I am having great difficulty understanding Mishnah Hagigah 2:1 and the oral tradition of its expanding on G-d’s written Law. Any understanding of this טקסט would help me and my friends who are studying Torah and Talmud. Our local Rabbis are unable to provide any suitable discernment of its meaning. Thank you for your assistance and would be appreciated.
Chapter 2:1 ב׳:א׳
ֵאין דּוֹרְשִׁין בַּעֲרָיוֹת בִּשְׁלֹשָׁה. וְלֹא בְמַעֲשֵׂה בְרֵאשִׁית בִּשְׁנַיִם. וְלֹא בַמֶּרְכָּבָה בְּיָחִיד, אֶלָּא אִם כֵּן הָיָה חָכָם וּמֵבִין מִדַּעְתּוֹ. כָּל הַמִּסְתַּכֵּל בְּאַרְבָּעָה דְּבָרִים, רָאוּי לוֹ כְּאִלּוּ לֹא בָּא לָעוֹלָם, מַה לְּמַעְלָה, מַה לְּמַטָּה, מַה לְּפָנִים, וּמַה לְּאָחוֹר. וְכָל שֶׁלֹּא חָס עַל כְּבוֹד קוֹנוֹ, רָאוּי לוֹ שֶׁלֹּא בָּא לָעוֹלָם
“They may not expound upon the subject of forbidden relations in the presence of three. Nor the work of creation in the presence of two. Nor [the work of] the chariot in the presence of one, unless he is a sage and understands of his own knowledge. Whoever speculates upon four things, it would have been better had he not come into the world: what is above, what is beneath, what came before, and what came after. And whoever takes no thought for the honor of his creator, it would have been better had he not come into the world.”
Thank you for your question. We are here to help, and I hope we will be of assistance to you and your friends.
Let’s go thru the various parts of the Mishna with the classic commentaries, including the gemora’s commentary on this and hopefully things will become clear to you.
As an introduction we have to appreciate the times and conditions that these rules were given. It was before the Mishna was written, and everything was given over orally, and it had to be given over very clearly, and in a way that the student will not make any mistakes.
The reason we don’t expound regarding forbidden relationships in front of three students, says the gemora, because when there are three students there, two may be discussing what the teacher said with each other, while the third is getting an explanation from him. The two students that were discussing the matter among themselves might miss out on an important point that the teacher is adding. Being that the rules of forbidden relationships often involves very serious punishment, we have to make sure that the students, don’t miss out on anything, On the contrary, when there are only two students the second student will be listening when the other is talking to the teacher and he will hear all of the points being discussed. Therefore it is only taught to two students at a time.
Teaching about the creation of the world, which is a very sensitive topic, and if it is misunderstood can lead a person to denial of H-shem, therefore it is only given over on a one to one basis. This is learned from a posuk, “ki yishal na”, when you will ask, (in singular tense, meaning that it is to be given over only on a one to one basis). In addition to this, the deepest secrets of the Torah, which discuss H-shem Himself, his divine presence, the description of His throne, and the angels surrounding it, and other deep secrets of the inner workings of the world, cannot be understood by everyone. Therefore it is only explained to people on a very high level. The gemora explains that this student was on such a high level that even if he was given certain hints, he would be able to understand the rest on his own.
After that the Mishna explains that there are certain topics, that the human intellect cannot understand. The reason being that we can not understand things that we have never come in contact with, such as the incapability for a blind person to appreciate and understand a beautiful bouquet of colorful flowers. Since he never experienced colors he can’t understand that concept. By the same means there are limits to human intellect, and there are certain specific topics we can not attempt to understand. Additionally trying to understand them, because we won’t be successful, will only cause tremendous damage to one’s emuna, and cause him to lose faith, which is a sin large enough that it wouldn’t have been worthwhile for the person to come to this world in the first place. The Mishna is not saying that certain students can learn this. This prohibition applies to everyone. Even if one can understand the concepts explained about the Holy Chariot etc., these four topics may still not be discussed, and it doesn’t depend on the level of the student. It is forbidden to all.
I hope this explains things to your satisfaction, and if you have any more questions don’t hesitate to reach out to us.