D.A.F. >   Useful Resources > Developing Character > Pirkei Avos
Pirkei Avot Home

Eng Heb Both
Font Size +  /  -


Mirrored from Dafyomireview.com


Pirkei Avot / Ethics of the Fathers
with a select treasury of commentaries on all levels of Torah interpretation
Chapter 5 Mishna 12
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.

Link to this page:

+ Increase Font Size   |   - Decrease Font Size

Chapter 5 Mishna 12פרק ה משנה יב
There are four types of character regarding students: quick to hear (comprehend) and quick to forget - his reward (gain) is canceled by his loss; Difficult to hear and slow to forget - his loss is canceled by his reward (gain); Quick to hear and slow to forget - Chacham (wise man); Difficult to hear and quick to forget - this is a bad portion.
אַרְבַּע מִדּוֹת בַּתַּלְמִידִים. מַהֵר לִשְׁמֹעַ וּמַהֵר לְאַבֵּד, יָצָא שְׂכָרוֹ בְהֶפְסֵדוֹ. קָשֶׁה לִשְׁמֹעַ וְקָשֶׁה לְאַבֵּד, יָצָא הֶפְסֵדוֹ בִשְׂכָרוֹ. מַהֵר לִשְׁמֹעַ וְקָשֶׁה לְאַבֵּד, חָכָם. קָשֶׁה לִשְׁמֹעַ וּמַהֵר לְאַבֵּד, זֶה חֵלֶק רָע.

Bartenura - "quick to hear (comprehend) and quick to forget - his reward (gain) is canceled by his loss" - for since he forgets what he learns, what benefit is there in being quick to hear? Thus, his loss is greater than his reward (gain).

"difficult to hear and slow to forget - his loss is canceled by his reward (gain)" - the good trait he has is greater than the losing trait since what he hears with difficulty he remembers and does not forget.

The consequence (nafka minah) is that if we have before us two students but we have food only for one of them, we give preference to the "slow to forget" over the "quick to hear".

"difficult to hear and quick to forget - this is a bad portion" - it is not applicable to say here Chasid (pious) or Rasha (wicked). For here it is not something that depends on man's free will. Rather, it is a lacking he was born with.
Tiferet Yisrael - "quick to hear (comprehend) and quick to forget" - he grasps and comprehends quickly what he learns but he then forgets it quickly.

"his loss is greater than his reward" - the lesson is that such a person needs to review many times if he wants to gain something from his studies, as written: "one who reviews his chapter 100 times is not like one who reviews 101 times".

"difficult to hear and slow to forget - his loss is canceled by his reward (gain)" - his gain is greater than his loss. For he can study carefully until he understands and then it will remain in his memory. The lesson is that if there are two students but only room for one, he takes precedence over the first since he has greater chance of succeeding in his studies.
Chida, Chasdei Avot - "there are four types of students.." - although the traits of every person are implanted in his nature from birth but nevertheless if he is a baal nefesh (spiritual person), he will pour out prayer and scream to G-d to grant him strength to hear (comprehend) quickly and not forget. For everything is from His Hand and G-d will not withhold good from those who walk wholeheartedly and G-d will change his nature to the good.

The person also must strive to girdle strength and review his learning with fear, love, and joy. For this is all of man..

G-d will grant him the power of memory for his mercy is endless. These are the true segulot (remedies). Do not go after swearing in (angels through practical kabala) for this is a severe sin. Also do not endanger yourself by drinking strong potions for you may lose your mind, G-d forbid. There is no medication like fear of G-d and no segulah (remedy) like prayer with a broken heart.
Matanat Avot - "quick to hear (comprehend) and quick to forget - his reward (gain) is canceled by his loss" - here the Tanna (sage) turns to the sharp student who grasps everything quickly and tells him: be careful, precious student. Do not be proud that you grasp quickly and think that this is enough to become a talmid chacham (torah scholar). This is a mistake. For perhaps specifically because you grasp quickly, you will also forget quickly. For you think just because you grasped it quickly then you can already move on without any review, summary and test. In truth you will forget it all just as quickly as you grasped it and at the end of the day be left with nothing. Furthermore one does not appreciate something he acquired without hard work and he does not guard it.

