From the Breslov Pirkey Avot (Breslov Research Institute), Chapter 4, Mishnah 1
בֶּן זוֹמָא אוֹמֵר, אֵיזֶהוּ חָכָם, הַלּוֹמֵד מִכָּל אָדָם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (תהלים קי”ט), מִכָּל מְלַמְּדַי הִשְׂכַּלְתִּי כִּי עֵדְוֹתֶיךָ שִׂיחָה לִּי.
אֵיזֶהוּ גִבּוֹר, הַכּוֹבֵשׁ אֶת יִצְרוֹ, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (משלי ט”ז), טוֹב אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם מִגִּבּוֹר וּמשֵׁל בְּרוּחוֹ מִלֹּכֵד עִיר.
אֵיזֶהוּ עָשִׁיר הַשָּׂמֵחַ בְּחֶלְקוֹ, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (תהלים קכ”ח), יְגִיעַ כַּפֶּיךָ כִּי תֹאכֵל אַשְׁרֶיךָ וְטוֹב לָךְ. אַשְׁרֶיךָ, בָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה. וטוֹב לָךְ, לָעוֹלָם הַבָּא.
אֵיזֶהוּ מְכֻבָּד, הַמְכַבֵּד אֶת הַבְּרִיּוֹת, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (שמואל א' ב'), כִּי מְכַבְּדַי אֲכַבֵּד וּבֹזַי יֵקָלוּ:
Ben Zoma said, “Who is wise? He who learns from everyone, as it is written, ‘From all my teachers, I have gained wisdom’ (Psalms 119:99).
“Who is mighty? He who conquers his passions, as it is written, ‘He who is slow to anger is better than a mighty warrior, and he who rules his spirit is better than one who conquers a city’ (Proverbs 16:32).
“Who is wealthy? He who rejoices in his lot, as it is written, ‘When you eat the labor of your hands, you shall be happy, and it shall be well with you’ (Psalms 128:2). 'You shall be happy' – in this world – 'and it shall be well with you' – in the World to Come.
“Who is honored? He who honors others, as it is written, ‘For those who honor Me, I will honor, and those who despise Me shall be accursed’” (I Samuel 2:30).
Digest of Commentaries:
Who is wise? He who learns from everyone. Since he does not stand on his honor but learns from his inferiors, it shows that his desire for knowledge is for the sake of Heaven and not merely a pretext for inflating his self-esteem. Such a person deserves to be called “wise” (Bartenura).
Who is mighty? He who conquers his passions, as it is written, “He who is slow to anger is better than a mighty warrior, and he who rules his spirit is better than one who conquers a city.” The virtue of being “slow to anger” comes from the same inner power needed to wage war against one's natural inclinations and passions. The virtue of “ruling one’s spirit” must be adopted by one who is victorious – such as a king who conquers a city – so that he can overcome his emotions and deal magnanimously with those who rebelled against him (Bartenura).
“When you eat the labor of your hands” – that is, you do not seek to amass wealth in devious ways – “you shall be happy, and it shall be well with you.” Indeed, “you shall be happy in this world,” being independent of other people, “and it shall be well with you in the World to Come,” for you will not have succumbed to dishonesty and injustice.
Who is honored? He who honors others. When a person honors others because they too are created in the Divine image, he is essentially honoring God. Therefore God will bestow honor upon him in turn, and the Godly light at the core of his being will shine forth like a bright torch to all (Tiferet Yisrael).
Who is wise? He who learns from everyone
Reb Noson: A true sage can receive wisdom and hints as to how to draw close to God wherever he may be — even in a place of unholiness. In every place some hidden good may be found, in keeping with the verse, “From the rising of the sun to its setting, My Name is great among the nations, and in every place, incense is burned and offered in My Name” (Malachi 1:11).[i] Ordinary individuals are forbidden to endanger themselves by entering these places lest they become trapped, but a tzaddik can find wisdom even there, as Pirkey Avot states, “Who is wise? He who learns from everyone” (Likutey Halakhot, Shabbat 6:8).
Reb Noson: Each person’s way of thinking differs from that of his friend, since his character traits and attitudes vary according to the balance of elements that make up his nature. If a certain element is dominant, he will be distinguished by a certain character trait and incline toward a certain point of view, while his friend may possess the opposite trait and opposite point of view.
In holy matters, a person who strives for truth must remain strong in the point of view, good trait or righteous path that he believes to be correct, not allowing others to sway him. He must be “bold as a leopard” in serving God (Pirkey Avot 5:20). Nevertheless, he must never be so adamant that he comes to hate or despise his friend, or anyone else who does not share his views. Rather, he should look upon his friend with a good eye and strive to find some virtue in him.
Relating to all people in this way, he will then be able to receive beneficial insights into Divine service from everyone he encounters, as Pirkey Avot states, “Who is wise? He who learns from everyone.” He will not fear that his friend might cause him to lose touch with the truth in his heart. He will remain strong in his conviction and his good path, as is proper, but at the same time he will avoid looking at his friend with disfavor. Rather, his love for his friend who differs with him will remain undiminished. For who knows? Perhaps his friend was compelled to take the point of view that he espoused due to the root of his soul.[ii]
Even if a person sees that his friend has departed from the right path, he must judge him favorably and seek to find in him some good point, as Rebbe Nachman repeatedly urged us to do.
