Ethics of our Fathers Chapter 1 Mishna 12: Don’t be Stubborn, Change!

Hillel and Shamai received the oral tradition from the preceding. Hillel said, ‘Be of the disciples of Aharon, loving peace and pursuing peace, be one who loves his fellow men and draws them near to the Torah.’

Rav Ovadiah Bartenura tells us how Aharon Ha’Kohen would make between two people that were arguing. Without knowledge of one of the combatants he would tell him how his friend had remorse for what he has done and is sad beyond belief for what he has done to his friend. He said to me that he will now go to his friend and ask his forgiveness for what he has done.

Aharon would tell the other friend the same story and when each one met up with the other, they would ask each other forgiveness. This is how Aharon HaKohen would make peace between two arguing people. What a lesson we can learn! The problem is that we stand on circumstance and refuse to budge and admit we have done anything wrong.

This leads us to be stubborn, not wanting to give in and change for the sake of peace. What a different world it would be if we could learn to overcome being adamant and not wanting to make peace with someone.

This leads to the second part of the Mishna where Aharon would draw people close to the Torah. How would he do that? If Aharon would feel that someone transgressed in private he would go over to them and draw them close and befriend them. The one who transgressed would say to himself, ‘if Aharon knew what I had hidden in my heart, he would not want to befriend me but rather I am a good person in his eyes and full of mitzvos!

“If Aharon really knew who I was,” he continues, “he would stay away from such an evil person!” This person would then feel bad and ashamed of what they had done and it would cause them to do teshuvah (repent) Aharon had the ability just by acting in a friendly manner to change others.

This reminds me of the story of when a Yeshiva student went to see the Chofetz Chaim. This student was found to be smoking on Shabbos and he was summoned to see the Rosh Yeshiva (head of the Yeshivah). The Chofetz Chaim took the boy by the and and cried tears saying the words, ‘Shabbos’.
That is all he said.

From that time on, that boy never smoked on Shabbos! This is the power of our actions that can lead a person to teshuvah, true love and caring. When a person sees that, how can they not want to change?

Ethics of Our Fathers: Chapter 1 Mishna 13: Don’t abuse the Torah

“He used to say, ‘He who seeks greater reputation loses his reputation; he who does not increase his knowledge decreases it, he who does not study deserves death; he who makes unworthy use of the crown of learning shall perish”

Anyone looking for fame wanting to make their name great through arrogance and sheer power will not find it. Even if they are at first successful and they have fame, they will lose it and not be remembered. The “famous” people whose names remain etched on society are often the ones not looking for attention.

This fits into the next part of the Mishna because someone who is satisfied with what they have learned and are not interested in adding to his wisdom will decrease their knowledge. If the purpose of Torah is to learn its ways and change ourselves so we reach our true potential, how could someone just rely on what they learned and go on autopilot? How will they be able to impart these ideas to the next generation if their own knowledge and learning is faulty?

This is why the Mishna says that one who does this will decrease their knowledge. In reality, how does such a person grow in spirituality if they are happy where they are? It reminds me of the story of someone I have known for many years and unfortunately is happy where they are holding and been holding over all those years!

How sad, still lacking basic knowledge in things that could have been learned years ago. Still doing the same things after all those years without increased knowledge.  Sad, real sad. This is what leads to the next part of the Mishna which states that if one does not study he deserves death.

The reason for this is because someone who does not learn Torah is compared to an animal. Isn’t our purpose in this world to learn Torah and keep G-d’s mitzvos? If this is true and one does not do this their entire life, what is the purpose of it all? Just to acquire money, property…like the prophet Isaiah tells us eat, drink and be merry lest tomorrow I die.

This reminds me of another story that someone once told me. They said that the more money they paid for tickets to get into the services for the High Holy days, the closer you get to the air conditioning. I said that’s great, why not get a portable air conditioner and bow down to it?

The last part of the Mishna tells us that one who makes unworthy usage of the crown of Torah will die. The reason is that Torah is supposed to be studied and learned for its own sake for the purpose of changing ourselves and reaching our true potential.

If we use our Torah knowledge to disparage others and abuse our position, then this is obviously what Torah was not created for. This abuse of Torah can cost you your life! Torah is called life to those that guard it and cherish it but if you use it for the wrong reasons and abuse it, then it can be deadly!

Let us learn from this that we learn Torah to the fullest and try to uphold it’s great ideals. Never rest on our laurels from what we learned, and continue to learn and grow in its ways.

Ethics of Our Fathers Chapter 1 Mishna 14: Let’s Change Now!

“He used to say, ‘If I am not for myself who is for me? If I care only for myself, what am I? If not now, when”

Rabbenu Yonah explains that if I don’t desire to want to change and fix my bad character traits, then who will be there for me? In other words, other people can help them change their bad habits but in reality, the greatest encouragement comes from the individual himself. If that person inspires himself, he will then continue to have positive thoughts about change and become the person that G-d wants him to be.

This helps us understand the second part of the Mishna because if I am only for myself, even if I help others, what I have I accomplished? The person has still not reached even the minimal level that he is capable. What is this comparable to? It is like a king who gives a field of 30 Kor to his servants to work for the year.

The servants work really really hard and at the end of the year, they harvest produce of 50 Kor. The king asks them, if I gave you a field of 30 Kor, how could you only produce 50 Kor in return? The servants tell the king that the field that you gave to us was of inferior quality and even though we worked really hard, we were only able to produce a little bit. So too we say in front of G-d, ‘the nature of a person from when he is young is bad’. Even if a person works really hard on themselves, we only accomplish a little when there is so much to be done!

This teaches us an important lesson. We know that even if a person works really hard to fight the evil inclination, it still causes us to sin. If a person does not work hard on themselves to change then they will be empty of mitzvos. This is compared to the inferior field, if you don’t fertilize it and plow it, nothing will grow from it.

The last part of the Mishna teaches us that if a person would say I have too much work to do today and  tomorrow I will pay attention to my bad character traits and work on them. Maybe they won’t have time and will do nothing. Even if one does have time, maybe it will be wasted on other things when they should be working on themselves and doing mitzvos.

A person can’t put off today what he could do tomorrow. We shouldn’t be lazy and use each day to its fullest. The more we put things off, the less we will do them. The evil inclination does not sleep and continues to attack a person even when they sleep. we live lives of many wasted opportunities.

Let us use our time wisely and productively and become the great people that we are capable of being.

Ethics of our Fathers Chapter 1: Mishna 15 Live the Torah that way it should be

Rabbi Ovadia Bartenura explains that the most important aspect of a person’s day should be focused on learning Torah. Learning Torah has the ability to transform a person and change them. If we spend all our time in pursuit of the physical then a person will quickly lose their connection to G-d. 
The reason is because the soul needs spiritual nourishment and if it is not fed probably then it dies. This also teaches a lesson to our children. If they see that the father goes out to regular classes even after a long day at work, it demonstrates what is most important in a person’s life.
The next part of the Mishnah is there to teach us that we are obligated to act, not just talk about what we are going to do. There are people that are talkers and there are people that are doers. Judaism is about taking action. This is easier said than done because there are obstacles that are thrown in our way to try and stop us in our spiritual endeavors.
A person has to be a dreamer with a plan to reach their lofty goals. One thing is for sure; one does not rest on their laurels but one continues to grow and seek guidance to help themselves reach their potential.
This has been demonstrated over and over again in my own personal life. Great rabbis that I have had the privilege to know and receive their guidance has been nothing short of unbelievable. They have collectively taught me to continue to strive and grow regardless of what “the world” may throw at you. With that kind of inspiration and seeing first hand their righteousness and knowledge, it certainly has transformed me into the person that I am.
With this type of inspiration and desire, how can one not look at someone cheerfully? After all, we have so much to be thankful for even if we are faced with difficult times why ruin it with a sour face? What did that person deserve to see our sour face?
This cheerfulness comes from a true desire to give over the best of themselves to others. This will result in others thinking highly of you and show true camaraderie. When someone exudes cheerfulness it is something that makes others feel good and brings the best out of them as well.
Let us use these ideas and live by them by incorporating the Torah into our lives to the best of our ability! 

Ethics of Our Fathers Chapter 1 Mishna 16: Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Advice

“Rabban Gamliel said, ‘Provide yourself with a teacher and avoid doubt; and do not make a habit of giving tithes by guesswork”

There is nothing worse than having a question come before you and there is a doubt in your mind which way the halacha should be. This Mishna teaches us that a person should have a colleague either more knowledgeable or not to exchange ideas with it to come up with the right conclusion.

Rabbenu Yonah learns that even if this person does not match your level of wisdom, nonetheless it is worthwhile to have their counsel so there will be no doubt what the halacha is. The reason this is so important is because one does not want to permit something when it should be forbidden or forbid something that would be permitted. Therefore, you should appoint your friend as your rav to take one’s self out of doubt.

This takes great humility because in essence one is saying that they don’t know the answer and they have to seek guidance from others even if they are less learned. This also shows the importance of having someone to guide them and to learn from.

I have had the good fortune of being around great rabbinic figures where I gained practical knowledge as well as seeing their humility and righteousness in action. By witnessing great people in everyday life, it certainly changed my life and showed me what the great potential that man has!

The last part of the Mishna tells us that if one has a doubt regarding tithes that one should be stringent and take more will certainly make a mistake and cause one to lose out on their decision. Therefore, one should have a rav or someone they can get advice from who will be able to help them and steer them in the right direction.

