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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 11
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 11פרק ה משנה יא
There are four types of character in temperaments: he who is easily angered and easily appeased - his reward (gain) is canceled by his loss; difficult to anger and difficult to appease - his loss is canceled by his reward; difficult to anger and easily appeased - Chasid (pious). Easily angered and difficult to appease - Rasha (wicked).
אַרְבַּע מִדּוֹת בַּדֵּעוֹת. נוֹחַ לִכְעֹס וְנוֹחַ לִרְצוֹת, יָצָא שְׂכָרוֹ בְהֶפְסֵדוֹ. קָשֶׁה לִכְעֹס וְקָשֶׁה לִרְצוֹת, יָצָא הֶפְסֵדוֹ בִשְׂכָרוֹ. קָשֶׁה לִכְעֹס וְנוֹחַ לִרְצוֹת, חָסִיד. נוֹחַ לִכְעֹס וְקָשֶׁה לִרְצוֹת, רָשָׁע.

Bartenura - "easily angered and easily appeased - his reward is canceled by his loss" - a man who gets angry quickly on every thing, even though he returns and is appeased quickly - his loss is greater than his reward. For most of his deeds are spoiled due to his swift anger on each and every thing.

But one who is difficult to anger, even though he has the bad trait of being difficult to appease, nevertheless, his little loss of being difficult to appease is cancelled by his great reward of being difficult to anger and most of his deeds are properly rectified.
Rambam - observe how he called the forbearing person (savlan) whose forbearance is great until he is near to not feeling the emotion of anger - a chassid; and he called one who has the pettiness of the trait of anger - a wicked [person].
Tiferet Yisrael - "easily angered and easily appeased.." - on every little thing he gets angry, but he is easily appeased by others or by himself.

"difficult to anger and difficult to appease.." - he does not get angry except when he sees the evil done to him is great. Therefore, he is also not easily appeased...
Tosfot Yom Tov - "difficult to anger and easily appeased - Chasid (pious)" - but to not get angry at all, this does not exist in any type (deah). For who among us is greater in humility than Moshe Rabeinu and yet it is written by him (Lev.10:16): "and Moshe got angry.." (Midrash Shmuel).
Rabeinu Yosef ben Shushan - "there are four types of temperaments (deot)" - deah is the intent in the mind (kavana benefesh).

Anger is an extremely ugly evil in the eyes of G-d and men. It is said of the angry person: "if he is a prophet, prophecy departs from him" (Pesachim 66b).

If for a prophet his prophecy departs from him but he nevertheless remains with his deah (intent in the mind). Then for other human beings (non-prophets), anger causes their deah (mind) itself to depart from them and they will become like lunatics (during the anger tantrum).

You can see how anger leads one man to murder his fellow or to strike and curse his father and mother, or to worship idols. Therefore, the torah states: "there shall not be a strange god within you.." (Tehilim 81:10). He (the evil inclination) is called god from the term "Eylot" which means a ruler. For once you allow him to rule over you, you will not be able to remove the yoke of his burden and the staff will be on your shoulder. If you begin to fall before him, you will not be able to defeat him and will fall completely before him.

Therefore guard yourself, be silent and do not be afraid: "and be not quick in your spirit to become angry, [for anger lodges in the heart of fools]" (Kohelet 7:9).
Ahava b'Taanugim - "there are four types of temperaments (deot)" - "deot" (temperament) on tranquility of spirit (yishuv daat), ie there are four traits on tranquility of spirit or its breakdown (trufo).

He taught that these depend on bad traits. He did not say "[four traits] in man" as in the previous mishna. For the matter of anger and appeasement depends on the daat (mind), according to one's mind and calmness/tolerance (sichlo v'savlanuto).

Even though anger is a bodily feeling/reaction (hitpalut chamri), but nevertheless when the intellect rules over the body, one can remove anger. For it is the bitter root of all the pettiness..

"difficult to anger and easily appeased - Chasid (pious)" - this teaches that we do not say only one who never gets angry is a chasid. Thus he said this person (who is difficult to anger..) is called a chasid, but one who never gets angry is called a Malach (angel).