If it is possible to speak with that friend in truth and simplicity, without any egotistic desire to win arguments, but only to guide him to recognize the truth and return to the straight path — how good and pleasant that would be! If not, at least he should not hate him. He should still love him and strive to find the other’s good points, so that he will be able to maintain amiable relations with him. This is what allows the world to endure (Likutey Halakhot, Birkhot HaRe’iyah VeSha’ar Berakhot Pratiyot 5:6).
Who is mighty? He who conquers his passions
Rebbe Nachman: Strength depends primarily on the heart, for one whose heart is strong will not be daunted by anyone or anything. Such a person can accomplish amazing feats, winning battles through the fortitude and might of his heart, fearlessly running into the heat of conflict. This is the meaning of “Who is mighty? He who conquers his passions.” [That is, true strength is primarily an expression of inner resolve rather than physical power.]
This was the case with the strength of Samson, of whom it is written, “The spirit of God began to resound in him in the camp of Dan, between Tzorah and Eshtaol” (Judges 13:25). In those places, God's spirit rested upon Samson and he garbed himself in might. That is, spiritual fortitude and superhuman strength of heart came to him, and he was able to perform deeds of awesome power (Likutey Moharan I, 249).
Reb Noson: Although the arousal for marital relations comes from the aspect of Gevurah, which is the source of all fiery passion, nevertheless, the Other Side need not have any connection to this at all (Zohar I, 186b). On the contrary, for those who have sanctified themselves, marital relations become a form of prayer. All the holiness and higher consciousness that formerly were imprisoned by unholiness become liberated, and the sin of Adam is rectified (Likutey Halakhot, Devarim HaYotzi’im Min HaChai 2:2, abridged).
Who is wealthy? He who rejoices in his lot
Rebbe Nachman: People who are preoccupied in the pursuit of money often die as debtors, with nothing to show for their efforts. Even if they do not die in monetary debt, they live as debtors to their desires. All their days they rush about and exhaust themselves, even risking great danger, just to satisfy their craving for wealth. They are like debtors who never can pay back what they owe, since “no one dies having fulfilled even half of his desire” (Kohelet Rabbah 1:34).
The wealth of such people is not wealth at all, because they derive no pleasure from it. It is impossible for them to elicit Heavenly bounty and sustenance, or to acquire money that may be called wealth – namely, holy wealth, by means of which they could be happy with their lot.
Indeed, this is the essence of wealth, as our Sages state, “Who is wealthy? He who rejoices in his lot.” Only by breaking the desire for money is it possible to experience true happiness (Likutey Moharan I, 23:8, abridged).
Reb Noson: By giving charity, we transform the craving for wealth. We can then cleave to God, the Source of all bounty, and receive sustenance from the source of holiness. Having been freed from a life of constant anxiety due to the pursuit of money, we will rejoice in our lot. We will be content with whatever God has given us and trust in Him always. Just as God blessed us with livelihood or wealth until now, so will He continue to do so into our old age, providing for all our needs in His kindness (Likutey Halakhot, Kiddushin 3:1).
Reb Noson: Poverty is the tikkun for wealth. That is, we rectify our desire for money when we consider ourselves as humble paupers, whatever our circumstances – whether we are actually poor or middle-class or extremely wealthy. This attitude follows the example of King David, who at the height of his power and affluence would constantly say, “Poor and needy am I” (Psalms 109:22).
We all need to understand the profound depths of our poverty in this world. Even a tzaddik cannot fulfill his obligations to God in this world entirely, as it is written, “There is no tzaddik on earth who is so righteous that he does only good and does not sin” (Ecclesiastes 7:20). How much more is this true of the rest of humanity? Our deeds have not earned us even the most meager portion of bread and water. We eat only because God sustains the world in His kindness, as we say in the Grace after Meals, “He gives bread to all flesh, for His kindness is everlasting.” Therefore we are as poor as can be, for we eat what is not ours.
Ironically, when a person takes this truth to heart and understands it clearly, suddenly everything is revealed to be good and he acquires true wealth. As our Sages state, “Who is wealthy? He who rejoices in his lot.” The Sages are speaking about one who rejoices in his portion constantly, knowing that God has given him everything with the greatest kindness, even if it amounts only to the most meager portion of bread and water.
When we live according to this teaching, we can attain true wealth – indeed, all the wealth in the world (cf. Likutey Moharan I, 60:1). This reflects the principle, “He who is small, is great” (Zohar I, 122b [Tosefta]). A person who is small in his own eyes and therefore content with his lot, accepting everything with love and joy, ultimately will merit to attain wealth and greatness. As it is written, “One may appear to be poor, but possess abundant wealth” (Proverbs 13:7), and “He raises up the needy from the dust … to seat them with nobles” (Psalms 113:7-8). Even if he is later granted silver, gold and numerous possessions, he will not succumb to the craving for that which does not belong to him. Even at the height of affluence, he will think of himself as a pauper and rejoice in his lot (Likutey Halakhot, Purim 6:11, abridged).
