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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


Pirkei Avos: Chapter 3

   Mishnah 3, 13, And 14

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 3
Mishnah 3, 13, And 14
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  13th Day Of Iyar, 574518th Day Of Iyar, 5745  


This week we learn the third chapter of Pirkei Avos, which deserves special note since Torah is called "a three-part Torah." (Shabbos 88a)

Rabbi Shimon said: Three who ate at one table and ... did speak words of Torah there, it is as if they had eaten from the table of G-d....

  1. In the previous Mishnah, which also deals with mutual Torah study, the Mishnah speaks of "two who sit together," why did not the author here also speak of "two who ate?"

  2. Why must the Mishnah tell us that they ate at a table, when it would have sufficed simply to say that they ate. Also, why "at one table?"

  3. What is the connection between the teacher, Rabbi Shimon, and his teaching?

We may explain this in the following manner. The purpose of Torah is "... to make peace in the world" (Rambam, Laws of Chanukah). What "peace" do we speak of? The harmony of worldliness and G-dliness. This is in fact the goal of reciting words of Torah during a meal -- to infuse G-dliness (exemplified by Torah) into the materialism of the world, embodied in the act of eating.

In this scenario we recognize the existence of three forces and consequently there must be the "three who ate at one table." Peace is always connected to three parties -- the two warring parties and the third who comes to make peace. In our case we have spirituality and materialism, which ostensibly oppose each other and are at "war," and Torah, which makes peace and unites the dissenting factions. This unity fuses them into one table, -- it is not only a "ceasefire" of two antagonists but actually a connection of everything with Torah and the creation of one table.

This teaching is appropriately taught by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (Rashbi), for he was the one "whose study was his profession" (meaning his full-time occupation). In Torah itself, it was he who removed the barrier separating the revealed aspect of Torah from the esoteric teachings of Torah. For Torah itself has the three aspects: (A) exoteric, (B) esoteric, and (C) uniting force. By effecting unity and harmony between the hidden and revealed sides of Torah, Rashbi gained the potential to be able to effect unity between the spirituality of Torah and worldly materialism.

In order to present this ideal form of conduct in the perspective of free will -- to show us that we have the opportunity to choose to do the right thing -- Rashbi started the Mishnah by saying:

"Three who ate at one table and did not speak words of Torah there...."

The other side, where anarchy and disunity prevail, is also available to us. But when we exercise our free will and choose the path of Torah, it will draw G-dliness into materialism, and it will bring harmony and peace in the world.


In this chapter of Pirkei Avos Rabbi Akiva teaches:

He used to say: Beloved is man for he was created in the image [of G-d] ... Beloved are the people Israel for they are called children of G-d ... Beloved are the people Israel, for a precious article was given to them.... (Mishnah 14)

What connection is there between the context of this teaching and the name of the author, Rabbi Akiva? And why is it that in Mishnah 14 his name is not mentioned, rather it states: "He used to say ..."?

The three categories of "Beloved" mentioned in this Mishnah, are discussed in a discourse of the previous Rebbe (Sefer HaMa'amarim 5702, 104, ff.):

(1-A) The first state, "Beloved is man, for he was created in the image [of G-d]" refers to the cognitive soul of every human being.

(1-B) "... it is even a greater love, that it was made known to him that he was created in the image (of G-d)" relates to the cognitive soul of the Jew.

(2) "Beloved are the people Israel (for they are called children of G-d)," refers to the G-dly soul.

(3) "Beloved are the people Israel, for a precious article was given to them," this refers to the additional quality gained by the Jewish people when they received the Torah.

The first part of the Mishnah clearly deals with all humanity, including all the descendants of Noach. It should also be noted that, although Chassidus interprets the latter half of the first saying (1-B above) to refer to the cognitive soul of the Jew, its plain meaning also refers to non-Jews -- to all mankind -- as explained by the Rambam in his interpretation of this apothegm:

The love (of mankind) is even greater, because G-d informed humanity and told them: "Look, I have created you in My image." For when one does goodness with his friend and tells him of the good he performed, he shows a greater love than one who does a kindness but does not consider the recipient to be important enough to tell him of the kindness he performed.

