PIRKEI AVOS 5:20
LESS THAN PERFECT: A VALUE
— Rabbi Israel Chait —
STUDENT’S TRANSCRIPTION OF THE PIRKEI AVOS LECTURES (1990)
JUDAH BEN TEMA SAID: “BE BRAZEN (AZ) AS A LEOPARD, AND LIGHT AS AN EAGLE, AND FLEET AS A DEER, AND MIGHTY AS A LION TO DO THE WILL OF YOUR FATHER WHO IS IN HEAVEN.” HE USED TO SAY: “THE BRAZEN IS HEADED FOR GEHENOM AND THE BLUSHING [HUMBLE] FOR THE GARDEN OF EDEN. MAY IT BE THE WILL, O LORD OUR GOD, THAT YOUR CITY BE REBUILT SPEEDILY IN OUR DAYS AND SET OUR PORTION IN YOUR TORAH.”
The word “az” does not mean physical strength. It refers to boldness and brazenness. It is [the leopard’s focused will, and] disregard for anything other than seizing its prey.
“Light as an eagle” refers to the eagle’s light and swift flight; it soars effortlessly without any hesitation or difficulty.
“Fleet as a deer” references this animal’s tireless nature. These are based on a verse in Isaiah:
But they who hope in the Lord shall renew their strength. As eagles they will raise their wing; they shall run and not grow weary, they shall travel and not grow faint (Isaiah 40:31).
“Mighty as a lion” refers not to strength, but to courage. The Rav spoke about the difference between gibor and koach. Gibor is a human attribute, while koach can be an animalistic attribute. Koach refers to physical strength; an animal is very strong physically, but it is not a gibor.
A lion’s behavior reflects a courage and fearlessness and reminds man of a human trait of courage. But a lion is no more courageous than a hyena; they both operate on instinct. [There is no choice in animals to veer from their designated instincts and therefore they cannot be courageous, nor do they possess any other attitude.] But people err when studying animals because they project onto them human traits. Their scientific data [collected about their animal subjects] is always distorted. Annotations are not inherently scientific. “Scientific” refers to totally objective observation and reasoning. But those people drawn to a specific scientific field are usually drawn to it due to certain emotions. Dian Fossey studded gorillas and lived with them. But she was not to only studying them, she was actually identifying with them and she became part of that group of gorillas. I don’t mean to detract from her observations, as many were correct. But one must be cautious when studying these areas because you will discover that people who are attracted to these studies have psychological causes attracting them, and you must be wary of their conclusions.
The Rav asked:
The pasuk says, “God does not prize the strength of horses, nor value the legs of men; but the Lord values those who fear Him, those who depend on His kindness (Psalms 147:10,11).” It therefore seems that the horse has strength. But it really refers to the rider.
The second statement refers to man. Thus, the theme refers to man. Courage is only a human quality and no animal possesses it. Therefore, “mighty as a lion” is a metaphor.
This mishnah became the battle cry of the Baalei Mussar because it seems so self-explanatory. The problem with this is what Chazal say (Sanhedrin 101a) that one cannot make a song out of any Torah verse, even Shir Hashirim. This is a halacha that is violated today. The problem is that the moment one uses a Torah verse as a song, one implies that the message of the verse can be conveyed in a tune. This belittles the verse into a simple statement that’s self-understood. That violates all of Torah. Every Torah verse contains great depth, only understood through thought. But a verse that is sung implies that it can be explained through a simple interpretation with an emotional attachment created by singing it. That is a denial of Torah’s wisdom. This explains why Chazal prohibited singing Torah verses. Rav Moshe Feinstein was asked about this and he had no way to explain [condone] how people violate this Chazal [by singing Torah verses]. But tefilah was constructed in a way to reach a person on an emotional plane. The ingenuity of tefilah is how the rabbis constructed it. Tefilah was designed to move even a plain person. Therefore, to make a song in tefilah is permissible.
The same [critique] applies regarding our mishnah, if one simply interprets it to mean that one should be similar to an animal. This understanding is just as simple and incorrect as singing a Torah verse. The song which the Levites sang were sung to move a person in the proper direction. That is our concept of song which is unrecognized by the world. But the world’s song and our song are homonyms with nothing in common other than the name. The Shir Shel Yom were ideas. In all of Tehillim (Psalms) “shir” is completely unrelated to song. Shir is ideas that channel a person’s emotions to the proper goals and the proper path. The musical instruments accompanied the shir, but the shir was ideas [written by King David who was very wise].
