Threefold cord

Kidushin (1:10) | Yisrael Bankier | 3 years ago

During the first perek of Kiddushin, the Mishnah transitions from discussion different forms of kinyanim to types of mitzvot and to whom they apply. The final Mishnah (1:10) closes by explaining that anyone who has mikra, Mishnah and derech eretz will not readily sin. The Mishnah cites the pasuk – "the threefold cord will not readily break" (Kohelet 4:12). We shall try to understand this Mishnah.

The Tifferet Yisrael explains that the three things listed in the Mishnah represent the three domains that a person is obligated to engage in: emunot (fundamentals of faith), pe'ulot (actions) and midot (character traits).

The Tifferet Yisrael explains that emunot, the fundamentals of faith, are not spelt out in either mikra (the Torah) or Mishnah. It is not in the latter for the Mishnah's focus is to explain the mitzvot that are not clear from the Torah, based on exposition and oral tradition. The Mishnah's focus is on the second category of peulot – the world of positive and negative mitzvot. Turning to the Torah, while the fundamentals of faith are not presented as a list, this is nevertheless where emunot are found. The stories and warnings presented in the demonstrate the concepts of Hashem's involvement in the world, reward and punishment etc.

Moving to middot, appropriate behaviour is neither spelt out with specific directives or prohibitions in either mikra or Mishnah. For example, not being angry, arrogant, lazy, eating in the marketplace or being jovial amongst those that are sad. Or the positive instruction to be merciful, patient, have a good eye are not explicit. The Tifferet Yisrael suggest that the reason why correct behaviour listed is because it is potential limitless and can depend on the situation and time. Middot is a category that requires much learning from talmidei chachamim to understand in which situation a character trait, e.g. anger, needs to be suppressed and when it needs to be employed.

Regarding middot, the Tifferet Yisrael explains that this is the meaning of the Gemara when it says, "one who kara ve'shana (presumably reference to learning mikra and Mishnah) but did not attend to (shimesh) talmidei chachamim is an am ha'aretz (unlearned)". He explains that the reference to shimush should be taken literally. It refers to time spent in close quarters with the talmid chacham to observe his behaviour and middot in various situations. Without an understanding of middot, the scholar is no better than the am ha'aretz, since if he is overcome with emotion or applies particular middot (even ostensibly positive ones) inappropriately, he can ultimately be swept to sin.1

The Sefer Hamakneh provides a number of explanations based on the different ways of understanding derech eretz. One perspective is that derech eretz refers to business dealings. This then would mirror the statement in Pirkei Avot that exertion in both Torah and derech eretz leads one to forget sin. He also presents an understanding of derech eretz similar to the Tifferet Yirael's cited above (see inside for more details).

The Sefer Hamakneh's final explanation however connects this Mishnah to the Gemara that teaches that one should be engaged in overcoming one's yetzer ha'rah. If he is struggling he should engage in Torah learning. If he cannot he should recite the shema. Failing all that he should remember "the day of death" – his own mortality. The Sefer Hamakneh says these three weapons in our fight against the yetzer ha'rah are referred to in our Mishnah. Mikra, refers to keri'at shema while Mishnah is a reference to Torah study. Finally derech eretz refers to the path that all creatures eventually walk. Having these three at our disposal to fight the yetzer ha'rah ensures the one will not readily sin.

1 The Tifferet Yisrael stresses this point by citing examples involve Moshe Rabbeinu where the inaccurate application of midot resulted in a negative response. This is despite the fact the same response in a similar situation at different time was deemed correct. See the Tifferet Yisrael for more details.


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