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Pirkei Avot 5:10 Four Attributes from Evil to Chasid

There are four types of people:

There is he who says, “What is mine is yours, and what is yours is mine”—he is considered a boor (am ha’aretz).

There is he who says, “What is mine is mine, and what is yours is yours"—this is an intermediate form of conduct, but there are those who say that this is the behavior typical of Sodom.

There is he who says, "What is mine is yours, and what is yours is yours"—he is considered pious (a chasid).

And, there is he who says, "What is mine is mine, and what is yours is mine"—he is considered wicked.

 

These four types of people and their conduct beautifully correspond to the four letters of God’s essential Name, Havayah.

“He who says, ‘What is mine is yours, and what is yours is yours’—he is considered pious (a chasid)” corresponds to the sefirah of wisdom and to the letter yud in Havayah. A chasid has the trait of self-nullification, the inner dimension of wisdom. Hence, he completely sets his own needs aside and forgoes what is his or what he wants for the sake of someone else, as in the definition of the chasid who gives what is his and acts above and beyond the call of duty.[1]

“He who says, ‘What is mine is mine, and what is yours is yours’—this is an intermediate form of conduct” corresponds to the sefirah of understanding and the first hei in Havayah. Understanding is referred to at times as “the intermediate brain” (mo’ach beinoni) referring to the person who has attained what the Tanya refers to as the intermediate (beinoni) state, and which the world refers to as a consummate tzaddik in deed (but not psychologically, because internally, the evil inclination still influences his deliberation process). In our mishnah, this individual is careful not to take anything from others (a trait exemplified by the prophet Samuel[2]). Clearly, he also gives charity to the poor, etc. But in his conduct with his peers, he is meticulous and is careful to keep borders between himself and other intact.[3] “Severe judgments are aroused from the sefirah of understanding” and this meticulousness is prone to deteriorate into the conduct of the people of Sodom who upheld the borders between people so strongly that they outlawed charity and acts of loving-kindness towards others.

Now, “He who says, ‘What is mine is yours, and what is yours is mine’—he is considered a boor (am ha’aretz),” corresponds to the emotional sefirot (from loving-kindness to foundation) and the vav in Havayah. Our mishnah refers to the am ha’aretz (which is generally translated as “boor,” but literally means “the people who are simple, like the earth”) in their exalted state, a state in which they are described as the people for whom the Earth was created. These are the people who settle the earth with communal effort[4] and love for their fellow. Rabbi Ovadyah of Bartenura explains that this refers to a person who benefits himself and gives benefit to others—equally. This is the way to settle the land. However, this individual does not know the verse that reads, “He who hates gifts receives life.” This is the meaning of an am ha’aretz whenever the sages employ it, for it refers to the individual who wishes to develop the land, but he lacks the wisdom to identify which actions are worthwhile.

In other words, he has good character or emotional traits, but he lacks the illumination provided by wisdom.

Finally, there is “he who says, ‘What is mine is mine, and what is yours is mine’—he is considered wicked.” This type of individual corresponds to the sefirah of kingdom and the final hei of Havayah. In our mishnah, this refers to the kingdom of evil (where the holy kingdom currently lies in exile). The kingdom of evil, with its egotistic fantasies, imagines that everything belongs to it. It is the ultimate ego-trip, the opposite of the self-nullification of the chasid.

Order and Permutations

The order of the character traits in our mishnah (following the most common wording) is: the intermediate measure, the am ha’aretz, the chasid, and the wicked person. According to their correspondence with the letters of Havayah, they are in the order hei-vav-yud-hei, which is the fifth permutation of the four letters of Havayah, which corresponds to the month of Av. This order of hei-vav-yud-hei spells the pronunciation Havayah (הוי') and is hinted to in the initials of the verse, “Be silent and listen O’ Israel, today [you have become a nation to God”[5] (הַסְכֵּת וּשְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל הַיּוֹם [הַזֶּה נִהְיֵיתָ לְעָם לַהוי' אֱלֹהֶיךָ]).

Av is cognate to the word meaning “to want” (אבה), from the verse, “If you want then you will hear, the goodness of the Land you shall eat”[6] (אִם תֹּאבוּ וּשְׁמַעְתֶּם טוּב הָאָרֶץ תֹּאכֵלוּ). Suggesting that you will rectify the reason for the Temple’s destruction if you conduct yourselves with the attributes of the chasid.

However, the Alter Rebbe provided us with a different wording in this mishnah. According to the wording he provided, the order of the four types of people is: Am ha’aretz, intermediary, chasid, and the wicked. The permutation of this order is vav-hei-yud-hei, which is the permutation that corresponds to the month of Tishrei. Indeed, there is a connection between the months of Av (אָב) and Tishrei (תִּשְׁרֵי) since, together, their letters spell the Torah’s first word, “In the beginning” (בְּרֵאשִׁית).

Numerical Analysis

Now for the numerical allusion. In Hebrew, the four traits discussed here, between them, have 16 words:

שֶׁלְּךָ שֶׁלִּי שֶׁלִּי שֶׁלִּי שֶׁלִּי שֶׁלְּךָ שֶׁלְּךָ שֶׁלִּי שֶׁלִּי שֶׁלִּי שֶׁלְּךָ שֶׁלְּךָ שֶׁלִּי שֶׁלָּךְ שֶׁלְּךָ שֶׁלְּךָ

The average value of each word is 345, which equals Moses (מֹשֶׁה). The Ba’al Shem Tov explained[7] that included within Moses himself were all sorts of good and evil, even the root of the propensity toward the character trait of Sodom, and yet, despite all the evil, it is Moses that can include it all as part of the belief that all is for the good (the secret of “evil is the throne of good”).

 

[1]. See Rambam, who writes that this is the source of the definition of the chasid as a person who adds to a positive act above and beyond general expectations.

[2]. 1 Samuel 12:3-5.

[3] See Magen Avot and Tosfot Yom Tov.

[4] See Lechem Shamayim here, “That without a doubt the political commune would be a very helpful thing, if there was one pocket for everyone.”

[5]. Deuteronomy 27:9.

[6] Isaiah 1:19 (the haftarah of Shabbat Chazon).

[7] Keter Shem Tov 70.

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