On Pirkei Avos

The Mishnah in Avos 2:13 lists various notions regarding the proper path to which a person should cling. R. Shimon says that a person should act with foresight. In a similar vein, the Gemara in Tamid 32a states: “Who is a wise man? He who foresees consequences.” In Sefer HaMiddos, Shaar HaAhavah, chapter 2, the Maggid elaborates on the trait of foresight.
A fool, the Maggid says, grasps only what his physical senses register. He does not ponder what he observes to determine its ramifications. He is like an animal that gives up its life for a trifle. If you take some barley in your hand and hold it in front of an animal, you can lead it to the slaughter. It is similar with a fool. He acts with no understanding. He loves only what his physical senses feel as pleasant, and regards a pleasant experience the ultimate in success. If something can bring him pleasure, he yearns for it, prays for it, rejoices when he gets it, is downcast when he does not, and considers anything that leads him to it as his faithful friend. His attitude is due to his blindness and deafness to the signals presented to him, and to his great haste, which allows him no time for careful thought. He is constantly running from one thing to the next. As Yeshayah puts it (verse 57:20): “The wicked are like the raging sea that cannot rest, and whose waters churn up mire and mud.” He focuses only on this world, paying no mind to the next. The Maggid offers some advice to lead the fool to abandon his misguided focus on worldly pleasures.
Even if it were true, as the fool believes, that worldly pleasures provide genuine good, in any case what they provide is only temporary. This world is not our final homestead. Rather, we are supposed to take from this world only what we need to serve Hashem, and the rest we should cast aside. For, as the Sages say in Avos 6:9, what accompanies a person as he proceeds from this world to the next is not silver, or gold, or gems, or pearls, but rather only Torah and good deeds.
A person should ponder what he sees in this world and extract a lesson from his observations. Many people before us have toiled to establish themselves in this world, devoting all their energy to this end. But what they amassed did not remain in their hands. Some of them suffered a major loss at some point in their lifetime in this world. And ultimately they all passed on, and others enjoy all the worldly assets they amassed. Are we any different from them? If not, why should we give over our souls for worldly gains? Shlomo HaMelech exhorts us to avoid this error, saying (Mishlei 5:8-10): “Keep your way far from her [the “foreign woman” who represents the lure of worldly gains] and do not come near to the door of her house. … Lest strangers be satiated as a result of your strength, and your exertions come into the house of an alien.” Moreover, even during his lifetime in this world, a wealthy man does not benefit from a thousandth of what he toils for. Instead, he assembles a large staff of servants and maids, to whom he provides food and clothing, and they benefit from the bulk of what he acquires. As Shlomo HaMelech puts it (Koheles 5:10): “As the blessing grows great, so does the number of those who consume it. What advantage, then, does the owner have, aside from what his eyes see?” Thus, instead of squandering our efforts on building ourselves up in this world, we should work on laying our foundation in the eternal world.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.