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In chapter 2 of Pirkei Avos (Ethics of Our Fathers) it says that:

"Rabban Yochanan the son of Zakkai had five disciples"

It goes on to list their names and qualities, and then it says that R' Yochanan said:

"Go and see which is the best trait for a person to acquire".
-Said Rabbi Eliezer: A good eye.
-Said Rabbi Joshua: A good friend.
-Said Rabbi Yossei: A good neighbor.
-Said Rabbi Shimon: To see what is born [out of ones actions].
-Said Rabbi Elazar: A good heart.

Then R' Yochanan asks the opposite question:

"Go and see which is the worst trait, the one that a person should most distance himself from."
- Said Rabbi Eliezer: An evil eye.
- Said Rabbi Joshua: An evil friend.
- Said Rabbi Yossei: An evil neighbor.
- Said Rabbi Shimon: To borrow and not to repay; for one who borrows from man is as one who borrows from the Almighty, as is stated, ``The wicked man borrows and does not repay; but the righteous one is benevolent and gives'' (Psalms 37:21).
- Said Rabbi Elazar: An evil heart.


One of these things is not like the others. Each of the Rabbis gave exactly the opposite answer the second time, while Rabbi Shimon gave a totally different one! Granted, you may say that borrowing without repaying is not thinking about the consequences of ones actions, but it is certainly a very narrow case, compared to his first answer.

What gives? (Especially looking for sources, rather than logic-based answers, although those are welcome too.)

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2 Answers

up vote 10 down vote accepted

The Rav (ad loc.) explains that these are opposites: One who borrows without repaying doesn't foresee that, therefore, people will refuse to lend to him in the future. R' Shim'on b. N'san'el didn't want to say "one who doesn't see what's coming", explains the Rav, because others who don't see what's coming aren't so bad, as they may be able to get around whatever bad comes in the future [but not so with someone who will be denied loans and will therefore starve].

The Midrash Sh'muel (as quoted in the Tos'fos Yom Tov ad loc.) explains that "one who doesn't see what's coming" isn't bad, as it's perfectly possible to be a very good person without seeing what's coming: even more so, as then he's serving God with no hope of reward.

[These two explanations seem to me to be compatible.]

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First of all, as @msh210 noted, R' Shimon ben Nesanel cannot have said "someone who does not see the consequences of an action", because that is simply the absence of a good trait, but not necessarily a bad one. It would have been equivalent to if R' Eliezer had said "one who does not have a good eye."

That said, the simplest way to understand R' Shimon's statement is that it is simply an example of a more general trait. R' Shimon's idea of the derech ra'ah is also the opposite of "seeing what is born...". It is the person who acts without thinking, without planning at all. Someone who doesn't even see the immediate consequences of his actions, however obvious they are. "The person who borrows and does not repay" is R' Shimon's way of expressing this trait. (Midrash Shmuel quotes this understanding of the mishna from several commentators.)

A deeper understanding is brought by the Maharal, who understands the midda of yiras chet associated with R' Shimon as a pure intellect that brings one closer in comparison to a heavenly being, an intellect that understands the ramifications of everything that happens. One who is closer in status to heavenly beings understands them better, and hence has a deeper yira towards God. Maharal understands one of the central aspects of this higher intellectual state as "self-sufficiency" (פשיטות), not relying on other things or people for existence. Someone who borrows from others, and not only that, but remains in their debt, is the epitome of reliance on others. This is how R' Shimon therefore expresses the opposite of "yarei chet".

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