Shir Hashirim (Song of Songs) are King Solomon’s deepest ideas concerning the relationship between man and God. It is called a shir because in Judaism, shir pertains to the emotions and directing them towards ideas. While the world’s “song” pertains to human instincts [with no other objective than to please the emotions]. Thus, Bible critics have no concept of Torah.
In the temple, shir was protected from error because Sanhedrin and all the wise men of Israel were there, therefore shir was permitted; [under their guidance] there was no danger of making a mistake. This relates to the prohibition of slaughtering animals outside permitted boundaries [shchutei chutz], which is a grave sin. In Temple, one is under the auspices of Sanhedrin [so sacrifices will not fall sway to idolatrous leanings]. But away from their guidance, matters get dangerous [and unguided religious instincts can distort sacrifice towards idolatry]. Exclusive to Judaism and its mark of distinction is its view of what is dangerous. Other religions would say what is most dangerous to their religion are sexual or instinctual passions. But in Judaism, what is most dangerous is religious passion. This is because misguided religiosity becomes totally destructive. This is why from beginning to end, Torah prohibits idolatry. As idolatry is instinctual, it draws out other instinctual drives:
Aaron took [gold] from them and cast in a mold and made it into a molten calf. And they exclaimed, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron announced: “Tomorrow shall be a festival of the Lord!” The people arose early next day and offered up burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; they sat down to eat and drink [excessively], and then rose to rejoice [sexual immorality] (Exod. 32:4-6).
Idolatry is always tied to the sexual. But that’s not really what’s wrong with it because you find other idolatrous religions that take up a state of denial and criticize sex. The real evil of idolatry is the denial of the intellect, of God’s wisdom. Idolatry is a distortion of reality, while Judaism demands that man partake of the reality which God created. Man must recognize the source of reality: God.
Returning to the mishnah, why were these specific four traits identified? Furthermore, what is meant by “to do the will of your Father Who is in heaven?” Parenthetically, people are attached to this mishnah because it captures the emotions. The implication [doing God’s will] is that we are helping God in some way. But this belief makes one an idolater and an apostate. It is idolatrous to believe that man helps God. If one performed mitzvos believing he helped God, it is preferable that he did not perform those mitzvos. Instead, it is better to have the correct idea of God than performing all the mitzvos for a false reason. For then one is as far from God as he can be. That is the danger of taking a Torah verse and putting a song to it [because one will attach any emotional notion to it].
“Father in heaven” is sort of an emotional expression. Therefore, we must understand why Chazal formulated this mishnah in this way. They could have wrote “to do God’s will,” or “to do the will of your Creator.”
The mishnah continues that “one who is brazen [shameless] goes to Gehenom, and one who is humble goes to the Garden of Eden.” A person capable of being shamed has a sense of propriety. But what is the relationship of this statement to the first part of the mishnah? And the third part of this mishnah is equally difficult as it ends with a prayer: “May it be the will, o Lord our God, that Your city be rebuilt speedily in our days and set our portion in Your Torah.” The middle of Avos is not a place to daven. And why does it refer to rebuilding “Your city?” In tefilah we pray for the temple to be rebuilt. But the reason why we pray for temple in tefilah is because tefilah takes the place of sacrifice [which requires temple]: “Instead of bulls we will pay [the offering of] our lips” (Hosea 14:3). Verbal sacrifice [tefilah] equates to literal sacrifice, but we hope to reinstate the original sacrifice in temple, “and there [temple] we will serve You like ancient days and prior years” (Shmoneh Essray conclusion).
There is also a contradiction in this mishnah. For at first, we are told to embrace the brazenness of a leopard, and then we are told that brazenness leads one to Gehenom. Is brazenness a good or a bad? It is not coincidental that Judah ben Tema uses brazenness in two frameworks.
