Shammai says: Make your Torah (study time) fixed; say little and do much; and greet every person with a pleasant expression.
(At the conclusion of this Mishna, the Maharal presents a short overview of the first chapter, as the teachings of the five “pairs” of Tanaim has been completed. It is a difficult section to translate, it is quite theoretical, and some of it borders on the Kabbalistic. Part of it also seems to be a repetition of earlier summaries. I will present an abridged summary of the key points, and with that we will move on to the next Mishna.)
The progression of the lessons of the Mishna are built on the creating unity and integrity of the individual, the individual’s relationship with those who are close to him, and finally a unity and connection of all people.
Antignos taught how the person himself is supposed to be integrated, serving G-d with an integrity of love and fear. (I use the word “integrity” to indicate unity, harmony, connectedness; in contrast to fragmentation.) This is followed by a lesson on how one is supposed to perfect the interactions with members of his household, those closest to him. The chapter continues with lessons of perfecting interactions with those to whom one is connected, but with ever decreasing levels of attachment: Rabbi, friends, neighbors; those he leads altruistically and with their wholehearted consent; those over whom he exerts power; and finally there is a lesson of bringing unity, peace and harmony between all people of the world.
The chapter has followed the process of the receiving and transmitting of the Torah through the Second Temple Period. There were five initial steps in the transmission (Moshe through the Anshei Knesset Hagedolah). After the Anshei Knesset Hagedolah, due to the deterioration of the generations, it was no longer possible for there to be a unified leadership exclusively responsible for the transmission, and the transmission was done through five pairs of Tanaim, each pair having one whose service of G-d was built on love and one whose service was built on fear.
It is not coincidental that there were five steps in each of the different stages of the transmission. We are taught that the Torah was given with five “koloth” (voices) (based on the word “kol” being repeated five times in Psalms Ch. 29; see Berachoth 6b). The number five represents the four directions (of the compass) along with the central element of unification. The Torah was given with five voices to have it extend and radiate in every direction, with a central voice unifying it. Therefore, there were five steps in the primary stage of transmission of the Torah: To Moshe, to Yehoshua, to the elders, to the prophets, and to the Anshei Knesset Hagedolah. Five steps was the extent of its ability to extend through the world at this level. This was followed by another five steps in the secondary stage: The five pairs of Tanaim from Yossi ben Yoezer and Yossi ben Yochanan through Hillel and Shammai.
Shimon Hatzadik and Antignos Ish Socho were the generations of the transition from the Anshei Knesset Hagedolah to the generations where scholars were personally named (due to the greater diversity of opinion; until Shimon Hatzadik, opinions were generally not attributed to a named individual). Each one of them was individually a link in the transmission chain, and each one taught an entire lesson on his own. Afterwards, during the Second Temple Period, the transmission was done through pairs, indicating a diluting of the power of Torah in the world (as well as of the integrated nature of the individual) . This lasted through the five pairs mentioned in our chapter, through Hillel and Shammai.
Following these five steps (concluding with Hillel and Shammai) there was a further and more significant deterioration in the quality of scholarship and Rabbi/student relationship, leading to greater divergence of opinion, and the inability of centralizing the transmission process at all. (See Sotah 47b; Sanhedrin 88b; Rambam’s introduction to the Mishna, section 4.) A new stage was entered, beginning with Raban Gamliel, whose lesson will be introduced in the coming Mishna.