This week we started the last chapter of Masechet Avot. Rashi explains that the contents of this chapter are not from the Mishnah and actually Beriatot (other Tanaic texts) that were added to Pirkei Avot. It was done so due to the custom of learning Pirkei Avot on the Shabbatot between Pesach and Shavout so that on each Shabbat, one chapter would be learnt. The Yaavetz explains that this chapter, whose focus is on the study and “acquisition” of Torah, was added since the previous chapters that deal with refining one’s character traits and actions are necessary for Torah to dwell amongst a person. The chapter is referred to as Kinyan Torah – acquisition of Torah. Perhaps we can derive an understanding of the title’s meaning from the fifth Beraita.
The Beraita (6:5) teaches:
Torah is greater than priesthood and kingship, because kingship is acquired with thirty attributes, priesthood with twenty-eight and Torah is acquired with forty-eight…
The Beraita then continues by listing them. Why is Torah greater?
The Nachalat Avot explains simply that the greater preparation required, the greater the achievement.
The Mefarshim note that the Beraita only lists those attributes that apply to acquiring Torah. For kingship, the Kala Rabiti lists possessions that a king requires, e.g. gold, silver, etc. Rashi directs us to the section in Sefer Shmuel (I 8:11) where Shmuel lists the rights of a king after Am Yisrael request one. The Gra explains that these correspond to the thirty laws that apply to a king listed in Sanherdin (2:2-5). For a kohen, the mefarshim explain that the number refers to the twenty-eight gifts that are given to the kohanim (e.g. terumah).
The Beit Avot notes that the attributes listed for both kingship and priesthood apply after they are already a king or priest respectively – they are not prerequisites. The Beit Avot therefore explains that the meaning of an acquisition is that that which is acquired remains yours. The attributes of a king are necessary for his honour and cement his rulership. For a priest, the matanot are necessary so that he need not be concerned with looking for other work to support himself and can engage in his duties. It follows therefore that the kinyanei Torah are necessary to preserve and retain Torah.
The Midrash Shmuel notes that the attributes of kingship and priesthood are referred to as attributes (maalot) whereas for Torah it is referred to as things (devarim). He explains that the different terminology is necessary since for kingship and priesthood, those things listed are external (money, gifts, etc). For Torah, the attributes apply to the person – to his body and soul.
Similarly, the Tifferet Yisrael notes that both kingship and priesthood is bequeathed. For Torah on the other hand, those things listed are required for its acquisition. With that in mind, it is interesting to note that there are versions of the Beraita that does not use the term “acquire” when referring to kingship and priesthood, but only for Torah. The Yaavetz explains that this is because the term can only truly apply to Torah.
The Maharal elaborates on this point. He explains that the Beraita later (9) teaches that when a person passes away, neither his gold nor silver escort him, only his Torah and good deeds. One of the proofs is from the pasuk, “Mine is the silver and Mine is the Gold, these are the words of Hashem” (Chaggai 2:8). He explains the proof from the pasuk is that really all possessions are Hashem’s. Torah on the other hand, belongs to the person and is ultimately referred to as his – “u’vatorato yehege”. In other words, it truly belongs to him. It is his acquisition.
With this in mind we can suggest the Torah is greater than kingship and priesthood, not necessary because of the quantity of attributes it requires, but because Torah and Torah alone can truly be yours.
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