This mishnah stands out from the others because it aims at a highly specific level. Pirkei Avos was constructed to show the ideas that we received at Sinai. At Sinai, we did not receive Torah alone, but we also received philosophy and psychology. As mentioned, the greatness of Torah and the difference between Torah and abstract philosophers—who are correct in many respects—is that Torah, that was given to us by God, moves a person even on a lower level. No one on a low level is moved by Aristotle’s Ethics. But Torah moves a person on various levels. Why didn’t Torah simply list the ethical principles like the philosophers wrote, instead of writing its stories [the numerous cases of the patriarchs and matriarchs]? Torah includes the stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, their struggles in life, and the story of Joseph the tzaddik as Torah knows that to reach a person, you must appeal to the psychological component and not just the philosophical. Therefore, Torah portrays various individuals and describes their struggles because this is a beacon of light to a person undergoing to his own troubles. He can thereby reflect and say, “There were others in my situation.” He can study those models to learn the thoughts and actions of great individuals. This moves a person towards perfection. Philosophy alone cannot achieve this motivation. How the gap his bridged between the reality of one’s emotions and the abstract philosophy is only through a presentation of another person that endured that same struggle. One can identify with that individual, study his actions and learn from that model’s experiences. We don’t have a system of ethics like Aristotle. Rather, what we have are maasei avos, the actions of our forefathers.
Torah also works in a way that teaches psychology. A person should be aware of certain psychological mechanisms that he can use for his own benefit. I believe this mishnah differs from all others as it aims at a certain level of function beneath the ultimate level, reaching a person on a lower-level.
THE BRAZEN IS HEADED FOR GEHENOM AND THE BLUSHING [HUMBLE] FOR THE GARDEN OF EDEN.
Maimonides, quoting Chazal, says that the Jew has certain traits: he is merciful, possesses shame and is kind. The Jew possesses compassion. He also possesses shame, and if shown to be wrong, he will experience greater pain than others. He also possesses kindness which is closely related to compassion. This is also God’s trait: “And His mercy is upon all His works” (Psalms 145:9). This explains why we give tzedaka to Gentiles too. As we are descendants of Abraham, we follow God’s traits. And because of years of Torah commitment, the Jew has this emotional makeup. Gemilas chessed is more than compassion: one reaches into his pocket and generously gives of himself financially and personally; he joins himself to his fellow in his sorrow and his needs, in terms of his own time and effort. Others can be compassionate and then walk away, but a Jew does more. Gemilas chessed can exist without being merciful; one can do the act but not be compassionate. But one must partake of the emotion as well. [Giving tzedaka requires us to also commiserate with the poor person.] Conversely, feeling sorry and not acting is also not perfection. And the trait of shame is the absence of arrogance.
Performing mitzvos has value, provided they are not performed on an emotional plane. Emotions can get a person into trouble. If one is merciful when he should not be, he is acting incorrectly. Had Esther been merciful on Haman when he was begging her for his life, it would have resulted in the worst catastrophe. He didn’t affect her and she had him destroyed. On the one hand, no emotional attitude leads one to perfection. But on the other hand, we praise this emotion of shame. King David made a decree against marrying anyone who does not possess these qualities. How do we reconcile these two positions?
Other religions defend ethics based on their emotional appeal. But there is no logical argument to be ethical; one can follow “survival of the fittest” [with equal justification]. And using the approach of an emotional appeal, you get into trouble because which emotion should one follow, and when should one follow it? If a child wishes to play in traffic and the parent gives in to sympathy, the result is obvious. Any intelligent person knows that there is no way to follow emotions that results in perfection. Yet, Judaism endorses the emotions of shame and mercy.
The answer is that Judaism maintains that a person is emotional; there is no escaping this part of our makeup. But Torah maintains that a certain emotional attitude is good as it leads to perfection. Mercy removes one’s focus on the self. It generates feelings towards an external reality [other people]. On a basic level, a person must have this emotion. For without this emotion, one is totally narcissistic, and perfection is impossible. Shame comes from the superego: one feels shame when doing what is improper. If this emotion is removed [not followed], the instincts will overpower oneself. Shame counters the instincts. As people are emotional and they can’t escape the emotions, Judaism says to follow shame as the emotional plane on which to operate. Without the sense of dignity that doing what’s wrong is an indignation to one’s personality, one can never be perfected. The instincts will take over.
