Pirkei Avos Chapter 1-Mishnah 1:

I hope everybody had a good summer break.  We survived.


My mother-in-law came for a week, so we rented a minivan for five days, and that helped out a lot.  I think the highlight of the summer is when we found a large rat in our home.


We called an exterminator, who we expected would set traps to get rid of said rat or rats.  However, instead, he came in, went to where we saw the rat, declared where the rat was coming from, poured poison all over the area and then charged us 200 shekels.  When my wife attempted to explain to him why the rat could not be coming from the area where he put the poison, he interrupted her, insulted her, and said that he knew what he was doing.  When asked who will get rid of the rat if/when it dies and if/when it dies it doesn’t do it in some place we can’t get to, he shrugged and left.


He literally stole 200 shekels from us.


After speaking to several women, we learned that many people had the exact same experience with this guy, it didn’t help, and they ended up buying their own traps.  One family let us use theirs, so after several days of no dead-rat sightings, I set up the trap and within an hour, I caught the rat.


The next morning, around 5:20 a.m., while it was still dark, I walked the rat in his rat-box to the exterminator’s home, who lives three minutes away.  As the rat and I were standing in the dark, enjoying the view of his fenced in yard, the door of the trap accidently opened up and the rat accidently fell out and accidentally ran away.  Boy, I am so clumsy.


I wish the rat a nice, healthy and long life.


This week, we will begin Pirkei Avos.  We’ll try out this format and I’m open to suggestions and criticisms (only if accompanied by a donation).  At this point, each week, we will post the Mishnah, and take certain quotes from it and give simple explanations based on some of the major commentaries.  And, if needed, I’ll put in my two cents.  And in many cases, we’ll split the Mishnah over two weeks or so, depending on the size.


“Moses received the Torah from Sinai and gave it over to Joshua. Joshua gave it over to the Elders, the Elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets gave it over to the Men of the Great Assembly. They [the Men of the Great Assembly] would always say these three things: Be cautious in judgment. Establish many pupils. And make a safety fence around the Torah.”

-Chapter 1, Mishnah 1


Moses received the Torah from Sinai – Moshe received the Oral Law as well as the Written Law at Sinai.  Were it not for the Oral Law, the interpretations of the Written Law, we could not know the true meaning of the Written Law. "And I will give you the tablets of stone, and the Torah and the mitzvos" (Shemos 24:12).  The "Torah" refers to the Written Law; "the mitzvos" refers to the Oral Law.  Thus all commandments given to Moshe at Sinai were given along with their interpretations. (Rabbeinu Yona)


And transmitted it to Joshua – He gave it to Joshua and not to Eliezer HaKohen, Pincus or the Seventy Elders of the Sanhedrin, because, since his youth Joshua toiled and sacrificed to attain Torah, as it says, "Joshua bin Nun was a youth, he never departed from the Tent of Meeting" (Shemos 33:11). (Rashi)


And Joshua to the Elders – This does not refer to the Seventy Elders who lived in the time of Moshe, but to those who led Israel after the time of Joshua.  The era of the Elders lasted until the times of the Prophets (the Elders are listed in the Book of Judges).  The era of the Prophets began with Eli HaKohen and Shmuel HaNavi, until… (Rashi, Rabbeinu Yona)


The Prophets handed it down – Each prophet handed the Torah to their students, until the era of the Great Assembly, which was a group consisting of one hundred and twenty sages who lived in the time before and after the construction of the second Beis HaMikdash.  It was during their time prophecy ceased.


Rabbeinu Yona continues and writes that the Torah continued to be transmitted from teacher to student for generations, and (the Oral Law) was finally written and sealed in the form of the Mishna and Gemara.  Even after that, the Torah has been transmitted from teacher to student for generations until today.


As a side note, this is one of the main arguments against movements attempting to reform Judaism.  None of them can claim that their "tradition" was handed down from teacher to student.  For example, Mosses Mendelsohn, the father of the Reform Movement, while certainly a scholar in his own right, was not teaching what he was taught.  Rather, it was based on what HE thought.  Hence, he received no backing from anybody of the previous generation.


Unfortunately, we have Open-Orthodoxy claiming that they too have a Tradition, based on the teachings of Rav Soloveitchik, the rav of some of the creators of this new movement.  However, this too does not hold any water, since this was created well after his death, and none of his contemporaries (notably from Yeshiva University who have also condemned this movement) have agreed that they are teaching something handed down to them. 


On the other hand, a friend of mine was able to trace the student to rav relationship that our Rosh Yeshiva had to the Rambam, for example.  Our Rosh Yeshiva taught us according to what he learned from his rabbeim, who learned from their rabbeim, etc., without a break.


This is an important factor to consider when choosing a rabbi.  Does he teach what he was taught, or does he make up new things that have no basis in tradition? 


On that note, I wish you all a great Shabbos!