Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Pirkei Avot - Ethics of Our Fathers - Chapter 6

Pirkei Avot 6:5

אל תבקש גדלה לעצמך, ואל תחמוד כבוד, יותר לימודך עשה, ואל צצאוה לשלחנם של מלכים, ששלחנך גדול משלחנם, וכתרך גדול מכתרם, ונאמן הוא בעל מלאכתך שישלם לך שכר פעלתך

Non bushkes grandeza, i non kovdisyes onra demasyada de tu meldar az i non deze'es a sus mezas de los reyes, ke tu meza garnde mas ke sus mezas I tu korona grande mas ke sus koronas, i fiel el duenyo de tu ovra ke pagara a ti presyo de tu ovra

Do not seek greatness for yourself and do not chase after honors. Put into practice more than what you have learned, and do not wish for the table of kings (1), because your table is superior to theirs, and your crown higher than theirs, and worthy of faith is your Master (God) to repay the reward of your (good) deeds

I would like to look into the numbered sentence in this mishna. Why should one not wish for the table of kings? I think there's two very good reasons for this:

(1) The first reason is stated in the 1st sentence, "Do not seek greatness for yourself and do not chase after honors." It seems that this sentence refers to your 'spiritual journey' and how it shouldn't be guided by the desire gain recognition or honors. Our desire to improve ourselves spiritually should not be motivated by the wanting to have the 'table of kings', but by the aspiration to better oneself. If one's motivation is driven by the desire for honor, he becomes solely focused on himself - losing all the benefits of the journey. As Rabbi Elazar HaKafar says in Pirkei Avot 4:21, "Jealousy, lust and [the desire for] honor put a man out of the world."

(2) The second reason is described wonderfully by Rabbi Meir Melamed:

Do not wish for the table of kings who, without any work or effort, have the best of everything. The king acquires this crown not because of any special ability, but out of royal descent. But you acquired your table, your greatness and your crown through your own merit.

As I end what has been a fun and enlightening project, I would like to thank those who have commented and given me valuable feedback. I hope it's been as enjoyable and productive for you as it's been for me.


I would like to dedicate this last entry to Madame Bella, who passed away yesterday at the age of 85 in Sea Point, South Africa. Despite surviving the horrors of Auschwitz, she managed to smile and lead a remarkable life. May her dear soul rest in peace.


Zak S said...

links up to the other pasuk in Pirkei avot about enjoying work... right?

Avram said...

Not exactly 'enjoying' work but putting what you learn into practice. By not doing so, all the 'learning' is rather pointless.

dad said...

Tizke l'mitzvot Avrami. It truly give me great pleasure to see how you have taken on this project and followed the words of Nonnou Nissim who would always say: "If you have some spare time, learn Pirkei Avot." I do not describe these feelings as pride, even though one may confuse them with pride, because I learned from Pirkei Avot and Nonnou that pride is not the appropriate emotion.

However, I do count my innumerable blessings and consider myself a rich man -- content with what Hashem has given me.