Therefore, Torah endorses two emotions. Of course, they are just a platform on which to begin, and subsequently one’s wisdom must be able to control all the emotions. But he must have that emotional makeup; it’s the mark of a Jew. Maimonides says the Jews have shame:
Moses answered the people, “Be not afraid; for God has come only in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may ever be upon your faces, so that you do not sin” (Exod. 20:17).
When Nathan explained to David that he sinned (II Samuel 12:7) David felt a sense of shame and could not answer Nathan. There is a blank space in the scroll of Samuel before David responded “I have sinned to God” (Ibid. 12:13) indicating that at first, David could not talk. When one is in total shame he cannot talk; he cannot move. That is what the space in Samuel indicates. These two emotions of shame and mercy form the correct emotional base for one to be perfected.
Shame, mercy and kindness are all emotions, but Chazal deemed them worthy of being followed. One should not use these emotions to guide his life under all circumstances, like Esther who would not be merciful to Haman when he begged her for his life. [A single attitude cannot guide one towards perfection. At times, one must be cruel, and at other times, merciful. A single attitude cannot work at all times, as King Solomon states throughout Koheles chapter 3.]
Kindness intends to counter man’s narcissism. Thereby one recognizes others. And to counter the desires, shame tells a person, “How will I feel if I do this act? How will I feel if people know that I did this?” Kindness and shame reflect a totality of the human personality in terms of the emotions which counter imperfection. The ability to identify with others through kindness leads to perfection, and shame counters the desires.
The underlying key to answering the questions we raised on this mishnah is a part of Judaism’s philosophy, which is unique to Judaism. This mishnah is exclusively directed towards that concept.
The part of the mind used to understand physics and math is different than the part of the mind used to understand psychology. Philosophers are disturbed by this, that various areas of human knowledge are unrelated. Man cannot understand the whole of creation, but only parts, which manifest themselves in different ways. Man finds methods of knowledge to understand gross phenomena, which fail to function when studying subatomic phenomena. Man gropes, attempting to unify both worlds. It is a struggle. Unification is questionable and the more man investigates, the more he detects problems. Man approaches his investigation in a compartmentalized fashion: philosophy is one field of study while psychology is another field. The world has not bridged various sciences: philosophers are totally ignorant of psychology. And the inverse is equally true: psychologists are ignorant of philosophy.
The greatness of Judaism is that it unifies both. Judaism recognizes that to attain perfection in life, these two fields cannot be separate. Perfection is impossible otherwise. Philosophy teaches the way of life that is sensible, that will offer man satisfaction and happiness. But man isn’t finished yet [he is incapable to embark on that life] because there are matters that he does not understand, preventing him from acting in line with philosophy.
Many times, people have questions on Judaism, important philosophical questions. Judaism has the answers. But then, even after one receives satisfying answers, he has a problem. For once he has the answer [which should steer him towards following Judaism] he no longer can excuse his failure to follow Judaism. Now he has a psychological struggle [emotional reluctance to change]. That’s why it is necessary in the path of perfection to understand psychology. You can’t have philosophy without psychology. The Greeks made this error. As we said, Torah’s personalities—models of perfection—guide a person [through the psychological dynamics inhibiting perfection]. More than anything else, role models can help a person through his struggles. Torah’s clear representations of other individuals who endured identical struggles [and how they worked with their personalities and others and succeeded] can help one the most. The uniqueness of Judaism is that it combines philosophy and psychology and guides a person through his personal struggles. To attain perfection, only God with His eternal kindness provided a system that combines both philosophy and psychology. The secular world does not possess the subject [system] of perfection. What they have [as isolated subjects] are philosophy and psychology.
Our mishnah is directed towards the appreciation of psychological and philosophical factors in an essential way. Knowledge is supremacy of the mind [and] knowledge of God: “Listen Israel, God is our God, God is one” (Deut. 6:4). The rebuke of the prophet is “A foolish people” (Jer. 5:21), “they abandoned Me And went after delusion and were deluded” (Ibid. 2:5), “O dull and witless people” (Deut. 32:6). Knowledge and the lack thereof are mentioned throughout Torah. Torah’s criticism is the failure to follow wisdom and knowledge; foolishness is the worst crime. But removing all the emotions is wrong. Shame is necessary. Emotions are to be harnessed properly on the path towards perfection. But one cannot dispose of the emotions. The mishnah criticizes brazenness as this opposes shame. But the mishnah also says “Be brazen as a leopard to perform the will of your Father in heaven.” This means that brazenness is proper when expressed in the rational framework. True shame should be towards our “Father in heaven”; an emotional term that promotes the idea of shame on a philosophical plane. [The shame of failing to follow one’s Father in heaven.] And this shame must be guided. One cannot cower towards those condemning him for following the Torah. Instead, one must employ a brazenness towards such people to fulfill God’s will and express a shame or humility towards God. This mishnah instructs us to take an emotion and place it in a philosophical sphere: the combination of philosophy and psychology. To be “brazen as a leopard” refers to a singlemindedness: a brazenness to follow reality. One disregards others and adheres to reality with the same focus and determination as a leopard hunting its prey.
