Moshe Received The Torah From Sinai And Passed It On To Yehoshua; Yehoshua [Passed It On] To The Elders; The Elders To The Prophets; The Prophets Passed It On To The Men Of The Great Assembly.
They [The Men Of The Great Assembly] Made Three Statements: "Be Deliberate In Judgment; Raise Up Many Students; And Make A Fence Around The Torah."
Why does the Mishnah
describe the chain of tradition only in Pirkei Avos?
Would it not have been proper to do so earlier, at the very beginning of the Mishnah?
It can be explained that in the previous tractates there was no need to mention the chain of tradition. Those tractates deal with ritual obligations, which are obviously Divine in origin. Pirkei Avos, on the other hand, deals with ethics. It is extremely important to emphasize that the source of these teachings is also Divine revelation, and not mere human wisdom.
In regard to many matters, e.g., the holiday of Shavuos, emphasis is placed on the giving
of the Torah. In regard to ethics, it is the receiving
of the Torah - how the Torah is internalized in one's being - which is highlighted. For in this realm it is not abstract knowledge which is important, but rather how the Torah is applied in life.
(Sichos Yud Shvat, 5739)
Why does the mishnah
state "from Sinai," instead of "from G-d"? Saying "Sinai" underscores two important character traits. On the one hand, Sinai is a mountain, reminding us to stand tall in the face of any and all challenges. Nevertheless, Mount Sinai is "lower than all the mountains,"
emphasizing that this pride must be tempered by humility.
(Sichos Shabbos Parshas Shemini, 5731)
Moshe realized that he was merely a steward of the knowledge he had been given, and therefore endeavored to share it with Yehoshua and, through him, with the entire Jewish people. Each of us must emulate Moshe's example and share the wisdom we have learned with others.
(Sichos Shabbos Parshas Naso, 5738)
If the mishnah's
purpose was merely to describe the chain of tradition, a more detailed list would have been appropriate.
By mentioning only these five individuals or groups, the mishnah
alludes to five traits that are essential in developing a relationship with the Torah.
"Moshe" represents a unique fusion of humility and pride. Although he was "more humble than any man on the face of the earth," he served as a firm leader of the people, confidently telling them: "It is I who stood between you and G-d."
"Yehoshua" represents the epitome of dedicated devotion - "a youth who never left the tent." Such dedication is also necessary if one is to make the Torah a part of one's thinking processes.
"The elders" represent the virtues of maturity and cultivated wisdom. The commitment of Yehoshua must be nurtured through disciplined study.
"The prophets" represent a drive to make one's thinking processes reflect one's spiritual values. This is necessary to ensure that the knowledge of the elders remains more than human wisdom, and reflects the G-dly source of the Torah.
In regard to "the Men of the Great Assembly," our Sages explain the name was given because they "restored the original glory."
Moshe referred to the Almighty as "the great, mighty and awesome G-d."
Yirmeyahu said: "Gentiles are celebrating in His palace; where is His awesomeness?" And when he referred to G-d, he did not use the term "awesome."
Daniel said: "Gentiles are subjugating His children; where is His might?" And he did not use the term "mighty."
They [the Men of the Great Assembly] arose and said: "On the contrary, this is His might; that He overcomes His natural tendency, and shows patience to the wicked. And this is His awesomeness; for were it not for His awesomeness, one nation could not endure among the many."
The Men of the Great Assembly were able to see G-dliness even in the darkness of exile. This is the last quality which the mishnah
chose to emphasize as a prerequisite for our study of the Torah; regardless of the situation in which we find ourselves, we must appreciate G-d's intent.
(Likkutei Sichos, Vol. IV, p. 1175ff)
Implied in the Hebrew term Ha'amidu is the notion that one must instruct one's students until they are able to stand independently. A teacher's responsibility is not merely to impart knowledge, but rather to give his students a strong base of values and principles which will continue to give them strength.
(Sichos Shabbos Parshas Naso, 5740)
The word "many" does not imply a limit. No matter how many students a teacher has, he must always seek to add more.
(Sichos Shabbos Parshas Kedoshim, 5744)
- (Back to text) See the commentary of R. Ovadiah of Bartenura.
- (Back to text) Midrash Tehillim 68:17.
- (Back to text) See the explanation of this concept in the essay entitled "The Revelation at Mt. Sinai," Timeless Patterns in Time, Vol. II, p. 109 (Kehot, N.Y., 5754).
- (Back to text) See the Rambam's Introduction to the Mishneh Torah, where he indeed provides a more detailed index.
- (Back to text) Bamidbar 12:2.
- (Back to text) Devarim 5:5.
- (Back to text) Shmos 33:11.
- (Back to text) Yoma 69b.
- (Back to text) Devarim 10:17.
- (Back to text) Yirmeyahu 32:18.
- (Back to text) Daniel 9:4.
- (Back to text) Hence, in the daily prayers which they instituted we say "the great, mighty, and awesome G-d," as Moshe did.