Pirkey Avot chap. 3 Mishnah 1, an Insight

Now is the time for a bit of Pirkey Avot!

עֲקַבְיָא בֶּן מַהֲלַלְאֵל אוֹמֵר: הִסְתַּכֵּל בִּשְׁלֹשָׁה דְּבָרִים וְאֵין אַתָּה בָּא לִידֵי עֲבֵרָה. דַּע, מֵאַיִן בָּאתָ וּלְאָן אַתָּה הוֹלֵךְ וְלִפְנֵי מִי אַתָּה עָתִיד לִתֵּן דִּין וְחֶשְׁבּוֹן.
מֵאַיִן בָּאתָ – מִטִּפָּה סְרוּחָה, וּלְאָן אַתָּה הוֹלֵךְ – לִמְקוֹם עָפָר רִמָּה וְתוֹלֵעָה, וְלִפְנֵי מִי אַתָּה עָתִיד לִתֵּן דִּין וְחֶשְׁבּוֹן – לִפְנֵי מֶלֶךְ מַלְכֵי הַמְּלָכִים הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא.

Akavia the son of Mahalalel would say: Reflect upon three things and you will not come to the hands of transgression. Know from where you came, where you are going, and before whom you are destined to give a judgement and accounting. From where you came–from a putrid drop; where you are going–to a place of dust, maggots and worms; and before whom you are destined to give a judgement and accounting–before the supreme King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.

 

One can’t help noticing the unnecessary repetitions in this text.

There are actually three questions : Where you came from, Where you are going, and Before whom you are to give judgment and accounting; with three answers : You came from a putrid drop, You’re going to a place of dust, maggots and worms, and You’re going to give a judgment and accounting before the King of Kings, the Holy One, Blessed be Him.

Fine.

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But the three questions are, as it were, rhetorically asked first, given no answer, then, all three questions are repeated, along with their answers.

All this seems unnecessary. Asking and giving the answers right away would have been enough.

But, of course, no word of our Sages is superfluous…

The words here are actually addressed to two types of people.

One is the more coarse, and needs a real shock to put him on the right path, away from sin. He has to be reminded of our coming from a putrid drop, etc.

But the other type is more subtle and inward looking. He doesn’t require “shock treatment”. For him, it’s enough to gently remind:

Where do you come from?

And he will answer to himself:

From the Seat of Glory of Hashem, where all souls of the People of Israel are hewn… 

Whence do you go?

I’m going back to that same place after completing my task here… 

Before whom will you have to give a judgment and account?

Indeed this will be done before the supreme King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, but only according to the manner that I’ve fulfilled my task in this world.

Because when the soul was one with HaShem in the Seat of Glory, it lacked nothing being so close to God and His Light; only as that light came to it not as payment, but as a gift of charity, there was shame in receiving it. And it wished and agreed to be sent down, into this world, into a material body. There it would have to struggle for spirituality, a struggle which would make it worthy of God’s Light as award and payment for its toil, when it returned to Heaven.

That’s where it came from, that’s where it returned, and that’s the real meaning of judgment and account done before The King of Kings Blessed be He.

But only a gentle soul can grasp that.

So: two types of people; but perhaps, also, two stages in understanding…

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