Originally published 4/7/08, 8:54 AM, Eastern Daylight Time.
From our friend Cantor Richard Wohlberg [and our Mentor Rav Sholom Gold]:
A deeper meaning of the striking Mishnah in Avos 2:10,13,14), which adds yet another dimension to our interpretation:
"Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai had five disciples… He said to them, 'Go out and see what is the best characteristic to which an individual ought cleave. R. Eliezer says, a good eye; R. Yehoshua says, a good friend; R. Yose says, a good neighbor; R. Shimon says, ha'ro'eh et ha'nolad to see that which will be born. R. Elazar says, a good heart.
[Rabban Yohanan] then said to them, 'Go out and see which is the worst characteristic from which an individual ought flee?' R. Eliezer says, an evil eye; R. Yehoshua says, an evil friend; R. Yose says, an evil neighbor; R. Shimon says, to borrow and not repay; R. Eliezer says, an evil heart.
One of the fascinating aspects of this Mishnah is that only R. Shimon seems to have bypassed the parallel structure of the two halves of the Mishnah: according to him, the good characteristic towards which one must aspire is the ability to see what is yet to be born, the outcome of events and experiences, the opposite of which he defines as to borrow and not repay rather than as not to see that which will be born, not to be aware of the outcome of events (which we could expect to find). It could very well be that his intent is precisely the parallel structure; after all, one who borrows and doesn't repay was generally not sufficiently aware when he borrowed the money that pay-day will soon arrive, and that he'd better be prepared for that day with sources from which to repay his debt. Be that as it may, R. Shimon's unique formulation within the Mishnah cries out for further commentary.
I saw the following beautiful vort: Rav Shalom Gold of Har Nof, Jerusalem once suggested another interpretation for ha'ro'eh es ha'nolad: not one who sees that which will be born (which in Hebrew would be yivaled) but rather one who sees from whom he was born, one who understands that he did not emerge from an empty vacuum and realizes that he has a certain debt to pay to the previous generations which formed him. Once we realized our debt to pay to the previous generations (which formed us), we would possess a good eye, choose good friends and neighbors, and contain a good heart. It's all about remembering the past, applying it to the present and recognizing the consequences to our future.
-Cantor Richard Wohlberg
Kol Tuv / Best Regards,
Rabbi Rich Wolpoe