"difficult to hear and slow to forget - his loss is canceled by his reward (gain)" - here the Tanna comes to encourage the student of weak grasp who thinks nothing will come out of him. The Tanna tells him: don't worry my brother of weak grasp. For because you grasp only after much toil and effort, then the torah you learn is very precious to you. Thus certainly it will be well imprinted in your mind and guarded in your memory always. For in this loss you see in being slow to grasp, this itself causes your reward. For through this you appreciate greatly the torah and thus it is guarded in your memory.

"quick to hear and slow to forget - Chacham (wise man)" - this person grasps quickly and also remembers all that he learns. This indicates he very much appreciates what he learns and therefore he merits so much siyata dishmaya (divine help) to grasp quickly and also to not forget. This is because he sees the torah as the most precious thing that exists.. This is called a man who has "a good portion". He realizes that the torah is the most worthwhile portion to acquire. It is very worthwhile to be around such people.

"difficult to hear and quick to forget - this is a bad portion" - it seems the tanna is not speaking about a pitiful person whose mind is blocked and cannot grasp anything. For what gain is there to say he has a bad portion. Is it his fault that his mind is blocked? What use is there to put him down further?

Rather we are talking about someone who is the opposite of the previous case. He does not at all see the torah as important. Therefore it is not important to him to remember what he learned and therefore he does not make any efforts to strain his mind and rectify his soul, to grasp and remember what he learns since he is not interested.. this is a "bad portion" from beginning to end.
Yachel Yisrael - why is there preference to he who is "slow to forget" over he who is "quick to hear"?

There is an answer to all the questions in the Tosfot Yom Tov. Granted a weak memory is a natural trait which a person is born with. However, there is an advice for which his learning will endure by him. What is this advice? It is written in Pirkei Avot (3:9) "he whose fear of sin is greater than his wisdom, his wisdom will endure". Namely, if he acquires fear of Heaven, he acquires for himself assistance to retain his wisdom.

Likewise it is possible that the cause of his forgetfulness and weak memory is not due to a natural weakness of memory he is born with. But rather, [perhaps] it is due to a lack of fear of Heaven in the student. For "he whose fear of sin is greater than his wisdom, his wisdom will endure" (Avot ch.3:11).

Thus if there is a student who is "quick to forget", that his wisdom does not endure - granted your memory is weak. But it is possible that you yourself caused this. Maybe it is your own fault. For you did not precede fear of sin to wisdom. If so, it is within your power to change your situation. You must work on your middot (character traits). Later on, we will see additional remedies against forgetfulness.

Superficial Learning
the great loser in the mishna is the first student - "quick to hear (comprehend) and quick to forget". Regarding him the Tanna says: "his reward (gain) is canceled by his loss".

His reward - that he grasps quickly is pushed to the corner and swallowed inside the great loss of forgetfulness. He learned and listened. The material was grasped by his mind. But after some time, it flew out of his mind and disappeared.

It was specifically his quick grasp that caused him to stumble, as the Maharal writes: "the cause that he is quick to forget, is that he is quick to comprehend".

A student who understands quickly and grasps things immediately does not go into them. He does not strive to contemplate them in his mind. Therefore, they are not chiseled in his soul. Only when a man toils to grasp wisdom does it become part of him. Things which come easily are also lost easily.. As they say: "in one ear, out the other".

Furthermore, the student who grasps quickly does not toil to understand things to their depth. He does not put to heart the small details. His mind "pushes" to go further to the next question or the next answer.

On the other hand, the student slow to grasp lends ear to all the words of the Rav, perhaps now he will understand more, perhaps these words will illuminate the darkness for him.

Thus, the result is that the one slow to grasp receives from his Rav more than he who is quick to grasp. His lengthy toil also helps him to discern many details which were hidden to his swifter colleague..

Thus our mishna teaches important lessons to the sharp student - he who is quick to grasp. Do not go after your lightning grasp. Do not be content with superficial understanding. Rather, stop and delve deeply into what appears to be self understood. There are always deeper levels of understanding which are not apparent on the surface. Remembrance is acquired only after toil and only if things are completely clear..

the primary advice which our sages advise us to prevent forgetfulness is review (shinun). When a man reviews his studies, he drives them into his mind and chisels them in his memory..

