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Yud-Aleph Nissan, 5745

Yud-Gimmel Nissan, 5745

Tzivos Hashem

Acharon Shel Pesach

Yechidus: 25th Day Of Nissan, 5745

Parshas Shemini

Pirkei Avos: Chapter 1

   Mishnah 1 & 12


Pirkei Avos: Chapter 3

Lag B'omer


Pride And Humility

Convention of N'shei uBnos Chabad

Tzivos Hashem

Erev Shavuos


Shavuos, 5745


Parshas Nasso

Prison And Reform -- A Torah View

Graduates Of Bais Rivkah

Shabbos Parshas Shelach

Sichos In English
Volume 26

Pirkei Avos: Chapter 1
Mishnah 1 & 12
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  29th Day Of Nissan, 574513th Day Of Iyar, 5745  


The first chapter of Pirkei Avos (which we read this Shabbos) begins with the Order of the Transmission of the Torah:

Moshe received the Torah from Sinai and passed it on to Yehoshua; Yehoshua to the Elders; the Elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets passed it on to the Men of the Great Assembly. (Avos 1:1)

This bears some clarification. The Talmud tells us that an elder is "one who acquired wisdom." (Kiddushin 32b) It is understandable that they should fit into the Chain of Tradition. Similarly the Men of the Great Assembly, which was the Sanhedrin, certainly are in the right place. However the Prophets seem out of place in the Transmission of the Torah.

What is the role of the prophet? "To foretell what will occur in the world" (Rambam Fundamental Principles of Torah 10:1), also to speak words of chastisement "... to command the people about the Torah and warn them not to transgress" (Ibid 9:2) [a moralist]. But in the development of Torah a Navi (prophet) may not use his power of prophecy to introduce or innovate any rule in Torah. So why include them in the Chain of Tradition?

The Rambam in his commentary on this Mishnah [where he includes the Prophets in the Chain] does not directly answer this question. We may however say that he probably refers us to the answer when he writes:

This point has been explained in our introduction to this treatise where the description of the Tradition was given.

What actually does the Rambam write in his Introduction to the Commentary on the Mishnah:

It should be understood that prophecy is ineffective in the interpretation of the Torah and in the development of the specific branches (details) of the mitzvos, as they are normally studied, within the framework of the Thirteen Rules for Expounding the Torah.... But prophecy does work ... in analysis and reasoning....

The Rambam does go on to explain that the "... quality and influence of the prophet" is "... among the most fundamental, important and vital principles upon which our religion rests and is founded." This same concept is paraphrased by the Rambam in Mishneh Torah, Laws Concerning the Basic Principles of the Torah:

It is one of the basic principles of religion that G-d inspires men with the prophetic gift.

The Rambam continues at length to expound that,

"A prophet has no right to innovate new laws...," (Megillah 2b) but that his role is to be "one who calls upon mankind to loyally serve Hashem."

In concluding the general discussion the Rambam states:

But as far as Torah analysis, constructing logical theories, intellectualizing and deriving mitzvos are concerned, he is equal to all the other sages, and they, who do not possess the power of prophecy, are equal to him.

(Introduction to Mishnayos)

It is in sequence to this that the Rambam also delineates the Order of the Transmission of the Torah:

Yehoshua Ben Nun, ... personally instructed the Elders in what he had received ... afterwards those Elders instructed the Prophets in all that they had received from Yehoshua; and each Prophet instructed the next ... This procedure continued until the era of the Men of the Great Assembly....

It is from here that we realize that the prophet's place in the Chain of Tradition is not based on his power of prophecy, for:

If a prophet presents a logical theorem or construct [relating to an halachic conclusion] and he who is not a prophet likewise comes to a certain conclusion, but the prophet declares, "The Holy One, Blessed be He has told me that my system of logic is the correct one" -- you should not listen to him. [Unless of course his logic or theory is independently persuasive.] Because in this respect the prophet is equal to the other sages who do not have the power of prophecy. (Introduction to Mishnayos)

Why were they chosen to be links in the Chain of Tradition? Because of their unique qualities in the realm of intellect and wisdom.

In Mishneh Torah the Rambam states:

But the spirit of prophecy only rests upon the wise man who is distinguished by great wisdom and strong moral character, whose passions never overcome him in anything whatsoever, but who by his rational faculty always has his passion under control and possesses a broad and sedate mind, etc.

(Fundamental Principles of Torah ch. 7:1)

The quality of wisdom and intellect [and strong moral character] were prerequisites for prophecy, thus the prophet is clearly on a lofty intellectual plane. For this reason they were chosen to transmit the Torah in the Chain of Tradition.

Chapter 1 Mishnah 12-14


There is a connection between the first chapter of Avos, and the portion of Shemini.

Let us read the words of Hillel:

Hillel said: Be of the disciples of Aharon, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving your fellow creatures, and bringing them near to Torah. He used to say: He who seeks renown loses his name; he who does not increase [his knowledge of Torah] decreases it; he who does not study [Torah] deserves death; and he who exploits the crown [of Torah for his own ends] shall perish. He used to say: If I am not for myself, who is for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? etc.

(Avos 1:12-14)

How is this connected to the portion of Shemini? In Shemini we find Moshe praising the greatness of Aharon, as Rashi brings:

... during the whole seven days of the installation when Moshe was setting up the Tabernacle and officiating therein and dismantling it daily the Shechinah had not rested upon it and the Jews felt ashamed ..., He therefore had said to them, "This is the thing which the L-rd commanded that you should do so that the glory of the L-rd may appear to you, my brother Aharon is more worthy and excellent than I am, so that through his sacrifices and ministrations the Shechinah will rest upon you." (Rashi, Vayikra 9:23)

This same thought is included in Hillel's words. But first let us note that Hillel has been compared to Moshe in many respects:

  1. Hillel was the Nassi of the Jewish people just as Moshe was.

  2. Hillel was counted among the "receivers" of the Torah -- a link in the Chain of Tradition from the first "receiver" of Torah -- Moshe.