Many people in different situations would have been helped had they asked advice from someone else who is capable of helping them. Two heads have the ability to prevail on a difficult task than one trying to figure things out on their own.

We have to try and be more humble and say that we don’t know everything and sometimes ask others for advice. Rav Sternbuch Shlita told me in the name of the Brisker Rav that it was more important to say that they did not know the answer to a question than give an answer that was not truthful. Even the greatest scholars who say I don’t know teach this valuable lesson of humility.

Ethics of Our Fathers Chapter 1 Mishna 17: Do Something, Don’t Philosophize!

“Shimon his son said, ‘All my life I have been brought up among the sages, and I have found nothing better for a person than silence;; study is not the most important thing but practice and whoever talks too much brings about sin”

Rabbenu Yonah tells us that there is no greater character trait than silence. The problem he tells us is that when a person speaks they could help themselves in one way but could damage themselves at the same time by saying something inappropriate. Even if a person speaks about something that they have to like about livelihood  or other things, nonetheless a person should minimize what they speak about.

The reason is that a person even if speaking about things that they have to, one should be careful and not go beyond what they speak about because it could turn out to be something that they would regret. This would go against conventional wisdom because after all, everyone has to talk, otherwise how do you accomplish what you need to do.

The Chofetz Chaim when he wrote his work on Shemiras Halashon (the laws of Loshon Hara) did not tell people they weren’t allowed to talk but rather the purpose of his book was to teach people how to talk. Here the Mishna tells us that if you have to speak and get information, the best way is to minimize it in the best way possible.

The next part of the Mishna tells us an important idea in Judaism and that is the idea of action, not just thoughts. We learn here that the purpose of study is to put what one learns into action. There is no better way than to show and display to others good character traits than by the actions of the person himself.

Many people say that as long as they are Jewish in their heart and are good people, then that is enough. Judaism demands much more than that. Learn, continue to learn and put what you learn into action because otherwise it is like mental gymnastics. We are here in this world not to be philosophers but rather as doers who accomplish.

The last part of the Mishna explains that one should not speak too much when it comes to things of halacha. This means that when answering questions in halacha one should be careful and get to the specific idea that needs to be addressed because if there are others miscellaneous things added, it could confuse a person and come up with the wrong answer.

This is where talking too much will bring a person to the wrong conclusion. This doesn’t mean that one should not talk things out to make sure that the conclusion is accurate but to ensure that no extraneous ideas come in that would confuse the issue.

We must learn that many times the best thing to do is be quiet, rather than answer and say things that one shouldn’t. Not only that, we have to know that we need to do more and act rather than philosophize since we will take our good deeds and actions to the next world to testify for us to our benefit in the next world!

Ethics of Our Fathers Chapter 1 Mishna 18: Absolute Truth leads to World Peace

Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel said: ‘The world is established on three principles: truth, justice, and peace, as it is said, ‘You shall administer truth, justice and peace within your gates.”

Why is the character trait of truth so important? Isn’t it permissible to lie under certain circumstances and is recommended for the sake of peace? On the other hand, if truth was not so important wouldn’t the world look even worse than it does?

The Rambam in the first of the 13 Principles of Faith tells us there is an obligation to believe in the existence of the Creator that is perfect and absolute. The reason that G-d must be absolute is because His existence is crucial for the world to exist. Not only that but if the values that He wants to administer to the world are not concrete and can change with time, then He cannot be G-d.

Therefore absolute truth must be based on something that is everlasting and does not change. If that would be the case, then we would live (which we do) in a world where moral relativism is king. This means that if I feel doing something fine, if not also fine but just don’t tell me what to do. It is a world where values can change by what society dictates.

Forty years ago, euthanasia may have been viewed as murder but today if a person will not have what the doctors define as quality of life, then they will pull the plug on the patient. We could also justify other things that would never been considered years ago to be the norm today. This is the danger if we live in a world that does not have the guide of absolute truth!

The next part of the Mishna emphasizes the importance of justice. There is a difference how justice is looked at in the secular world and the Torah world. In the secular world you need laws and regulations to keep society orderly. Otherwise there would be chaos and the world would not be able to function.

In the Torah world, you need justice and regulations not to only bring order but to actually have the individual the ability to reach their true potential through spiritual growth. This means that laws are designed for the sake of benefiting the person in his quest to become closer to G-d, not just for the keeping society orderly and functioning.

The last part of the Mishna speaks about the importance of peace. Aharon Ha’Kohen had the unbelievable character trait of making peace between people. He would tell one person how much the other person he was angry at had regret for what they had done and only wanted to make up with their friend. He would then tell the other person the same thing and when the two met they forgot about what they were angry about and became fast friends again.

The problem is that we often are stubborn and will hold grudges even over something that may be able to forgive someone. We don’t want to give in for we feel that is exposing ourselves to weakness and we don’t want to show that to others.

Before Yom Kippur we ask others for forgiveness for anything we may have done wrong to them. When someone comes to us and asks forgiveness, we should immediately grant it to them. The reason is because if overlook what someone has done to us, G-d will overlook at the wrongdoing we have done to Him and will accept our teshuvah (repentance) and write us in the book of life and give us a good judgement for the upcoming year.

Peace is so important that we end the Shemoneh Esrei with the prayer for peace. May we be able to incorporate these character traits into our everyday lives and strengthen the world through our actions.

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 2 Mishna 1 The Results of our

“Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi said, “Which is the right course that a man should choose for himself? One which is creditable to the person adopting it, and on account of which he gains respect from men. Be careful to perform a minor mitzvah just as well as a major one, for you do not know the reward for each mitzvah. Balance the loss sustained by the performance of a mitzvah against the reward secured by its observance and the profit of a sin against its injury. Consider three things and you will not come into the grip of sin – know what is above you: a seeing eye, a hearing ear, and a book in which all your deeds are recorded”

The first part of the Mishan teaches us that when we do what G-d wants us to do and follow his commandments properly, then we not only give Him nachas but others will want to emulate us as well. The reason is that the Torah has the ability to change us and when internalize the Torah’s timely messages, we become closer to G-d.

Growing in Torah and changing bad character traits transforms us. When people we come in contact see this, they witness something extraordinary. They notice something is different and want to be a part of it.

The next part of the Mishna tells us that we have to be careful with all mitzvos. The reason is that even though we know the punishment for transgressing different mitzvos, ie either being cut spiritually off from the Jewish people, lashes or one of the 4 severe deaths, strangulation, stoning, having molten lead thrown down your throat or having one’s head chopped off, nonetheless we don’t know what merit we receive when we do the mitzvos.

The reason we do not know what the merit of the mitzvos we do is because if we did, we would only concentrate on those mitzvos that give us the highest reward and we wouldn’t bother with the “smaller” mitzvos at all. This is the reason that we must be careful in performing all the mitzvos which will make us into a more complete individual.

This also ties into the next part of the Mishna that a person may think if I perform this mitzvah and it costs me a lot of money, why should I do it? A person has to realize how important the mitzvos are regardless whether they cost a lot of money or not. The idea is that when G-d gave us the Torah and we took G-d to be our G-d, it didn’t matter what was written in the Torah; we will do whatever G-d tells us regardless how much a particular mitzvah may cost us to do.

We also have to be aware that when we transgress any commandment of the Torah for whatever benefit we may get, we have to keep in mind that at some point either in this world or the next we will have to pay for that bad judgment. This is a world where we can have the ability to acquire eternal life by keeping the mitzvos but if we transgress them, then we will have to pay later.

This leads to the last part of the Mishna that we have to realize what our purpose is in this world and where we came from. We have to realize that G-d knows the thoughts of man and what we will do in the future. Therefore even if we transgress in this world, G-d knows it and will judge us for our actions in the next world.  Not only that, G-d witnesses what we do and has angels following us around recording our actions.

These angels will come to give testimony in front of the heavenly court and then G-d will judge us based on that. Nothing we do in this world goes unrecorded. Thousands of years ago we could not have imagined this but with the advance of technology it is not that hard to fathom.

This is indeed scary which means that we must be careful what we do in this world as we try and make the greatest kiddush Hashem we can. This is done by performing the mitzvos to the best of our ability which will transform us and the influence the ones around us!

Ethics of Our Fathers Chapter 2 Mishna 2: Don’t Sell out the Family for the Sake of the Community

“Rabban Gamliel, the son of Rabbi Yehuda Ha’Nasi said, ‘It is well to combine Torah study with some worldly occupation, for the energy taken up by both of them keeps sin out of one’s mind; all Torah study which is not combined with some trade must at length fail and occasion sin. Let all who work for the community do so from a spiritual motive, for then the merit of their fathers will sustain them, and their righteousness will endure forever. “I credit you with great reward (G-d says) as if you accomplished it all”

There is a disagreement among the rabbinical authorities what the first part of the Mishnah is talking about. Does it mean that one needs to learn combined with work or that it refers to learning with proper ethical behavior? If we say that it means that one needs to work, there is another Mishnah later Chapter 3 Mishna 22 that tells us that without a livelihood one cannot work.

While this is true, the Mishnah here explains that even if one learns Torah, he should combine it with something that will help him earn a living so that he won’t come to sin when there is free time. The reason is that Torah study weakens a person and if a person when not learning does something to help earn a living, he keeps the evil inclination at bay because he is busy all the time.

