As we have written, during this period of the counting of the Omer, it is customary to expound the teachings of Pirkei Avot in order to arouse the hearts of the public to follow the pathways of Mussar.
Maran zt”l’s Behavior Regarding Study of Pirkei Avot
We must point out that the importance of Pirkei Avot is truly great since they are teachings of ethics imparted by the holy Tannaim. One must use these teachings to understand proper manners and correct behavior by repairing one’s character traits and serving Hashem.
We have seen several times that when Maran zt”l would have to wait for several minutes or when he needed to rest on the porch due to weakness, in order for him not to interrupt his learning, G-d-forbid, he would always mutter something under his breath. When we leaned closer to hear what it was that he was saying, we heard him reciting portions of Pirkei Avot by heart with great concentration in order to strengthen his service of Hashem.
The Mishnah in Pirkei Avot (3, 21) states: “Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya says: Without wisdom, there is no fear and without fear there is no wisdom.”
Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l explains the words “without wisdom there is no fear” to mean that indeed, the merit of learning Torah on its own is in order to prompt fear of Hashem, as the Sifri (Parashat Shoftim) states, “In order that he learn to fear Hashem, his G-d,” which teaches us that studying Torah engenders fear of Heaven. Thus, one must be wise in order for one to attain fear of Heaven. We have seen many times that those who follow in the footsteps of Maran zt”l founded Kollels where young Torah scholars study with those Jews who are far from religion. These individuals would arrive daily to learn Gemara, Mishnah, and Halacha. As their wisdom in Torah grows, their belief in Hashem strengthens as well until they become complete Ba’alei Teshuva and return to fully-Torah-observant Judaism.
Maran zt”l adds that Mount Sinai is the symbol of the Torah, for the Torah was given upon it. On the other hand, Mount Moriah (the Temple Mount) is the symbol of fear of Hashem, for it was there that Yitzchak Avinu was bound and almost slaughtered out of complete fear of Hashem and subservience to His service.
The Tosafot in Masechet Ta’anit (16a) write something that seems quite strange, that Mount Moriah is actually Mount Sinai and it was called “Moriah” because of the fear (“Morah” in Hebrew) it produced among the nations of the world when the Torah was given, as the verse states, “The land was fearful and then tranquil.” The commentators are extremely baffled by the words of this Tosafot, for Mount Sinai is in the desert and has no connection at all to Mount Moriah which is in Jerusalem.
Maran zt”l explains this matter based on the Midrash (Shocher Tov, Chapter 68) which states, “Rabbi Yose said: Where is Mount Sinai from? It is from Mount Moriah and it was removed from it like Challah from a large dough.” This means that originally, Mount Sinai was connected to Mount Moriah and later, Hashem moved it to the desert where the Torah was to be given since Yitzchak Avinu was bound on it. Based on this, the words of Tosafot, who said that Mount Sinai and Mount Moriah are one and the same, are quite clear.
We can thus understand the words of the Mishnah, “If there is no fear, there is no wisdom” to mean that only through the part of Mount Moriah that was detached and then reattached to Mount Sinai did we merit receiving the Torah in order to hint that along with one’s Torah, one must also retain pure fear of Heaven.