"easily angered and difficult to appease - wicked" - this teaches that we do not say only one who does not at all become appeased is called a rasha. But one who is appeased even difficultly is not called a rasha. Thus he teaches that he too is called a rasha.

Some explain that chasid and rasha, the intent is on their end. For since he has this trait it will lead him to acquire chassidut in other mitzvot. For most of the torah and mitzvot depends on this trait. Thus from now already he is called a chasid. Likewise for the rasha (wicked), even though he did not yet corrupt his actions but since he acquired for himself the trait of anger, it is the grandfather of tumah and will produce many offsprings of big and severe sins.

Likewise our sages said: "whoever gets angry it is as if he worshiped idols" (Shabbat 105b, Zohar Bereisheit 27b). According to that, from the beginning at the time of anger he is called a rasha (wicked). The reason is as the Arizal said (Sharei Kedusha 1:2): in all severe sins a man damages his soul only, but through the sin of anger, his holy soul departs and a defiled soul (neshama temeah) enters him in its place from the strange god (el zar, ie forces of evil).
Matanat Avot - "easily angered and easily appeased" - with this, the Tanna comes to encourage he who all the time wants to work on his anger and to become forbearing and slow to anger, but he always stumbles again and again and explodes. He already gives up on himself and is sure that he will never attain the trait of forbearance.

To him the Tanna says: my dear friend, I will teach you how to work on anger. First of all do not try to go against your angry nature from the beginning and decide to never get angry again.

Rather, before everything train yourself on the second stage of "easy to appease". If you already got angry on someone who irritated you. First of all, forgive him wholeheartedly. Afterwards go and appease him and eventually after you train yourself to forgive and be at peace with everyone, the habit to get angry and irritated at everything will pass.

This is the meaning of "[difficult to anger and difficult to appease] - his loss is canceled by his reward". Namely, the loss of being a person full of anger will depart from him through the reward of learning to overlook the wrongdoing of others and appeasing those he wronged.
Maharam Shik, Avot - "easily angered and difficult to appease - wicked" - what is the sage coming to teach us in that there are four deot? In the previous mishna, he was teaching us to choose the good trait (of "what's mine is yours and what's yours is yours"). But a person cannot choose his natural temperament.

What then is he coming to teach us (and why is he wicked if he was born hot-tempered)?

The answer is because he did not strive to rule over his spirit and he left his character traits as they are, not laboring to rectify them.

It is self-understood that also for other bad traits, one must make efforts and strengthen himself greatly to remove them.

For through training and habit, one can change his bad traits to the good. On the contrary, his reward is greater if by nature he was easily angered and he strengthened himself to abandon this bad trait and he succeeded in becoming difficult to anger. Without a doubt his reward is greater than if he was born with this trait. This is what he is coming to teach us.
Yachel Yisrael - on the subject of anger, the mishna uses a puzzling expression - four traits in deot (mindsets)" - it would seem that character traits and "deot" are two separate matters. "Character traits" are connected to the heart - the realm of emotions, whereas "deot" is a matter of intellect - thoughts, which stem from the brain.

If so, why does the sage mix these two together?

Furthermore, there is no greater time a man loses his intellect than at a time of anger. If so, how can one call the trait of anger - "deah" (mindset)?

Rather, the sage is coming to teach us a big matter: anger depends on a person's deah (mindset). The free will to get angry or not comes from a high command - from the brain. The consequences of this teaching - is that anger can be controlled!

The tendency of a man to get angry or to rule over his anger stems from the education and training he received. We find small children, 3 or 4 years old who tell each other "I am hot tempered" and even sometimes "I am going to kill you".

Does he understand what anger is? Does he understand what it means to kill someone? He was not born like this. He acquired this at home. He was "brought up" like this. He heard such expressions from his parents and understands that this is the appropriate response when his request is not fulfilled.

The child absorbs that when things don't go as he wishes he should express his protest through anger, through violence. This is as the Talmud says: "the words of a child on the street are from either his mother or his father" (Sukkah 56b).