To be “light as an eagle” refers to a part of the personality which is detrimental towards perfection: resistance. A person possesses a resistance towards following the good. A person will experience a delay when sitting down to learn; it will take a while until he opens the gemara. But once he is involved, he enjoys learning. It is difficult to stop learning once involved due to the enjoyment. Since the sin of Adam, man resists the good. “Light as an eagle” is the antidote. The resistance is the orlas halave, the foreskin of the heart, referring to the emotions that do not follow the mind.
To be “fleet as a deer” means to be tireless as a deer:
They shall run and not grow weary, they shall travel and not grow faint (Isaiah 40:31).
Why do people grow tired? Repetition tires a person; it is a psychological weariness. Years ago, the Rav was walking by a bookstand and someone showed him a book titled “Peace of Mind.” The Rav said, “Peace of mind is for the dead.” The milchemmes hachaim, battle of life, refers to an unavoidable struggle in life. In Judaism, life and struggle are synonymous. One problem with the struggle [to follow Torah] is to transition into that life. But another problem is man’s worries.
Seven times the righteous man falls and gets up, while the wicked are tripped by misfortune (Proverbs 24:16)
The tzaddik never tires from the struggle. He falls, but each day he starts again fresh.
“Mighty as a lion” means that man’s greatest trait is courage. But Chazal say that humility is the greatest trait. Which one is it? The answer is that humility is greatest if we are speaking about [the state of] perfection. But in attaining perfection [the process], courage is the greatest trait. This is because without courage a person cannot face difficulties. Plato asked regarding military courage if it was needed when an army knows that they will win. The answer is no. Is courage needed when an army knows it will lose? Again, the answer is no. We see that people do not have a clear definition of courage [as it seems there is never a reason for it]. Judaism has one definition of courage and it is not what people think, like being victorious in war. This is because most of that type of courage is based on fear: one is afraid to face himself if he does not go to battle.
Who is mighty? He who subdues his [evil] inclination (Avos 4:1)
This courage is of a special type, a rare type. It is a courage that’s necessary when a person’s mind shows him one picture, and his emotions show him something else. He is caught in a free will decision and he must follow his mind. That is courage; the only definition of courage. Without this quality a person cannot accomplish anything great. King David told King Solomon when the latter was about to take over the kingship, “Be strong and be a be a man” (I Kings 2:2). This refers to courage. That is the true gibor and the answer to Plato’s question. Plato sought a purely philosophical definition. [This is] why Judaism combines philosophy and psychology: courage is the ability of the soul to follow the ideas in the face of the most powerful emotion.
These four traits don’t operate isolated from each other; they are superimposed [all four are found together in one individual]. The most difficult challenge is to oppose the masses.
Rabbi Yehudah said, “The entire world was on one side and Abraham on the other” (Bereishis Rabbah 42:8).
Abraham was called the “Ivri” (ivri meaning side). Abraham’s monotheism was on the other side of world opinion, idolatry. To my mind, Socrates was the greatest philosopher of the secular world. But it is a joke compared to what Abraham accomplished. In contrast to Socrates, whose society was not completely opposed to him and recognized wisdom, Abraham’ society was primitive. It was the most difficult thing for Abraham to follow his wisdom in the face of society’s disapproval. Yet, Abraham did so. Fear is the most destructive force and to follow one’s mind and be as mighty as a lion is the greatest trait. Gibor does not refer to only following the rational, but doing so in the face of fear.
