ג,א עקביה בן מהללאל אומר, הסתכל בשלושה דברים, ואין אתה בא לידי עבירה–דע מאיין באת, ולאיין אתה הולך, ולפני מי אתה עתיד ליתן דין וחשבון: מאיין באת, מליחה סרוחה. ולאיין אתה הולך, למקום רימה ותולעה. ולפני מי אתה עתיד ליתן דין וחשבון, לפני מלך מלכי המלכים הקדוש ברוך הוא
Akavya ben Machalelel would say: Reflect upon three things and you will not come to sin. Know from whence you came, and to where you are going, and before whom you will give an accounting. Form where did you come? From a putrid drop. To where are you going? To a place of dust, maggots, and worms. Before whom will you give an accounting? Before the King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He. (Avot 3:1)
The focus of this mishna is to REFLECT on the things that we do in our lives and what leads us to do them. If we cannot stop and reflect then we cannot grow or develop, nor can we begin to understand and appreciate this mishna. By always reflecting on ourselves, our behaviour, our past, present and future, we always perceive our lives within a certain context and perspective. If we live in this way then we will always stay on the right path and not veer (even unknowingly) toward sin.
Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky asks: Why does it list the three things to reflect upon first and then repeat each with elaboration?
The answer according to Rabbi Bogomilsky: “it is related in the Gemara that Antonius said to Rebbe, “the body and soul are able to excuse themselves from judgement. The body says, ‘It is the soul that has sinned, for from the day it has departed from me I have been lying silent like a rock in the grave.’ The soul says, ‘It is the body that has sinned, for from the day that I have departed from it, I have been flying in the air like a bird and not doing any sin.’
Rebbe said to him, “I will give you a parable to what this can be compared. A king had an orchard with beautiful figs. He appointed two guards, one lame and the other blind. The lame one said to the blind one, ‘I see beautiful figs in the orchard. Mount me on your shoulda and together we will be able to enjoy them’. The king once came to the orchard and said to the guards, ‘where are all my figs?’ The lame one said, ‘do I have any feet with which to travel to the figs?’ And the blind one said, ‘Do I have any eyes to see the figs?’ The king mounted the lame one on the back of the blind one and judged them as a unit. So, too, on the day of judgement, Hashem brings the soul and injects it into the body and judges them together as unit for the sins they committed together while upon this earth.”
Akvaya Ben Mahalaleil is addressing both the physical body and the neshama in this mishna. It is this stark remind about the need to differentiate between gashmiut (materialism) and ruchniut (spiritualism) that makes this a very confronting mishna.