In Chapter 3 of Pirkei Avos, the first Mishnah says:

1 Akavia the son of Mahalalel would say: Reflect upon three things and you will not come to the hands of transgression. Know from where you came, where you are going, and before whom you are destined to give a judgement and accounting. From where you came—from a putrid drop; where you are going—to a place of dust, maggots and worms; and before whom you are destined to give a judgement and accounting—before the supreme King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.

א) עֲקַבְיָא בֶּן מַהֲלַלְאֵל אוֹמֵר: הִסְתַּכֵּל בִּשְׁלֹשָׁה דְבָרִים, וְאֵין אַתָּה בָא לִידֵי עֲבֵרָה. דַּע מֵאַֽיִן בָּֽאתָ, וּלְאָן אַתָּה הוֹלֵךְ, וְלִפְנֵי מִי אַתָּה עָתִיד לִתֵּן דִּין וְחֶשְׁבּוֹן. מֵאַֽיִן בָּֽאתָ: מִטִּפָּה סְרוּחָה. וּלְאָן אַתָּה הוֹלֵךְ: לִמְקוֹם עָפָר רִמָּה וְתוֹלֵעָה. וְלִפְנֵי מִי אַתָּה עָתִיד לִתֵּן דִּין וְחֶשְׁבּוֹן: לִפְנֵי מֶֽלֶךְ מַלְכֵי הַמְּלָכִים הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא.

The question is:

Why does the Mishnah divide itself into three parts, first telling us "Reflect upon three things", without specifying what they are, then it specifies what they are in a basic way, but not in detail, and only then does it specify them in detail, why doesn't it initially simply specify them all in detail, something like:

Akavia the son of Mahalalel would say: know from where you came -- a putrid drop, where you are going -- a place of dust, maggots, and worms, and before whom you are destined to give a judgment and accounting -- before the supreme King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He -- and you will not come to the hands of transgression


  • The bet Yosef has a methodological explanation.. not remember where
    – kouty
    Apr 25, 2021 at 15:11

2 Answers 2


I don't have any source, but from a purely literary perspective this is a very powerful usage. It helps emphasize the various stages of the point.

First, there is a practical statement. Its function is to set up and answer the unasked question: "How can I avoid being caught up by sin?" It says you need to focus on 3 things to do so.

What are those three things? Three items in a very logical progression. Remember where you came from, where you are going, and Who will be judging you. Without even knowing the answers to these three questions, there's still a powerful point- keep in mind the big picture.

[I remember Rav Noach Orlowek quoting the Sfas Emes a lot on this point. How does a person come to sin? They get caught up in the moment where their body's desires gets the better of them. In order to overcome it, one needs to bring in the intellect and put things in perspective. Passion and emotion is always "now" while intellect is past and future. I remember Rav Moshe Shapiro zatza"l saying a similar idea.)

Then, after we have the general point- avoid sin by keeping the "big picture" in mind- we can discuss the specifics of each questions. BN

  • Interesting theory indeed,I just want to hear other answers before marking anything, but yeah it's an interesting theory Apr 25, 2021 at 16:52

There is a letter of the Chazon Ish where he says that sometimes the Mishnah would use extra words to make the Mishnayos easier to remember. I think that reasoning applies especially to Pirkei Avos, due to its ethical message. So the Mishna is written in a style more similar to a speaker: eye-catching headline, then a list of the three things, then an explanation of how they work. The repetition helps cement the concepts in the listener's mind.

(I don't think it is online and I don't have the sefer personally, so I can't post a link.)

  • I just saw my answer is similar to Binyomin's. Great minds, etc.
    – N.T.
    Apr 25, 2021 at 23:34

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