Beit Midrash Goers

Avot (5:14) | Yisrael Bankier | 6 years ago

The Mishnah teaches (5:14):

There are four traits of those that go (holchei) to the Beit Midrash. One who goes (holech) but does not do (oseh), he has the reward for going in his hand. One that does (oseh) but does not go, he has the rewarding for doing in his hand. One that goes and does is a chassid. One that neither goes nor does is a rasha.

What is “going” and “doing” referred to in the Mishnah and what is the Mishnahteaching us?

The Tifferet Yisrael adds that we are not referring to students or talmidei chachamim in this Mishnah since other Mishnayot in this perek (12 & 15) refer to them. The Beit Midrash here refers to the place where everyone goes to learn Jewish thought, perspectives and performance of mitzvot.

What is the “doing” referred to in our Mishnah? To answer this we will focus on the statement that: “One who goes but does not do, has the reward for going in his hand.” If “doing” is the performance of mitzvot – that which was learnt – then why is someone that goes to the Beit Midrash but has no intention of performance not consider a rasha? Based on this question there are a number of different explanation of the term “does” (asi’ah).

The Markevet Ha’Mishnah explains that one that learns but does not want to fulfil the mitzvot is indeed a rasha. Nevertheless he still received reward for going.

The Bartenura explains that the Mishnahrefers to one that goes to the Beit Midrash and listens but does not learn, or learns but does not understand. The difficulty with this explanation is what the Mishnah did not explicitly state “lomed” (learn) instead of “oseh”? The Maharal explains that had the Mishnah used the term lomed it would have implied that we are referring to a person that learnt but did not understand or did not retain the knowledge. Instead the term “asah” is used to teach that even those the come to the Beit Midrash and do nothing, still get the reward for coming.

The Tifferet Yisrael maintains the original understanding that asah refers to the performance of mitzvot. Yet he explains that we are referring to a person who came to the Beit Midrash with every intention of fulfilling what he learnt. Nevertheless “eino oseh”, in practice he is not able to overcome his yetzer. The Tifferet Yisrael explains that he receives reward for going since he nevertheless desired to learn and perhaps his continual attendance will build his character so that he can overcome his yetzer.

The Magen Avot explains that the “asi’ah” refers to performing gemilut chasadim – acts of kindness. One that comes to learn but does not perform gemilut chasadim has the reward of going alone. Accordingly, for one to be a chasid one must do both.

One basic question left standing is that according to all explanations, why should he receive reward for going if there is no result, no “doing”? The Sforno explains that the very act of going, the efforts made to go to place of Torah, gives honour to the Torah and Hashem Who gave it. That is deserving of reward.

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