He (Hillel) used to say: A boor is not one who fears sin;
nor can an ignorant person be pious. A shy person does
not learn, and an [overly] strict person is not one who
can teach. And not everyone who increases commerce
("sechorah") becomes wise. And in a place where there
are no "people," attempt to be a "person."
"An ignorant person will not be pious." When man's physical
dimension is connected to the "sechel" (imbuing the material
human being with a spiritual/intellectual reality), then that
physical body is refined and purified. It is clear that the body
of an animal is of a more material nature than the body of a
human being, for the animal has no "sechel"
(spiritual/intellectual dimension). The more connected man's
body becomes with this "sechel," the more refined that
physicality becomes. And the more refined and elevated the
physicality becomes, the more piety it will manifest, with this
person doing acts of kindness to all.
(To elaborate briefly on the above, I would suggest that
concept of the material being "thick" "coarse" and "heavy,"
should be contrasted to the intellectual/spiritual, which is
viewed as being delicate, thin, and light. Think of spiritually
inspiring piece of music or art and you will probably think of
the latter adjectives. On the other hand, lusts, addictive or
animal behaviour are associated with adjectives like heavy, murky
A person who is an "am ha'aretz," one whose existence is
based on his material dimension, is not able to behave in a way
that goes beyond the letter of the law. (The definition of a
"chasid", a pious person, is one who does more than is required
of him.) "Tov" is found in one who transcends the limitations of
the material, and this is the source of piety, being motivated to
serving, going beyond the letter of the law.
Therefore, we are taught two outcomes from the lack of
"sechel." One who lacks "sechel" (the intellectual/spiritual
dimension) which is, in essence, Torah knowledge, will lack fear
of Heaven, for without wisdom one cannot have awe and fear.
An additional consequence of this lack of "sechel" is that
man remains on the level of a coarse material being (in contrast
to a refined and lucid being who embodies that "sechel," a
purified material dimension). Only by transcending and refining
the material dimension can man embody "tov." The more physical
the material dimension, the more distant the person is from
(The connection between a refined physicality and doing acts
of kindness needs clarification. While we imagine that refined
physicality is a good thing, and acts of kindness are good
things, it is necessary to understand why it is the former that
specifically leads to the latter. Furthermore, we must clarify
our understanding of "tov," which is usually loosely and
simplistically translated as "good." We will then understand the
basis for the Maharal teaching us that "tov" is found only in
those who transcend the material dimension. What is the
connection? We touched on it in the Introduction and in the
early Mishnayoth, and the ideas can be further developed in this
(Physical matter is finite and in a state of constant
deterioration, always on the path towards its ultimate
destruction. It is driven towards self-preservation, and due to
its finite nature it is naturally driven to maintain its
existence, properly perceived as being tenuous. Something built
exclusively on a material dimension views the giving of itself as
diminishing its own limited and finite resources, threatening its
very existence. The material dimension can be viewed as very
egoistic and selfish. Taking in more resources is viewed as
increasing the foundation of its existence, and giving away
resources diminishes that existence.
(The word "chasid" comes from the root "chesed," which means
to give more than is required. We have written before that the
modern usage of the word should not influence our correct
understanding of the fundamental meaning of "chasid" as it is
used, with precision, by our Rabbis. A person rooted in the
material is incapable of giving more than is required, for that
would undermine the resources necessary for his existence.
Therefore, on the deepest level, it is not possible for an "am
ha'aretz," one rooted in the finite material world, to be a
"chasid," one who gives generously in a completely altruistic
way. While he may give and share, it is done on the basis of his
perception that the world and the society of which he is a member
will run better if he, and others, share and give. It is more
properly viewed as "investing" rather than "giving." To give
altruistically is motivated by the recognition that one's
existence transcends the material dimension, and that resources
are given to man by G-d for the purpose of sharing them, with man
serving as G-d's vehicle to pass resources on to others. This is
the quintessential "chasid." A person rooted solely in the
material dimension, an "am ha'aretz," views the purpose of his
resources as being to ensure his material existence. He can give
what is required, but certainly wouldn't give more. One who
views his resources as a vehicle for giving to others, imitating
G-d's altruistic kindness, is in a constant state of giving,
(Let us take a businessperson who gives good service or
makes a good product in order to make more profit, which is
motivated by his need to ensure his continued material existence.
Now contrast him with one who makes profit in order to provide a better product or service, knowing that without profit, he won't
be able to continue to give and serve. The latter person is
transcending the purely material dimension of his existence,
motivated by the desire to give and serve).
The more rooted something is in the material the more
distanced it is from "tov" while things that transcend the
material are called "tov."
(The word "tov" comes from the root "hatavah," which means
to prepare something for its purpose. For example, "hatavath
haneiroth" means to prepare the lamps of the menorah to be lit.
Since the purpose of creation is to imitate the Divine on the
path to attaining a transcendent and eternal existence, the
previous sentence of the Maharal takes on very precise and very
Things which transcend the material are called "tov."
Examples are: The Torah (Mishlei 4:2; see what we wrote in Ch. 1,
Mishna 2), which is transcendent wisdom; and Moshe Rabbeinu (see
Menachot 53b and Sotah 12a) who had the minimal physical
dimension necessary to exist in this world. The Jewish nation
itself was worthy of receiving the Torah because of their ability
to transcend dependence on the material dimension.