Shimon HaTzakik was of the remnants (last members) of the Great Assembly. He used to say: On three things the world stands. On Torah, on Service of G-d, and on deeds of kindness.
(We are coming to the end of the Maharal’s explanation on this Mishnah. There is a little more to add in expanding on what we wrote last time, followed by some Kabbalistic issues, after which he begins to show a pattern of progression of the Mishnayoth through the chapter. I present the Kabbalistic ideas with the disclaimer to having access to the true meaning of the ideas. They seem relatively simply on the surface, which is the surest proof that we are FAR from knowing what they are REALLY talking about. The proliferation of “everyman’s Kabbalah” which has made inroads into contemporary Torah study is foreign (IMHO) to the way Chazal wanted these concepts transmitted. But that is for another discussion. We will explain what we have access to on a simple level.)
(We left off last time — before my own lengthy elaborations — with Yakov Avinu being the pillar of Torah in the world, the product of his two predecessors, Chesed and Din. The Maharal elaborates on this from an additional perspective.)
When Eliezer went looking for a wife for Yitzchak (whose unique character was one of din and avodah) he looked for a girl (chazal tell us she was only three years old) who was exceptional in her chesed. (Imagine expecting a young girl to offer a group of husky men water, not LETTING them help themselves, but drawing it and serving it herself! And to the camels!) See Breishith 24:14 and Rashi who explains that “she is fitting (for Yitzchak), that she is one who bestows kindness and is worthy to enter in to the family of Avraham.” The implication is that she, who embodies the pillar of gemiluth chasadim, is fitting for Yitzchak, who embodies the pillar of avodah, and from this can come Yakov, who will have the pillar of Torah. There is also a progression here: Avraham, who embodied the pillar of chesed, was worthy of Yitzchak, the pillar of avodah, coming from him; and he was worthy that from this pillar should emanate Yakov, the pillar of Torah. (See what we wrote last week about this progression being the proper way something gets built, which is what the Maharal is implying, I believe.)
(An additional point that needs elaboration: the connection between Yitzchak as the pillar of avodah, and Yitzchak as embodying the trait of “din,” strict justice. While we can easily understand the connection between Avraham’s chesed and the pillar of gemiluth chasadim, and Yakov’s emeth with the pillar of Torah, what do din and avodah have to do with each other?
(“Din” is strict adherence to the way something is “supposed to be.” Any deviation from this ideal would not be din. Carried to its extreme, it would demand that a person receiving life and resources from G-d who violated the will of G-d, immediately be deprived of those resources. This is what is called “midath hadin,” strict judgement. When Chazal tell us that G-d saw that the world couldn’t be sustained in a system of “midath hadin” what it means is that man would quickly lose his free choice, if every deviation from the will of G-d brought immediate retribution.
(Avodah is the exclusive service of and devotion to G-d. Every resource that is available is used exclusively in the service of G-d, “returned to Him.” Any personal motivation or gain that interferes is an undermining of the purity of service. Correct and pure avodah means devoting resources in the service of G-d THE WAY G-D WANTS AND INTENDED. Any deviation would not be real avodah, service of G-d, but would be tainted with egocentric motivations, service of the self.
(Yitzchak Avinu had the trait of “din,” everything being “exactly the way it is supposed to be.” So every resource that was given to him was there to used exclusively the way G-d had intended, with no possibility of deviation — the epitome of avodah.)
The three fundamental elements of the world are air, water and fire (in addition to earth). The avenue through which each of these worldly elements connect with the Divine is through the three pillars of our Mishna, and as such these pillars support the world and its continued existence. Torah is the spirit, wisdom and understanding, referred to as wind and air (Isaiah 11:2). Avodah is fire, where sacrifices are done through consumption by fire. (See Bamidbar 28:2, Vayikra 1:9 etc.) (Midath HaDin is also known as fire.) Gemiluth chasadim is represented by water. (See Bava Kama 17a.) Just as water is considered the substance of bountiful generosity (the earth is composed of 75% water!), the doer of chesed is generously bestowing his resources on others. These three elements of creation connect with the Divine through the three pillars of our Mishna, ensuring the continued existence of the world.
This teaching of Shimon HaTazadik, as one of the remnants of the Anshei Knesseth Hagedoalh, connects with the teaching of the Anshei Knesseth Hagedolah itself. They came to teach rectification of the Torah as its study and implementation was deteriorating. The Torah is the fundamental and primary element that requires rectification, preceeding and being above the world. Then Shimon Hatzadik came to teach rectification of the world itself, and how to ensure its continued existence in the face of the developing deterioration. (The mishnayoth will continue this progression, as we will see.)
There is a parallel between the teachings of the Anshei Knesseth Hagedolah and Shimon Hatzadik. “Be deliberate in judgement” relates to the pillar of Avodah. (See what we wrote above about the connection between din and avodah.) “Establish a cadre of students” relates to the pillar of Torah. “Make a fence around the Torah” relates to the pillar of gemiluth chasadim. The fence implies commitment to do something despite it not being required according to the strict law, which means “giving” more than is required. (See Brachoth 20b on how G-d favors the Jews because they look to do more than what is simply required by the letter of the law.)
Both Mishnayoth teach mussar that relates to rectifying each extreme, and the middle point between them. (The elements of fire, water and air alluded to in the three pillars also reflect this pattern. Fire and water are opposites, with fire vaporizing water and water extinguishing fire. Air is the midpoint between them, and the product of their combination.) This is the pattern of the Mishnayoth, to teach mussar that relates to an element, its polar opposite, and finally to the point between the two extremes.
This posting was written in the shadow of the sudden passing of one of my Roshei Yeshiva, Hagaon Rav Chaim Yakov Goldvicht, zt”l, the Rosh Yeshiva of Kerem B’Yavneh for 40 years. While he had been sick a couple of years ago, after which he left Kerem B’Yavneh and moved to Jerusalem, he has been giving frequent shiurim in apparently good health. The Torah world has lost a real giant who should have been even more recognized than he was.
This shiur is dedicated to his memory, l’ilui nishmato, and in appreciation of the Torah I was privileged to learn from him.)