Is there a comprehensive explanation of Avos 2:6?

אַף הוּא רָאָה גֻלְגֹּלֶת אַחַת שֶׁצָּפָה עַל פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם. אָמַר (לָהּ), עַל דַּאֲטֵפְתְּ, אַטְפוּךְ. וְסוֹף מְטַיְּפַיִךְ יְטוּפוּן

  1. Why is it in Aramaic?
  2. Why is this lesson included in Avos (seems out of place)?
  3. Who is this skull and how does Hillel know it was drowned due to drowning others? (I have seen many citations that say it was the skull of Pharaoh and source the Arizal, which I have been unable to locate)
  4. Why was only a skull found (is there some symbolism specific to the skull)?
  5. Why add the word "v'sof" - וְסוֹף?

Several of your questions are answered in "Vedibarta Bam" on Pirkey Avos.

1. Why is it in Aramaic?

Hillel used the Aramaic, the vernacular, in expressing this important belief in retributive justice, so that it would be understood by the masses. He felt it important for them to know that if for any reason whatsoever a murderer or evil-doer is not brought to justice, he may be certain of receiving his just punishment from Hashem, for He will not permit evil deeds to go unpunished. - pg. 86

3. Who is this skull and how does Hillel know it was drowned due to drowning others? (I have seen many citations that say it was the skull of Pharoah and source the Arizal, which I have been unable to locate)

The Arizal is in Shaar Mamarey Chazal on the Mishna.

An alternative explanation of whose skull it was:

Hillel lived in the period of history when Herod was the King in Israel and his wife was Miriam, a scion of the Hasmonean family. The Kehunah — Priesthood — was the domain of the Hasmoneans, and the Malchut — kingship — belonged to the descendants of David. Hillel was upset with the Hasmoneans for acquiring kingship, which was not their domain.

Herod denied Chananeil the position of Kohen Gadol and appointed his brother-in-law Aristablus, who was a Hasmonean, instead. Despite his young age of only seventeen, he impressed everyone with his superb performance and became highly acclaimed. This aroused the jealousy of Herod, and he planned a way to be rid of him.

Once Herod scheduled a celebration in Yericho, and he invited his wife, mother-in-law, and brother-in-law to participate. Present also were Hillel the Nasi, and Shammai the Chief Justice. After the King and Aristablus played together and perspired, the King invited his brother-in-law for a swim. The waters were deep and very swift, and the King secretly instructed his servants to drown Aristablus. While in the water, they engaged in horse-play, and then they kept him under the water till he expired. They exited the water pretending that they knew nothing about the whereabouts of Aristablus. Suddenly, his skull floated on the waters and everyone realized what happened and blamed the King for it, but were unable to do him anything.

Upon seeing the skull, Hillel declared that there is an ultimate accounting for all that one does: "Because your family, the Hasmoneans, pushed aside the family of David from kingship, they received their punishment in the form of the drowning of their descendant, and ultimately all those who had a hand in your drowning will drown." In the end, Herod gave Aristablus a royal funeral in an attempt to remove any suspicion from himself and killed the servants who had a hand in his drowning. (Knesses Yisroel) - pg. 85

5. Why add the word "v'sof"?

Hillel is emphasizing that nothing in this world is accidental. There is a reason for everything that occurs. Moreover, when carefully analyzed, one will see that it is midah keneged midah — measure for measure. A difficulty with this theory, to some, is that at times it appears that the no punishment was meted out or that it is not commensurate with the iniquity. In reply, Hillel says that since we Jews believe in gilgulim — reincarnation — it is clear that even when the immediate punishment is not exact, however, "vesof" — "ultimately" — when one will return to earth through reincarnation, he will receive precisely whatever was due to him in a previous lifetime that he did not receive then. (Midrash Shmuel) - pg. 87

  • I would like to know where the answer for #3 comes from originally. Also, #1 would imply that the rest of Avos isn't necessary for the layman to know. – not-allowed to change my name Nov 13 '12 at 0:59
  • @vram Everything came from the linked book Vedibarta Bam besides for the source of the Arizal. (I believe that this idea also comes from the Rambam's son but I would have to find the source for that.) – Michoel Nov 13 '12 at 1:14
  • does the "vedibarta bam" bring a source why it's in aramaic or is that just his own idea – michael Jul 11 '18 at 10:38

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