Reb Noson: When we trust in God and do not worry about what we will eat tomorrow, this is true wealth. As it states, “Who is wealthy? He who rejoices in his lot” (Likutey Halakhot, Har’sha’ah 3:2).
Rebbe Nachman: Money and wealth shorten and consume a person’s days and life. This is the meaning of, “Dust you shall eat all the days of your life” (Genesis 3:14). “Dust” corresponds to money, as in, “Its dust is gold” (Job 28:6). That is, money and wealth will eat away all the days of your life. For money consumes all of a person’s days (Likutey Moharan 23:6).
Furthermore, anger causes a person to lose his wealth. Thus a cycle is initiated: One chases wealth, which leads to anger, and then anger causes him to lose more wealth (Likutey Moharan I, 68).
Reb Noson: One loses the precious days of his life primarily due to the desire for wealth and the burden of earning a living, as we can plainly see, and as Rebbe Nachman states in connection with the verse, “Dust you shall eat all the days of your life” (Genesis 3:14).
Anger causes this lack of sufficient livelihood and the resultant bitter suffering that everyone experiences.[iii] Anger has its origin in the sin of Adam when he ate from the Tree of Knowledge, of which it is written, “The fool’s anger will become known on that very day” (Proverbs 12:16). According to the Midrash, this refers to the moment at which the Divine curse was uttered: “By the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread.”[iv]
But one who overcomes his anger attains true prosperity, since he rejoices in his lot constantly, without always craving more and more. Thus [having overcome the spiritual deficiency responsible for Adam’s curse,] he is granted actual wealth (Likutey Halakhot, Purim 6:18).
Reb Noson: All lacks come from a deficiency of wisdom. As our Sages observe, “If you have acquired wisdom, what can you lack? And if you lack wisdom, what can you acquire?” (Nedarim 41a). Therefore, it befits those who esteem wisdom to be happy with their lot and find contentment in whatever God has bestowed upon them (based on Likutey Halakhot, Chezkat Metaltelin 3:2).
“Those who honor Me, I will honor”
Reb Noson: Each person possesses a “portion” of the glory that derives from the side of holiness, which is God’s glory.[v] Therefore it is forbidden to disparage anyone; rather, it is necessary to honor everyone. Those who do so are honored by God, as it is written, “Those who honor Me, I will honor.” In this way God’s glory becomes complete (Likutey Halakhot, Orlah 4:19).
[i] Even idol-worshippers recognize God’s ultimate sovereignty; thus, in a sense, their sacrifices are also offered to His name (Rashi, Metzudot, ad loc.). The Sages state that idolaters nevertheless recognize the existence of the Creator, Whom they conceive as the “God of gods” (Menachot 110a). In this vein, the Baal Shem Tov is said to have remarked, “An idol-worshipper has a better chance of eventually receiving a tikkun than an atheist” – evidently because the idol-worshipper errs due to his nature and circumstances but still possesses a degree of faith; this error may be corrected. In rejecting faith altogether, the atheist places himself in a far worse spiritual predicament (Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch (Tzemach Tzedek), Ohr HaTorah, “NaCH,” Part II, p. 782).
[ii] Different souls are rooted in different “root-souls” or “soul-groups,” which reflect the influence of various combinations of the Ten Sefirot, as discussed in the writings of the
Noson alludes to this concept at the beginning of the present teaching.
[iii] One of the reasons why our souls are sent to this world is for Tikkun HaMidot (character refinement). Many of us have an inclination toward anger and become irritated when things don’t go our way. We even feel justified in getting angry. But if we knew that our anger is the root cause of our suffering, and that Heaven is purposely setting things up in our lives so that we should learn to overcome our anger, we would view all these life circumstances as opportunities to refine ourselves, rather than becoming irate.
[iv] Genesis 3:19; Rashi on Proverbs, loc. cit.
[v] The Hebrew word kavod can mean either “glory” or “honor.” This teaching reflects the concept that God’s glory is the root of creation, in line with the verse, “Everything that I have called by My Name, I have created for My glory” (Isaiah 43:7). Rebbe Nachman discusses this subject in Likutey Moharan II, 12 (“Ayeh”) and elsewhere. Here Reb Noson makes the additional point that by showing honor to another Jew, one affirms the unique purpose for which the entire Jewish people were created: to perceive God’s glory and reveal it to the world. By honoring another person, one actually honors God, for the human being is but a vehicle of God’s glory. The individual who confers honor also becomes a vehicle for God’s glory by facilitating its revelation, in fulfillment of the verse, “Those who honor Me, I will honor.” All other manifestations of honor or glory in the world are “fallen” aspects of the Divine glory, impressed into the service of various confused imaginings rooted in the ego. Showing honor is a tikkun for these fallen aspects of kavod. This leads to the ultimate goal that all humanity and all living creatures will attain this illumination, as it is written, “God’s glory will be revealed, and all flesh will see it together” (Isaiah 40:5).