There are two consecutive Mishnayos in Pirkei Avos that use the phrase "מעלה עליו הכתוב", which loosely translates to 'scripture treats him as...'

The first is:

רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן אוֹמֵר, הַמְהַלֵּךְ בַּדֶּרֶךְ וְשׁוֹנֶה, וּמַפְסִיק מִמִּשְׁנָתוֹ וְאוֹמֵר, מַה נָּאֶה אִילָן זֶה וּמַה נָּאֶה נִיר זֶה, מַעֲלֶה עָלָיו הַכָּתוּב כְּאִלּוּ מִתְחַיֵּב בְּנַפְשׁוֹ

Rabbi Shimon says if one is studying while walking on the road and interrupts his study and says, “how fine is this tree!” [or] “how fine is this newly ploughed field!” scripture accounts it to him as if he was mortally guilty.

This mishna does not mention any scriptural source for the 'mortal guilt' assigned to the person who did these things.

The second mishna that uses this phrase does quote a verse from scripture, but there is no clear assignment of 'mortal guilt' in the verse, just that this something prohibited:

רַבִּי דּוֹסְתַּאי בְּרַבִּי יַנַּאי מִשּׁוּם רַבִּי מֵאִיר אוֹמֵר, כָּל הַשּׁוֹכֵחַ דָּבָר אֶחָד מִמִּשְׁנָתוֹ, מַעֲלֶה עָלָיו הַכָּתוּב כְּאִלּוּ מִתְחַיֵּב בְּנַפְשׁוֹ, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (דברים ד) רַק הִשָּׁמֶר לְךָ וּשְׁמֹר נַפְשְׁךָ מְאֹד פֶּן תִּשְׁכַּח אֶת הַדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר רָאוּ עֵינֶיךָ

Rabbi Dostai ben Rabbi Yannai said in the name of Rabbi Meir: whoever forgets one word of his study, scripture accounts it to him as if he were mortally guilty, as it is said, “But take utmost care and watch yourselves scrupulously, so that you do not forget the things that you saw with your own eyes” (Deuteronomy 4:9).

So my question is as follows:

Does מעלה עליו הכתוב mean that there is a verse backing it up (indication being that this isn't the case, based on the source above) and if it doesn't, then what does it mean?

  • I believe the maharal in derech Chaim addresses it
    – robev
    Mar 29, 2022 at 11:10
  • 1
    It maybe worth noting that both Rambam's edition of the Mishnah (as brought by Mechon Mamre), and Kaufmann manuscript A50 have "מעלין עליו" (instead of "מעלה עליו הכתוב") in both places.
    – Tamir Evan
    Mar 29, 2022 at 13:09

1 Answer 1


The Midrash Shmuel on Avot 3:7 says that the Tanna of the Mishna has Iyov 30:4 in mind, where the Targum says the verse is referring to someone who interrupts their learning to engage in worldly activities causes destruction to his food. The Tanna did not include the verse because this was common knowledge:

From Sefaria:

Iyov 30:4

הַקֹּטְפִ֣ים מַלּ֣וּחַ עֲלֵי־שִׂ֑יחַ וְשֹׁ֖רֶשׁ רְתָמִ֣ים לַחְמָֽם׃

They pluck saltwort and wormwood; The roots of broom are their food.

Targum on the verse (my imperfect translation):

דְשָׁבְקִין פִּתְגָמֵי אוֹרַיְתָא מִן לוּחַ לִבְּהוֹן מְטוּל מִלֵי דְעָלְמָא עִקָרֵי רוּתְמַיָא מִתּוֹקְדִין וּמִתְעַבְּדִין גוּמְרִין לִמְזוֹנֵיהוֹן:

They remove the saying for Torah from their hearts by putting worldy things there, cause the roots of the broom bush to burn, which burns their food.

Note also Avoda Zarah 3b, where R' Levi expounds on Iyov 30:4:

אמר רבי לוי כל הפוסק מדברי תורה ועוסק בדברי שיחה מאכילין לו גחלי רתמים שנאמר (איוב ל, ד) הקוטפים מלוח עלי שיח ושורש רתמים לחמם

Rabbi Levi says: Anyone who interrupts his study of words of Torah to occupy himself with mundane matters will be fed with the coals of the broom tree, as it is stated: “They pluck salt-wort from wormwood, and the roots of the broom are their food” (Job 30:4)

Midrash Shmuel on the next mishna (quoted in the question) says that this mishna is also refering to the verse of Devarim 4:9

Rashi says We remove the words "The verse considers it", since there is no verse brought.

All this is brought in the commentary of the Tosafot Yom Tov on the mishna.

  • So to summarise, you are saying that for the interrupting learning one, there is a machlokes whether there is a passuk in the background or whether to erase those words. It isn't clear to me whether you have answered how the passuk in 4,9 shows mortal guilt and not just a prohibition. Sep 26, 2019 at 11:41
  • As a separate point, the midrash shmuel's assertion that everyone knew the passuk in Iyov is very difficult. This is because I'm not sure if that is true. Even if it is, chazal often quote pesukim, as clearly evidenced in the next Mishna, when they quote the relevant passuk. Sep 26, 2019 at 11:43
  • As a final point, I'm not sure 'to engage in worldly activities' is an accurate translation of the first Mishna under discussion. It seems to specifically refer to aesthetics. Sep 26, 2019 at 11:44
  • "Rashi says We remove the words 'The verse considers it', since there is no verse brought". After mentioning this, Tosafot Yom Tov continues (in Sefaria's translation, with my comments):"Rav [a mistranslation of 'הר"ב', and probably should be 'the [Rav] Bartenura'] is likewise careful with his language and writes [in the current Mishna] 'they consider him as if' [מעלין עליו וכו] On the other hand, Rav [the Bartenura] uses the same language [of 'מעלין עליו וכו'] in the next mishna, even though it quotes the verse 'only take care, etc.'".
    – Tamir Evan
    Mar 29, 2022 at 14:38

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