He (Hillel) used to say: A surplus of meat causes
an increase in worms. A surplus of possessions
causes an increase in worry. A surplus of wives
causes an increase in "keshafim" (witchcraft). A
surplus of maidservants causes an increase in
promiscuity. A surplus of slaves causes an
increase in thievery. A surplus of Torah causes an
increase in life. A surplus of "yeshiva" (sitting
together with peers studying Torah) increases
wisdom. A surplus of "eitzah" (seeking advice and
insights from more experienced people) increases
understanding. A surplus of charity increases
peace. One who acquires a good name acquires it
for himself; one who acquires words of Torah for
himself has acquired the World to Come for himself.
After dealing with five things that relate to the physical
dimensions of existence, our Tanna begins to discuss the things
that relate to the transcendent dimensions of existence, which
connected to the soul. In matters relating to the soul, a
surplus ("marbeh") leads to a virtue.
The first lesson is that "a surplus of Torah causes an
increase in life." Torah is the foundation for the soul's
existence, giving the soul its life and nourishment. It is
through Torah that attachment to G-d (the source of all life) is
possible, and a surplus of Torah, through a strengthening of that
attachment, is what increases life and vitality .
Then we are taught "A surplus of [sitting together with
peers studying Torah] increases wisdom. "Torah" (in the previous
lesson) refers to the accurate knowledge of all the laws and
commandments, while "wisdom" is the next stage, encompassing the
reasons for the laws and an understanding of the commandments.
This virtue of wisdom is also connected to the soul.
Then we are taught that a surplus of "eitzah" increases
understanding. This refers to delving ever more deeply into the
Torah, toiling and striving to discover and understand new things
from what is already known.
The first three virtues relate to "da'ath" (knowledge),
"chochma" (wisdom) and "binah" (understanding), which we find
mentioned in the Haggadah (of Pesach): "...we all have wisdom, we
all have understanding, we all know the Torah..."("kulanu
chachamim, kulanu nevonim, kulanu yod'im et haTorah"). The Torah
is called "da'ath," as we have explained in other places. (See
Gevuroth HaShem, at the end of Ch. 52. This also came up in the
explanation of Ch. 1, Mishna 1, in discussing the three lessons
that were taught in response to the deterioration of "sechel," of
the intellectual level of the Jewish people. Each one of the
three lessons in that Mishna was directed at protecting the three
dimensions of the "sechel:" chochmah, binah and da'ath. We will
be dealing with this again in future discussions, especially in
Ch. 3 in the Mishna which teaches us that "binah" and "da'ath are
interdependent. It is one of the last Mishnayoth of the chapter,
and if you want to reference it, there are a few ways of
numbering the Mishanyoth in that chapter leading to it being
listed as variously as 17, 19 or 21.)
In each of these listed practices, an increase leads to the
acquisition of more virtue, in contrast to the earlier practices,
where every increase (beyond what is necessary) leads to greater
The next step is one who increases "tzedaka" (which we will
loosely translate as "charity") which leads to an increase in
peace. (The Maharal understands "tzedaka" in this context as
giving to someone else something which is not owed to him, in
contrast to giving because the law determines that it belongs to
him.) Peace implies that there is no opposition preventing a
person from smoothly following his path and pursuing his goals.
Peace is necessary to enable one to achieve his goals, both
materially and spiritually, while conflict would be a barrier
preventing those achievements. When a person insists on all
aspects of his interactions with others being built on strict
adherence to the letter of the law, never adopting a position of
leniency, this is a recipe for conflict and argument. (See Bava
Metziah 30b, which teaches that Jerusalem was destroyed --
destruction being the ultimate conclusion of conflict and
argument -- because everyone insisted on adherence to the letter
of the law .) This contrasts with one who behaves charitably,
with behavior that extends beyond the letter of the law, leading
to peace and harmonious interactions.
Charity leads to peace, as it is written (Isaiah 32:17) "And
the acts of charity are peace." This verse is used as a source
for the lesson in Bava Bathra (9a): Greater is one who makes
others [give charity] than one who does it (gives charity)
himself. (The extra word "ma'aseh" in the verse, which we
translated as "acts," is being interpreted to mean "make another
do something") Rava instructed the people of Mechoza (his home
town) "Make each other [give charity] in order that there should
be peace even in relation to the authorities" (who usually demand
strict adherence to the law). What is the meaning of this
benefit of getting others to give charity?
A person can give charity out of a personal feeling of
generosity, his desire to do something for another person. But
he doesn't feel that it is required of him. This kind of
generosity does not necessarily lead to peace and harmony with
others. Arguments and strife are caused by one person expecting
another person to behave in a certain way, while the second
person resists. This resistance is caused by the desire of each
person to do what he wants to do, and not "give in" to the other.
Charity motivated by the personal desire to do for another does
not indicate a willingness towards "leniency." The person
generosity is motivated by his feeling that it is right, but not
because there is something outside of his perspective that can
require it of him. that is exactly what can lead to argument and
conflict, and why even people who are capable of giving
generously can become deeply embroiled in "machloketh," in
interpersonal strife and argument. There generosity is a
function of it being in line with their personal perspective of
how things should be.
However, when, in addition to his own giving, a person works
to get another to give in a situation where he was not intending
to give, this comes from the recognition that charity and
generosity are objective imperatives. Rather than being done due
to his own feeling of generosity -- which would have been
consummated by his own giving -- charity, giving something that
is not required by law, is viewed as a behavioral norm.
Convincing another to give, as well as giving at the behest of
another, are both indicative of the ability to go beyond the
letter of the law, to compromise and to be lenient in adopting
behavior which is in line with another person's perspective,
rather than only behaving according to one's own perspective.
this is the foundation of peace and harmonious coexistence.
So the real intention of our Tanna when he teaches that an
increase in charity increases peace refers to one who is involved
in every aspect of charitable giving, getting others to give
charity (in addition, of course, to his own giving).