We ended off last time with the transmission of the
Torah from the Prophets to the Anshei Knesset Hagedolah. I
quoted most of the textual questions that the Maharal asks
on this Mishna, but some of them will remain unanswered in
our forum. I included them to sensitize you to the types of
questions that are asked, in the demand for textual and
logical integrity of each Mishna. You may want to pursue
the complete text yourselves to ferret out the more subtle
issues the Maharal disccuses. We will go to the main
element of this Mishha.
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.
Through the time of Anshei Knesset Hagedolah, there was
accurate a faithful transmission of every element of Torah.
The word "transmitted" is used in this Misha to imply that
whatever the student received was passed on. But in Mishna
3, the language changes, and it says that "Antignos Ish
Socho RECEIVED from Shimon Hatzadik," implying that the
quality of the transmission is determined by the ability of
the recipient. Even if the transmitter is able to transmit
everything, the deficiencies of the recipients limit him.
The generations were deteriorating, and this was anticipated
by the Anshei Knesset Hagedola when they made their three
"They made three statements (taught three things)...":
Didn't such great people have much more than these three
things to teach? And what is unique about these specific
The Great Assembly foresaw the coming deterioration of
the intellectual ability of the people as they lost their
involvement with wisdom was diminishing. As a doctor
prescribes a remedy for a weakening organ to supplement what
the organ is missing, the Great Assembly wanted to prescribe
a remedy for the deteriorating grasp of wisdom that was
beginning to develop.
A lack of knowledge and intellectual achievement
within the Jewish people exhibits itself in three ways.
A breakdown in the civil judicial system which governs
personal disputes. A judge needs to understand the
fundamental principles of the laws, in order to reach a
proper verdict. This understanding depends on an intuitive
logic which is necessary to properly apply the general
principles written explicitly in the Torah.
deterioration in the quality of Torah scholarship, the more
theortical dimension of Torah study.
A defeciency in a
person's observance of Mitzvot, where a permitted activity
can mistakenly lead him to a forbidden activity (i.e when he
sees it is permitted to cook chicken with milk, he will
mistakenly think it is also permitted to cook meat with
The instructions of the Great Assembly to the Jewish
people at this time was to correct these three problems. In
response to a deteriorating judicial system, they advised
"Be deliberate and reserved in judgement." In response to a
deterioration in the quality of Torah study they advised
"Establish a large cadre of students," since an increase in
the number of students nurtures clarity in Torah study. In
order that commandments shouldn't be violated in practice,
they advised "Make a fence around the Torah," in order to
ensure proper observance of the Torah itself.
These three elements also encompass the three broad
categories of the population. There are the leaders, who
are responsible for correct judgements affecting the
community, and their potential deficiency is being addressed
with "Be deliberate in judgement." Those involved chiefly
in the study of Torah are admonished "Establish a cadre of
students" which will ensure improved learning of the Torah.
The third category are those of the community who aren't
involved in study, and they require fences around the
Halacha, due to their lack of clarity. The Anshe Knesset
Hagedolah saw that every group of the nation was
deteriorating, and they made declarations to address the
needs of each group.
The inclusion of the number, three, is also
significant. (Since the Rabbis knew that we know how to
count, the Maharal is always bothered when they have to tell
me the number explicitly.) Firstly, the number implies that
these declarations are all inclusive, because they encompass
every category of the nation.
On a deeper level, these declarations were to rectify
deficiencies of the "sechel," the intellectual/spiritual
dimension of man. This dimension of wisdom includes three
levels, "chochma", "binah" and "da'at." "Chochma" refers to
basic facts, and our grasp of the principles underlying
these facts. "Binah" is our ability to generate new
information from these facts and the underlying principles.
"Da'at" is knowing how to apply this information in
practice. (There are a number of ways to understand the
breakdown of these three levels of wisdom. We will be
touching on this a number of times, from a number of
different perspectives.) These admonishments are to rectify
each of these three levels of wisdom.
Grasping the underlying principes of specific facts is
something that requires "svarah," intuitive logic, which is
the major intellectual component necessary for a judge to
render wise judgements. "Be deliberate in judgement"
instructs us to ensure that our basic analysis is logical
"Binah," generating new Torah insights and information,
comes from sophisticated intellectual inquiry and
discussion. The antidote for a deterioration in this area
is increasing the number of students involved in Torah
study, thereby increasing the give-and-take and (hopefully)
minimizing incorrect conclusions.
For people who lack "da'at," not knowing exactly how to
behave in practice, fences around the letter of the law will
ensure that they not violate the actual law itself.
"They said THREE things..." For in essence these three
declarations encompass every facet of wisdom, being
exhuastive in their scope, and are THE recipe to limit its
Next class we will finish this Mishna with an
introduction to the importance of the number "three" which
seems to underly many Mishnayot in the first chapter, being
a fundamental number in the study of mussar/discipline.
Over the coming Mishnayot we will weave a thread through
many "trios" that we find in Judaism.