Chapter 2: Mishna 2 Part 5
Something which is "klali" (comprehensive, all-inclusive) stands
eternally. (This is contrast to an individual person or element, which
is ephemeral.) Therefore, one who works for the welfare of the "klal"
(altruistic service for the entire community) links himself to an
eternal chain, which began with our forefathers and continues
throughout the generations. It is for this reason that "the merit of
their forefathers assists them, and their righteousness stands
eternally," informing us of how great the merit of community service is
when done with true altruism. If our own communal leaders would be
deeply conscious of this, they would work for the sake of heaven
instead of being motivated by their own welfare.
Even though the merit of the forefathers assists those working for
the welfare of the community, the Tanna teaches us that they receive
reward as if they had done it themselves, with no outside assistance.
This is the meaning of "and you -- I apportion reward to you as if you
had done it (alone)." The additional "you" is inserted to avoid the
possible ambiguity that the merit is accruing to the forefathers. (Had
it written "aleihem" (them) the antecedent of the pronoun would be
ambiguous -- does it mean the people serving the community or the
forefather. This is an obvious ambiguity in the original Hebrew.)
Another reason for the extra "and you..." is to emphasize and
strengthen the credibility of the promise being made for the large
reward due those who work altruistically for the welfare of the
We are taught that "the merit of THEIR forefathers assists [those
involved in community matters for the sake of Heaven]" as if the
forefathers of the nation were the individual fathers of these people.
Avraham, Yitzchak and Yakov are known as the fathers of the entire
Jewish nation. But since these people are working for the welfare of
the community, they are viewed as the community itself (and the
forefathers can be considered as the individual fathers of these
altruistic people). We find a tangible example that one who serves the
community can have the status of the community in G-d's statement to
Moshe at the Burning Bush. G-d says (Shemoth 3:6) "I am the G-d of
your father, the G-d of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yakov" as if the
forefathers were Moshe's own personal fathers. Moshe interpreted "the
G-d of your father" as meaning the G-d of Amram (Moshe's biological
father), so G-d had to elaborate with "the G-d of Avraham...". But why
did he introduce Himself as "the G-d of your father?" Since G-d knew
that Moshe would not feel worthy of the mission for which he was being
sent, G-d was telling Moshe that the mission was one for the welfare of
the community, and the forefathers are fathers to one who works for the
needs of the community. By introducing Himself as the G-d of the
forefathers, He was telling Moshe that he would be assisted by the
merit of the forefathers, as we are taught in our Mishna.
(This next section is rooted in Kabbalistic insights. I have
translated the words with minimal elaboration, without going beyond the
very cryptic surface. There will be some development of these ideas in
chapter 5.) This assistance has Avraham "holding his right hand"
(symbolic of Avraham's characteristic of "chesed") guiding the speech
and actions of the person working for the needs of the community;
Yitzchak defends against destruction and negative elements (which
symbolically comes from the left side; Yitzchak's characteristic of
"gevurah") that could come from his actions; and Yakov shows him the
path to take and provides guidance in choosing which actions to do.
That this is the role of Yakov is alluded to in the verse (Breishith
28:20) "If G-d will be with me, and protect me on this path that I am
There is another reason for the connection of the lesson of
involvement with communal matters and the lesson of derech eretz in our
Mishna. Even though involvement in communal matters is simple "derech
eretz," the expected way one should behave in society, one who does
this receives great reward. After teaching that one's Torah should be
accompanied with "derech eretz," giving praise to involvement in the
material/physical side of the world, the Tanna teaches us that if that
involvement is directed to benefit the community and provide their
needs, the person is greatly rewarded.
(A person motivated by what Rav Deseler calls "koach hanetina,"
the drive to give, will always be looking to give people what they
need, and do it with the best service possible. A store keeper who is
motivated by maximizing profits will look for what products have high
profit margins, and give good service in order to attract the largest
number of customers in order to make the most money he can. This
person is governed by the drive to take, which economists would call
"the profit motive." Another store keeper may charge the same prices
and give the same good service, but he can be motivated by the drive to
give and serve. He looks to sell the products that meet needs that
aren't being met. And he charges a price that allows him a profit,
because if he loses money, he will soon be out of business and there
will be no one to provide the good service and need products that he
does. The first person gives service to make money. The second makes
money in order to give service. The Maharal has understood the
juxtaposition of the elements of this Mishna to teach us that a person
should try to accomplish his needs for derech eretz in a way that
maximizes his ability to provide the community with service.)
(This concludes Mishna 2. The next shiur will be after Pesach.
Wishing everyone a "Chag Kaher V'samyeach".)
The class is taught by Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky,
Dean of Darche Noam Institutions, Yeshivat
Darche Noam/Shapell's and Midreshet Rachel for Women.