101 – The Torah Podcast – Pirkei Avos – Ethics of the Fathers Chapter 1:2 Why are We Here – The Foundations of Life – A Powerful Parable about a Longtime Customer – A Great Story about Rav Yitzchak Taieb and Peace in Your Home – Stop Arguing
The Torah Podcast Transcript
101 The Torah Podcast – Why are we here? – The Foundations of Life – http://globalyeshiva.com
Pirkei Avos 1:2
1:2 – Shimon the Righteous was among the last surviving members of the Great assembly. He would say: The world stands on three things: Torah, the service of G‑d, and deeds of kindness.
The second Mishna says like this. Shimon HaTzaddik was one of the remnants of the Men of the Great Assembly. He used to say, “The world stands on three things – on Torah, and sacrificial service, and on acts of lovingkindness.” So, Rashi says “What does it mean that the world stands on Torah?” He brings the verse from Yirmyahu, 33:25 that says, “Were it not for my covenant day and night, I would not have created the laws of heaven and earth.” And the word covenant means the Torah. In other words, the heaven and earth were only created for Torah, for man to learn Torah, for people to learn Torah. And what does it mean, Rashi says that the world stands on sacrifices? He brings the Gemara in Taanis that says like this. “Were it not for the sacrifices, heaven and earth could not endure. As it says, ‘Oh, Lord God, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit the land?’” And Rashi explains there, without the zechus, merit of the sacrifices, the world would stop to exist. Also, the Mishna says, “If it wasn’t for acts of kindness, the world can’t exist.” Rashi explains, “What types of acts of kindness? Lending to the poor. It’s even greater than giving away money, because this way the people are not embarrassed. And the verse says, “ The world is built on chessed. In other words, the world is entirely chessed. So, these are the three things that the world stands on – Torah, sacrifices, and chessed.
And the Rambam explains, it goes according to the different aspects of man. For example, a man needs chochma, wisdom. Chochma is related to Torah. And middos, a man has to have good character traits. That has to do with doing kindness. And a man also has to have shemiros ha mitzvos, he has to keep the mitzvos. That has to do with the avoda, with serving Hashem. And Rabbeinu Bachye explains, it has to do with man’s mouth, with his heart, and with his actions. His mouth relates to Torah. His heart relates to the service of God. And his acts relates to acts of kindness. And interestingly enough, Rabbeinu Yonah says, “When you do acts of kindness, you have to make sure who you’re doing it for.” He says “When you undertake to do lovingkindness, choose your recipient carefully, selecting good candidates over bad. Give precedence to modest, God-fearing people.” And if a person gives indiscriminately, the verse in Yirmyahu says, “May there be cause to stumble before you. At the time of your anger, against him” That even when you do give charity, for the good reason, you’re going to stumble and you’re give it to the wrong people. So, it’s not just charity to anybody. You have to make sure you’re giving charity to people who have good character. If you give to them, then you’ll always be zocheh, you’ll always have the merit to give to the right person. So we see, there’s even a right and wrong way to give charity.
And the Tiferes Yisroel explains that the purpose of man is to perfect his neshama, his soul, by the way of his body with these three things, because if he uses his seichel and learns Torah, he perfects himself in the sense that he gets chochma. And by doing the avoda, by doing mitzvos, and by doing chessed, by working on his character, he perfects his soul. So, these three things bring perfection to a man’s soul, which is really his purpose in this world.
And the Ruach Chaim explains that these three things relate to man’s speech, thoughts, and actions. His speech is Torah, his thoughts have to do with the avoda, because the Cohen had to have the proper thoughts at the time of the sacrifice, and his actions have to do with gemilus chassadim, with doing acts of kindness. And he explains the avos each perfected one of these qualities. For example, Yaakov was perfect in Torah, and Yitzhak has to do with prayer, which is the avoda, the service to God. And Avraham we know, perfected acts of kindness. And he goes on to explain like this. The Bereishis Rabba explains that there’s not a blade of grass that doesn’t grow without having an angel telling it to grow. Because he says, “Everything physical has no reality on its own.” It has no strength on its own, if it wasn’t for the strength that it’s been given from heaven in order to keep it going. This is spiritual strength. And from this spiritual strength which comes down from heaven, that’s the thing that keeps the world going. Because without it, nothing would exist, because it’s this spiritual force which existed before all of the creation. And by the fact that Moshe Rabbeinu brought down the Torah and gave it to the Jewish people, and because of it, the Jewish people are able to cling to God, so now the Jewish people became the source of life in this world and the source of blessing, because they’re connected with the upper worlds. Once the Jewish people received the Torah, we became the source of blessing for the world, because we’re connected through the Torah to the upper worlds. So, the Torah is the connection from the upper world coming down into this world. But we also need to work things in the other direction, which is the avoda, prayer – our connection by bringing korbanos. That brings the energy from this world up to the upper worlds. So, the first thing is the Torah. The Torah brings the energy down from the upper worlds. The next thing is the avoda, which brings from the lower worlds to the upper worlds. That’s prayer, because we know the korbanos it says, nachas ruach, it gives pleasure to God. God gets pleasure from what happens down in this world, so it’s going from down to up. And the higher up that we go, the more hashbaah that comes down. The higher our connection, the more influence that comes into this world.