Fear plays a greater role in people’s lives than they imagine. One does not even want to realize the fears he has. When sensing one’s fear, one runs from it, hoping not to confront it. “Four entered paradise” (Chagiga 14b) and one went crazy because of fear. People have false securities and if a person would realize how temporary life is, fear would overpower him, and he wouldn’t be able to live. The chocham, the philosopher, always lives in reality. He recognizes reality and it does not disturb him. But the average person is constantly plagued by avoiding his fears. He can’t accept reality; his fear is immense, and he can lose his equilibrium. Courage is to embrace the world of reality in spite of fear. That is the greatest quality. Of course, one must go step-by-step and not exceed his abilities. Rabbi Elazar lost his mind because he went beyond his own abilities. People seek support from false securities: to be young, strong, healthy, etc.
The mishnah’s main lesson is that one must sometimes employ emotional means to achieve a higher degree of perfection. True courage is not what this mishnah discusses. This mishnah discusses being as “mighty as a lion,” the employ of an emotional attachment to follow Torah. A lion is not rational and is not acting with might [he follows its instincts and has no choice]. But man views the lion as displaying might; there is something majestic about this animal and man admires that trait; he identifies with it. The mishnah endorses that identification, even though operating on an emotional level. Similarly, when seeing an eagle in flight, one is impressed by its swift and effortless movement. That emotional admiration too should be employed in one’s mimicking of the eagle in following Torah swiftly and effortlessly. This is necessary for one to achieve perfection. The grace and ease of the deer’s run impresses a person. The mishnah teaches us to use these emotional components of our mind when necessary to attain perfection. One should use the impact of these animal traits to identify with their qualities and employ them in following Torah.
One should marry young at age 20, for it will make a difference then and it will impact the remainder of his life psychologically:
Rav Hisda would praise Rav Hamnuna to Rav Huna by saying that he is a great man. Rav Huna said to him: “When he comes to you, send him to me.” When Rav Hamnuna came before him, Rav Huna saw that he did not cover his head with a cloth, as Torah scholars did. Rav Huna said to him: “What is the reason that you do not cover your head with a cloth?” Rav Hamnuna said to him: “The reason is that I am not married.” Rav Huna turned his face away from him in rebuke, and he said to him: “See to it that you do not see my face until you marry.”
The Gemara notes: Rav Huna conforms to his standard line of reasoning, as he says: “If one is twenty years old and has not yet married a woman, all of his days will be in a state of sin concerning sexual matters.” The Gemara asks: “Can it enter your mind that he will be in a state of sin all of his days? Rather, say that this means the following: All of his days will be in a state of thoughts of sin.”
Sigmund Freud says the same thing; he too cites age 20. In one of his essays, Freud says that if by age 20 one isn’t married, the frustration of the sexual libido will be such that it will affect him all his life to a degree. Society suppresses sexuality and doesn’t wish to discuss it. The Christian world brought the greatest evils to mankind. Problems are created through sexual repression and children are harmed. The sexual drive is powerful, and a must be recognized and dealt with, not suppressed. In contrast, Judaism is always open about sexuality. Hiding truths only hurts man. The gemara continues:
Rav Ḥisda said: “The fact that I am superior to my colleagues is because I married at the age of sixteen, and if I would have married at the age of fourteen I would say to the Satan: ‘An arrow in your eye [I would have spat in his eye].’” (Kiddushin 29b)
What is the idea of spitting in Satan’s eye? One should simply follow what is proper and rational [spitting in Satan’s eye seems additional and extraneous to perfection].
The answer is that sometimes a person is confronted with the evil inclination [Satan, i.e., the yetzer hara] and must take a more aggressive demeanor [to overcome the urge]. “Spitting in Satan’s eye” embodies that aggressive demeanor. At times, one needs to employ that emotion to attain perfection. [Times when one’s instincts are fiercer, one must combat those drives with his own fierce response if he is to overcome his instincts.]
Our mishnah is the same. It discusses employing psychologically attractive mechanisms to attain perfection in the struggle. But this must be performed under the mind’s guidance towards truth. As Maimonides says, his mind must see the truth.
THE BRAZEN IS HEADED FOR GEHENOM AND THE BLUSHING [HUMBLE] FOR THE GARDEN OF EDEN.
These emotional qualities will lead one towards destruction and truth respectively. But this society tries to remove shame and guilt. The emotional neurotic guilt has as its goal the philosophical guilt. That’s what the mishnah discusses.
