Pirkei Avos chapter 5 Mishnah 1 says:

The world was created with ten utterances. What does this come to teach us? Certainly, it could have been created with a single utterance. However, this is in order to make the wicked accountable for destroying a world that was created with ten utterances, and to reward the righteous for sustaining a world that was created with ten utterances.

The question is, the Mishnah first prefaces that the, seemingly, main reason why the world was created with ten statements is in order to "pay back" (or "make accountable" according to this translation) from the wicked who "destroy" the world that was made with ten statements, then, as if as an added reason, it says that it's also to give reward to the righteous.

Now, even though at first Hashem wanted to create the world with judgement, and only afterwards combined the attribute of mercy (as Rashi brings, to the beginning of Bereishis), but that was only before creation started, but the actual creation itself is built on mercy (and kindness).

So the obvious question is, why would the Mishnah start off by focusing on the punishment of the wicked, and only afterwards, as if to add some side reason for making the world in ten statements, that it's also to give reward to the righteous?

Shouldn't the main stress be that it's to give reward to the righteous, who sustain the world, except that in order to allow for free choice, keep people in check etc., there's also the idea of punishment/accountability?

Shouldn't the first thing mentioned stress the main point of creation?

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    – Isaac Moses
    Nov 16, 2022 at 21:23
  • @IsaacMoses YakkOv beat you to it, could you delete the chat as we have a duplicate now
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Nov 21, 2022 at 13:48
  • @RabbiKaii Oh, I see. Sorry about that. I updated my comment to point to that room instead.
    – Isaac Moses
    Nov 21, 2022 at 15:46
  • See the Bat Ayin in parshas Vaera that addresses this question directly. It is too lengthy and complicated for me to submit as an answer. sefaria.org/Bat_Ayin%2C_Vaera.36?lang=bi See paragraph 36 and onward.
    – ASL
    Nov 22, 2022 at 16:24
  • Yakk Ov I have replied in the above chat
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Nov 28, 2022 at 10:26

2 Answers 2


The Lubavitcher Rebbe has a beautiful explanation of this Mishna according to Chassidus. It's a lot to pack in here, but I'll try to summarize it briefly:

The "ten utterances" correspond to the ten Sefirot which are the basis of the worlds and our souls, representing the structure—as well as the limitations—of our reality. Now, G-d didn't have to build the world with a decimal architecture or in any particular way—He simply chose it to be the way it is. The ability to create the world with a "single utterance" symbolizes G-d's total transcendence of even the most fundamental components of creation.

Correspondingly, in our divine service we have dual modes of righteousness and repentance. The righteous sustain the natural order of the world through Torah learning and fulfilling Mitzvot, but because they work within the rules, they are also limited by them. By contrast, the repentant person who rises above his nature to rediscover his innate connection to G-d can elevate himself and the world in ways the righteous cannot.

This is what the Mishna is teaching us, and why it emphasizes the first clause. The word להפרע literally means "to exact payment." What G-d wants from the wicked is not retribution, it's repayment. That is, the wicked who "destroy" the world are held "accountable" to rebuild it through repentance, which "destroys" the limitations of the world and the soul, revealing the unbounded G-dliness beneath it all.

  • Amazing answer!
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Nov 22, 2022 at 23:16

It says in your own quote of the mishna, 'what does this come to teach us.' It makes sense to begin with teaching about punishment before reward. We see in many places that wisdom starts with the fear of heaven/G-d. Loving G-d is an even higher ideal but comes after achieving the more basic level of fear of heaven. this is what comes comes to mind for me when seeing your question.

There is many references for the idea that fear comes first which this mishna would just be showing consistency with. I will just give some references and this is not at all an exhaustive list:

  • You quoted pirkei avot chapter 5, well pirkei avot chapter 3 mishna 11 shows fear of sin preceeding wisdom.
  • Proverbs 9:10, "The beginning of wisdom is fear of the L-rd..)'
  • Proverbs 1:7 "The fear of the L-rd is the beginning of knowledge..)'
  • Psalm 111:10, "The beginning of wisdom is fear of the L-rd.."
  • note fear mentioned first and awe after here in Psalm 33:8, "Let all the earth fear the L-rd; let all the inhabitants of the earth stand in awe of Him'
  • note here fear comes before desire in Psalm 112:1, "Hallelujah. Praiseworthy is the man who fears the L-rd, who greatly desires his commandments.'

Of course the purpose of creating the world is for kindness and mercy. The order of this mishna does not change that.

  • Thanks for this excellent answer and geshmak sources!
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Nov 18, 2022 at 13:04
  • Thanks for the sources. But is wisdom the same as ahava, and is ahava (or wisdom) a requirement for schar? Nov 19, 2022 at 23:31
  • 1
    @YakkOv what do you mean is wisdom the same as ahava?
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Nov 21, 2022 at 16:48
  • Hi. Just in response to "pirkei avot chapter 3 mishna 11 shows fear of sin preceeding wisdom" seemingly wisdom is different than ahava Nov 21, 2022 at 17:28

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