And now, what do we have left? Since we don’t have korbanos any more, we don’t have sacrifices, all we have is prayer. And our prayers are in place of the sacrifices. And he explains that they are the foundation of the world, that’s why every letter and letter goes up higher and higher, like korbanos mamash, like sacrifices. And it wasn’t by accident that it took 120 elders for them to produce the prayers that we say today, and everything’s dependent upon these prayers. The whole world’s dependent upon these prayers, and that’s why it was needed to produce the prayers that we have today, they had to have nevuah, prophecy. And everything that even the greatest kabbalist understands today is nothing but a drop in the ocean, compared to the chochma, the wisdom by which our prayers were written. And this is what’s at the foundation of this Pirkei Avos. This is unbelievable, look what he says. “By these three things, the world stands.” In other words, the connection of the upper worlds to the lower worlds by the way of Torah, by the way of Torah it comes down, the influence from above. And by the way of avoda, our prayers, by giving pleasure to Hashem, the energy flows up. And this is what keeps the world going. So, what looks like a simple Pirkei Avos is really at the foundations of the world. This Pirkei Avos is one of the secrets of the universe. And we know the third thing, which is doing chessed, kindness one to the other, spreads the energy throughout the world. This is Pirkei Avos explaining to us how the world works.
And the Maharal wants to explain that these three things are in correspondence with the three foundations of what the world is created with, which is air, fire, and water. He says like this. “These three things are at the foundations of creation. And therefore, our connection to Hakadosh Baruch Hu is through them, because at the yesod of ruach, air, that has to do with Torah. Torah affects the ruach, the spirit, the air, the spirituality of man. B’yesod hamayim, in the foundation of water, that has to do with gemillus chassadim, water has to do with kindness that kindness should be spread like water. And in the foundation of fire, it’s connected with the avoda, avodas halev, prayer. Your prayers should be like fire.” And he continues and says that Torah v’avoda, prayer and kindness, because this our connection to our Creator. And if we do these things properly, everything in the world will be connected with God. And that’s why the Pirkei Avos says, “On these three things the world stands.” If we learn Torah, and if we pray, and if we do kindness, it’s like we connect to the creation itself which is made out of air, and water, and fire. We connect it with our Creator.” It’s an unbelievable idea.
And the Maharal explains there’s another aspect that we can learn from this Pirkei Avos. This is really unbelievable. He says, “ Why did the tanna teach specifically these three things? He wants to explain that creation itself is only created because of good. And it’s only because it’s the good that it is in things that things exist. And if things are not good, they have no reason to exist. And that’s what it means, that the world stands on these three things. And what do these three things have to do with good? He explains, the first thing is Torah, that a person should be good to himself. How is a person good to himself? He learns Torah. Torah gives seichel, intelligence. It opens your mind, connects you with creativity. It connects you with the good. The next thing is, avoda, prayer, service to God. That’s good for God. It’s goodness that you give back to God. And the third thing is the kindness that you do to other people, the good that you give to other people.
That’s why the world stands on these three things, because the whole world was only created for good. And these are the three things that are good, to be good to yourself, to be good to God, and to be good to other people. And this is why we were created. We were created to do good. And that’s why the world stands on these things, because without these things, we don’t deserve to exist. For example, we know that a person has to actually give up his life for three things. What are those three things? If a person is forced to do idol worship, he has to give up his life. If a person is forced to do something immoral sexually, he has to give up his life. And if a person is told to kill somebody, he also has to give up his own life. What are these three things? They relate to these three things the Maharal brings down. For example, idol worship. That has to do with the service to God. If you’re not going to do the service to God, if you’re going to worship idols, a person has to give up his life. Sexuality has to do with kenegged Torah. Torah is the epitome of intelligence, and improper sexuality is the opposite of that, acting like an animal. So, if a person’s going to act like an animal, he has to give up his life for God. He shouldn’t exist. And the third thing is to kill somebody else, which is the opposite of chessed, of doing kindness to another person, to kill another person. If he’s going to do something like that, he shouldn’t exist, because the Maharal explains that the world only exists for the goodness that’s in the world. But we’re not going do good, if we’re not going to do good to ourselves, and good to God, and good to others, so the world shouldn’t exist. And therefore, the world stands on these three things.
