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Ben Azai used to say, “Do not be scornful of any person and do not be disdainful of any thing, for each person has his hour and each thing has its place” (Avot 4:7).

 

Everything In Its Time

Chazal understood Hashem having created the world as meaning that everything in existence has significance. The Mishnah in Pirkei Avot states, “Do not be scornful of any person and do not be disdainful of any thing, for each person has his hour and each thing has its place.”1 Or, as the colloquial saying goes, “Every dog has its day.”

This idea is rooted in Kohelet, which explains the assertion that “everything has its time”2 by adding that “Hashem made everything beautiful in its proper time.”3

There are two implications to this idea, both specified by the Mishnah.

 

Appreciating People

The first implication is how we are meant to relate to other people. Mesechet Avot speaks both about the problem of sinat habriyot (hating other people)4 and the importance of ahavat habriyot (loving other people).5 The Ba’al HaTanya6 explains that these mishnayot use specifically the term “briyot” to describe people in order to emphasize the need to love even those who have nothing going for them beyond the fact that Hashem created them.

Mesechet Avot further emphasizes the importance of ahavat habriyot by twice juxtaposing it to ahavat Hashem.7 The Maharal8 explains that one who truly loves Hashem loves everything He creates.9 This ahavat Hashem basis for loving others can be inferred from the addition of “I am Hashem” to the pasuk that commands us to love others like ourselves: “Love your fellow as yourself; I am Hashem.”10 In other words, Hashem explains that we should love others because He is the one who created them.

Further reinforcement of this point comes from the Gemara11 that tells a story about Rav Elazar b’Rebi Shimon. A person whom Rav Elazar told was “ugly-looking” responded to Rav Elazar by encouraging him to share this observation with the one who created him—Hashem. At that point Reb Elazar b’Rebi Shimon realized his mistake and begged for forgiveness.

Rav Kook summarized this first implication by teaching that “the love that naturally resides in the souls of tzaddikim includes all creations. It excludes no thing or nation—not even Amalek!”12

 

Beyond People

The Mishnah also mentions a second implication. We are meant to appreciate not only people, but every creation. The Midrash13 famously tells us that Hashem created everything for a purpose. He even uses frogs and other animals as His emissaries. Another midrash14 describes how David HaMelech doubted the value of spiders and spiderwebs until he needed their help to hide him from Shaul.

The Rishonim extend this idea to include humans, animals and even natural phenomena. The Ramban,15 for example, proves the holiness of the physical relationship between man and woman from the fact that Hashem created it.

Rav Kook expanded this idea beautifully: “Anyone who thinks in a pure, godly way cannot hate or denigrate any creation or potential found in our world.”16 He explains further that hatred and denigration are rooted in our choice to focus on what is lacking instead of identifying and appreciating the pure potential God imbues within His creations.

In a second piece,17 Rav Kook applies the same concept to every thought of every human being. He explains that “all thoughts are logical and worthwhile. Even those that seem illogical are rooted principles of logic and value. All people are ‘treasure-houses’ of higher meaning whose thoughts need to be ‘filtered’ in order to expose their true deeper meaning. The greater we are as people, the more thoughts we succeed at identifying as valuable. When we do so, we elevate these thoughts and become elevated through them.”18

 

Appreciating It All

The upshot of these Avot mishnayot is that everything Hashem creates has value and holiness and needs to be appreciated. We often take our world for granted and see its contents as mundane and insignificant. Masechet Avot reminds us that they are all created by Hashem and should be appreciated as such. By doing so, we deepen our understanding and appreciation of the world, of ourselves, and of Hashem Himself.

Though all creations are significant, human beings—particularly their thoughts and mission—are of greater value and importance. We will see how Masechet Avot relates to and deepens our appreciation of this iy”H next week.

Thanks to Yedidyah Rosenwasser for the transcription.

1 Avot 4:3.

2 Kohelet 3:1.

3 Kohelet 3:11.

4 Avot 2:11.

5 Avot 1:12.

6 Sefer Hatanya, 1:32.

7 Avot 6:1, 6:6.

8 Sefer Netivot Haolam, Netiv Ahavas Reia 1:1.

9 The Rambam (Yesodei HaTorah 2:2) links the two in the opposite direction as well. The way we come to ahavat Hashem is by appreciating His creations. 

10 Vayikra 19:18.

11 Taanit 20a.

12 Middot HaRe’iyah Ahava 6.

13 Medrash Rabbah, Bamidbar parsha 18, piska 22. 

14 Otzer Medrashim, Aleph-Bet of Ben Sira page 47.

15 Igeret Hakodesh 2. The Ramban’s words are in response to the Rambam who proved the holiness of the Hebrew language from its lack of words describing the relationship.

16 Orot Hakodesh 3:pg. 327.

17 Orot Hakodesh 1:13 (pg. 17). A careful reading of the piece reveals that Rav Kook used our opening Mishnah as one of his prooftexts.

18 I believe that Rav Kook built this idea off Mesilat Yesharim.

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