But this reliance on the emotions is still a low level. Therefore, the author concludes this mishnah with a prayer that one attains a higher [proper] level not dependent on the emotions:
MAY IT BE THE WILL, O LORD OUR GOD, THAT YOUR CITY BE REBUILT SPEEDILY IN OUR DAYS AND SET OUR PORTION IN YOUR TORAH.
The prayer anticipates the messianic era when the city of Jerusalem—the city of wisdom—is restored. “And set our portion in your Torah” means “And it should be that our portion is in your Torah.” That is the meaning Rabbi Greenblatt told me, and he is correct. This phrase doesn’t mean that every person has a portion that he wants to receive. [Rather, it is a prayer that God should render it such that our portion in life is a Torah life.] This Sephardic siddur says, “And it should be that our share…”
In the future we won’t be dependent upon the emotional state, but on a level of wisdom:
For the earth shall be filled to know the glory of the Lord as water covers the sea.(Habakuk 2:14)
Another gemara relates as follows:
The school of Eliyahu taught that although Rabbi Akiva said, “Make your Shabbat like a weekday and do not be beholden to other beings” however, one should nevertheless perform some small alteration in his house to distinguish Shabbat from a weekday. What is this alteration? Rav Pappa said: “For example, one should serve small, fried fish. As we learned in a mishna: ‘Rabbi Juda ben Tema says: ‘Be bold like a leopard, light like an eagle, run like a deer, and be strong like a lion to perform the will of your Father in Heaven.’”
Rashi comments: “Strengthen yourself in performing mitzvah greater than your capacity.” Meaning that a person should grab mitzvos and not just let them go. The poor man is truly exempt from making a lavish shabbos meal. But doing so lacks in being “strong in mitzvah.” Therefore, the gemara says to make one small change. Shulchan Aruch commences with “One should strengthen himself like a lion to get up in the morning to serve his Creator.” When first facing the day it is important to employ psychological motivations.
Rabbi Ḥiyya bar Ashi said that Rav said: “Torah scholars have rest neither in this world nor in the World to Come” (Berachos 64a).
This is because perfection is a constant process, even in the World to Come. But it is an enjoyable struggle.
In Maimonides’ Haggadah, he skips to Rabbi Yossi Haglili, omitting Dayanu. Maimonides also writes:
It is a positive command to tell on the eve of the fifteenth day of Nisan all about the miracles and wonders that were performed for our forefathers in Egypt, as it says, “Remember this day when you went out from Egypt” (Exod. 13:3) (Hil. Chametz Umatza 7:1).
What is interesting is that Maimonides refers only to what happened to our fathers in Egypt. Why does he exclude the miracles at Yam Suf (the Reed Sea)? The method of discussion is to address the miracles in Egypt and not those at the sea. Maimonides also writes:
Moses our Master was not believed in by Israel because he delivered signs, for whosoever bases his belief contingent upon signs retains suspicion in his heart, for it is possible that the sign was delivered by means of enchantment and witchcraft. But all the signs delivered by Moses in the wilderness were responsive to necessities, and not as testimony for prophecy. When it became necessary to have the Egyptians sunk, he divided the sea and drowned them therein; when our need was food, he brought down for us Manna; when they became thirsty, he split open the rock for them; when the Korah confederacy denied him, the earth swallowed them up. Likewise came to pass all the other signs (Hil. Yesodei Hatorah 8:1).
If all these miracles were not to make the Jews believe in Moshe, how then do we understand the verse “Now the Lord had said to Moshe, ‘Pharaoh will not heed you, in order that My marvels may be multiplied in the land of Egypt’” (Exod. 11:9)? This verse openly states that God ensured that Pharaoh would not listen to Moshe in order to increase the miracles. Apparently from here, miracles were performed to instill belief.
There is a difference between the miracles in Egypt and between those occurring afterwards. The miracles in Egypt were performed to increase God’s wonders as stated above, and also:
That you may speak in the ears of your sons and of your sons’ sons how I made a mockery of the Egyptians and how I displayed My signs among them—in order that you may know that I am the Lord (Exod. 10:2).
These miracles intended to lead people away from idolatry and show them that there is a God. The level of the people demanded miracles, as this lesson could not be accomplished otherwise.