A Powerful Parable
The Maggid Mi Dubno brings the Rashi that explains “if you walk in my statutes and keep my commandments” means amelius beTorah, diligence in Torah study. If a person is oskek in Torah, that’s what brings all the blessings into the world. So, he has a moshul like this. One time, a grocery store owner sees one of his best customers coming out of another grocery store with a bunch of stuff. So, what is he going to say to him? If the things that the guy’s coming out of the grocery store with are things that are not available in the original grocery store, so he can say to him, “Listen, you don’t carry this stuff.” But if he comes out with a ton of stuff and it’s the same things that the first grocery store holds, it’s very embarrassing. So, that was the moshul, what’s the nimshal?
A person learning Torah. If a person goes and learns all kinds of other wisdoms, and he’s learning this wisdom and that wisdom, so if you can’t learn from the Torah those things, so we understand. But since we know it says, “Turn it and turn it over again, because everything is in it.” All the wisdom of the world is in the Torah. If a person spends his time learning other types of chochma, it’s going to be very embarrassing, because really everything is included in the Torah.
Great Stories – Rav Yitzhak Taieb
This is a story about Rav Yitzhak Taieb. It says, one time in Morocco there were two Arab neighbors that had fields next to each other. And they were very good friends. It happens to be, one of the Arabs had to leave the country for a very long time, so he figured he could trust his friend. He says, “Please watch my field for me.” But as soon as the friend left, what did he do? There were trees separating the fields. He knocked down all the trees, and he changed the boundaries. He made his field much bigger. Years later, he came back. There’s no trees in the field, there’s nothing. So, he goes to the king and he says, “Listen, this guy stole my field.” The king didn’t know what to do. But the king happened to be friends with Rav Yitzhak Taieb. “So maybe,” he says, “I’ll go ask the Rabbi what to do.”
So, what did the Rabbi say? He said, “Listen, please bring me the donkey that was used to plough this field.” He brought him the donkey, and he set the donkey loose. The donkey ran around, he kept running around, but he wouldn’t go past a certain point. He said, “Listen, at that point where the donkey refuses to go further, dig over there.” So, surely that’s what they did. They dug and they found the foundations of all the trees were at that point. So, from this story you could see the tremendous wisdom of the Torah and the Rabbis.
Peace in Your Home
Rav Moshe Aaron Stern explains that it is not good to argue. It’s not good to argue. If you could stop arguing, well, that would be a tremendous thing. So, Chazal tells us, Hashem has been busy ever since the creation of the world, doing what? Matchmaking people. But how long can it possibly take for Hashem to make matches? Hashem is the creator of the universe. The answer is, no. He has to constantly keep the marriages together. Of all the marriages that He created, He has to keep them going.
He brings Rav Eliyhu Lopian who says that if a person gives in to his wife’s opinion, even if his wife is wrong and he says yes, and he doesn’t make a fight, it’s like you’re Hashem’s partner, because that’s what Hashem is doing. Hashem’s keeping peace in everybody’s house. So, sometimes people think, “What’s the big deal?” Let’s say there’s about to be a fight, and you see the fight is getting out of control. So, you just make into a small argument. But really, he explains that was the purpose of the yetzer hara anyway, to start the whole thing, just to make it into a small argument. Sometimes the yetzer hara comes and tricks people. Like it says in the Gemara by the dogs of Rome, so they used to pretend they were sleeping. Then they would knock down the entire stand, and all the bread would fall on the floor. The dogs would come and they would grab one loaf of bread. So, the whole thing of knocking down the entire stand was just to get that one loaf of bread. The yetzer hara wants to make an argument in the house. He makes it look like he wants to make a big fight and you think, “Well, I only brought it to a small argument.” But the whole purpose of the yetzer hara was just to make a small argument, because those small arguments affects the peace in your house. The relationship with your wife is all based on those small arguments. If you get rid of them, you’ll have a much better relationship.
So they say, when the Brisker Rav got old, there was a younger man that was about to take his place, so he wanted to test him. The Brisker Rav asked him. He said, “What if you were a wagon driver, and your wagon became stuck? What would you do?” He says, “First, I would unload the packages.” The Rav said, “Yeah, and if that didn’t help, what would you do?” “Then I would ask all the people to get out.” “And if that didn’t help, what would you do?” “I’d ask them to push.” “And what if that didn’t help, what would you do?” He says, “I don’t know.” The Rav said to him, “You have to make sure the wagon doesn’t get stuck in the first place. That’s what you should do.”
The same thing here. You have to be preemptive. You have to make sure that arguments don’t start, because once arguments start, you never know where they’re going to go. He brings down three things that a person can do to stop an argument. First of all obviously, you have to be patient. If you have patience, you’re not going to have an argument. Secondly, you have to learn how to listen, because maybe your arguing against something that the other person’s not even saying. If you would listen to the other person, so you don’t have to argue at all, because maybe what they’re saying is correct. And the third thing is to ask yourself, “Is this worth arguing about?” Whether the lady on the bus had a blue sweater or a red sweater, it’s not worth arguing about. That’s what you’re fighting about? If it’s not worth arguing about, just don’t argue. Okay, that’s it for this week’s Torah podcast. I hope you enjoyed it, and please share it with your friends.