On Monday evening, April 5, the Eshel Avraham Organization presented a virtual shiur with Rabbi Avraham Nissanian, well-known inspirational speaker, on Pirkei Avos. Rabbi Nissanian focused on the first mishnah, which states that Moshe received the Torah from Sinai and transmitted it to Yehoshua, Yehoshua to the Elders, the Elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets to the Men of the Great Assembly. He taught that the Pirkei Avos are the sayings of our great chachamim in the generation before the destruction of the Second Beis HaMikdash, and it begins with telling us how we received the Torah.
Rabbi Nissanian posed the question, “Why is the Tana telling us the story of how we got the Torah?
It seems like that should have been said at the beginning of the Talmud, not the beginning of Pirkei Avos. He explained that in the Gemara, every place where chachamim state an opinion about a subject, it is always connected to a pasuk in the Torah.
“Throughout Pirkei Avos, we learn about good manners and the proper way to behave, yet the Sages in Pirkei Avos bring no support from the Torah for their teachings here.” He explained that this is why Pirkei Avos begins by tracing the history of how the Torah was brought to us and where it started. It says that Moshe received the Torah from Heaven, so we know that Pirkei Avos has a source from the Torah.
The rest of the world bases its wisdom on the experience of previous generations, while we understand everything that the chachamim (the Sages) tell us, is coming directly from G-d. Any chacham who has the yoke of Heaven, his wisdom will last. If his wisdom precedes the yoke of Heaven, his wisdom will not last. “So, we have to have yir’as Shamayim (fear of Heaven) first before acquiring wisdom. If a person learns Torah without yir’as Shamayim, nothing will last from his wisdom.”
A person must learn from great people who worked on their behavior to control their desires. Rabbi Nissanian asked, “Why did the Tana emphasize that Moshe got the Torah from Sinai?
When Hashem wanted to send Moshe to be the redeemer, Moshe said, “Who am I to redeem them from Egypt?”
So, in the beginning, Moshe refused the mission Hashem gave him. Yet, later, when Hashem decided that Moshe would bring the Torah to B’nei Yisrael, Moshe accepted the job with no protest. Rabbi Nissanian asked, “What happened here to his humility?”
He explained that, in the midrash, Har Sinai was the lowest mountain. When the other mountains fought, saying they were the best one to receive the Torah, Har Sinai was humble and did not claim to be great enough to receive the Torah. This is why Hashem chose Har Sinai. Hashem does not like someone who has too much pride. He likes people to be humble. When you are humble, Hashem will bring all the necessary things for you to be acknowledged by others. “Humility is the key to accepting Torah and to obtaining the Torah. Torah is like water. Water comes from a high place to a lower place. Torah can be obtained and preserved by people with humility.”
Hashem chose Moshe to lead the Jewish people because of his humility. “Moshe was the humblest person on earth. “Moshe understood that if G-d chose the lowest mountain to receive the Torah on, then he was chosen because he was humble.”
During the Seder, when Sefardim sing Dayeinu, some have a custom to hit each other with scallions to symbolize the Egyptians whipping the Jews in Egypt. In the song, we sing that if Hashem would have brought us to Har Sinai it would have been enough. Why do we say that? The Torah tells us that am Yisrael camped against Har Sinai. Camped is used in the singular. Rashi explains it is singular because we are one man and one heart. When they drew closer to Har Sinai, all the Jewish people were united and all were like one person. “When a person has pride, it’s a source of all destruction.” Hashem doesn’t want to dwell in place with a person with gaavah.”
Har Sinai teaches us that when we respect each other and we are united, we can accomplish so many things. Sadly, lack of unity is why Mashiach isn’t here.” Hashem will bring the Third Beis HaMikdash when we are all united.”
Rabbi Nissanian stated,”We need to see others with a good eye.”
“Every year, when we learn Pirkei Avos, we read this pasuk that teaches us that we received the Torah at Har Sinai to remind us of the lessons of humility and being united and to live in peace with one another.” He added that we are all created by G-d, so there is no reason to think we are above anyone. Rabbi Akiva taught that “loving others as yourself” is the whole Torah. “When you’re humble, people will respect you.” He quoted a teaching from Pirkei Avos: “When you run from honor, honor chases you.”
He then returned to the question of why the pasuk says Moshe received the Torah “from” Har Sinai. It would be more correct to say “in” or “at” Har Sinai. The Hebrew letter mem, which means “from,” also represents “forty.” Moshe went up to Heaven for forty days and forty nights when he received the Torah.
Also, it says Moshe received the Torah from Sinai because it is transmitted to the next generation. “There is so much in the Torah and we, with our limited brain, will never learn or absorb the whole Torah.” We are constantly fighting the yeitzer ha’ra, and we need Torah to help us overcome desires, jealousies, and pride.
Rabbi Nissanian concluded that learning Pirkei Avos helps us to become better people.
By Susie Garber