After convincing the people through miracles of these intended lessons, miracles were no longer used as a proof for God’s existence and abilities. Miracles were a temporary situation to deliver the Jews from Egypt and follow Moshe. But the good is Torah, knowledge. Thus, after the Exodus, miracles were no longer necessary. Those performed by Moshe were, as Maimonides says, for the needs of the moment. The splitting of the sea was performed because the Jews required a route of travel. While it is true that the Jews believed in Moshe due to that miracle (Exod. 14:31), that was only the effect. But the purpose is, as Maimonides says, to drown the Egyptians. Furthermore, evidently the splitting of the sea was insufficient for the Jews to believe in Moshe, as later God says the following:
Behold, I will come to you in a thick cloud, in order that the people may hear when I speak with you and so trust you ever after (Exod. 19:9).
This verse referring to the upcoming revelation at Sinai is what provided the Jews with a lasting belief in Moshe. What then is the purpose of the Torah section addressing the splitting of the sea? The splitting of the sea was shira/song, a different idea; it is an interruption, followed by the giving of the Torah.
Maimonides is consistent: he omits the splitting of the sea from his Haggadah as those miracles are not part of the miracles in Egypt. Maimonides is precise.
What is shira? It is when one directs all his emotions towards God. On Passover, there is one halacha of retelling to your son “the miracles and wonders that were performed for our forefathers in Egypt.” That is the act of the mitzvah, the maaseh mitzvah. But the kiyum mitzva—the fulfillment—is shira:
Therefore we are obligated to thank, praise, laud, glorify, exalt, lavish, bless, raise high, and acclaim He who made all these miracles for our ancestors and for us: He brought us out from slavery to freedom, from sorrow to joy, from mourning to [celebration of] a festival, from darkness to great light, and from servitude to redemption. And let us say a new song before Him, Halleluyah! (Hallel)
The proof is that the fourth cup at the seder is totally shira. This last cup refers not to what happened in Egypt, but to the future which will not be followed by any troubles.
What is Hallel? It is comprised of five matters: the Egyptian exodus, the splitting of the sea, the giving of Torah, resurrection of the dead, and the messianic era. The songs are tied to events. And when one’s song is tied to an event, it is not shira on the highest level. One recites shira regarding an event that he experienced. But the ultimate shira does not need an event; it is an affirmation of God and His wisdom, and the song that comes forth is regarding God’s wisdom. This refers to Hallel Hagadol:
The soul of every living being shall bless Your Name, Lord our God; the spirit of all flesh shall glorify and exalt Your remembrance always, our King. From the world and until the world, You are the Power, and other than You we have no king.
That is a verse from Tehillim (106:48). The midrash says, “From the world that we were not in, to the world we do exist in.” The shira in Egypt refers to the world in which we exist; the world that relates to man. But shira which is independent of ourselves, a world in which we do not exist, is a completely objective praise of God divorced from ourselves, sung solely because we recognize God’s greatness. That is the highest level of shira—the new song (shira chadasha) in the future. That’s not tied to anything related to man emotionally. The Hallel of the future is the Hallel of knowledge of God. The Hallel of the past recognizes God for certain events, such as the splitting of the sea and the Egyptian exodus. But the Hallel of the future has nothing to do with any event. It is about knowledge of God. And that is what we say:
The soul of every living being shall bless Your Name, Lord our God; the spirit of all flesh shall glorify and exalt Your remembrance…
“Every” and “all” refer to every human being, regardless of his experiences:
Thank the Power of powers since His kindness is forever. To the Master of masters, since His kindness is forever. To the One who alone does wondrously great deeds, since His kindness is forever (Hallel).
This Hallel addresses knowledge of God.
Returning to the mishnah, why does it say that God should build His “city” as opposed to building the “temple” as we say in our prayers? The idea behind building the temple recited in prayer is because tefilah is in place of sacrifice, “Instead of bulls we will pay [the offering of] our lips” (Hosea 14:3). Verbal sacrifices are just as good as literal sacrifices. But we hope to reinstate the original sacrifice, “and may we serve You there with reverence as in the days of old and the earliest of years” (Shmoneh Essray). This means to return the temple and sacrifices. But here in our mishnah we must answer why it says that God should rebuild the city, as opposed to the temple.