Rav Hirsch on "What the World Stands On…"

Like most people, I learn Pirkei Avos on Shabbos starting after Pesach and finishing six weeks later.  The following is part of Rav Hirsch’s commentary on this Pirkei Avos:   Shimon the Righteous was among the last surviving members of the Great assembly. He would say: The world stands on three things: Torah, the service of G-d, and deeds of kindness. (Chap 1, Mishna 2)

Torah implies the knowledge of the truth and the will of God with regard to every aspect of our lives, personal and public, individual and social.  Avodah denotes dutiful obedience, service God by fulfilling His will in every phase of our lives, personal and pubic, individual and social.  Gemiluth Chasidim signifies selfless, active loving-kindness to promote the welfare of our fellow-man.  These are the three things which shape and perfect the world of man and all that pertains to it in accordance with the measure and way of its destiny.  Whenever and wherever any of these three are inadequate or altogether lacking there is a gap which cannot be filled and there is no manifest destiny.  Without Torah the human spirit lacks the wellsprings of true knowledge; it will be blind to the basic, indispensable element which makes man a human being and it will be receptive to everything except truth and light.  Without Avodah man cannot have the proper attitude towards God, his Master and Creator, and toward the world into which God put him in order to develop and protect it in accordance with God’s will.  Instead of serving God he will think he is  a master when, as a matter of fact, he will be the slave of his passions and his lust.  He will pander to anything that he feels can serve or prejudice his interests, instead of being exalted and ennobled by him in accordance with God’s purpose, everything he touches will receive the impress of his depravity and error.  If he omits Gemiluth Chasadim he will be without that characteristic which is the  very first trait of godliness.  Instead of being God-like in acting as a creator of happiness and prosperity for his fellow-man, he will harden his heart in callous selfishness, and mankind will lack that bond of brotherhood and loving-kindness within which alone all happiness and joy of life can prosper.



Yeah, I know, it’s a long quote.  But, in these words, Rav Hirsch (as rendered into English by Gertrude Hirschler in 1967) really sums up Torah Judaism and our place in the world.  He not only shows us how Torah, Avodah, and Gemilus Chassadim must enhance our world, but Rav Hirsch skillfully draws a picture of what a person is like who doesn’t engage in these three things.  He willl:  “be receptive to everything except truth and light”, “be the slave of his passions and his lust”, and “harden his heart in callous selfishness, and mankind will lack that bond of brotherhood and loving-kindness within which alone all happiness and joy of life can prosper”.


The image of a three-legged table isn’t just a random picture.  If one doesn’t exercise a balance of Torah, Avodah, and Gemilus Chassadim then it’s as if the table is either missing a leg or the table is slanted.  Either way, it isn’t stable.  We see that all three elements must exist in order to achieve a “balanced” Torah observant Jew.



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