Sunday, May 18, 2008

Pirkei Avot - Ethics of Our Fathers - Chapter 3

Pirkei Avot 3:12

הוא היה אומר: כל שמעשיו מרביו מחכמתיו, חכמתו מתקימת. וכל שחכמתו מרבה ממעשיו, אין חכמתו מתקימת

El era dizyen Todo el ke sus echas munchas mas ke su sensya, Su sensya se afirma. I todo el ke su sensya muncha mas ke sus echas - Non su sensya se afirma.

He also used to say, everyone whose actions are greater than his learning, his learning will endure; but everyone whose learning is greater than his actions, his learning will not endure.

This short mishnah I think is derived from the famous slogan uttered by the Jewish nation at the foot of Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:7), "We will do and we will hear." The meaning of Rabbi Hanina ben Dosa's advice here is your deeds should outweigh your wisdom. In other words, without observing (even when we're unsure why - for example, why pig is un-kosher) the mitzvot, your wisdom can never truly grow. Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld builds on this at

In the Sefer Hachinuch, a master treatise on the 613 Commandments, the author (a 13th Century Spanish scholar; the precise authorship seems to be unknown) offers a profound psychological insight: One who acts a certain way -- whatever his intentions -- will be influenced by his deeds and will eventually become the person he impersonates (Mitzvah 16).

To further build on this, if one studies so much that it prevents him from putting into action what he's learned, what good does it do? In essence, he hasn't learned anything.

Later on in the chapter (Verse 3:22), Rabbi Elazar describes the example given by Rabbi Hanina in the following terms:

One whos knowledge surpasses his works, to what is he likened? to a tree with abundant boughs and scanty roots. The wind blows, uproots it and it lies a prone log ... However, he whose works exceed his wisdom, to what is he likened? To a tree with sparse boughs but abundant roots. Though all the winds in the world come and blow against it, they cannot budge it from its place.

Rabbi Melamed sums up the above beautifully, "What is essential is not theory but practice, and that both together constitute the ideal for a person."

On that note, Buenas Semanas ...

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