In Pirkei Avos we learn that all Jews are counted among those who give charity — even some who do not — and all Jews are among those who attend the House of Study, even those who do not. The non-active ones are only temporarily so and must be awakened and motivated to carry out their true inner desire, to “give charity,” and to “attend the House of Study.”

This call goes forth to every Jew regardless of status — for everyone must rise in Torah and charity. This insightful interpretation of Avos ch. 5, Mishnah 13 & 14 was presented by the Rebbe Shlita on Shabbos Eikev, Chof Menachem-Av (20th of Av) and bears a timely message for everyone in relation to self-improvement, and to encourage others to improve.

Four types of “Givers” and “Goers”

In chapter five of Pirkei Avos we study the following Mishnah:

There are four types among those who give charity: one who wishes to give but that others should not — he begrudges others; that others should give and he should not — he begrudges himself; that he should give and others should, too, is a chassid; that he should not give nor should others is a wicked person. (Avos 5:13)

The next Mishnah continues:

There are four types among those who attend the House of Study: one who attends but does not engage [in study] earns the reward for going: one who engages [in study] but does not attend earns the reward for the act [of studying]; one who attends and engages [in study] is a chassid; one who does not attend nor does he engage [in study] is a wicked person. (Ibid.:14)

A) If the Mishnah is describing “those who give charity” then there are really only three types, because the one who wishes not to give nor should others — is not a giver of charity. Why then does the Mishnah say “four types” and include the one who gives not?!

Along the same line of thought, the one who does not attend the House of Study and does not engage in study should not be counted among the “four types...who attend the House of Study.” Why does the Mishnah count “four...who attend the House of Study” and include the one who stays away?

The Act, or the Person

R. Ovadia Bartenura tackles this question and tries to explain that the Mishnah is dealing with the giving of tzedakah rather than the “givers” of tzedakah. Likewise in the case of Torah study it deals with the act of going to the house of study rather than the “goers”. This interpretation however, is not reflected in the plain meaning of the Mishnah which speaks of the “givers” and “goers.”

B) Another point bears clarification:

The Tractate of Avos is a discussion of conduct which reflects “matters of greater piety” — going beyond the requirement of the rule of law. Why then do these Mishnahs discuss the different types of people who give charity and study Torah? Both of these acts are primary precepts which must be fulfilled by reason of Torah law.

The explanation:

No Jew is Excluded

When the Mishnah lists the four types of people who give charity it endeavors to include all possible variances so as to include each and every Jewish person. It is the intention of the Mishnah to suggest the concept that all of these types are in fact to be included among the “givers of charity” and “those who attend the House of Study.” And precisely for this reason does it include even those who in reality do not give and do not go. The point is that despite this shortcoming they are Jews and therefore are automatically included among the “givers” and “goers.” Why? Because the true desire and intrinsic wish of every single Jew is to be included among the Jewish people and to fulfill all the mitzvos, as the Rambam explains in Laws of Divorce ch. 2. And, if for some reason at the present moment one may have the attitude of not giving, he is still not left out. For this reason he should also not lose hope, since his true inner desire is to be counted among the just.

The goal of the Mishnah is to motivate such people to rise from their inactive state and bring out their kinetic desire and drive to give tzedakah and to study Torah.

You, too, can be a Chassid

By listing the four types together the Mishnah further shows us that they are all connected, so that even one who is presently dormant may awaken and emerge as a chassid who gives and encourages others to give.

At the same time this style of the Mishnah also bears an important lesson for the highest type, the chassid who “gives” and “studies.”

Having striven to attain the highest status in Torah study and giving charity, the rules of greater piety instructs the individual that he must not rest on his laurels, but he must continue to increase and expand his activities — more Torah, more tzedakah, and more life will be added to his life.

Despite his loftier state he is listed together with the other three types to remind him that just as the others may not remain at their levels and must rise up higher, so, too, must the chassid rise up in holiness, and if he fails he falls into the negative type of one who neglects to give or study.

Aim High or Fall

Here we may see the two extremes in Avos — on the one hand it teaches us “matters of greater piety” and on the other hand it makes sure that we reject “matters of damages,” (See B. Kama 30a) which is on the other extreme. When you neglect to act in accordance with the “matters of greater piety” you can fall from your lofty position and, G‑d forbid, descend to the state of one who does not go or give — at that point you could be counted among the “four types that cause damages.”

These two consecutive Mishnah’s teach a lesson in Torah learning and charity, that every Jew is counted among the four types in charity and Torah, and everyone can and must increase his/her Torah and charity and strive to attain the level of the “chassid.” Additionally, one must influence others to join the ranks of the higher type of givers and goers, by virtue of the commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

“But How?”

Are you suddenly faced with the dilemma how to approach someone you never met and whom you must first ask, “Are you Jewish?” Are you uncertain how to speak to that person about giving tzedakah and going to the house of Study, and how it can be done in a polite and socially acceptable manner? For this the Mishnah gives us advice and shows us the approach which will be socially acceptable. Preface your remarks by saying: since you are a Jew, you are already included among those who give charity and who attend the House of Study — this is attested to by the Mishnah!

You now assume the role of one who wishes to fulfill the directive and mission of that Mishnah to all Jews. The message that you share with your fellow Jew is that every Jew must raise himself to a higher level whether he/she now stands at the bottom or the top of the list.

The Call to All

Your mission to this Jew does not in any way cast aspersions on his conduct, for you speak to the one who does not give in the same voice as you speak to the chassid, since all must aspire to rise.

Action is of the essence.

Encourage and publicize these directives of the Mishnah as much as possible, that each and every Jew, man, woman and child must increase Torah study and charity; Ahavas Yisrael and Jewish unity also require the further encouragement of others.

May our determined acceptance of these good resolutions effect and bring the real reward — “that the Beis HaMikdash be speedily rebuilt in our days, and grant us our portion in Your Torah.” With the true and complete redemption through our righteous Mashiach.

All the more so, when these resolutions are coupled with joy and glad hearts, an exuberant joy which permeates the entire being, so that the feet begin to dance — then we speedily reach the dance with which we will greet our righteous Mashiach, and we will see the fulfillment of the promise “and everlasting joy upon their heads.” (Yeshayahu 35:10)