Why does the Mishna (Avos 3-7) state, ha'mhalech baderech v'shoneh umafsik mi,mishnoso... it says, if a man is walking on the road and he stops learning and he says, "how beautiful is this tree", he is considered guilty of a sin?
If a man stops learning Gemara – let's say he's learning Gemara and he stops for a while because he wants to learn Chovas Halvavos, will you say he's mischayev benafsho, he's guilty of a crime? Chovas Halvavos is also Torah. If a man stops learning Bava Kama and he decides for a little while every day to learn Zevachim, is it a crime? Zevachim is also a sugya in Torah.
But what does it mean if he's mafsik mishnoso and says, ma noeh ilan zeh? It's not talking about studying the tree for the sake of seeing the niflo'os haborei, the wonders of creation. No. He's remarking that it's something beautiful, something aesthetic; it's a pleasure to look at that tree.
Now if you're in middle of Shmonei Esrei, you're standing before Hakadosh Baruch Hu, you don't interrupt to talk diverei chol. When you're studying Torah, don't interrupt; you have to have respect for Torah. That's what the mishna is talking about.
But if somebody interrupts because he wants now to take himself to the study of the briah, then there's no question that it's permissible and sometimes virtuous.
A Moment with Rabbi Avigdor Miller Zt"l #275
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What's the explanation of the Mishna that if someone stops learning Torah to look at a tree, and says Mah na'eh ilan zeh - "How beautiful is this tree!" so the Torah considers it as if he is deserving of death?
The Mishna says: ha'mhalech baderech v'shoneh - "A person who is walking on the road and learning, umafsik mi’mishnoso vu’omar, and he stops his learning and says, ma noeh ilan zeh - 'How beautiful is this tree,' maaleh olov hakosuv k’ilu mischayev benafshoו, so it's considered as if he's so it's considered as if he's deserving of death."
You have to understand the following: It's talking about somebody who's "stopping" his learning. However, suppose a person is learning by saying "mah na'eh ilan zeh." He's saying, "How beautiful is this tree; how beautiful are the creations of Hashem! I can see the hand of Hakodosh Boruch Hu in this tree and I'm thanking Him." And he's learning it. Learning from the tree?! That's something different. That's not stopping his learning!
So the person who stops learning and he just states an idle remark, "How beautiful is this tree," but not because he's studying Chovos Halevovos Shaar Habechina, then certainly he's doing wrong. It's the same as stopping and saying, "I want to smoke a cigarette." He gets no mitzvah stopping for that. Just like there's no mitzvah by stopping to enjoy a tree. What difference does it make, a cigarette or a tree?
But if he's enjoying it in order to see the chochmas Hashem and chesed Hashem, and to express his gratitude to Hakodosh Boruch Hu, that's not stopping. Suppose a person is learning Bava Kama, and he stops Bava Kama to learn Bava Metziah in the middle, is it a sin? What of it? It's stopping Torah to learn Torah.
-- TAPE # 641
Credit: Toras Avigdor
What does the mishna mean when it says that if someone interrupts his learning to look at at the beauty of a tree, that he’s mischayev benafsho, he’s responsible for his own demise ( Avos 3:7)?
When a person is learning gemara in the yeshiva, and it comes 1:30, and now the mashgiach gives a knock on the table and says, “Now it’s time for mussar,” so you close your gemara and you open a Chovos Halevavos, and you start talking about a tree. In Shaar Habechina you learn about the trees! Will you say that he’s mischayev benafsho because he stopped learning and started talking about a tree?! No! It depends why you’re talking about a tree. If you’re a man who is an environmentalist, and you’re talking about conservation, like a good liberal; or even if stam you become enthusiastic about nature by itself, then Hakodosh Boruch Hu says, “Look, you’re in the middle of doing something more important. You’re talking in divrei torah. And you feel that Torah is so unimportant that you can interrupt it to talk about something else?!”
But suppose you interrupt your learning in order to praise Hashem; let’s say you heard thunder, and you want to make a blessing, or you saw lightning, and you want to praise Hashem. Is that called interrupting?! Or if you see in the springtime a fruit tree blossoming, there’s a bracha to make. Is that called interrupting?!
So when you interrupt to see the tree and to serve Hashem with the tree, it’s a mitzvah! Certainly you should do it. So if you’re interrupting in order to praise Hashem, and you’re saying, “This is such a beautiful tree that Hashem made. It looks like the trees of Gan Eden. I see the yad Hashem, in this tree,” then of course it’s a mitzvah. And the purpose of seeing that tree is to remind us that there is a Gan Eden after this world. There is a chesed Hashem that is awaiting those who fulfill His commandments in this world. That’s what the tree is. When you see the chesed Hashem in the tree, it’s a reminder, it’s a promise to you, an intimation of the World to Come. Ohhhh! Now that’s a different way of looking at the tree. And therefore, in such a case, that person is rewarded for interrupting.
-- TAPE # 803 (August 1990)
Credit: Toras Avigdor