So too for other traits. It is not correct to say the child was born with this or that bad character trait and he cannot change it.

All lackings in a person are the rotten fruits of a depraved education (upbringing) and bad habits.

Thus, the Rambam writes in his introduction to Pirkei Avot (ch.4): "a man is not by nature, in his beginning - a person of virtue or of lackings. Rather, without a doubt he habituated himself from his youth in acts according to his relatives and the people of his land".

Since it is so, the Rambam continues there that all character traits are capable of being "healed" and he brings there the proper way to break bad character traits.
Maharal - "hard to anger and easily appeased - Chasid (pious)" - that which he is "hard to anger", this indicates he has a hard nature. Thus, that which he is "easily appeased" certainly this is because he loves people and therefore he overcomes his (hard) nature.

Alternatively, we may say the opposite. That which he is "easily appeased", this indicates his nature is soft. Thus, that which he is difficult to anger, this is because he loves people and therefore he overcomes his (soft) nature and does not get angry on people and is concerned for their honor.

Thus certainly (either way) he is a chasid.

"easily angered and difficult to appease - wicked" - here too, either way he hates people. For either his nature is soft and therefore he is easily angered, and thus why is he not easily appeased (if his nature is soft)? It must be because he hates people.

Alternatively, his nature is hard and therefore he is not easily appeased. If so, why is he not difficult to anger? It must be because he hates people. Therefore, he is easily angered and thus a wicked man.

(R. Hartman - according to this explanation, the reason he is a wicked man is due to hatred of people within him and the "easily angered and difficult to appease" is just an indication of this. Likewise, the reason for being a chasid is love of people and "difficult to anger and easily appeased" is likewise just an indication of this. Now he will bring an alternative explanation whereby these are not just indications but rather they are the cause itself for being righteous or wicked).

However, that which he said: "easily angered and difficult to appease - wicked" and likewise "difficult to anger and easily appeased - Chasid (pious)" there is to explain this directly, as the talmud brings:
"Rav Nachman says: 'whoever gets angry, it is known that his sins are greater than his merits, as written: 'a man of wrath stirs up strife, and one given to anger abounds in sin' (Mishlei 29:22)" end quote.
This teaches that one who is "easily angered", he "abounds in sin" (rav pesha), as the verse states.

Without a doubt, this matter has a reason which contains great wisdom. For all anger is going out of equilibrium (shivuy), namely, going out of the bounds of the proper measure due to overpowering of anger and wrath. This matter teaches on transgression (pesha) and sin.

For a man of merits does not go out of equilibrium. On the contrary he remains in equilibrium. This is implied in the word "tzadik" (righteous) and "yashar" (just), namely, that he remains in the just/straight balanced (path) ("yosher hashav"), without going out of the completely straight (path).

But this person who is of great anger - due to his anger, he goes out of the just/straight balanced (path). Certainly, he is a man of sins (baal pesha). For a baal pesha goes out from the straight and the equilibrium.

Due to this, he said here that one who is easily angered and difficult to appease is close to anger and wrath which is going out of equilibrium and the straight (path).

Likewise for the opposite, if he is difficult to anger and easily appeased, certainly such a person is of equilibrium and of justness/straightness (yosher). Therefore, it is difficult for him to go out of the equilibrium, and even if he goes out, it is easy for him to return to equilibrium which is his place. For he is a righteous and just man (ish tzadik veyashar).

For anger is going out of equilibrium due to being overpowered by rage. This matter is clear.

R.Hartman: in his commentary on the Talmud (Nedarim 22b) the Maharal writes: "there is no one who goes out of equilibrium like the hot tempered person (baal chema)... due to rage, he goes out of the order (seder), and he is a rasha (wicked man) and a sinner (baal chet)". end quote

And in Netiv Haavodah (ch.13) he writes: for anger is one of the excess actions of the soul, as known, therefore he said "do not get angry". For this is the beginning of the soul's going out of equilibrium. And our sages said: "do not get angry and you won't sin" (Berachot 29b). end quote. Note Rashi there explains: "due to anger, you come to sin". end quote

And in Netiv Hakaas (ch.2) the Maharal explains:

This statement comes to teach a man to not remove clinging (devekut) from G-d, but rather to be clinging with Him. On this it is written: "do not get angry and you won't sin".