This aspect of the Mishnah indicates that one must be busy so as to not fall in the clutches of the evil inclination. Even if that means when one is tired and not learning one should work to stay out of trouble.

This leads to the next part of the Mishnah which tells us that one should work for the community for the sake of heaven. The connection is keeping one’s self busy while at the same time helping out others. Here we learn that the reason one helps the community is for the sake of helping the community and not for the sake of honor, or to get benefit from it or to have power over others.

There are many people that give to their all to help different aspects of the Jewish community. While this is good and even praiseworthy, one must know how to balance that with their familial responsibilities. As the saying goes, chesed (acts of loving kindness) start at home. A person must work very hard to keep his home structure strong and functional.

This means that even though they help the community-at-large, it doesn’t mean every last second must go to that at the expense of their family. At all times, family must come first. This may be obvious but sometimes the goals of the individual cloud the person’s thoughts and they end up sacrificing their family in the process.

This is why it is critical to have a rabbi or mentor to guide them in this process. Helping out and working for the community is an amazing mitzvah, but their must be clear boundaries when it comes to family.

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 2 Mishna 3: Don’t rely on man, only on G-d

“Be cautious of the ruling authorities  for they befriend a man only for their own interests; they appear as friends when it is to their own advantage, but they do not stand by a man when he is in distress”
This Mishna explains what has happened over the millennium. The ruling authorities of any country, state…always look out for their own interests. Even in the most democratic countries, the one’s in charge call the shots even though they are elected by the people.
They talk a good game, promise the world and more but in the end satisfy their own needs and not that of their constituents! When they need something from people they will go out of their way to be friendly and nice and do what it takes to get what they want. If not, their is no end to what they may do.
Just think of any company that requires money from an individual. They will do whatever it takes to get the money out of the person. On the other hand, if the company owes someone money, see how quickly they are in returning it!
Even in times when a man most needs help, they are often not their for them because it is not in their interest! We can think of many a war or two that the United States did not get involved in where there was tremendous bloodshed and loss of life. 
This does not mean that America has to run around the world and help everyone but rather we see that when there are no American interests at stake, America does not get involved even at the expense of mass genocide!
On the individual level, don’t we act in a similar way? Mankind in general is selfish and acts in their own interests for their own motives. Whether it be in business, sports or entertainment, we look out for ourselves. Torah and the observance of mitzvos make us realize that this is not the proper way to act.
There is an obligation of giving tzedaka and helping those less fortunate than ourselves. There is an obligation of helping the community and getting involved in communal affairs. The Torah teaches us that we have to look beyond ourselves without receiving any benefit for what we do!
This Mishna teaches that we have no one else to rely on except our father in heaven and not to rely on the actions of man. At the same time, we still have to change ourselves and our mentality and help one another even though it really goes against our nature. This is precisely the reason that these mitzvos were given to us!!

Ethics of Our Fathers: Chapter 2 Mishna 4 An Upside Down World

“He used to say, ‘Do G-d’s will as you would do your own will, so that He may do your will  as if it were His; sacrifice your will for the sake of His will, so that He may undo the will of others before yours”

Rabbenu Yona explains that just like one has the desire to do his own will so too one should want to do the will of G-d.  Not only that, but one should strive to make his will and the will of his Creator to be the same. This sounds like a great idea, but how do we accomplish this?

The more we learn and incorporate the Torah’s values into our own lives, we begin to change. This means that when we envelop the values of the Torah, they change us into spiritual people. This in turn leads us to want to continue to act in such a way which will bring us to a higher awareness of what G-d wants from us.

The Mishna continues by explaining G-d gives us everything that we need. By doing the will of G-d ie by keeping His Torah and commandments, He in turn gives us what we need.. This may seem difficult as most people do not have easy lives and have trials and tribulations to contend with.

At the end of the day though, we have a roof over our heads and food to eat. This is what the Mishna means. Although we may think we need more or deserve more, nonetheless, G-d gives us what He feels we need and can handle, not the other way around.

The last part of the Mishna teaches us that when we do G-d’s will, he keeps our enemies at bay so that they cannot hurt us. This is also difficult to understand because we don’t always witness this first hand or second hand or even know about the great things that G-d does for us.

We will find out later (in the true world, ie the next world) all the things that we went through and why. Not only that but G-d will reveal what He did to take care of us and thwart the plan of our enemies. We can only understand this as a true soul without a body because in this physical world our minds are clouded and we don’t see reality as we should.

At that time when our soul is not part of our bodies things are seen with greater clarity. In essence we live in an upside down but G-d runs the show and will show us why He did things the way He did.

The thing we have to do is continue to grow and sanctify His name in this world through the mitzvos that we do which should change how we look and interact with others.

Ethics of Our Fathers: Chapter 2 Mishna 5: Be careful what you say and use your time wisely

“Hillel said, ‘Do not separate yourself from the community; be not sure of yourself until the day of your death; do not judge your fellow man until you have been in his position; do not say anything that cannot be understood at once, in the hope in the hope that it will ultimately it will be understood; and do not say ‘When I shall have leisure time I will study,’ for you may never have leisure time”

The first part of the Mishna tells us that one shouldn’t separate themselves from the community. Rav Ovadia Bartenura explains that the reason is because if one does not join the community and share in its suffering then they themselves will not be comforted at their time of sorrow. This means that one aspect of the community is to share and help when others suffer whereby it helps to soften the blow so-to-speak when others display solidarity.

The Rambam in the hilchos teshuvah (laws of repentance) tells us that this is one of the 24 things that stop a person from doing teshuvah. The reason is because if one is separates themselves from the community it shows that they only care about themselves. When one is self-centered and thinks everything is coming to him, then why should they do teshuvah?

The next part of the Mishna explains that man can never rely on themselves. The reason is because we all have evil inclinations and it can sometimes overpower us to act in a way that is against what the Torah wants for us. If we look at Yochanan the High Priest, even though he served in the Temple for 80 years, at the end of his life he became a heretic.

This is hard to understand at many levels. Someone so righteous, serving in the Temple can end up a heretic? This is exactly what the Mishna here states. Never rely on what I did yesterday. Today is a new day to grow and fight against my evil inclination. It is a constant battle that doesn’t end. Relying on what we previously did may still not help us!

The next part of the Mishna tells us that we cannot hastily judge someone until we have been in their shoes. This means that if we see someone fail at a certain trial or tribulation that they may have, we are not allowed to cast judgement because we don’t know what they are going through. Many are quick to judge without knowing the whole story!

Even though it is easy to condemn someone for their actions we have to consider the circumstances under which something was done. Although it does not condone the wrong action done, nonetheless it gives us awareness and helps us to show compassion for others.

The next part of the Mishna tells us that we should be careful in what we say to people. The intention is that what we say should be clear and understood lest someone misinterpret and make a mistake. How applicable this is today!

There are many times that we may give someone directions or advice but they are not clear. Often this will lead to a misunderstanding that could cause disastrous results. When speaking to someone we must be so careful what we say and how we say it. Clarity speaks millions!

The last part of the Mishna tells us that we have to use everyday to try and reach our true potential. We shouldn’t say that I will learn when I have time or when I get around to it because we may never have the time. We have all kinds of obligations that need to be met so we need to use our time wisely.

This is why it is so important to have fixed times for learning Torah every day. These times have to be cut in stone so that nothing deters us. When we are steadfast in what we do we gain a lot and teach others the importance as well. When our children know that at certain times there father is learning and they are not allowed to

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 2 Mishna 6: Be Quick to Learn from all People

“He used to say, ‘A boor cannot be fearful of sin; an unlearned person cannot be scrupulously pious; the bashful person cannot learn; and the quick impatient person cannot teach; anyone excessively occupied in business cannot become a scholar; and in a place where there are no leaders, strive to become a leader”

A boor is someone who has not learned Torah, does not keep mitzvos and certainly does not work on fixing bad character traits. This person will not have fear of heaven because since he is unlearned, he does not know what to guard himself against or what to fear. Lack of knowledge and awareness causes this individual to only worry about himself and nothing else.

An unlearned person because he has contact with others has some character traits that are good and can guard himself from doing bad things. This can lead him to be righteous  but it won’t lead him to piety. .The reason for this is because he is unlearned in Torah.

Torah scholarship gives one the ability to continue to grow spiritually while at the same time gives the individual a special awareness. This allows one to reach higher spiritual levels which will lead him to piety.

The next part of the Mishna tells us that someone who is bashful cannot learn. The reason is because they will say how can someone who is stupid like me speak in front of such a great Torah scholar. In their bashfulness they will think that they are not capable of understanding the intricacies of what is being spoken about and their true lack of knowledge will come out.

They will be embarrassed and afraid of rejection and ridicule even if in reality it would not happen,. Every person to be successful need to have some level of self-esteem. If they are bashful they will look down on themselves and be afraid of giving over information or trying to teach because of the fear of being exposed as a fool.

A person that is quick tempered and impatient cannot teach because they quickly get angry and lose patience for every little thing. This will come out to hurt himself in the eyes of who they teach whereby information will not be able to given over and their students will not gain.

The students will be afraid to ask questions and the teacher will have no benefit from what he is doing. The purpose of teaching is to have an open heart for their students and help them understand and digest the information being presented. If one is quick to get angry and has no patience then they don’t have the ability to give over anything they propose to teach.

