Rav Yonatan Udren
In truth, Pirke Avot is only five chapters long; the last chapter is a collection of braitot, or sayings of the sages, who were contemporaries of the sages of the original text. These teachings were taught in a different study hall and are usually worded in a less concise fashion, and were added in order that once chapter a week could be learned for the six Shabbatot between Pesach and Shavuot. Leafing through the final chapter one can find many familiar themes, however the teachings focus on the exalted quality of the Torah, as opposed to specific spiritual lessons dealing with the nature of the person.
“Hashem acquired five acquisitions in His world, and they are: the Torah, one acquisition; the Heavens and Earth, one acquisition; Avraham, one acquisition; the Nation of Israel, one acquisition; the Temple, one acquisition” (Pirke Avot Chapter 6, Mishna 10).
Here are a few questions to open the discussion: first off, why are only these five items listed as acquisitions of Hashem? Doesn’t the whole world belong to Hashem, as it’s written in Psalms that the world and all that fills it all belongs to Hashem?
A second implicit question has to do with the ordering of the teaching. Were not the heavens and the earth created first? And Avraham also came before the Torah, did he not? The time line expressed in the braita seems to be out of order.
The Maharal of Prague in a few words he explains the nature of the Torah and the role of the Jewish people:
“That it is written that the Torah is one acquisition, that the Torah is one complete entity alone, and therefore it is an acquisition of Hashem….therefore the Ten Commandments opened up with an Aleph, and the world was created with a Bet, to teach that there is nothing more unified that the Torah” (Derech Chaim).
First, let’s understand what the term acquisition means in the context of the braita. As we noted, the simple meaning does not make sense.
The Maharal answers our first question as follows: the list of five acquisitions denotes entities that are absolute acquisitions. From all perspectives it must be something that is only appropriate for Hashem. And what is that quality? It can only include that which is unique and unified.
In other words, only that which is the absolute spiritual root can be called an acquisition; since Hashem is one, so too the entity must also express oneness. Only then can it be called an absolute acquisition in our context.
What about the non-sequential order of our braita? The Maharal refers us to a Midrash that says the world was created with a Bet, but the Torah begins with an Aleph. Let’s understand this Midrash and see how it answers our question.
The first word in the Torah is Bereishit, usually translated as “In the beginning,” begins with the letter Bet, the second letter of the alphabet. However the first word of the Torah that was revealed to the Nation of Israel at Mt. Sinai was anochi, I, which begins with the letter Aleph, the first letter of the alphabet. Here we run into the same problem: if the letters Aleph and Bet suggest chronology, then they are out of order.
The answer provides a fundamental understanding of our Torah. When we think about Torah, we usually think about the scroll in the ark; but the Torah in its essence is something much broader. The Midrash teaches that Hashem looked into the Torah and created the world, and that Torah actually preceded the world, and is the blueprint for the world. The Torah in its essence is the unified vision of what the world was, is, and can become. Therefore, the revelation of the Torah was with an Aleph, the first letter, to teach that it preceded creation. Only after the blueprints were drawn could the project of the world begin, which denotes the Bet, the second step.
The Torah, Hashem, and the Jewish people are all one, the Talmud teaches. G-d’s Torah is a reflection of the unity of its Creator, given to the Jewish people so we as a nation could reflect that unity in the world. We too are listed in the teaching as an acquisition. The Jewish people are one unified entity in our essence. Guided by the Torah, we unite in order to help the world reach the level of completion Hashem had in mind before creation.