For G-d created man with body and soul. The body is physical and the soul is spiritual. They are two opposites. And when a man stands as is proper, without swaying to one side, then man stands in his equilibrium, and he clings to G-d. This matter is hinted in man and woman. For the body is like a woman and the soul is like man. The Name of G-d (Yud-Heh) is between them when they join properly (Sotah 17a). But when the soul goes out of the bounds of what is proper through anger... He goes out from the equilibrium and the clinging [to G-d] is removed. Due to this, he said: "[do not get angry] and you won't sin". end quote

And in Be'er Hagolah (be'er 6) the Maharal writes:

"The tzadik does not go out of the center to any side, only he does not sway from the center point".

And in Gur Aryeh (Bamidbar 28) the Maharal writes: "the Tzadik also does not sway from the middle.. For the Tzadik is he who does not sway from the just (Yosher) nor sway from the Tzedek (righteousness) and he remains on the point and in the center". end quote

And in Netiv Hashalom (ch.3) the Maharal writes: " '[the world stands on] he who shuts his mouth at a time of dispute' (Talmud) - he does not go out of equilibrium, namely, the center". end quote

And in Be'er Hagolah (be'er 6) the Maharal writes: "the tzadik does not go out of the center to any side, he only does not sway from the center point". end quote

And in Gur Aryeh (Bamidbar 28) the Maharal writes: "the Tzadik also does not sway from the middle.. For the Tzadik is he who does not sway from the just (Yosher) nor sway from the Tzedek (righteousness) and he remains on the point and in the center". end quote

And in Netiv Hashalom (ch.3) the Maharal writes: " '[the world stands on] he who muzzles his mouth at a time of dispute' (Talmud) - he does not go out of equilibrium, namely, the center". end quote.
Chayim Sheyesh Bahem on Avot - the Chafetz Chaim would often say: a man needs to work on himself to not feel any pain when someone scorns and shames him. Thus our sages said: "those who are insulted but do not insult back, hear themselves reviled without answering, act through love and rejoice in suffering, of them scripture says: "but they who love Him shall be as the sun when it goes forth in its might" (Shab.88a).

He would quote the words of the holy Rabbi Elazar Azkari in his book (Sefer Chareidim): "when I hear someone who scorns and shames me publicly, I imagine before myself scales. On one end my sins and on the other end the scorns and insults. I look and the side of sins tips the scales. Thus I am silent and accept the judgment. Thus I do for all types of sufferings of speech or actions...

The admor, R.Yechiel Michal, the maggid of Zotshov was willing to pay a great sum of money for an Esrog Mehudar (beautiful Esrog fruit). But since he was extremely poor, he was unable to fulfill his wish.

What did he do? The righteous man went and sold the Tefilin mehudar who came to him by inheritance of his father, the Magid of Druhavitz. For buyers were willing to pay a hefty sum for these tefilin. With the money, he purchased a special Esrog with all the stringencies and arrived at his home full of joy.

"What is this joy?" His wife asked. "Every corner of the house there is poverty and you are still joyful?"

The tzadik opened the box of the Esrog and showed his wife the special treasure he purchased.

"Where did you get this? Where did you find the money?"

"I sold my father's tefilin!"

"The Tefilin you inherited from your father?? You sold the most precious object in the house? And for what? For an Esrog of seven days?!"

Out of anger and fury, she grabbed the Esrog from him and bit off the top and threw it on the ground.

Rabbi Yechiel Michal pondered what happened. Now he is left without tefilin and without an Esrog. He thought for a bit and told himself: "really I should have gotten angry. But what for? I have no Tefilin. I have no Esrog. And now the Evil Inclination stands to make me stumble in the trait of anger? No! I will overcome him!"

That night his father appeared to him in a dream and said to him: "my son, you sold my precious tefilin to buy an Esrog mehudar - this made a big noise in Heaven. But your overpowering anger made an even bigger noise.."