|Al Regel Achat: The Three Pillars|
|Written by Yossie Mayerfeld|
על שלשה דברים העולם עומד: על התורה, ועל העבודה, ועל גמילות חסדים
The world stands upon three things: on Torah, and on Divine Service, and on acts of kindness.1
There is a fundamental Maharal on this Mishna in Derech Chaim, his brilliant commentary to Pirkei Avos. He writes that all of creation is dependent on Man, in whose service it was created. If Man doesn't function as intended, the entire world loses its purpose. We see this from the Generation of the Flood, where it says, ויאמר ה' אמחה את האדם אשר בראתי מעל פני האדמה מאדם עד בהמה עד רמש ועד עוף השמים - And God said 'I will eradicate man ... from the face of the earth, from man to the animals to the crawling creatures to the birds of the sky'.2 How does the decision to destroy man come to include destroying the animals and birds and all the earth's creatures? The Midrash3 cites a parable:
A king prepared a lavish wedding and fancy house for his son, only to have the son rebel against his father. After the king executed his son, he destroyed all that had been prepared for the wedding, crying: "This was all made for my son; my son is gone and this should remain?!".
As Rashi on that passuk explains, הכל נברא בשביל אדם - "everything was created for the sake of man".
However, adds the Maharal, Man was created in an incomplete and deficient state, as an undisciplined creature. This is alluded to in the Torah's description of the creation; after nearly each 'day' of creation, the verse says וירא אלקים כי טוב - "and God saw that it was 'good'", whereas, after Man was created, it waits until the verse that summarizes the entire creation and then says: וירא אלקים את כל אשר עשה והנה טוב מאד - "and God saw all that He had made, behold: it was very good".4 The Midrash teaches that the letters of the word "me'od" - mem, aleph, dalet, rearrange to spell Adam, man.
מאד ← אדם
Animals and other creations fulfill their purpose by their very existence; therefore God could write about their creation that it was "good." Man, on the other hand, is created in an incomplete and deficient state, as an undisciplined creature. He must work at perfecting himself, at fulfilling his potential and purpose, until he develops to the level of tov.
Fulfilling his potential
In order to acquire this level of tov, goodness, and to fulfill his purpose and potential, Man must perfect three different facets of his existence. He must fulfill his potential with respect to himself, as a uniquely human creation. He must fulfill his potential in relation to his Creator, thus implementing the will of God who brought him into existence. And he must realize his potential in relation to his fellow man, thereby fulfilling his responsibilities to the people with whom God surrounded him.
With these three pillars - Torah, Avodah and G'milut Chasadim - man becomes complete, enabling him to fulfill his complete purpose in this world, and giving a stable foundation to the world's existence.
The 3 cardinal sins
With this, explains the Maharal, we can now understand the Gemara6 that teaches us: There are three cardinal sins in Judaism that require one to give up their life rather than violate (yeihareig v'al ya'avor). The three are:
Why should these three specific sins require one to forfeit his life? Because each of these three sins is the opposite of one of the three pillars upon which the existence of the world stands.
Now we can understand why the dor ha-mabul - the generation that was destroyed by the flood in the time of No'ach - was not destroyed until they had committed all three of these cardinal sins, thereby undermining every aspect and justification of their existence. On the verse ותשחת הארץ לפני האלקים - and the land was 'destroyed' before God8 - Chazal teach us9 that the word "hashchata" refers to sexual deviance and idol worship. Here two pillars of the world were undermined: Torah and Avodah. In addition, there was gezel, robbery, as it is written ותמלא הארץ חמס - and the world was filled with lawlessness (robbery). This is the opposite of gemilut chasadim. Rather than giving someone from your resources, you take his resources for yourself.
When the generation had uprooted all three foundations of the world's existence, through behavior that contradicted them, there was no means of support for the world, and destruction inevitably resulted – a consequence, as much as a punishment.
These three things are also found in the three Avot - our forefathers, Avraham, Yizchak and Ya'akov, who were also fathers and foundations of the entire world.
