He (Hillel) used to say: A surplus of meat causes an increase in worms. A surplus of possessions causes an increase in worry. A surplus of wives causes an increase in “keshafim” (witchcraft). A surplus of maidservants causes an increase in promiscuity. A surplus of slaves causes an increase in thievery. A surplus of Torah causes an increase in life. A surplus of “yeshiva” (sitting together with peers studying Torah) increases wisdom. A surplus of “eitzah” (seeking advice and insights from more experienced people) increases understanding. A surplus of charity increases peace. One who acquires a good name acquires it for himself; one who acquires words of Torah for himself has acquired the World to Come for himself.
“One who acquires a good name (“shem tov”) acquires it for himself.” This means that the person has acquired something which belongs to the essence of the individual. “Shem” (name) describes, identifies and reflects the pure essence of the individual. Other things that a person acquires do not belong to a person’s essence in the way that his “shem” does. Acquiring a good name is an virtue that cannot be compared with any other acquisitions made by a person, most of which are, to a greater or lesser degree, external to his essence.
(This is most obviously true of our material possessions, the acquisition of which are clearly external to our true selves. Our essence does not change because of a larger house, more money, or fancier clothes. In fact, even study or good deeds may not make any change to our essence. If we study something (even Torah!) just to “do it,” to cover ground, to pass a test or get a degree, then this does not operate on our true selves, and we have not become more refined, elevated, or educated people. The same can be true if our good deeds are done to impress others, because of social pressure, or other “external” motivations. Torah and good deeds are supposed to transform us into better people. If that happens, then they belong to our essence. “Shem tov,” a good name, does not mean that we have impressed people so that they say good things about us. The true meaning of “shem tov” is that the essence of what we do is good. It can then be said that we have acquired a virtue that belongs to our essence.)
The Mishna concludes teaching us that “one who acquires words of Torah for himself has acquired the World to Come for himself.” This is not a separate (eleventh) element, but relates back to the lesson of a surplus of Torah. It is teaching that the increase in life caused by a surplus of Torah is not only life in this world, but is also and increase of eternal life in the next world. Since the World to Come is the completion and purpose of all creation, this is brought in conclusion to these lessons. But the Mishna contains only ten elements, five related to the physical dimensions of man’s existence and five related to the spiritual dimensions, which concluded with the lesson on “shem tov.”
The conclusion of “shem tov,” which is the essence of the person, is the tenth element. The number ten contains nine discreet elements, with the tenth being the unifying essence. In the Ten Commandments, there are nine individual elements, and one, “I am the L-rd your G-d…” which is the foundation and essence of all the others, being the unifying element. Our Mishna also contains ten elements, with one standing out as the essence of the others. (This is the underlying reason for the holiness of the tenth that we find in many laws.)
In summary, this Mishna teaches us that in material matters, a surplus is really a deficiency, something which is compellingly logical. Since physical matter is in a state of constant deterioration leading to its ultimate extinction, any surplus hastens that deterioration. (A simple example of this is a persons weight or physical fitness. A person has an optimum weight for peak physical well-being. If a person increases it, he has in fact hastened the deterioration of the physical body.) On the other hand, spiritual transcendent matters are eternal, and any surplus in these areas leads to greater levels of excellence and perfection. There is much more depth to this discussion, but it is not appropriate to elaborate. (We have pointed this out as one the Maharal’s code phrases for the existence of deeper Kabbalistic concepts that are not appropriate to expound upon to the uninitiated.)