The next part of the Mishna tells us that if a person is preoccupied with business they cannot be a Torah scholar. The reason is because they are so busy with business that they make it the essence of their lives and do not have fixed time for learning.

Business certainly can take up a lot of a person’s time but a person is not their business. They need to grow spiritually as well and without fixed times for learning this will not happen. One should look at business as a way to make a living but not the essence of their lives!

The last part of the Mishna tells us that a person has to try and be a leader if there are no leaders. This means even if that person thinks they do not have the ability to do so, they should work hard to get these skills. The reason is in certain situations where there is no one to take action, then we have to try and step up and do what we can.

Many think they do not have the ability to do so but G-d puts people in certain situations that they use character traits that they don’t think exist! That is the purpose of why G-d puts them in that situation int he first place!!

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 2 Mishna 7: Judgment Measure for Measure

“He saw a skull floating on the surface of the water. He said to it: ‘Because you drowned others, others have drowned you; and those who have drowned you, shall themselves be drowned [ measure for measure]'”

The reason for this is because there is a judge who runs the world and there is also judgement. This means that if a person killed someone and spilled innocent blood, then too the same thing should happen to him.

Rabbenu Yonah explains that because someone has killed, someone else is not allowed to take revenge and kill them for what they have done. Even if they would be obligated to die by a rabbinical court in this world, still one is not allowed to go out and act as a vigilante to offset the death that has occurred.

At the same time, the heinous action that this person did to someone else should be done to that individual. This means that when G-d judges a person and punishes them for the wrongful actions, He judges them measure for measure for what they have done.

Things in this world do not happen haphazardly and for no reason. We in our limited intelligence for what we see may not explain the actions of others and why things occur. G-d in His infinite wisdom will only allow us to understand the workings of what transpires in the world and in our own lives when we are a pure soul.

This is because since we are created from the impurity of the ground in this world, our soul is dulled because of it. Only when we are involved in spirituality through Torah and mitzvos, do we gain special insight. We get a glimpse in this world but it so hard to understand it because of all the tragedies that surround us.

This is the age-old question of why bad things happen to good people. The Torah is clear in many places that a person receives punishment measure for measure for what they have done. This makes sense because G-d is good and his ways are good. He judges and acts accordingly due to our actions. The judgement is fair and the punishment always fits the crime even if we are not able to fathom it.

We live in a very complicated world. It seems like utter chaos and no rhyme or reason for things to happen the way they do. The Torah is a blueprint to our very existence and gives us the tools to better be equipped to deal with life’s challenges.

A student once came to Rav Moshe Shcneider, the famed Rosh Yeshiva of Etz Chaim in London. The student asked for a blessing from his rebbe. Rav Schneider asked him what blessing he would like. The student said he wanted a blessing that everything should go easy.

The Rosh Yeshiva answered, “I cannot give such a blessing. That would be a blessing in vain. Instead I give you the blessing that whatever trials and tribulations you have in this world you should be able to overcome them!”

This is a true lesson for all of us. Even if things are difficult they are ultimately for the good even if it is difficult for us to understand. The silver lining is there, we just have to know how to look for it.


Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 2 Mishna 8: Doing the Right Things has Benefits

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 3 Misna 19: If G-d knows what we will do, what happened to free will?

“Everything is foreseen (by G-d), yet freewill is granted (to man); the world is ruled with Divine goodness, yet all is according to the amount of man’s work”

The first part of the Mishna explains that G-d foresees everything we do. If this is true, how do we reconcile the next statement that we have freewill? After all, if G-d knows what we are going to do, how am I really free to do what I want?

The commentaries explains that we have the ability to do either good or bad. We have free choice to go in either one direction or the other. This does not contradict the fact that G-d knows what we are going to do. We still have to go out and do it!

The reason that G-d set up the world like this is so that we will get more reward for the positive actions that we do. If we were created only do His will, we would be robots. This is not what G-d wants! He put us in this world with different character traits, drives and urges to help us reach our potential.

These actions can also cause G-d’s ire when we have not done what He wants us to do! Although the first man ate from the tree of knowledge, he made our challenges that much more difficult.

His intention was to bring the evil, so-to-speak inside of us so that we would have to constantly fight against our evil inclination. That way, when we were presented with different options of what do do in a particular situation, if we chose the right way, we would get even more merit for our good actions but at the same time suffer the consequences when we did the wrong thing.

The only problem with this, though is that the Talmud tells us that G-d calls him an apikorus (heretic). The reason being is that even though Adam may have been right in his thinking, nonetheless, it was not the way G-d established the world to be run!

This leads to the last part of the Mishna about G-d’s judgement. G-d has tremendous compassion when looking at what man does. In reality, we have no one to blame but ourselves for what happens to us because ultimately we are responsible for our actions.

The only question is when we do something that G-d doesn’t want us to do, how does He view it? He takes into account what the action was, why we did it and where we were holding at the time. He therefore judges us at the present time, not for what great things we may do in the future, thereby making the judgement harsher.

This is a tremendous act of chesed G-d does for us. Even though He may put us in precarious situations to see how we will react, nonetheless, He doesn’t put us in a situation we can’t handle! We are judged by what we do, not by what our future holds!

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 3 Mishna 20: Enjoying this world comes at a price

“He used to say: ‘Everything is given on pledge, and a net is spread for all the living (none can escape divine justice) ; the store is open and the storekeeper (G-d) allows credit; the ledger is open and the hand writes; whoever wishes to borrow may come and borrow, but the collectors go around regularly every day and exact punishment from man, whether or not he realizes (that he is punished for his sins); they have good authority on which they can rely, since the judgement is just;  and all is prepared for the banquet (the reward for the righteous is assured).

The first part of the Mishna explains that whatever we have in this world is loaned to us and we shouldn’t think that we will pass it on to our kids or our loved ones. The reason is because everything belongs to G-d and He can decide to take it away if He chooses. This is the reality which we must live by.

Rabbenu Yonah gives us a parable with which to understand this. A person walks into a certain place and doesn’t find anybody there. He walks into a house and finds a table set up and on it many delicacies of food and drink. He eats and drinks and says, ‘All this I have merited and I will do with it what I wish! He doesn’t realize that someone else must have brought it there and in the end he will have to pay back what he benefited from’.

This means that even though we are given free reign to live as we want, we will have to give an accounting for our actions after we die. Even in justice G-d has mercy and He will judge a person measure for measure.

The rest of the Mishna explains in terms of a shopkeeper and credit that he gives to his customers. They come and borrow on credit but at the end, they still have to pay. This is a parable to life in this world.

We are given the opportunity to enjoy this world and everything inside it. We have to know how to do that! G-d has given us instructions in the form of the Torah that guide our everyday life from when we wake up in the morning until we go to sleep at night.

If we use the world properly, then everything is good; the rain will come in its proper time,there will be peace in the land… If we don’t do what we are supposed to do, then there is strife and evil runs rampant.

Everyone has to take stock of their lives and try and change to live as G-d wants to do. There are repercussions for our actions as well. We will only understand to what extent after death when G-d shows us what we did in our lives and what we had the potential to do,

Woe to the person that had great potential and wasted it on their desires in this world. G-d gave us a great world where we could strive to great spiritual heights.. Let’s use it properly and grab it!
“Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah said, ‘When there is no Torah there is no proper conduct, when there is no proper conduct there is no Torah. When there is no wisdom there is no reverence; when there is no reverence there is no wisdom. When there is no knowledge there is no understanding; when there is no understanding there is no knowledge.When there is no bread there is no Torah; when there is no Torah there is no bread.”

The first part of the Mishna explains that one must learn Torah to perfect one’s character traits. The reason is because the Torah speaks at great length about character traits one must emulate to reach their spiritual potential.

The book of Genesis tells story after story about our forefathers and the great character traits they possessed. The Torah throughout the book of Numbers explains some of the failures of the Jewish people to inject in the future generations the importance of adherence to G-d’s laws!

If we don’t work on our character development, how can we learn Torah? This means that these two things go hand in hand. IF we see a Torah observant Jew steal or do other things that are in direct violation of the Torah, what does that say about his Torah learning?

We could say that a person is human and makes mistakes and will grow from them. That is true but at the same time, we see that his learning is not up to par and that individual does not actualize what the Torah wants from him!

The next part of the Mishna explains that without wisdom there is no reverence and vice-versa. When one learns and acquires wisdom, we realize how much we don’t know which should humble us. The more we learn, the more we see how small we really are in the context of the world at large.

At the same time, if one has wisdom but does not incorporate reverence with that, an individual is then doing mental gymnastics. This means that the learning really has no relevance to their lives and they don’t put it into action.

Learning is about doing and embellishing it. It is not like another academic subject, it is our life! Our goal is to incorporate these ideas in our lives and pass our priceless heritage onto our children.

The next part of the Mishna explains how much we have to concentrate on our learning to be able to understand it. We cannot just give a superficial overview of what the Torah tells us but we have to try and understand its depths to the best of our ability.

If we don’t, then our learning will only become confusing and won’t have the impact that it should. This is why it is important to have good teachers that can explain these things to us so we can explore the intricacies of Torah!

The last part of the Mishna tells us that when there is no bread there is no Torah and without Torah there is no bread. If we don’t have money or a livelihood, how can we learn Torah? We have to make our best effort to put food on the table.

At the same time, we have to realize that even if we have ample livelihood, what is it worth without Torah? Torah is the essence of our lives; livelihood is just a means to be able to survive in this world but it is not the essence of who we are. We often forget this!

