Moshe received the Torah from Sinai and transmitted it to
Yehoshua; Yehoshua to the Elders; the Elders to the Prophets; and
the Prophets transmitted it to the Anshei Knesset HaGedolah
(Members of the Great Assembly). They made three statements
(taught three things): Be deliberate (patient and restrained) in
judgment; establish a large cadre of disciples; and construct a
boundary around the Torah.
The following problems (textual and logical) exist in this
What is the relevance of the chain of Torah
transmission to this tractate specifically? We don't find such
an introduction in any other tractate. Ironically, this tractate
appears to be simply instructions of ethical discipline, rather
than an integral part of the Torah which was received at Sinai.
Why is the chain of tradition enumerated specifically at the
beginning of the tractate?
The Tanna should have written "Moshe received
the Torah from the Almighty...". What is the meaning that he
received it from Sinai?
The Mishna opens with Moshe receiving the
Torah, and continues with Moshe transmitting the Torah (to
Yehoshua), and the Prophets transmitting the Torah. Why didn't
the Mishnah continue with each subsequent link receiving it? And
then from Mishnah 3, the Tanna reverts back to the language of
receiving, when he lists Antignus Ish Socho, followed by the
various pairs, each receiving for their predecessors.
The phrase "mesirah," transmitted, is mentioned
from Moshe to Yeshoshua, but is not repeated with Yehoshua's
transmission to the Elders, nor the Elders to the Prophets. It
then reappears for the Prophets transmission to the Anshei Knesset
Hagedolah. What is the significance of that?
It is clear that the Elders to whom Yehoshua
transmitted the Torah weren't the same Elders who transmitted it to
the Prophets, because the original Elders didn't live all the way
to the time of Shmuel, the first Prophet. Rather the Elders who
received it from Yehoshua transmitted it to other Elders who
eventually transmitted it to the Prophets. So the Mishna should
have more precisely written "Yehoshua (transmitted it) to the
Elders, the Elders to Elders, and (those) Elders to the Prophets".
Why was the transmission among the Elders not distinguished
separately, yet a separate transmission to the Prophets was
Moreover, since Torah knowledge is not a
function of prophecy (but of wisdom and scholarship), there should
be no distinction between Prophets and Elders. Had the Elders who
received it from Yehoshua been the ones to actually transmit to the
Prophets, it would be justified to list the Prophets as a link in
the chain of tradition. But since there were transmissions from
one group of Elders to other Elders, and there were also
transmissions from one group of Prophets to other Prophets until it
was transmitted to the Anshei Knesset Hagedolah, all of these
transmissions should have been listed as one transmission from
Yehoshua to Elders, and then Elders to the Anshei Knesset
HaGedolah. What is the significance of the two groups, Elders and
Prophets, in the transmission process?
Why weren't the Kings, like David and Solomon,
also considered a separate group, with the Elders transmitting it
to the Kings?
Why don't we find any specific teachings
mentioned from the transmissions to the Elders or the Prophets?
Only from the transmission to the Anshei Knesset HaGedolah do we
find that they taught three things.
The opening of this tractate with the chain of Torah
transmission has to do with both the tractate's name, Avoth, and
its topic, "Musar" (ethical discipline).
It is written in Mishle (1:8) "Hark my son to the
discipline of your father, and don't abandon the teachings of your
mother." Parents, who bring life to their children, are especially
suited to discipline and educate them, due to their greater
maturity and experience. The father plays the major role in the
discipline. Since this tractate discusses ethical disciplines, it
opens with the true "fathers", those who bring real life -- Torah -
- to the world: Moshe, Yehoshua, the Elders, the Prophets, the
Anshei Knesset HaGedola, and the Tana'im. As they are true
fathers, it behooves us to accept moral disciplines from them. In
fact, this is why the Tractate itself is called "Avoth" (literally
Moshe's receiving of the Torah from G-d had a unique quality
to it, due to its happening in a designated place, Sinai. A true
"receiving" requires the full intention to give on the part of the
giver, demonstrated by designating a place for the receiving.
Emphasizing that Moshe received the Torah "from Sinai" (not even
saying that he received it "from G-d at Sinai") shows how integral
the place (Sinai) was in the process of Moshe receiving the Torah,
making it completely premeditated.
Another reason why the Tanna didn't write "Moshe received the
Torah from G-d..." is because that would have implied that G-d's
ability to transmit the Torah was related to Moshe's ability to
receive it, the way a teacher's ability to transmit Torah is
related to the student's readiness and ability to receive it. On a
human level, a true "Rav and Talmid" relationship does not happen
easily, as not every student succeeds in learning from every
teacher. (This is true, despite our desire to fulfill what we will
learn in Ch. 4 Mishna 1, that a true wise man is one who learns
from everyone. More when we get to it.) It requires a specific
teacher who has the desire and ability to teach, giving to a
specific student who has the desire and ability to learn from this
teacher . When this happens, a special relationship is created by
this bilateral affinity, binding the two together in a unique way.
This special relationship existed between Yehoshua and the Elders,
where Yehoshua had the unique ability to teach Torah (specifically)
to the Elders, and they had the unique ability to learn it
(specifically) from Yehoshua. The additional chains of tradition
had that same unique bilateral relationship. G-d, however, had no
limitation in His ability to teach the Torah, and His educative
powers didn't require Moshe or any specific student to enable Him
to teach His Torah, as long as the student was worthy. In fact it
is G-d who is enlightening all of us with Torah on an ongoing
basis, as we pray every day "Vha'er eineinu b'toratecha." To have
written that "Moshe received the Torah from G-d" would have implied
that G-d's ability to transmit Torah was somehow limited
specifically to Moshe as the receiver, something which certainly
was not true.
Additionally, whenever a Rav teaches Torah to a Talmid, and a
Talmid learns Torah from the Rav, this creates an ongoing bond
between them. But saying that Moshe received the Torah from G-d
would imply that Moshe was able to create this kind of ongoing bond
with G-d, which is not respectful to the Almighty. Even though it
does say in the Torah (Exodus 31) that G-d gave Moshe the Luchot
HaEidut, the two "Tablets of Testimony," and in numerous places
"And G-d spoke to Moshe to say...", these were specific
communiques, and doesn't imply the ongoing bond of a Rav to a
At Sinai, the process of communication was one where G-d
appeared to be speaking "to Himself" and it was Moshe's
responsibility to strive to receive the Torah. The perception was
as if Moshe was receiving the Torah "from Sinai" since G-d was not
required to interact with Moshe in the way a normal Rav must
interact with his student.
The difference between "kibeil", which is the verb used to
describe the process of Moshe's receiving the Torah, and "mesirah"
which is the verb used for how the Torah was transmitted from him
to Yehoshua and further, is as follows. "Moshe Kibeil" implies
that the quality of what was received was completely dependent on
Moshe, who received it to the maximum of human ability. The
transmission process was perfect, as it was done by G-d, and any
deficiency in what was received was due to Moshe limitations.
Moshe was then able to transmit -- mesarah -- all he had received
to Yehoshua, and Yehoshua was able to completely receive this and
completely transmit all that he received to the Elders, who
received it as it was transmitted to them, further tramsmitting it
completely to the Prohets. But from the Anshei Knesset Hagedolah,
which takes us in to the Second Temple Period, the quality of
We have left a few elements hanging, which lead us in to the
second half of the Mishna, with the three statements that are
taught. We will pick this up next class.