In the Talmud: "whoever learns torah but does not review is as one who sows but does not reap" (Sanhedrin 99a). Rabbi Yehoshua there uses stronger terms: "whoever learns torah and forgets it is like a woman who gives birth and buries [her baby].

Torah study without review is like a blessing said in vain. There is no benefit, for it is forgotten. Without review of the material, all his investment goes to loss and nothing remains of all his toil.

The more a person reviews, the more it will remain longer in his memory. The talmud reports several times that the sages reviewed every matter forty times until the study was "in his pocket" (Megilah 7b).

The talmud in tractate Chagigah brings a powerful message on how important it is to review one's learning as much as possible: "he who reviews his learning 101 times is not like one who reviews it 101 times".

If one reviewed 100 times (!), what benefit is there in reviewing one additional time? But it is not so. For even the 101st review has benefit. Even with this extra review, the matters will be sharper. He will discover new details and the matter will be clearer.

From the words of the talmud it is implied that the 101st review is not just another review. Rather, "it is not like".

Interestingly, according to the Shlah and the Kli Yakar on the verse: "guard yourself and guard your soul very much lest you forget the things..." (Devarim 4:9) - [the Shlah writes:] the name of the angel (spiritual being) appointed over forgetfulness is "Shachach" (forget). The gematria of the hebrew word shachach (forget) is 328.

The angel appointed over remembering is "zachor" (remember) and has gematria of 227.

The difference is 328-227=101. For every review weakens the power of forgetfulness and strengthens the power of remembering. In order to annul the power of forgetfulness completely, he must review 101 times. Thus "shachach" - 101 = "zachar".

Another hint our sages bring (Yerushalmi Peah 1:1, Yalkut Shimoni on Yehoshua 247:22) is from the verse when Moshe Rabeinu says: "For it is no empty word from you (mikem), but your very life.." (Devarim 32:47).

Our sages expounded "mikem" (from you) has gematria 100. Thus if a man learns 100 times and nevertheless "he is empty" - he is empty of the words of torah - "mikem" (from you). It is because you learned it only 100 times. If you had learned it 101 times, it would have been chiseled in your memory..

We find another hint in the talmud (Pesachim 50a, Kohelet Rabba 9:8) which speaks of a heavenly voice that proclaims: "fortunate is he who comes to here (lekahn) with his learning in his hand" (ashrei mi shebah lekahn vtalmudo beyado). The gematria of "lekan" (to here) is 101, hinting that he who has reached this level that he reviewed his learning 101 times "his learning is in his hand" and he will no longer forget it.

Review is an important fundamental (ikar chashuv) in torah study. Therefore it does not only say (in the Shemah): "ulemadtem" (you shall study them) and "vedibarta bam" (you shall speak in them). Rather already in the first chapter we say "veshinantam levanecha" (you shall review them to your sons). Torah study must be given in the way of repetition and review.

The most common expression in the talmud is "Tanu Rabbanan" (the sages reviewed/shanu chachamim). It does not say: "the sages said" or "the sages taught" but rather "tanu" - they reviewed and repeated. Only those who review become sages.

In a siyum (completion) of a tractate it is said: "whoever reviews (shonei) halachot every day is guaranteed to be a ben Olam Haba". Here too it does not say "whoever learns" but rather "whoever reviews" - he learns and reviews. The way to acquire torah is through repetition and review..

Another advice to guard in memory is to write down what one learned. Through this he automatically reviews and clarifies what he learned. This is a tried and tested advice verified by experience and hinted in pirkei avot (1:6) "kanei lecha chaver" (acquire for yourself a friend). This can be read "kanei" (the pen) should be your friend.

To end off, even after all the toil, nevertheless remembrance depends on siyata dishmaya (divine help). One needs to pray much and strive to be worthy of divine help. This is first and foremost by toiling in learning and review. Only after toil can one hope that he will be assisted from Heaven..

Why does the mishna call all four types "students"? For all people are equally called "students". Even the greatest sage is called by the title "talmid chacham" (wise student).

In torah study one never finishes to study. For "its measure is longer than the earth and broader than the sea" (Iyov 11:9). Its treasures are endless. Each tractate begins with page 2. For even if we finish it all we still did not reach even Aleph (1). There are layers upon layers of meaning. The wise man knows that the more he knows, nevertheless he is still at the beginning of the journey.