(Rambam, Commentary on Mishnah loc. cit.)

Let us now approach the explanation of the first adage of the Mishnah (based on the commentary of the Tosfos Yom Tov):

Beloved is man, for he was created in the image [of G-d]; it is even a greater love that it was made known to him that he was created in the image [of G-d], as it is stated: "For in the image of G-d He made man."

Rabbi Akiva spoke these words to the descendants of Noach (all humanity). He wanted all mankind to be upright and just, and he intended to make all people virtuous as we were commanded by our teacher Moshe. This fact has also been explained to us by the Rambam:

Moshe, our teacher, was commanded by G-d to compel all human beings to accept the commandments enjoined upon the descendants of Noach. Anyone who does not accept them is put to death." (Laws of Kings 8:10)

If we were commanded to use capital force to convince the heathens to accept G-d, we are certainly responsible to use coercive and persuasive words in order to attract their hearts and intentions to follow the will of their Maker and the desire of their Creator. Therefore, when we teach them how G-d revealed His great love for them by telling them that they were created in His image, they will realize that they must accept G-d and fulfill G-d's will. And if they fail to observe His (seven) commandments, or even if they do them but not because He commanded them, then they are deficient in their G-dly image! This was Rabbi Akiva's message.

(In our own time of course, it has become easier to carry out this directive because even the President of our Republic has issued the call for mankind to observe the Seven Noachide Laws, upon which depends the existence of the civilized world. He, too, emphasized that we must remember that these laws come from the Creator and must be observed because of belief in G-d.)

This will elucidate the connection between the teacher and the teaching. The Gemara tells us that Rabbi Akiva's father was a righteous proselyte. Normally, a true proselyte must completely separate himself from gentiles; he must not even be reminded of his past. Nevertheless, when the Mishnah wanted to impress upon the gentile world that they too are created in the image of G-d, and must therefore observe the Seven Noachide Laws, it drew upon the teachings of Rabbi Akiva. When this son of a proselyte spoke of the quality of non-Jews, the descendants of Noach who were created in the image of G-d and must therefore fulfill G-d's precepts, his words took on a greater importance and additional emphasis.

Hence the Mishnah quoted the adage of Rabbi Akiva. But why is the name Rabbi Akiva mentioned only in Mishnah 13 and not mentioned in Mishnah 14?

Akiva has the same etymological root as the word 'Eikev' (heel of foot), generally relating to a lowly level, which also connects it to a descendant of converts. Although the Rambam wrote in a famous responsa to Rabbi Ovadia, the righteous proselyte, of the lofty quality of converts who may trace their lineage directly to "He who spoke and the world was," (to G-d, Himself) nevertheless in areas dealing with "rulership," the Rambam rules that a convert may not be appointed as King, ruler, Dayan, Nassi, etc. Thus it may have had a negative effect to use the name Akiva.

On the other hand, by using the term: "He" used to say, (and not Akiva) the Mishnah makes an oblique reference to Rabbi Akiva's true essence -- the G-dly spark of his father's soul -- which was holy even before his conversion. As Chassidus explains, the reason for the term used in the Talmud, "Ger" -- a convert -- who converts, (not a "gentile" who converts) is because the righteous proselyte had a spark of the G-dly soul even before conversion, it just had to be brought out through halachic conversion.

Thus, the Mishnah authored by Rabbi Akiva starts out with the quality and preciousness of non-Jews, for he was uniquely capable of teaching and motivating them to observe their mitzvos. Then, the main thrust of the Mishnah goes on to deal with the extra specialness of Jews: "... they are called children of G-d ... a precious article given to them ..." etc. However, the name Akiva, which would recall the lower levels, is not mentioned, rather: "He," referring to the holy soul-essence which always was connected to holiness.

In this manner the Mishnah presents both teachings of Rabbi Akiva, to the gentiles and also to Jews and indirectly it indicates for us that the greatness of Rabbi Akiva came from the highest source of holiness.

  13th Day Of Iyar, 574518th Day Of Iyar, 5745  
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