Ethics of Our Fathers: Chapter 3 Mishna 22: Actions vs Widsom

“He used to say, ‘One whose wisdom exceeds his deeds, to what is he like? To a tree that has many branches and few roots, so that when the wind comes, it plucks it up and turns it over, as it is said, ‘And he shall be like a lonely tree in the desert, and shall not see the coming of the good; he shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, a salt land and uninhabited’. But one whose deeds exceed his wisdom, to what is he like? To a tree that has few branches and many roots , so that even if all the winds in the world come and blow upon it, they cannot move it out of its place, as it is said, ‘And he shall be like a tree planted by waters that spreads out its roots beside a stream; it sees not the coming of the heat, and its leaves are ever green; in a year of drought it is not troubled, and ceases not to bear fruit’.

The Mishna here teaches us the fundamental principle that knowledge by itself will not last and make a person a moral individual. The reason is because knowledge doesn’t necessarily change a person.

If a person learns something which they feel will have no impact on their lives, what is it worth? Torah is about taking action. Learning Torah teaches us what is permissible and forbidden. They are not lessons just for the sake of learning ie like mathematics; they are principles for a meaningful life.

The first book of the Torah tells us about the roots of history and the character traits of our ancestors. It goes into great detail about the actions of these incredible people which have made a lasting impression throughout the generations. One may mistakenly look at these “stories” as just that, describing our historical roots.

This is tragic. Noach, for example gave us the ability thousands of years later to have the strength to fight against our environment and become great people despite who are neighbors may be. After all, he and his family were the only ones that survived the flood!

We have seen through the generations the “greatest, most intelligent people” who were immoral and outright cruel. How do we explain that the doctors, lawyers and academics were the first ones to join Hitler’s third Reich and believed in his doctrine to wipe out the Jews.

Did they really believe that treating animals properly was better than treating a Jew as if to Jews weren’t even human and deserved everything that they received? This is where education and wisdom left to its own elements cannot produce moral individuals.

If it is not harnessed properly and given the right values then wisdom can only take a person so far. The famous example of this is with Bertram Russel, the famed university teacher of ethics. When one of his students asked him how he could teach ethics and be unethical, his response was “if I would teach mathematics you would expect me to be a square”?

Our actions and what is behind them is what matters. A person could perform a mitzvah with all the kabblastic intentions and receive unbelievable merit for what he has done while at the same time, a simple Jew could do the same mitzvah and also receive great merit.

The more we learn, the more we understand our limitations and the great responsibility we have to serve G-d properly. This will in turn give us true wisdom which allows us to control our desires and do the mitzvos properly!

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 3: Mishna 23: Essential Laws vs Complements

“Rabbi Eliezer ben Chisma said; The laws of bird-offerings, and the laws regarding the beginning of menstrual periods – these are the essential laws; astronomy and mathematics are like the seasonings of wisdom”

The first part of the mishna talks about the bird-pair offerings that a woman must bring shortly after childbirth (as well as in other situations).  There is great discussion s regarding these sacrifices and what happens if different women mixed them up as well.
Menstrual periods refer to the necessary calculations to determine the start date of her period. They also refer to the relevant restrictions when her period begins. These can include what types of blood indicate a menstrual flow or off-cycle spotting, blood spots found on clothing…
These are called the essential laws because they are crucial in maintaining the Jewish home. A man is not allowed to look at his wife as an object of his desires but must have a relationship that is outside the physical.
This is a great protection for women as it insures proper guidelines in this area. Although this is one of the most powerful urges a person can have, G-d gave it to us to harness it properly and not abuse it. The relationship between husband and wife is enhanced tremendously if these laws are kept because the marriage is not just viewed in terms of physical satisfaction.
Astronomy and numerical values are subjects which complement the Torah. Astronomy referred here is the calculation of the cycles of the moon and the seasons. Mathematics is important for formulating the Jewish calendar and helps to reconcile the discrepancy between the lunar calendar and solar one. Each holiday must fall out in it’s proper time, Passover in the spring, Sukkos in the fall and since the lunar calendar is 11 days shorter than the solar one, there needs to be an adjustment of the calendar to make sure the holidays fall out when they need to.
The last part of the mishna refers to numeric values or what we call gematriya which refers to assigning of number values to the letters of the Hebrew alphabet whereby alef=1, bet=2…) Certain forms of rabbinical homiletic interpretation are based on inferences made from these values.
 The reason that these two are not considered as essential is because they help demonstrate one aspect of the Torah’s beauty and can illustrate the hidden wisdom of the Hebrew alphabet. We can brings hints or ideas from these things showing the power of the Torah’s wisdom.
When we hear of homiletic wisdom coming from the order of the letters of a particular passage or a statement that corresponds to the numerical value of another statement is nothing short of incredible. These things enhance our study of Torah and reveal it’s true hidden wisdom.
We also see the great wisdom of the rabbis who in their foresight had to come up with a way to compensate the problem that would ensue with the calendar. Without “technological” advances given to them, they were able to establish a system that would continue for all future generations.
Many often make the mistake and think that these people were “medieval”, not to bright and backwards, to say the least. We see from here, just the opposite, men of great wisdom and virtue!!

Ethics of Our Fathers: Chapter 4 Mishna 1: Subduing our Desires

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 4 Mishna 2:The Importance of Mitzvah Observance

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 4 Mishna 3: Our Actions Matter

“He used to say: ‘Do not despise any man, and do not consider anything as impossible; for there is not a man who does not have his hour, and there is not a thing that does not have its place'”.

The first part of the Mishna should be obvious that a person is not allowed to despise anyone else. It is forbidden to look down upon someone, even if they feel justified in doing so.

Maybe that person wronged us or caused us damage in some way thereby making them despised in our eyes. The Mishna, though gives us a different reason for this. The Mishna tells us the reason we are not allowed to do this is because we shouldn’t think that this person in the future could not possibly damage us because there is a no person who does not his hour.

What is the meaning of this? There is no person that is always down suffering. They have ups and downs which test a person. Therefore if we despise someone and look down upon them, who is to say that they can’t effect us negatively in the future.

After all, we may actually need that person in the future. There are countless stories of someone helping another person when they were younger and then at some point, the one that helped that person needed their help in the future. Had they not been gracious enough to help them in the past, they would have surely suffered that future event.

Everything is calculated from above even to a hair’s breadth. We don’t always see it or understand but there is definitely irony in everyday life. Sometimes the most miniscule event in our lives have ramifications for the future which we are not even aware of!

The problem is that we don’t see the value of our actions or think that they matter. We sometimes are able to see and get glimpses of what happens in our lives and how things are intertwined. Although that doesn’t happen all that often, nonetheless when we do see it, we need to take stock of it and internalize the message.

Rav Chaim of Volozhin, the famed student of the Vilna Gaon brings down this idea in his epic work Nefesh HaChaim. He tells us that a person should never think what they do is meaningless. We have the ability to change the world with our actions, either for better or worse.

The Rambam tells us that we should look at the world like a big scale that is teetering to either side and our action right now will make the scale in either direction. This shows how important our actions are and what they are capable of doing!

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 4 Mishna 4: Haughtiness and Hubris is not a Jewish concept!

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 4: Mishna 5: G-d is Watching You!

   “Rabbi Yochanan ben Berokah said: ‘Whoever profanes the name of G-d secretly is punished publicly, whether the profanation is committed intentionally or unintentionally.”

When we speak about a profanation of G-d’s name the connotation is something that has taken place in public. The desecration of G-d’s name will depend on the level where the person is holding spiritually. 

The Talmud gives an example of a rabbi who bought meat but didn’t pay for it immediately. Each one will get judged according to their own level. We learn this out from Yishmael because when he was a child and dying of thirst, G-d did not allow him to die.

The angels asked why he was allowed to live if in the future his progeny would inflict great punishment and make the Jewish people suffer. G-d answered by asking if the child right now is guilty or innocent whereby the angels answered innocent. G-d then told them that since he is innocent now, I cannot punish him for what he may do in the future because I am judging him as he is now! 

 The Mishna here explicitly tells us that the transgression we do in our homes where others don’t see us will eventually come out in public whether we did them intentionally or not. This is truly remarkable because many times we hear of things that people did that we never would have known had it not been made public.

This teaches us a number of lessons. One is how careful we have to be in our actions even in the privacy of our own homes! if we don’t then we could eventually be exposed even for the most private of things!

There’s an old saying: what goes around comes around. This seems to mean that a person’s actions whether they are good or bad have consequences. We can run but we can’t hide. G-d knows the thoughts and actions of all men and will expose those things that we so desperately try and hide.

This is similar to what the Zohar says at the end of a person’s life, they will be shown two movies. One movie is what they did in their lives and the other is what they had the potential to do. Before the invention of video recorders. we would not know what this is referring to.

Now that we see things can be recorded and saved, G-d too does the same thing and will play all our actions that we have done when He renders His final judgement! The true righteous person is careful with their actions in public but we must be careful with them in private as well.

This shows true fear of heaven that all our actions regardless of where we may be have to be proper in G-d’s eyes. This is not an easy task but G-d is with us no matter where we are and that is something we all have to remember!


Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 4 Mishna 6: Live and Breathe Torah

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 4: Mishna 7: Use the Torah Appropriately

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 4: ;Mishna 8: Honor the Torah or be Disgraced by it

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 5 Mishna 14: The Repentance Process in the Eyes of G-d and Man

“There are four kinds of dispositions: Easy to become angry and easy to be pacified, his loss is compensated by his gain; hard to become angry and hard to be pacified, his gain is offset by his loss; hard to become angry and easy to be pacified is godly; easy to become angry and hard to be pacified is wicked”.

The Mishna discusses the benefits and weakness of anger and pacification. Anger is one of the worst character traits a person can have and the Talmud tells us that when a person is angry even if they were standing over the pit of gehinom (hell) they wouldn’t repent because they are caught up in the moment and lose themselves.

Obviously it is forbidden to be angry but there are times when something happens and a person is caught off guard that they lose it in some way. The Mishna here tells us that even if this happens some times but not often if a person is hard to be pacified then his gain is offset by his loss. Pacification is something we all need to learn and not to stand on principle.

This is much easier said than done because if someone has wronged us in any way, most often we will not forgive them fully and the relationship has totally changed. This is a major difference between man and G-d and how the entire teshuva (repentance) process works.

Before Yom Kippur, a Jew is obligated to forgive immediately for the wrong that someone may have done to them. The Talmud tells us that we should forgive that person immediately because if we look past what someone has done to us then G-d will look past at what we have done against Him throughout the year. How does this work exactly?

When we ask forgiveness from someone we don’t say “well I did this and that to you, do you forgive me?” That most likely could get you a well deserved punch in the nose. What a person should do is to tell them that if you have done anything against them, will they forgive you and they should immediately forgive you because if they don’t then you could end up bearing a grudge and taking that transgression with you into Yom Kippur which is something you don’t want to do.

G-d gave the Jewish people this novel idea of teshuvah but in reality it should never work for a number of reasons. First of all, if someone has wronged us and they try to make amends how can we truly forgive them? After all, look at the damage that has been done; the relationship is never the same. At the same time we should forgive them but that doesn’t mean I have to be best friends; it just means that I can’t hold a grudge which isn’t a good thing either.

As for our relationship between man and man repentance and uprooting what has been done doesn’t set the relationship back to where it once was. When we sin against G-d on the other hand, our sincere repentance not only uproots what we have done but we are even closer to G-d afterwards.

This is truly remarkable because when we transgress against what G-d wants us to do, we draw a wedge between us and Him. We pollute the universe spiritually and physically. Even if we do things wrong over and over and over again, if we repent, G-d looks at us as not only with a clean slate but we are even closer to Him. How does this work?

G-d understands the nature of man and the fact that they were created from the ground and from this world they will sometimes give in to their evil inclination. This is nothing more than rebellion against Him whether we do things on purpose or by accident. At the same time He has a tremendous amount of patience and allows us to come back to Him by admitting what we did was wrong and how we are going to fix our ways.

We could understand this by someone who only transgresses some of the time. In reality we all transgress and after the first number of times G-d can so-to-speak cut us some heavenly slack but after the 10th, 11th. 12th time…why should He not react and allow us to come back to Him and wipe the slate clean and uproot what we have done totally?

The reason is because He is G-d and not man. He lives and acts in ways that we cannot begin to fathom and the miracle of teshuvah is that if we admit what we have done wrong and sincerely want to draw close to Him He grants us that. Nothing short of miraculous because in human terms this doesn’t exist.

How many second chances is a person going to give someone after they habitually do things against them? This is the hope and prayer we have at this time before Yom Kippur to remember G-d’s infinite mercy. At the same time, though if we have wronged someone else we should ask their forgiveness and grant it to others as well, immediately!

Ethics of Our Fathers: Chapter 5 Mishna 15: Don’t forget your Learning!!

There are four types of students: 1) One who grasps quickly and forgets quickly, his gain is offset by his loss; 2) one who grasps slowly and forgets slowly, his loss is offset by his gain; 3) one who grasps quickly and forgets slowly, this is a good portion; 4) one who grasps slowly and forgets quickly, this is a bad portion”

The Mishna here speaks about the importance of how a person should study. They should be eager to learn and do what they can to understand while at the same time do proper review so that they will retain it.  After all, what is the point of learning if in a very short amount of time you will forget it! Not everyone will have the ability to understand things quickly; for some it will come easier to others it will not.

What will determine one’s level of learning will be on the amount of time they spend trying to understand the material at hand while constantly reviewing what they learn. Without review, how is a person supposed to retain what they learn? We may not find reviewing our learning and constantly going over it fun but at the same time, the more we have thoroughly exhausted the material the more we will acquire the learning at hand.

Many people feel that they have spent a great amount of time learning but they have not mastered it! There are a number of reasons why this might be true. It could be lack of focus, depth or insufficient time to properly review or all three of these things put together. Learning Torah is hard, no question about it but if we live what we learn and love what we do, then the extra time to master it will give us tremendous self-confidence!

 We may give up at the start because learning Torah seems as vast as the sea or as expansive as the heavens above. Nonetheless, we have an obligation to the best of our ability to master it. This means that if someone would ask us a question, we should readily have an answer at the tip of our fingertips!

Forgetting what we learn should be an embarrassment to us because it shows that yes we are interested in the learning but it doesn’t stay with us for so long so it doesn’t stay with us. The idea of in one ear and out the other comes to play here. The following story with my rebbe, Rav Moshe Sternbuch Shlit’a will help us understand this idea.

I once was giving over to him something I had prepared and in the middle of my presentation he told me to stop because I had quoted one of the commentators wrong. I had mentioned a different name of one of the rabbis that the text did not quote. He told me that I should go back and look it up because I had not quoted it properly and if I didn’t quote it properly then he had no obligation to listen!!

“After all, how could you forget who said this,” he shouted at me. “Isn’t the Torah important to you enough that you should at least remember who said what?” Taken aback, I told him that I had just seen this commentary the other day and didn’t think I misquoted it.

I took the Talmud off the shelf, opened it up and sure enough it was not as I had quoted it. The rav was vindicated and made a very strong point to constantly review and don’t forget what you learned! This story will be forever etched in my memory because I can’t say when the last time he had seen this commentary but I bet it wasn’t very recent!

I took great pride in what transpired here because it taught me a valuable lesson. The Torah is so holy, so precious, can it be we would forget some aspect of it that we learned? The goal is as the Mishna clearly tells us, be eager and quick to learn and love to learn but constantly review so that you retain it and have it at the tip of your fingers. A true lesson for life!

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 5 Mishna 16: Giving Charity is worth it!

“There are four types of donors of charity: He who gives and does not want others to give begrudges others; he who wants others to give but will not give himself begrudges himself; he who gives and wants others to give is saintly; he who will not give and does not want others to give is wicked”

The Mishna here describes people who either give or not give charity or want others to give charity or not. An interesting point that the Mishna makes is that whatever a person does is his own decision but why try and convince others not to do something? Why is it that one will go out their way to influence others not to give as well?

The Torah obligates every Jew to give ten percent of their earnings after taxes. If a person wants to they can give up to twenty percent but no more lest they become dependent on others if they give too much. After we have worked hard for our money it is not such an easy thing to want to give to others. We can say that if they work hard as well they will earn enough of a livelihood, so why should I help them?

It could be the person has entered a difficult period or there are other expenses that are dragging them down or they are sick or any number of maladies that could cause a person to need help from others. If we are doing our best to make ends meet and we are doing ok, what a mitzvah it is to help someone else if we can.

G-d teaches us a tremendous lesson by obligating us to give to others. He gives us the opportunity to understand whatever we have is only temporary and we won’t be taking any of it in the next world! We are allowed to use it in this world but we can elevate it by helping those less fortunate than us even though we may not have that much to give. It teaches us to appreciate what we have and be benevolent to others.

Rabbi Akiva was once asked if G-d has all the power in the world to give people money, why are there poor people? Rabbi Akiva answered that it gives the opportunity to those that have money to give to others which will save the from any troubles in this world and uproot bad decrees as well G-d forbid that may come upon a person!

A person has to learn from a young age that money they have or whatever they have in this world is only temporary. Yes you need it to live and survive but it has the potential to do so many good things like helping sustain Torah scholars or help out schools…Imagine the holiness of this money when it is used for the right purpose. We can also encourage others and help them with this great mitzvah which they themselves benefit from in so many spiritual ways that we cannot even fathom!

When we encourage others we become partners with G-d. We want to help give of our ourselves which inevitably will make us more humble and have a greater appreciation for everything that G-d has done for us! We must never forget this and always remember what we have is on loan and G-d can take it back whenever He wants!

If G-d forbid we discourage people from helping even though they have free choice to do what they want, we potentially harm others as well. If someone were to have given even a minimal donation and we convince them not to do it, then the tremendous benefits of giving to charity are taken away from them which the Mishna calls evil! Who knows how many bad things that could have been uprooted had this person given charity!! It saves lives and help others at the same time? Isn’t that alone worth it?

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 5 Mishna 17: Come to the Study Hall and Learn or Become a Fossil!

“There are four types of those who go to the study hall: He who attends and does not practice (the teachings of the study hall) secures the reward for attending; he who practices (leading a good life) but does not attend (to acquire knowledge) secures the reward for practicing; he who attends and practices is saintly; he who neither attends nor practices is wicked”

The first part of the Mishna tells us that one who goes to the study hall but does not practice what he learns gets the reward of going. Rabbenu Yona explains that this person is truly evil because it is bad enough that he transgresses but also he prevents others from doing mitzvos as well! What is the purpose of his going to the study hall if he doesn’t intend to practice what he learns?