Gemilut chasadim was the special trait of Avraham, who was well known for his hospitality towards guests and other deeds of kindness. As, the Navi writes, תתן אמת ליעקב חסד לאברהם - Give truth to Ya'akov, kindness to Avraham.10
Avodah is the unique trait of Yitzchak, who was prepared to have himself sacrificed on the altar, making him the pillar of service to G-d.
Yaakov was the pillar of Torah, as we know from the verse ויעקב איש תם יושב אוהלים - and Jacob was a wholesome man, who was a sitting in the tents [of Torah study].11 The "truth" mentioned in the verse from Micha (above) also refers to Torah study. His unique trait was "emet," truth, which refers to Torah - as the verse says: תורת אמת היתה בפיהו - The Torah of Truth was in his mouth.12
The Maharal then relates this to the very elements of the world: The three fundamental elements of the world (aside from the earth itself) are air, water and fire. The means through which each of these worldly elements connects with the Divine is through the three pillars of our Mishna, and as such these pillars support the world and its continued existence. Torah is the spirit, wisdom and understanding, referred to as wind and air.13 Avodah is fire; where offerings were brought through consumption by fire (as we see, they are often refered to as אשי, "My fire offerings"). Gemilut chasadim is represented by water. Just as water is considered the substance of bountiful generosity, one who does acts of chesed is generously bestowing his resources on others. Through these three elements of creation, which parallel the three pillars of our Mishna, Hashem ensures the continued existence of the world.
A boor and a fool
Some years after learning this, I heard a shiur from R’ Elchonon Adler, who explained the enigmatic 7th verse in מזמור שיר ליום השבת, the song for the Shabbat day: איש בער לא ידע וכסיל לא יבין את זאת - A boor does not know, and a fool doesn't understand this.14
What is the difference between a boor (ish ba'ar) and a fool (ch'sil)? And what is "this" (זאת)?
Rabbi Adler noted that the gematria of בער (ba'ar) is 272 – two times 136. זאת has a gematria value of 408 - three times 136. He related this to one of the highlights of the Rosh ha-Shana and Yom Kippur liturgy - when we read about the awesomeness of the day in u-n'taneh tokef, which describes the scene as each of each of God's creatures comes before Him for Judgement. Finally, in the rousing climax, the congregation calls out loudly together, ותשובה ותפילה וצדקה מעבירים את רועה הגזרה – “And repentance, and prayer, and charity - remove the evil decree!”
R' Adler pointed out that printed in most machzorim, above the words t'shuva, tz'daka and tefilla are written: צום - tzom (fasting), קול - kol (loud cry) and ממון - mamon (money). The gematria of each of these three words is .. 136! So, explained R' Adler, the ch'sil (fool) in our verse has perhaps only one of these values, the ba'ar (boor) has two, but neither has the completeness of zot15, which is all three qualities combined.
This fits in beautifully with what the Maharal said. T'shuva - repentance - is the key to fixing one's relationship with his internal self. T'filla - prayer, is the way to reconnect to Hashem. And Tzedaka - charity, is the way to fix the pillar of chessed.
By strengthening these three pillars, we ourselves serve as foundations to support the continued existence of the entire world.
1 Avot 1:2
2 Breishit 6:7
3 Breishit Rabbah 28:6 – see also Sanhedrin 108a
4 Breishit 1:31
5 Mishlei 4:2
6 Sanhedrin 74a
7 Bamidbar 5:12 – see Sotah 3a
8 Breishit 6:11
9 Sanhedrin 57a
10 Micha (7:20)
11 B'reishit 25:27
12 Malachi 2:6
13 see Yishayahu 11:2
14 Tehilim 92 - which, according to one Midrash, was composed by Adam ha-rishon (see Bava Basra 14b-15a for a reference to the 'other' authors of Tehilim, asides from David ha-Melech)
15 I later learned that זאת alludes to the concept of 'Malchut' - see Tikunei Zohar 110d