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By Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky | Series: | Level:

We left off discussing “…v’tochachot musar, derech chaim.” And reproofs of discipline are the path of life.

While the root of the word “musar” is “yisurim”, which usually means difficulty and suffering, in this context it does not refer to real suffering. For the verse begins with “Mitzva” observance and “Torah” study, neither of which have any connection with suffering, and suffering also is not a derech, a path. Rather it is clear from its use by the Rabbis in the previously quoted Gemara (Brachot 5a) that they understand “tochachot musar,” as the “path” by which man disciplines his physical and animalistic drives — the source of normal deterioration and death — giving man access to eternal life and the World to Come. In a certain sense this discipline, upon which good character traits are based, is “suffering” for the physical body, which lusts for the immediate gratification of its natural drives. But since the physical system is a constantly deteriorating one, leading to its ultimate demise by death, disciplining its nature and living on a higher plane, is the true path to life and ultimately to eternity.

This praiseworthy and valuable tractate, Avoth, being small in quantity and great in quality, includes the moral disciplines. Their fulfillment is mentioned as one of the ways to saintliness. Rav Yehudah says (Tr. Baba Kama 30a) that one who wants to be considered a “chasid,” attain saintliness, must fulfill the laws of “nezikin,” monetary damages . Rava says that he must fulfill the teachings of Avoth. A third opinion says that he must fulfill the laws of “brachot,” blessings to G- d.

(The word “chasid” comes from the root “chesed,” which means giving and kindness beyond that which is required. This is in contrast to the word “tzadik,” from the root “tzedek,” which means “right.” A tzadik does strictly and conscientiously what is required of him. A chasid goes “beyond the call of duty” doing MORE than is required. Modern usage of these words 🙂 should not cloud our accurate understanding of how the Rabbis used and understood these Torah concepts.)

These three opinions are a function of the three distinct elements that encompass the perfect man. Man must be perfect in relation to his fellow man. Man must make himself perfect in relation to himself and his potential as a human being. And man must attain perfection in relation to G-d. [These three facets of man’s perfection will be expanded upon in the first chapter.]

Rav Yehudah’s opinion is that one can’t be called a chasid unless he avoids damaging any of his fellow men in any way. It doesn’t suffice for one to do favors and good things for others, since this is really expected of him and doesn’t indicate a special superiority. However, when he is sensitive to the possibility of being the cause, even indirect, for his fellow man being damaged, this is a saintly person (one who goes “beyond the call of duty”).

Rava’s opinion is that perfection in relation to himself is what makes him worthy of the title “chasid”, as balanced character traits (“midot”) and ethical discipline is the perfection of man in relation to himself and his potential.

The third opinion requires perfection of man in relation to G-d, which is manifested by a fulfillment of the laws of “brachot,” recognizing, acknowledging and appreciating that all that he has comes from G-d.

(In a future shiur, we will discuss what it means to “appreciate that what we have comes from G-d.” Does it mean that G-d must like us, since he has given us good things? Or is it given to us with specific expectations?)

These three elements of perfection relate to the three components of man: The physical (“guf”) the emotional/human personality (“nefesh”) and the intellectual/spiritual (sechel).

The crime of causing damages to someone is especially indicative of a corrupt personality. Normally, one sins because of a drive for some physical pleasure which is difficult to control. But a person gains nothing by inflicting damage on another. It emanates from a destructive impulse, reflecting a deficient “nefesh.” A person who is especially meticulous in guarding against causing damage to anyone, even indirectly, reflects an elevated and sensitive “nefesh.”

Discipline, fulfilling the teachings of Avoth, indicates a perfection of the physical side of man (“guf”) where he doesn’t allow his physical weaknesses to control him.

Recognition of G-d as the source for all that we have perfects our relationship with the Divine, increasing our attachment to Him. This emanates from and perfects our spiritual/intellectual side (“sechel”).

(The number “3” and all represents is a prevalent element in the Maharal’s works, and it will be expanded upon at length during the Mishnayot of the first chapter. This perspective of the three elements of man is one example of it, and the various applications will converge in a very deep and beautiful way.)

(I would like to close my summary of the Maharal’s intro with the following lines that appear towards the end. It serves as a guiding principle to his way of understanding the teachings of the Rabbis. Failure to heed it has caused much distortion and misunderstanding of the teachings of the Rabbis, especially in this century.)

In assessing the accuracy of our interpretations of the Mishnayot, one must examine them in depth, and not reach conclusions on the basis of hasty first impressions. There is no doubt that the words of the Rabbis are teachings of great depth, not having been said out of personal opinion, “approximation” or simply their own intuition. Rather every word reflects deep wisdom and truth, said with compelling accuracy, and they require deep analysis and understanding, rather than superficial reactions.

The class is taught by Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky, Dean of Darche Noam Institutions, Yeshivat Darche Noam/Shapell’s and Midreshet Rachel for Women.