Pirkei Avos Lesson- Chapter 5
It is customary to study a chapter from the Tractate Avos, or Pirkei Avos, in the weeks in between Pesach and Shavuos. Pirkei Avos are filled with the ethical teachings and wisdom of the great sages of the Mishnah.
In the first Mishnah of this week’s chapter, or perek, we learn that the world was created in 10 utterances by the Almighty, Hashem. The Mishnah continues to explain: why is it that Hashem created the world in 10 utterances, why not just one? In order that the punishment for those who transgress the Torah and thereby destroy the world will be that much worse. In addition, in order that those who adhere to the Torah and thereby uphold the world will be rewarded even more.
One of the commentators explains, that what the Mishnah means when it says that one who upholds the Torah upholds the world, refers to the righteous person himself. As we know, one person is likened to the whole world. When this person is doing as the Torah commands, he is improving himself and betters his entire being.
Many other sources in the Torah very clearly and unequivocally say that the fate of the entire world hangs in a balance of the totality of the merits and transgressions of all people. Therefore, these other sources continue, that when someone does a mitzvah or refrains from doing an aveirah, sin, he is in fact upholding the entire world!
Why, therefore, would the commentator assert that the Mishnah does not mean its simple and straightforward message!? Being that the simple message of the Mishnah is in fact true, what is compelling this commentator to explain it in a different way?
Clearly, both explanations are true. It is true that when a person follows the Torah properly he uplifts himself AND the entire world as well. It is also true that a single person is likened to the entire world.
Perhaps, the reason why the commentator felt that the Mishnah is telling us the message about the person himself is because that is the real value of what he did! When an individual does good that others benefit from- the main beneficiary is he himself! It is therefore the main accomplishment of what he did. It is most appropriate to comment on this situation where one bettered himself and the world, that this person has improved himself!
The world naturally has a very skewed perspective of what accomplishment is. We focus on the global effects that someone had. How a person’s “legacy” is what is most important, and who he was comes in a distant second. This commentator is teaching us that that is not true. The good that a person does with others is worthwhile because it benefits others, but it is PRIMARILY worthwhile because of that which he himself has gained by being generous to others!
The proper perspective for a person to have is that when one does that which is correct, by helping others, by “being moser nefesh”, giving up from your own life, for some other cause or group, the main beneficiary is the protagonist himself! For someone to do good for others and only come away with the idea that other people benefitted from his efforts is a distortion of reality. When you do good for others- YOU YOURSELF are the main beneficiary!
Wishing you a wonderful Shabbos!
Rabbi Eli Meir Kramer