The purpose of Torah is to change a person. We don’t learn Torah like we would any other discipline i.e. mathematics. It is not mental gymnastics and intellectual stimulation we are looking for but a way to implement these ideas into our lives. A person like this Rabbenu Yonah explains is better that they did not come into the world in the first place. Although it is possible that they can do teshuvah (repent) at the same time, this person is clearly showing that what he is doing has no affect on their lives which is the opposite of what the Torah is trying to convey to us!

If a person learns but they don’t go to the study hall gets the merit for doing the mitzvos. He doesn’t know how to properly keep the mitzvos but he does them according to his understanding. He will certainly receive merit for what he does but without the proper guidance, he won’t be able to serve G-d properly. The merit of the mitzvah he will receive but the way to properly do them and apply them to his life will be surely lacking!

If he goes to the study hall and practices what he learns is saintly because he utilizes the proper learning and applies it to their lives. This is what Torah is; learning what G-d wants him to do in this world and applying it to their lives to the best of their ability! Although we may fail this is in some way, nonetheless we make the best effort to learn, review and implement these timely teachings.

The person who doesn’t go to learn or practice the teachings of the Torah is wicked because even if by some chance they would come by the study hall, it won’t matter because they don’t have any intention of learning or keeping the mitzvos. This person is against what the Torah wants from him and seemingly doesn’t care. This will surely lead to assimilation, intermarriage and the ultimate destruction of the Jewish people.

We have seen this first hand that when their is little Jewish education, then everything else falls by the wayside. If Torah education isn’t important, is there any reason someone born Jewish will be able to pass this priceless heritage down to the next generation. Just like a mule is a very strong animal (a hybrid between a horse and a donkey) it is sterile and can’t reproduce. A Judaism without Torah will do the exact same thing!

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 5 Mishna 18: Retain what you Learn!

“There are four types that sit and learn in the presence of the sages: the sponge, the funnel, the strainer, and the sieve. The sponge  absorbs all; the funnel receives at one end and spills out at the other; the strainer lets the wine through and retains the dregs; and the sieve lets out the flour dust and retains the fine flour”.

The first part of the Mishna describes someone who listens to all the opinions but does not know how to distinguish between what is correct and what is not, The good thing is that this person has the willingness and eagerness to sit and learn but at the same time, they lose out because they can’t make any distinctions between the ideas and is lost in the learning.

This is truly tragic because he won’t understand what is in front of him and won’t know what to do. Eagerness to learn is very important but it must come with proper understanding. Without that, one will not know what or how to keep the Torah!

The second person, the funnel receives at one end and spills out at the other. This means that he accepts what he is being taught but he doesn’t understand it at all. This is different than the sponge because someone like that understands what he is being taught but they can’t make a decision as to what is right or not This is a step ahead of the funnel because at least he has some level of understanding!!

The third one is a strainer that lets the wine through and retains the dregs. This means that although he listens to what he is being taught, he quickly forgets it and then retains the wrong idea. This  is also not good because although he listens, it goes in one ear and out the other retaining the wrong ideas and going in the wrong direction.

The last one is the sieve who lets out the flour dust and retains the fine flour. He listens to what is being taught and can distinguish between what is right and what is not. This person will really grow in their learning because they are able to retain what they need and let what they don’t need go.

This is important because there are many times that we hear many different views and don’t know exactly how to handle them. This is why we have to be methodical and take things step by step, carefully analyzing what is in front of us. We need to digest ideas, think about them and then grill them to a certain extent to see if they hold water or not.

We want to learn things fast and then move onto the next subject quickly so we can cover ground. That is good but one must make sure that before they move on they clearly understand what is in front of them otherwise it will be just a waste of time. Take things slow but carefully analyze the subject and then move on. This will lead to success and our ability to retain our learning!

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 5 Mishna 19: What Jewish Marriage is all About

“All love which depends on sensual attraction will pass away as soon as the sensual attraction disappears, but if it is not dependent on sensual attraction, it will never pass away. Which love was dependent on sensual attraction? The love of Amnon and Tamar. And which depended on nothing selfish? The love of David and Jonathan”

There is a difference between love and infatuation. Infatuation is something that is fleeting and will not last because once it disappears, then it is gone. Love is something that lasts forever if it is harnessed properly and worked on. This is the way marriage works and has been successful throughout the millennium in the orthodox Jewish community.

When a man meets a woman for the sake of marriage, they need to see if they are compatible and that their life goals are the same. After a number of meetings they will get engaged and prepare for the wedding. After they are married, that is when the real work starts and that is where love will develop. Don’t you need love to make the marriage work at the outset?

The answer is that you have to be attracted to your spouse and see them before one is married. Love will develop and if the marriage is strong, no matter what trials and tribulations they will go through then it will last. Marriage, though is something that always needs strengthening. It is like a flower, if you don’t water it and take care of it, then it will surely die.

People sometimes feel that the system of dating in the orthodox world seems to be outdated and strange, at best but if we look deeper then we are able to see the beauty in it and why it has been so successful. The main reason that men and women are separated in schools and other things is because these friendships with physical contact always seem to get in the way.

This is why when they date, it is not just about having fun but rather to meet your soul mate, dedicating yourselves to them and vice versa. This can only occur when they are ready for such a relationship. Anything before that is antithetical to Torah and clearly doesn’t work as statistics have shown.

At the same time,  if a marriage doesn’t work out and cannot be saved then there is a mitzvah to get divorced. This is unfortunate and can happen but when we look at the bigger picture, the divorce rate in the orthodox community is minuscule compared to the greater world.

Another reason that marriages are so successful is because of family purity laws. This means that neither can treat the other like an object because there are certain times during the month where they cannot be together so there must be a deeper bond there! That also means that after being separated and coming together again rejuvenates the marriage and keeps it strong.

Both factors combined lead to a happy vibrant marriage which the secular world has no clue about! it has worked over the centuries and will continue throughout the generations. When it is used properly and implemented then we see the results, otherwise a person is just subject to their evil inclination and will end with infatuation rather than true love!

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 5 Mishna 21: Influencing others has Consequences!

“Whoever leads the people to righteousness, no sin shall occur through him; whoever leads the people to sins hall not be enabled to repent. Moses was righteous and let the people to righteousness, hence the merit of the people is attributed to him as it is said: ‘He performed the justice of the L-rd, and his ordinances with Israel.” Jeroboam the son of Nebat, sinned and caused others to sin, hence the sin of the people is attributed to him, as it is aid,: ‘For the sins of Jeroboam which he sinned and caused Israel to sin'”. 

People who are in positions of leadership have the ability to influence others for good and bad. If they lead people to go in G-d’s ways and strengthen them, then the Mishna tells us that no sin will befall them. This is incredible because according to this it would seem that their evil inclination is kept at bay because of the great work that they are doing!

What this means is that although this may be true, the evil inclination does not rest and constantly works to ensnare a person into its web so that they can reach their true potential. That being said, working with others and influencing them positively can have a tremendous effect on a person and actually save them from sin.

Rabbi Eliahu Lopian z”l a Torah giant of the last generation and leader in the mussar movement explained that when a person works with others and helps them, bad judgement upon them is avoided because of their gracious acts. This means that if a person wants to guarantee long life (even though there are no guarantees in this world) they should work with people and help them. Why is this so?

If we work with others and try and help them in any which way, we gain tremendous merit because we are doing such a selfless act. We are not doing this because we want merit for our portion in the world to come but rather it is genuine because we are helping them and guiding them to greatness in spiritual things.

This has a tremendous power to protect us because if we are needed in this capacity then G-d will make sure that they are able to continue their holy work making sure that nothing bad befalls them. Although there are other factors involved that could override this, nonetheless it is a good way to protect ourselves.

 It also helps us in giving to others which will result in us wanting to help even more. This is what the Mishna in Ethics of our fathers teaches us that when we do a mitzvah, it causes us to do more mitzvas because we are not only used to doing it but it has a positive influence and causes us to do other good things as well.

If G-d forbid we lead others to go astray, there is nothing worse than this. The reason is because not only are we not helping them to go in G-d’s way but we are leading them astray and causing them to rebel against Him. Therefore it is as if their sins are attributed to the one causing them to go in that direction. The question is if everyone has free will, why is it the person causing them to go in that direction is more severely punished than the one who transgressed in the first place?

The one who transgressed will surely be punished but if they were influenced by someone to go in that direction and do just that, the person who caused it is influencing them to go in the wrong direction. This is why the punishment for them is so severe.

This is the reason we have to be careful who we befriend and what influences we allow in our lives. Some are very good and can keep us on the straight and narrow path while others will destroy us and take us away from what we need to do!

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 5 Mishna 22: Who do you want to be like, Balaam or Avraham?

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 5 Mishna 23: Serving G-d Properly and not Blaming others for our Actions

“Yehudah ben Tema said: ‘Be bold as a leopard, light as an eagle, swift as a deer, and strong as a lion, to do the will of your Father who is in heaven. He used to say: The impudent is destined for gehinnom but the shamefaced is destined for paradise'”. 

All these character traits are important so that one will be able to do the will of their Creator. One who for example is swift as a deer runs to do mitzvos and is constantly aware of his obligations in this world. He wants to do the right thing and will do whatever it takes to do so.

