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This document was mirrored to Kollel Iyun HaDaf by the author with permission of Rabbi Mordechai Kornfeld. For more info and commentaries visit the Dafyomireview.com site.

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This tractate of the Mishna brings the teachings of the Fathers of the World as the Maharal of Prague wrote:

A father is fitting to give mussar (ethics) to his son. For in his being a father, the frivolousness of youth (yaldut) has left him. Likewise for the mother. They are baalei mussar (exponents of morals), and especially since it is incumbent on a father to guide his son in all matters.

Because this tractate speaks of good and just mussar (ethics), it begins by stating that it is proper to receive mussar from the fathers. And without a doubt, these men are the fathers of the world. For certainly Moses is a father of the world, and so too Joshua who received the torah from Moses, and likewise the Elders, etc... and so too Antigonus and the other sages mentioned.. They are certainly fathers of the world (i.e. of all humanity). Thus, it is proper for one to accept their mussar just like a son should accept the mussar of his father. And it is proper for them to give mussar to the world, since they are fathers of the world. Therefore this tractate is called Tractate Avot (Fathers). For it contains the mussar teachings of the fathers of the world. (end quote)

Rabbi Ovadiah of Bartenura wrote:
"Moses received the Torah from Sinai" - since this tractate is not coming to explain a mitzva (commandment) in the torah like the other tractates. Rather, it is all ethics and character traits, and the wise men of the nations also conjured up books of ethics according to their hearts on how a person should live and behave towards others. Therefore, the Tanna (sage) begins this tractate "Moshe received the Torah from Sinai". To teach that the traits and ethics in this tractate were not conjured up by the sages according to their hearts. But rather, even these were said at Sinai. (end quote)

Do not be fooled by the simplicity and concise words of the Mishna. Each mishna is a whole world unto itself as we will see and as Rabbi Azoulai (Chida) wrote: "in their wisdom, the language of the Tannaim (sages of the mishna) includes many different things simultaneously. For the Ruach Ha-shem (Spirit of G-d) spoke through them..." (Roshei Avot).

Rabbi Yosef Sebag (the translator) studied in various yeshivas under great Torah scholars such as Rabbi Dov Shwartzman zt'l (~2 years), Rabbi Nachman Bulman zt'l, Rabbi Nissan Kaplan (~5 years). He also completed a degree in physics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and was a research associate in nuclear physics for some time before heading off to yeshiva.