They [each] said three things. Rebbe Eliezer says: The honor of
your friend should be as beloved to you as your own honor, and
don't anger easily, and repent one day before your death, and
warm yourself from the fire of the "chachaim" (wise men), but be
careful about being burned by their embers, for their bite is
[like] the bite of fox, and their sting is [like] the sting of a
scorpion, and their whisper is like that of a serpent. And all
their words are like fiery coals.
Why did each of these tannaim choose to teach three things,
no more and no less? (We have seen this type of question
frequently in the Maharal. It is built on the perspective that
the lessons of our Rabbis don't "just happen to be" in a certain
way. Every aspect is intentional, and with meaning.)
Furthermore, Rebbe Eliezer taught many more than three things!
Another problem is that there is no connection between the
various things taught by Rebbe Eliezer! What does the warning
not to anger easily have to do with repentance the day before you
die.?! And how do either of those relate to taking care about
being burned by the words of wise men? (The connection between
elements in a Mishna is another type of problem the Maharal
raises frequently. It played a major role in his understanding
of many of the Mishnayoth of the first chapter.) Finally, why
the lengthy and seemingly repetitious description of the power
and danger of the "fire" of the chachamim?
Each of the tanaim chose to teach three things to ensure
that, as words of discipline (mussar) they would remain etched on
one's heart and in one's mind. Three things are remembered
clearly, while more than that can lead to part of the lesson
being forgotten. The Rabbis admonished (Pesachim 3a) "A person
should always teach his students in a concise way." It is for
this reason that you find most of the lessons of discipline in
this tractate in groups of three.
A group of three also has the property of enabling each
element of the trio to have a fundamental connection to the other
two, such that any one element has the ability of reminding you
of the other two. When the group has many elements, the
connection between them is much less identifiable, and they are
not as easily remembered.
It is for these reasons that each Tanna taught three lessons
of mussar, where all three have a common underlying principle.
(The above lines of the Maharal have alluded to an important
principle that he presents in much more depth in many other
places. The number three includes elements at the two extremes,
as well the element of balance which is between the two extremes.
Thesis, antithesis, synthesis. So one element has the ability to
generate the second element, with the two together generating the
third element. We have explained the concept of "three" in quite
a bit of detail in the early shiurim. Refer back to our
explanation of the Maharal's introduction to Derech Chaim, as
well as Chapter One, Mishna 1, Pt. 3 and Mishna 2, Pt. 4. For
those of you who weren't with us that far back -- nearly three
years! -- they are available archived through the Project Genesis
Home Page, www.torah.org.)
We explained in our introduction to this masechet that a
person must attain perfection in three areas: perfection in
relation to G-d, perfection in relation to other people, and
perfection in relation to himself and his own potential. This
was our way of explaining the three opinions (Bava Kama 30a) of
what one needs to perfect in order for one to attain the level of
"chasid," of piety and saintliness.
Rebbe Eliezer began with "The honor of your friend should be
as beloved to you as your own," for one who has acquired this
character trait has perfected himself in relation to others.
[The lesson we will be learning (Ch. 4, Mishna 13) "The honor of
your student should be as beloved to you as your own, and the
honor of your friend as the fear of your teacher," which appears
to differ from our Mishna, is not a contradiction. That Mishna
is referring to "friends" -- colleagues-- in Torah. Our Mishna
refers to the common understanding of friends.]
To embody perfection in relation to one's own self, in order
that he should have no lack in his human essence, we are taught
"Don't anger easily" for anger is evil and destructive to the
essence of the human being. The following sources for this idea
are taught in tractate Nedarim (22a).
"Rebbe Yochanan said: One who gets angry is subjected to the
control of many forms of 'gehinom' as it is written (Koheleth
11:10) 'Remove anger from your heart, and displace evil ("rah")
from your flesh.' (Removing the emotional response of anger is
considered beneficial to the physical dimension of the human
being.) 'Rah' always refers to Gehinom, as it is written
(Mishlei 16:4) '...And also a "rasha" (a wicked person) for the
day of evil (referring to gehinom)'. "
(Rebbe Yochanan is showing through the transitive principle
that anger leads to "gehinom" -- a void in one's existence.
"Rah" -- evil -- refers to gehinom. One who removes anger has
displaced "rah," which means that one who embodies anger has
"rah" as a part of him. Since "rah" has been shown to be
"gehinom," one who becomes angry is subjected to gehinom -- a
void in the actuality of one's very being.)
It is further taught there (Nedarim 22b): Raba bar Rav Huna
said "For a person who angers, even the 'shechina' (the Divine
Presence) has no significance, as it is written (Tehillim 10:14)
'A wicked person, due to his anger, will not seek out [G-d]; his
thoughts are that there is no G-d.'" Rebbe Yirmiyah says: "[A
person who angers] even forgets what he learned and multiplies
his foolishness, as it is written (Koheleth 7:9) 'For anger
resides in the lap of fools' and it is written (Mishlei 13:16)
'...and a fool spreads out a net of inanity'." ...Rav Nachman
said: "It is known that his sins are numerous, as it is written
(Mishlei 29:22) ' And one who possesses anger has many sins'."
There can be no greater deficiency in the essence of the
human being than forgetting what one has learned, increasing
one's foolishness, and the other results listed above.
(Our Rabbis are teaching us that anger impacts negatively on
one's understanding and intelligence. It clouds are thinking,
not just in the short run, while we are angry, but in fact
effects our entire thought processes in the long run. With
diminished intelligence and thinking ability, we have moved one
notch further from being refined human beings and one notch
closer to the animal world.
(Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz, zt"l, used to point out that these
negative results of anger weren't PUNISHMENTS from G-d for
getting angry. They were NATURAL CONSEQUENCES of the effect of
anger on the human being. Therefore, even if the anger was
justified, it was still very detrimental to the human being.
Fire burns you even if it was necessary and justified to put your
hand in it. Anger works on the intellectual dimension of the
human being with the same mechanism. See Bamidbar 31:21, and
Rashi on the pasuk. "Since Moshe got angry, he erred, forgetting
the laws of forbidden vessels." Yet his anger was justified.)