There is a long standing tradition of learning Pirkei Avos on Shabbas afternoons between Pesach and Shavuos.  Some attribute this custom to helping prepare for Matan Torah and others simply point to it as a way of making good use of the long extended Shabbos afternoons.  Regardless of the etiology, Pirkei Avos represents the most often cited Jewish literature outside of the five books of the Torah.  This is hardly a wonder.   Pirkei Avos contains some of the most profound and absolute truisms of Judaism - “Who is a wealthy person? Some one who is happy with what he has.  Who is a wise person? One who can foresee the consequences of his actions.”  And many more.  Simply put, Pirkei Avos contains some of Judaisms wisest insights.  Nevertheless, on the eve of beginning the first Perek, it seems appropriate to look at some of the apparent contradictions within Pirkei Avos, as the explanations for these seeming inconsistencies often teach us as much as original proverb.

It takes little time to uncover the first apparent conflict.  In the first Mishna we are taught that the “world stands on three things – On Torah, Avodah and G'milas Chasadim.”  There is hardly a 2nd grader in our day schools who has not heard this basic tenet.   Yet oddly, at the end of the first Perek, there is another Mishna which says “The world endures based on three things – On Din, Emes and Shalom.”  Well which is it? Does the world stand on Torah, Avodah and G'milas Chasadim or does it stand on Emes, Din and Shalom? Dozens of Mepharshim address this seeming conflict.  Virtually all of them explain that in the first Mishna, the word used is “Omed”- to stand whereas the last Mishna uses the word “Kayam” – to endure.  They explain that in order for the world to “stand” it needs Torah, Avodah and G'milas Chaasadim but absent those pillars the world can still exist or endure if it has Emes, Din ans Shalom.

A nice P'shat to be sure but has the world EVER had Shalom? Ever since Kayin killed his brother Hevel the world has seemingly been in eternal conflict.  Whether it was the four kings fighting the five kings, Sarah and Hagar, Yitzchok and Yishmael, Esav and Yaakov, Ginghas Khan, Hitler, Napolean, Sadaam Hussein, Nevuchadnesser or Putin and Xi, the world has always had its despots determined to use their might to conquer or subjugate their neighbors.  Where is the Shalom?  Din?  We now let criminals roam freely and dismiss them from prison – in fact, we often prosecute the victims for exercising the eternal recognized defense of defending oneself.  Where is the Din?  Emes?  The one absolute scientific FACT which no one argued was that there were two genders.  Now people who actually call themselves doctors or scientists dispute this absolute fact.  We don't have Emes anymore either.  So exactly on what is the world enduring?

It seems to me there is another possible and necessary explanation to these opposing Mishnayos.  Regrettably, there is little any one of us can do to enforce world peace.  We don't have tanks or diplomats or much to bring to bare with which could use as either a bargaining chip or a deterrent.  Similarly, there is little any one of us can do to effectuate change of the declining morals which have led to our courts forgetting their role in the Sheva Mitzvos B'nei Noach.  And fighting the exportation of poison falsehoods which come out of Hollywood and San Francisco is also seemingly more than any of us can do beyond simply resisting.  These global issues are just that – global.  No one of us can do much on these Macro world events.  But Torah Avodah and G'milas Chasadim are not Macro issues.  In fact, they are much more Micro.  Each of us can learn Torah.  Each of us can daven and do the mitzvos of Hashem and each of us can do Chesed.  It actually seems that the first Mishna is more practical whereas the later Mishna is more removed from our hands.

It is clear that we cannot depend on the world to accede to Hashem's will.  Hopefully through the individual actions of each member of Klal Yisroel we can “hold up” our end of the bargain and maintain it until the arrival of Moshiach.