Saturday, April 17, 2010

Pirkei Avot - Ethics of Our Fathers - Chapter 2, II

Pirkei Avot 2:17

רבי יוסי אומר, יהי ממון חברך חביב עליך כשלך. והתקן עצמך ללמוד תורה, שאינה ירשה לך וכל מעשיך יהיו לשם שמים

Rabbi Yose says: Let your fellow's belongings be as dear to you as your own; apply yourself to study the Torah, for it is not yours by inheritance; and let all your deeds be for the sake of Heaven.

- Rabbi Abraham Twerski (Visions of the Fathers) quotes his great uncle, Rabbi Yehoshua Heschel Rabinowitz, who interprets the first line in the mishnah to mean: Let that which you give to your neighbor (i.e., tzedakah) be as dear to you as what you own and retain. To back this up, he brings in a story about Don Isaac Abarbanel, a renowned scholar and the minister of finance during the Golden Age of Jews in Spain.

Abarbanel enjoyed the unwavering trust of the king. Several anti-Semitic people in the court sought to defame him, and repeatedly told the king that this minister was growing extremely wealthy by embezzling from the royal treasury, and that his estate far exceeded what he could amass from his salary. Although the king tried to ignore the accusations, their repetition eventually led him to ask his minister to present him with an accurate inventory of all he owned. Several days later, Abarbanel presented the king with a rather meager account. The king remarked, "This cannot be. You obviously own much more than this."

"Your Majesty," Abarbanel said, "Your inquiry as to how much I own could result only from the efforts of my enemies to discredit me. If they can cause Your Majesty to suspect me of embezzlement, they may also prevail on your Majesty to confiscate my belongings. I can hardly consider anything that I can lose at a moment's notice as being truly mine. I therefore made a list of all that I have given to charity, because that can never be taken from me. That is all I can truly claim as my own, and that is the amount I have submitted to Your Majesty."

- The first part of the mishnah can also simply mean, 'Respect other people's property like you respect your own.' That should also mean that one needs to respect the lands we live in, it is 'property' too ... and just like you wouldn't litter or spray graffiti on your property, so you shouldn't do it on public property.

- Does the statement "Apply yourself to study the Torah, for it is not yours by inheritance" not negate what we're told in the Torah, "It [Torah] is an inheritance to the congregation of Jacob," (Deuteronomy 33:4)? The Gur Rebbe says the 'it' is not the Torah, but 'study.' The aforementioned Twerski analyzes the mishnah with the following comparison: You inherited a large sum of money which is in the bank; The money is yours, but if you do not put it to use, the mere ownership of the money does nothing for you. Unless we 'put the Torah to use' (i.e., study it), the fact that it still is ours is of little value.

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