Rebbe Elazar says: Be diligent in the study of Torah; know what to respond to a heretic; and know before Whom you toil; and your employer can be relied upon to pay your wages.
Rabbi Elazar is teaching lessons of discipline that relate to Torah, Torah being the goal of man’s existence. The essence of man’s creation was for him to toil in Torah, as it is written (Iyov 5:7) “Man was created to toil.” This was explained in detail in Ch. 2, Mishna 9 (through an elaboration on the Gemara in Sanhedrin 99b). If a person isn’t diligent in his study of Torah, then he isn’t TOILING in Torah, but simply studying Torah in his free time.
(The Hebrew word that I have translated as “diligent” is “lishkod,” which implies being industrious, devoting time in a completely focused way. If we learn Torah as another way to spend time, even with the recognition that it is a VALUABLE way to spend our time, enhancing our life, increasing our connection to Judaism, etc. — it isn’t being done with the diligence implied in the word “lishkod.” It is certainly a Mitzvah, but it isn’t the kind of Torah study which defines the purpose of man’s creation. See our explanation in part two of Mishna 9. )
Next, we are taught to study Torah in order to refute a heretic. Just as a person is commanded to study and know Torah, which enables him to know the Truth, it is also appropriate for one to negate and eliminate false perspectives and lies from the world. If falsehood is left to spread in the world, it could ultimately overpower truth (Heaven forbid) and chase it away. Therefore, it is incumbent on us to know how to respond to a heretic (who is disseminating false ideology) to prevent the spread of falsehood.
(A careful reading of the Maharal, as well as other commentaries on this Mishna, indicates that the primary focus is on KNOWING how to respond to a heretic, knowing how to negate falsehood. This is a universal requirement incumbent upon every Jew, fulfilled through the study of Torah which informs us about truth and educates us towards it. The question of how and whether to actually engage in a dialogue against false ideologies is a more individualized question.)
After telling us of the difficult work ahead, studying Torah with diligence and working to know how to refute a heretic, we are taught to know before Whom we are toiling, and how reliable He is in awarding us our compensation. If we exert great effort in our Torah study, G-d gives us great reward (as will be taught in the coming Mishna). Without this awareness, a person is vulnerable to the natural tendency of laziness. Even though we were cautioned against serving G-d with the motivation to receive reward (Ch. 1, Mishna 3), that refers to a person whose main objective in serving is to receive the reward. This lesson is teaching us how to motivate ourselves when our natural inclinations, due out material and physical makeup, resist the service of G-d. Just as it is necessary to motivate a young child to study by offering him an external reward, so, too, does an adult [frequently] require a form of external motivation. If the thought of the great reward that awaits him is used simply as a motivational tool, this isn’t considered “serving G-d for the sake of the reward.” Rather, he is using the reward to neutralize his natural resistance to service, weakening the “yetzer harah” (evil inclination) which is trying to divert him from undertaking the work that is required of him. The thought of the reward will help him overcome his natural laziness. (We have previously explained this “laziness” as a fundamental characteristic of the material world, which resists movement and change. Material things have inertia, keeping them at rest without some outside force acting upon them. Man must work hard at overcoming this “laziness,” the inertia to resist movement and self-improvement.) Even a person serving G-d out of love, motivated solely by his inherent desire to serve, is susceptible to this natural laziness. It is for these times that we are taught to remember before Whom we are working, and how confident we can be that He will pay us our reward. The ultimate purpose of our Torah study is certainly not for that reward, but this awareness can help when we are attacked by a bout of laziness.
We have now explained how each of the five Tanna’im has taught three lessons, with each of their three lessons linked together.
But you should be aware that there is a deeper understanding to the fact that each Tanna taught precisely three lessons. Each Tanna had worked on himself to become a complete person, and they were all teaching how each individual can attain his own completion and perfection, through three lessons of discipline. There is a need for three lessons, because in man there is more than one force at work that is responsible for his various activities. To attain perfection, each of the dimensions of the person must be addressed, disciplined in a way that is appropriate for each one. A lesson of discipline that will improve one part of the human being may have no impact on another part. There are many things a person must do to discipline himself, but they can be grouped into three fundamental categories of human functioning. One area is the physical forces of the human being (“kochoth haguf”). Secondly, we have the spiritual/emotional forces of the human being (“kochoth hanefesh”). Each of these can be viewed as independent areas of human functioning, and each requires its own lessons of discipline. In addition, there is the unique combination of these two forces, which is what makes him a human being (“ha’adam atzmo”). (Animals have the physical dimension. Angels have the spiritual dimension. Only human beings have the combination of the two.)
Each of the Tanna’im taught man how to perfect himself by addressing each of these three areas: A lesson to work on the physical forces of man, a lesson to work on the spiritual/emotional forces of man, and a lesson addressed to the totality of the human being. And each Tanna added a level of perfection to that taught by the previous Tanna, until the lessons of the final Tanna taught how to reach perfection on the highest level man can reach.
This will require deep understanding, to grasp how each group three that was taught in each Mishna perfects man by including the right side, the left side and the middle.
(This last line refers to the two extremes of “chesed” — benevolent kindness — and “din” — strict justice — and the balance between the two. We seen this in different forms throughout the first chapter, particularly in the introduction and first two Mishnayoth.)
(The Maharal will now begin a review of the previous five Mishnayoth, adding some new insights, showing how each Mishna deals with the three dimensions he has just introduced — the physical force, the spiritual/intellectual force, and the unique blend of the two which makes up the human being.)