Blogging Avot: Pillars of the Earth

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First off, let me apologize for my weak blogging lately and, particularly, my sporadic posting about Pirkei Avot, which it is customary to read between Passover and Shavuot — and which I’ve been trying to write about during this time.

Work is busy as usual, of course. But I am also getting married in a week and a half and have been desperately trying to find the right cuff links.

But I did want to make sure to get to the final mishnah in Chapter 1:

1:18 – Rabban Simon ben Gamaliel said: On three things the world is sustained: on truth, on judgment, and on peace, as it is it says (Zechariah 8:16): “Speak the truth to one another, render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace.”

This, of course, has echoes of the beginning of Chapter 1. In the second mishnah — and the first one with an obvious ethical teaching — Simon the Righteous had opined: “On three things the world is sustained: on the Torah, on the (Temple) service, and on deeds of loving kindness.”

This translation makes it sound like Simon I and Simon II are contradicting each other. This is possible, but not obvious from the original Hebrew. According to this translation, both Simon I and Simon II believe that three things “sustain” the world, but actually, Mishnah 2 uses the word “omed” and Mishnah 18 uses the word “kayam.”

Omed literally means “stands,” whereas kayam does seem to imply ongoing sustenance. Torah-Service-Kindness, then, are the pillars of the world, whereas truth, judgment (din — perhaps “law” is another translation), and peace perpetuate it.

So which is more important?

Well, the world would whither away without either, one would think. But are there any practical differences? What do you think?

Posted on June 3, 2008

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