Sunday, May 11, 2008

Pirkei Avot - Ethics of Our Fathers - Chapter 2

In my last post, Zak S. asked for a more in-depth explanation about why Sefardim read Pirkei Avot during the last six weeks of the Counting of the Omer. So far, I've found three reasons. Firstly, at the end of the Omer, is Shavout (Festival of Weeks) where we celebrate receiving the Torah. In order to be prepared for the festival and the awesome responsibility of accepting the Torah, we study this ethical work to refine our middot (characteristics). On that same note, each day of the Counting of the Omer represents a different midda (characteristic), which can be enhanced by following the advice of Pirkei Avot. Last but not least, when Spring comes along, we tend to spend more time outside doing activities and spending less time on our studies. Hence, as Spring begins with Passover, we start a positive routine of committing time to Pirkei Avot. If anyone has any other different reasons, please feel free to share by leaving a comment. On that note ... back to the project:

Pirkei Avot 2:5

הלל אומר: אל תפרוש מן הצבור, ואל תאמיך בעצמן עד יום מותך, ואל תדין את חברך עד שתגיע למקומו, ואל תאמר דבר שאי אפשר לשמוע שסופו להשמע, ואל תאמר לכשאפנה אשנה, שמא לא תפנה

Hillel dizyen: Non te apartes de el kahal, i non kreas en ti mizmo asta dia de tu morir I non djuzges a tu haver asta ke ayeges a su lugar, i non digas koza ke es imposivle por oyir, ke su fin por se'er oyida, i non digas kuando tendré vagar meldare, kisás non tendrás vagar

Hillel used to say, do not separate yourself from the community (1). Trust not thyself till the day of thy death (2). Judge not thy fellow man until thou come to his situation (3). Say naught that is unintelligible for it is to be understood ultimately. Say not, "When I have leisure, I will study;" per-chance thou wilt have no leisure (4).

In this short Mishna, Hillel gives us five pieces of advice (numbered in the English translation). Let's look at four of them ...

(1) In essence, Hillel seems to be talking about the importance of staying within a 'Jewish community', a community that should be able to offer you a spiritual home. In my opinion, a Jewish community where you feel comfortable is essential to your development and happiness. Even if one feels that community life is 'unnecessary', Hillel's warning tells us that it is an essential 'pillar' of life.

(2) While this is a difficult statement to understand, I liked Rabbi Meir Matzliah Melamed's commentary on it:

Stay away as far as possible from temptation and sin even if you are very virtuous and have a strong character. No matter how wise, intelligent, or religious a person may be, he may strong into the wrong path.

Hillel, in a strongly worded warning, stresses the need to stay away from evil (similar to what I wrote last week). Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson alters the verse slightly by transalating it as follows: "Do Not Be Sure Of Yourself Until The Day You Die." In my opinion, Schneerson's word usuage urges one to be humble (for judgment comes but after our passing). No matter how well you behave, or how 'good' you are, do not be certain of your true standing in Hashem's 'eyes'.

(3) I find myself judging or criticizing people constantly - it's something that seems part of my nature. Hillel tries to make the task of not judging easier by requesting that we try and relate to a person before judging him. We shouldn't condemn someone's actions until we ourselves, under the same circumstances, succeed in doing the 'right thing'. Ovadiah Bartinoro, one of the greatest commentators on the Mishnah, explained the verse as follows, "If you see your neighbor ensnared by some temptation, do not judge harshly until you have faced the same temptation and mastered it." It would seem that is almost impossible to 'judge' another person as we are never sure what he went through before he committed his act. Sforno agrees with this notion, saying that one can never truly share another's perspective nor be exposed to the factors that influence that person's behavior. Therefore one is forever incapable of judging another. (Bartinoro & Sforno, quoted from here). I guess we shouldn't be criticizing our Presidents & Prime Ministers either, eh?

(4) Simply put, don't procrastinate! Hillel's advice here is not to put off studying (or any important activities) for a later time, for that later time may not come. In a world where we're always focused on tomorrow and our future, we should always take advantage of the available time to do the often neglected activities - be it studying or family time - for we really know not if the sun will rise tomorrow.

1 comment:

Zak S said...

chazak!