In Avot (6:4) we read - כך היא דרכה של תורה, פת במלח תאכל ומים במשורה תשתה ועל הארץ תישן וחיי צער תחיה

This is the way of torah... and a life of pain you shall live.

contrast this with Mishlei 3:17 דְּרָכֶיהָ דַרְכֵי-נֹעַם

[the torah's] ways are ways of pleasantness

How do we resolve this seeming contradiction?

  • 1
    The Torah is like honey. It's sweet and delicious, but too much at once will make you throw up.
    – zaq
    May 30, 2012 at 13:33
  • 1
    @zaq I hope you mean tree honey, the bee kind is made through multiple regurgitation May 30, 2012 at 13:40
  • 10
    This is a false dichotomy. Anything can be both painful and pleasant - think of running a marathon or giving birth. May 30, 2012 at 18:06
  • @CharlesKoppelman I'm not the one making the dichotomy, the mishna is. If the torah is both of these things let the mishna (or a pasuk) say so. May 30, 2012 at 19:02
  • 1
    @AdamMosheh Yep, #25. I just wanted to point out the similar duality.
    – zaq
    May 30, 2012 at 21:27

3 Answers 3


פירוש רש"י:

פת במלח תאכל - לא על העשיר הוא אומר שיעמוד בחיי צער כדי ללמוד תורה, אלא ה"ק אפילו אין לאדם אלא פת במלח וכו' ואין לו כר וכסת לישן, אלא על הארץ, אל ימנע מלעסוק בה, דסופו ללמוד אותה מעושר׃

Rashi's commentary (Rough translation):

This is not speaking of the wealthy person who will suffer in order to learn Torah. Rather, what it means is that even if a person is eating bread and salt, etc. (as in the rest of the quote left out in the question), and he doesn't have a cushion (pillow/mattress) and blanket to sleep, but [must sleep] on the earth, he must not stop busying himself with [learning Torah], that in the end he will learn it [as a] wealthy [person].

So, first of all, it's not talking about keeping the Torah (Mitzvoth), and it is not saying you will suffer as a result. It's talking about learning Torah, and it is saying you have to give of yourself to study, no matter the cost, even if you have nothing.

Also, the question asks specifically about the Mishnah in Avoth (6:4), but this takes the quote out of context. A reading of the entire chapter in Avoth should leave a person with the conclusion that RIBa"L feels, like R' Meir, that learning Torah is so vital to survival that one must even when faced with adversity, and that he will be rewarded.

  • I'm not sure how this answers the question. The pasuk in mishlei indicates that the ways of the torah are pleasant. Your answer indicates that at least one "way of the torah" (whatever that means) is also at times painful. The answer simply says that you must still learn even when it is painful. The question is asking how such an eventuality can exist in the first place.
    – user1552
    May 31, 2012 at 15:59
  • @bcholbeisineeman The question assumed that the Mishnah meant to say that the way of the Torah would ultimately lead one to suffer (and it used the same expression - Darkah Shel Torah), which is probably what sparked the question. My answer explained that this is a misreading of the Mishnah; rather than causing suffering it is saying that one is virtuous for learning even if already suffering. My further edit explains that, looking broadly at the whole chapter, the Mishnah reveals that one will ultimately be rewarded for this effort and perseverance (thus reinforcing the "pleasant"ness).
    – Seth J
    May 31, 2012 at 16:17
  • that's not true the question asked a contradiction between two references to the way of the torah one described as painful the other pleasant. how does this answer address that.
    – asdjkl
    May 31, 2012 at 16:30
  • @asdjkl by demonstrating that there is no contradiction. I'm not following what the objection is.
    – Seth J
    May 31, 2012 at 16:52
  • @ba, thanks for the edit. That's interesting.
    – Seth J
    Nov 7, 2012 at 14:45

The Chazon Ish asked the following question on the Mishna:

Why does it say "אם אתה עושה כן" - if you do it? Isn't everything on that condition? And how can the Mishna conclude by saying אשרך בעולם הזה, it will be good for him in this world, after just saying explicitly that he will live a life of suffering?

He explained that the Mishna was describing what the life of a ben-Torah looks like - it looks like חיי צער, a life of restriction and suffering. But אם אתה עושה כן, if you do it, if you yourself live that life, you will experience the richness of the lifestyle and understand that there is nothing better, even in this-worldly terms.

So there is no contradiction - in actuality, the ways of the Torah are completely pleasant. But only someone living it will know and experience that truth.

(I heard this מפי השמועה, don't have a source)


A life of pain you should live: Without Torah, who's ways are only pleasant and free. When G-d banishes Adam v'Chava from Gan Eden He explains to them that they're going to live a life of turmoil and pain. And this happens mdor v'dor, till the flood and even after, man is corrupt without his once blunt connection to Hashem. As we read on throughout the Torah, eventually the Yidden receive the Torah from Har Sinai, which gave us a glimpse of the heavenly spheres, and the ability to correct the mistake Adam Rishon made, and allows us to take from the Tree of Life: The Torah. "It's a tree of life to those that hold to it- and all of its supportors are happy." It's part of the Torah for man to live in pain without connection to shamayim, from his origins. He is disconnected, which is the cause of eventual death. Through the Torah, we are able to link life with shamayim and Hashem once again- and the Torah and Hashem are eternal, and the Etz Chayim grants man eternal life.

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