  3. The Sifrei writes: Moshe lived to the age of 120, one of the four, who died at 120, these are their names: Moshe, Hillel the Elder, etc. Moshe lived in Egypt for forty years, in Midyan for forty years and maintained the Jews for forty years. Hillel the Elder came up from Babylon at the age of forty, he served the sages for forty years, and he sustained the Jews for forty years.

Similarly when Hillel advises us to be disciples of Aharon he is praising the qualities of Aharon, just as Moshe did.

Essentially, Moshe and Aharon had different paths of Divine service, Moshe was the embodiment of Torah and Aharon's role was "Kehunah" (service) -- prayer. But in Moshe's words as well as in Hillel's words we perceive not an exclusion of Aharon from Torah, but rather the incorporation of Torah into prayer. This was made evident when Aharon was told by Moshe to teach the Jews, and when Moshe admitted Aharon's superiority, and was not ashamed to say so. In Hillel's words, the idea was expressed thusly "... loving your fellow creatures and bringing them near to Torah." So Hillel speaks of the combination of the work of Aharon with Torah, and in the next Mishnah we again see Hillel speaking of the "Crown of Torah."

In a previous farbrengen the idea of Crown of Torah was explained to mean that Torah crowns the person and his entire existence is enveloped and permeated by Torah.

If Hillel speaks of the Crown of Torah he too must be referring to a style of Divine service which is completely absorbed in Torah study -- this would seem to exclude the service of Aharon. For if one must love peace, pursue peace and bring the creatures near to Torah, he would have to neglect his own Torah study in order to go out to the "creatures."

In order to understand this, let us first reexamine the term "Crown of Torah." Actually there may be two different meanings for this term. (A) A "Crown" for the Torah -- some special aspect of Torah study which acts as a Crown of Glory for all the Torah that the individual has studied. (B) The Torah serves as a "crown" for the scholar. These different meanings will apply in different situations.

In Hillel's Mishnah, he uses the term "taga" -- crown -- which is referred to in Gemara:

Whoever makes use of a crown passes away from the world ... This applies to one who accepts service from one who can repeat halachos -- the Crown of Torah. (Megillah 28b)

Here, Halachos are seen as a special level in Torah knowledge, like the crown on the head.

The other aspect of Crown of Torah we find in the Rambam:

He whose heart prompts him to fulfill this duty properly, and to be crowned with the Crown of the Torah.... to win the Crown of Torah,... he must not allow his mind to be diverted to other objects. Possibly you may say: "when I shall have accumulated money, I shall resume my studies"; Rather make the study of Torah your occupation. He should be especially headful of all his nights and not waste a single one of them....

(Laws of Torah Study 3:6-13)

These pointers are not necessarily connected with learning the Halachah branch of Torah; the Rambam did not mention "Halachah" here. Rather, here the Torah Crown refers to general knowledge of Torah, as it encompasses and crowns the total existence of the scholar. And to reach this state one must follow the distinct directives of the Rambam.

The "Crown" of Halachah is another subject. Studying Halachah puts one in this position, and thereby includes him in the rule that "Whoever makes use of the Crown ... etc." And although this student of Halachah spends part of his time in other matters, and later in life puts his main efforts into other interests, he does not lose his former position.

Hillel's connection of Aharon's ways with the Torah Crown illuminates our earlier problem.

There is no contradiction between the path of one who is crowned with Torah and the work that must be done to attract the "creatures" to Torah. We are not referring to the person whose whole life is devoted only to Torah, day and night, as described by the Rambam, rather to the student of Halachos. His involvement with Halachah makes him eminently capable of dealing with worldly matters and the "creatures" of the world. For it is the detailed Halachah, which actually teaches the way we must conduct ourselves in daily life in the mundane world, that reveals the true Supernal Will, even higher than Supernal Wisdom.

The role of Kohen is directly related to the teaching of Halachah, as the Torah says:

You will be able to render decisions for the Jews in all the laws that G-d has taught you through Moshe. (Vayikra 10:11)

This connection is further emphasized by the ruling that just as the Kohanim are not permitted to drink wine before they enter the Mishkan -- similarly, one who is inebriated may not judge an halachic question -- another parallel between Kohanim and Halachah. Thus, Hillel also connected these facets in his Mishnah.

Another point comes to light. Hillel and Shamai received the Tradition from Shemayah and Avtalyon. The Talmud relates:

Our Rabbis taught: It happened with a Kohen Gadol that as he came forth from the Sanctuary, all the people followed him, but when they saw Shemayah and Avtalyon they forsook him and went after Shemayah and Avtalyon. Eventually Shemayah and Avtalyon visited...the Kohen Gadol. He said to them: May the descendants of the heathen come in peace! [He disparaged them in his jealousy, as they were the descendants of Sancheirev.] They answered him: May the descendants of the heathen who do the work of Aharon [increase peace in the world] arrive in peace, but the descendant of Aharon who does not do the work of Aharon [as he had attacked them verbally], he shall not come in peace.

(Yoma 71b)

When Hillel, who was the disciple of Shemayah and Avtalyon, speaks of the quality of the Kohanic role he stresses: "Be of the disciples of Aharon, loving peace and pursuing peace." It is not enough to be of the children of Aharon, you must also conduct yourself like Aharon; be a disciple of Aharon -- in the manner emphasized by Hillel's teachers Shemayah and Avtalyon.

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