Introduction To Derech Chaim, Part 3
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-
(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
(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
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
The class is taught by Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky,
Dean of Darche Noam Institutions, Yeshivat
Darche Noam/Shapell's and Midreshet Rachel for Women.