaser". But those who give Maaser did not rebuke those who do not give Maaser. They did not fulfill the commandment: "you shall rebuke your fellow and not bear sin" (Vayikra 19:17).

Since they did not admonish the sinners, slowly slowly, they became accustomed to the situation. Already the transgressing of the mitzvah of maaser did not bother them. In the end, they joined the sinners and "all resolve to not give Maaser".

"theft of the gifts designated to the poor" - the Midrash Shmuel brings attention to two words in the mishna that appear contradictory "theft" and "gifts" to the poor.

If it is a "gift" then it is not in the category of "theft". For by definition a gift is something given without obligation. Thus, if one refrains from giving this gift, why is it considered theft?

To answer this, consider the case of a father who gives a plot of land to his son and commands him: "I am placing the land in your hand, but you must give to your brothers such and such percent of the crops it produces every year".

The son accepted the field. He labored in it, sowing, planting, irrigating until his work bore fruit. But when the time of harvesting came, the time to fulfill his father's condition, he did not fulfill his father's command and gave nothing to his brothers.

In this he steals from his brothers. Although his brothers see this giving of produce as a gift since the field was not given to them and they did not labor on the fruits. But since the father gave the field on that condition, if he does not fulfill his father's condition - he is stealing from his brothers what they were rightly supposed to receive.

So too, G-d gives a person a field and commands him to give gifts to the poor. Those poor "merit from G-d's table" their gifts. For everything belongs to G-d. But G-d wants to bring merit to the Jewish people and thus He gives them much torah and commandments. He gave them the land as an inheritance but on condition that they give the gifts of the poor.

Those who refrain fom fulfilling the command of G-d, to give to their poor brothers their gifts - this is complete theft..

We find this concept in chapter 3: "give to Him from what is His - for you and yours belong to Him". The giving to the poor is not a giving of "yours". Rather it is "from what is His". You give to G-d what is already His. Everything you own was given to you as a deposit in order that you do with it the will of the Depositor. And His will is that you separate a portion to the poor.

We can also see from the Midrash how much G-d is strict on the gifts to the poor. The Midrash says:
"R.Pinchas says: 'five times David asks G-d to rise up in the book of Tehilim (Psalms)'" (five times king David beseeches G-d 'Rise up G-d!', 'rise up and act, help the nation of Israel in their troubles!')

"The Holy One, blessed be He, answers him: 'David, my son, even if you ask Me to rise many times, I will not rise. When will I rise up? When you see the poor robbed and the destitute oppressed'. This is what scripture says: 'because the poor are being oppressed, because the needy are sighing, I will now arise', says the L-ord" (Tehilim 12:6)..
Matanat Avot - why are the gifts to the poor something so severe? Because when the poor did not receive food, they remain hungry. Then, they cry out to G-d and their cry breaks through all the [heavenly] gates and rises up to the highest place. When G-d hears that He has children who remain hungry and without food, immediately the attribute of justice strengthens and claims retribution (puraniyot) on the entire Jewish people for not providing for their poor, ignoring the screams of the poor and destitute.

Then it no longer matters that most of the people did separate their maaser (tithe) properly. For nonetheless there are screams of the hungry poor before G-d and the screams demand justice. Now there is no choice and the justice must be done. For it is impossible for G-d to not heed their cry since He wrote explicitly in the torah: "For that is his only covering, it is his cloak for his body. In what else shall he sleep? And it will be, if he cries to Me, I will hear him, for I am compassionate" (Shemot 22:27).
Ruach Chaim - "seven types of retribution comes to the world " - the term "comes" implies "by itself". For it is brought in the Beraita of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi regarding the matters of Gehinom, and it is shocking to hear of the greatness of the sufferings in Gehinom. It appears very strange.For where is the mercy of "He who has mercy on all His handiworks" (Tehilim 145:9)?

The answer is that this is not at all in the category of punishment. Rather it is as written: "evil pursues the wicked" (Mishlei 13:21) - the sin itself punishes him.

Likewise regarding Gehinom our sages taught: "for the wicked, Gehinom is made deep for them" (Eiruvin 19a). And likewise the prophet said: "behold, all you who kindle a fire, that gird yourselves about with firebrands; walk you in the flame of your fire.." (Isaiah 50:11). For through their own sins, they generate the fire of Gehinom. And the soul which sins is in Gehinom immediately after the sin only that the person does not sense this. Therefore, he wrote "comes", ie comes on their own.
Chida - Roshei Avot (kabalistic) - "Seven types of retribution comes to the world for seven types (literally:bodies) of sins" - as our sages said: "one who commits a sin acquires a prosecutor" (Avot ch.4). The kabbalists taught that this prosecutor ascends above and prosecutes to exact retribution from the sinner. Afterwards the prosecutor himself becomes the emissary to bring the evil upon him..

This is the meaning of "seven types of retribution come to the world on seven Gufei (literally: bodies) of sin". Seven bodies which were created from the sins, prosecute and scream always for retribution on the sinners. Afterwards the decree is sealed and retributions come to the world.

Every sin creates one mashchit (destroying angel). But they are seven.. For there are seven types of destructive angels corresponding to the seven klipot below which strengthened due to their sins.. (see there for more).