This is an important character trait to have because they are acting on their desire to serve G-d properly. Although we may have this desire, we sometimes get distracted and don’t do what we need to The yetzer hara (evil inclination) works hard at keeping us busy with other things so that we focus less on Torah and mitzos!!

This is why we also have to be as strong as a lion. We need to put all our effort in keeping the Torah and doing G-d’s will and work hard to stay at that level! It also means that we have to keep our bodies strong and in good shape so we can accomplish these goals. If a person is not healthy or doesn’t keep a healthy lifestyle then that will hinder a person in reaching their potential because they will be incapable of doing so.

Even if in our mind we know what the right thing is, we have to put that into our hearts so we can actualize it. It cannot be emphasized enough that we need to have this desire on a daily basis so we can serve Him to the best of our ability. Through perseverance and hard work we will reach this goal!

The next part of the Mishna speaks about people that are brazen who end up in gehinnom. The commentaries tell us a person is brazen because they come from a forbidden union. Either the child was conceived through an adulterous union or where the parents did not keep the marital purity laws. Even a person who comes from such unions, is there no way to break out of this or does this follow them their whole lives?

Although Freud is not so in vogue today Judaism believes that even if one has a certain disposition whether they are born with it or for other reasons, they don’t have to act on it. In other words, if a person’s father was a killer and his father was a killer does not mean the grandson has to be one! Even if there is a hereditary, it is just something else a person has to work on,

They may have that disposition but we are obligated to work on bad character traits even if we may have inherited them. This means that no matter what we do we have to take responsibility for our actions regards as to what the cause of them may be. This is a tremendous lesson for us to remember!

We can’t blame others for our socioeconomic circumstances; we have to take responsibility for our actions. This means that even if we have certain bad character traits that may have been inherited from our parents, we have to work hard to rectify them and not go in that direction. Although that may be difficult, this is the path that G-d has given us to reach the potential we all have!

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 5 Mishna 24: Preparing our Life in this world!

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 5 Mishna 25: The Torah is not Obsolete!


Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 5 Mishna 26: No Pain no Gain!

“Ben He-He said: According to the effort is the reward”

Isn’t true that anything that comes easy probably isn’t worth it? Here the Mishna tells us that we will reap the benefits of our actions by putting maximum effort into something. It can’t be with that type of effort we will come out on the short end of the stick.

If that is true regarding physical things then it must be true for spiritual things as well. After all, if our goal in this world is to be close to G-d, the more obstacles thrown our way to keep his commandments should be commensurate with the reward that we will receive. After all, if we keep mitzvos that are hard to do, won’t the reward be that much greater?

The reality is that with everything that we do, we want to put our best foot forward and succeed. We may not always reach our goals but that doesn’t mean that we should give up. If we keep plugging away and are vigilant to keep the Torah and its mitzvos at the highest level, then the satisfaction we will receive seems endless!

Imagine in times where it was hard to secure an esrog for Sukkos and at the last second with great herculean effort you acquire that precious esrog! Will he just be happy to fulfill the mitzvah or will he be jumping out of his skin in exhilaration for what has transpired. In spiritual terms we can see this in other ways as well.

If a person has a problem with cursing for example and make a concerted effort to combat this, can we imagine what joy they will have when they feel like cursing and they don’t? They may have worked for days and months on this and then the opportunity occurs to put it into practice.

They are busy building their sukkah and all of a sudden a strong hammer blow comes to ones finger and although they are hurt and in pain, guess what, not one curse word comes out! The effort has paid off to the extent that they have actualized what they learned. Obviously easier said than do but this is what the Mishna is speaking about.

Putting great effort into our actions and then reaping the benefits of our actions is what we are speaking of here. This doesn’t mean that we don’t have setbacks and trials and tribulations but rather we will revel in the fact that we have beaten our adversary the yetzer hara at this time and we will witness that our hard work paid off!

We have a tremendous amount of joy and satisfaction knowing that we have tried hard and persevered. When we do this it gives us strength to continue other actions in this way as well which will give us tremendous enjoyment of what we are able to accomplish!

Ethics of Our Fathers: Chapter 6: Mishna 1: Rejoice in the Opportunities G-d Gives Us!

“Rabbi Meir said: ‘Whoever engages in Torah study for its own sake merits many things, furthermore the creation of the entire world is worthwhile for his sake alone. He is called, ‘Friend, Beloved’ He loves the Omnipresent, he loves (His) creatures, he gladdens the Omnipresent, (The Torah) clothes him in humility and (fear of G-d) it makes him fit to be righteous, devout, fair and faithful. It moves him away from sin and draws him near to merit. From him, people enjoy counsel and wisdom, understanding and strength, as it is aid: ‘Mine are counsel and wisdom, I am understanding, mine is strength’. (The Torah) gives him kingship and he becomes like a steadily strengthening fountain and like an unceasing river. He becomes modest, patient, and forgiving of insult to himself. (The Torah) makes him great and exalts him above all things'”.

The power of Torah is incredible! Imagine if a person continually learns and the Torah actually transforms him whereby people stop to take notice of such a great person. This is what the Mishna means when it gives all these blessings for someone who engages in Torah study for its own sake. The reason is because they are doing this for no other reason than for the ability to be able to learn Torah and keep its mitzvos!

They learn and keep the mitzvos to the best of their ability because this is what the Torah demands from them. There are no ulterior motives here; striving for perfection because they want to be the best people they can and be close to G-d. Isn’t that what G-d wants from all of us? Doesn’t he want us to strive and work on ourselves so that we can reach that true potential that we all have?

If we would live up to the ideals of the Torah won’t G-d be happy with us and the whole world as well? Our actions will have such influence that people will say “thank G-d his father taught him Torah”. This will be a real sanctification of G-d’s name which will have tremendous influence on others around us.

People will come to them for advice while at the same time they will be modest and humble and realize the great bounty that G-d has given them. This will allow them to use their strengths to continue to learn more which will again have a tremendous influence on others. Is there no greater joy than this?

This all comes to true when we realize that this is the most important thing that we must do. We must use all our strength in this endeavor by dedicating ourselves to this goal. When we realize that all we do is because of its own sake and has nothing to do with my ego or anything else, we become one with G-d. We realize our subservience to the Torah and its teachings but at the same time, it allows us to develop patience and be modest.

We should be thankful every day that we are able to learn Torah and learn its treasured lessons. We should be so fortunate to be able to understand the intricacies of its laws and implement them into our daily lives. Even if life is hard and we have trials and tribulations, that means I should serve G-d with a sour face or be upset when doing His will?

Life in general is hard and taxing upon us. Nonetheless G-d gives us the power to tap into Him and overcome them! It makes us into who we are! We should be jumping up and down at the ability to be part of such a thing.

Many look at the Torah and its laws as drudgery and things that I cannot do. Torah is just the opposite. We have the opportunity to open our hearts to Him. That alone should give us an extra oomph in our step and make us proud to do His will!




Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 6 Mishna 2: The Truly Free Person is one who learns Torah

“Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: Every day a heavenly voice resounds from Mount Horeb , proclaiming these words: ‘Woe to the people for their disregard of the Torah! For whoever does not occupy himself with the Torah is considered rebuked as it is said, ‘Like a golden ring in the snout of a swine is a fair woman lacking in taste’. The Torah says, ‘The tablets were the work of G-d and the writing was the writing of G-d, engraved upon the tablets.’ Read not here charut meaning engraved but heruth which means freedom, for none can be considered free except those who occupy themselves with the study of the Torah. Anyone who occupies himself with the study shall be exalted, as it is said, ‘Through the Torah gift one attains the heritage of G-d; by the heritage of G-d one is raised to high places'”. 

The first part of the Mishna explains that there is this heavenly voice that goes out every day bemoaning the fact that the Jewish people disregard the Torah. The first question is who hears this heavenly voice and what does it mean that the Jewish people disregard Torah?

If we would be on the spiritual level that we could be on, spiritual things would manifest themselves in a way that we could fathom. There are unique individuals that may be on this level but the vast majority of us are certainly not. At the same time, hearing this voice would be like hearing someone speak between two mountains, Rabbenu Yona tells us. This is difficult for us to fathom but the idea remains that we are lacking in our observance of Torah.

Even though today there is more Torah learning going on than in the second Temple era, nonetheless the level of scholarship today is not comparable to what it once was. It doesn’t mean that G-d forbid, people are not learning it is just that the level of learning is not the same as it once was. This is certainly a rebuke against the Jewish people as to how far we have fallen.

Although this may happen on a daily basis whether we hear it or not reinforces the idea of how much more we have to work to reach our potential. The Mishna then continues to speak about the importance of learning Torah and how the truly free person is one that is occupied with Torah. If that is true, do we say that the vast majority of the world not occupied in Torah are mere slaves?

The Mishna here means that if we are occupied with Torah, learning its mitzvos and trying to reach the highest spiritual level we can, then we are really considered free. The reason is because if we don’t do that, then we are in reality slaves to our wants and desires. Although we are given free will to act and do as we see fit, nonetheless we see that the more we engage in the everyday without stepping back to “smell the roses” and do what is really important, we have surely missed the boat!

The purpose of our lives is to realize that we are put in this world to struggle and overcome our evil inclination. We do mitzvos and keep Torah because that is the best way to become closer to G-d since this is the book that He manufactured Himself. Although we are given many trials and tribulations over our lifetime, we nonetheless strive to become better and sanctifying G-d’s name!