Pirkei Avot- Ethics of the Fathers

Chapter 3

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Click here for Chapter 2 of Pirkei Avot. Click here for Chapter 4.

1. Akavya ben Mahalalel said: Reflect upon three things and you will not come to sin. Know from where you came and where you are going and before whom you are destined to give account and reckoning. From where have you come?--from a putrid drop. Where are you going?--to the place of dust, worm, and maggot. Before whom are you destined to give account and reckoning?--before the supreme King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be he.

2. Rabbi Chanina, an assistant of the high priest said: Pray for the welfare of the government, since but for fear of it men would swallow each other alive.

3. Rabbi Chananiah ben Teradion said: If two sit together and no words of Torah are interchanged between them, theirs is the session of the scornful, as it is written (Psalm 1:1): "Nor sit in the seat of scoffers." But when two sit together and words of Torah pass between them, the Divine Presence rests between them, as it is written (Malachi 3:16) "Then those who revered the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord took note and listened, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who revered the Lord and thought on his name." Scripture speaks here of two. Whence do we learn that if even one sits and occupies himself in the Torah, the Holy One blessed be he, appoints him a reward? Because it is written (Lamentations 3:28): "to sit alone in silence when the Lord has imposed it."

4. Rabbi Shimon said: If three have eaten at one table and have not spoken over it words of Torah, it is as though they had eaten of the sacrifices of the dead, for it is written (Isaiah 28:8) "All tables are covered with filthy vomit; no place is clean." But if three have eaten at one table and have spoken over it words of Torah, it is as if they had eaten from the table of God, for it is written (Ezekiel 41:22) "He said to me, "This is the table that stands before the Lord."

5. Rabbi Chaninah ben Chachinai said: He who stays awake at night and goes on his way alone and turns his heart to idle thoughts is liable for his life.

6. Rabbi Nechunya ben Hakanah said: Whoever takes upon himself the yoke of Torah, from him will be taken away the yoke of government and the yoke of worldly care; but whoever throws off the yoke of Torah, upon him will be laid the yoke of government and the yoke of worldly care.

7. Rabbi Chalafta ben Dosa of Kefar Chanania used to say: If ten men sit together and occupy themselves with the Torah, the Divine Presence rests among them as it is written (Psalm 82:1) "God has taken his place in the divine council." And from where do we learn that this applies even to five? Because it is written (Amos 9:6): "And founds his vault upon the earth." And how do we learn that this applies even to three? Because it is written (Psalm 82:1) "In the midst of the gods he holds judgment." And from where can it be shown that the same applies even to two? Because it is written (Malachi 3:16)"Then those who revered the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord took note and listened." And from where even of one? Because it is written (Exodus 20:24) "In every place where I cause my name to be remembered I will come to you and bless you."

9. Rabbi Jacob said: If a man is walking by the way and is studying and then interrupts his study and says: "How fine is this tree?" or "How fine is this ploughed field?" Scripture regards him as though he was liable for his life.

10. Rabbi Dostai ben Yannai said in the name of Rabbi Meir: He who forgets one word of his study, Scripture regards him as though he was liable for his life; for it is written (Deuteronomy 4:9) "But take care and watch yourselves closely, so as not to forget the things that your eyes have seen." Could this apply even if a man's study was too hard for him? Scripture says (ibid.): "Nor to let them slip from your mind all the days of your life." Thus a person is not guilty unless he deliberately puts those lessons away from his heart.

11. Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa said: He in whom the fear of sin takes precedence of wisdom, his wisdom will endure; but he in whom wisdom takes precedence of his fear of sin, his wisdom will not endure.

12. He used to say: He whose works exceed his wisdom, his wisdom endures; but he whose wisdom exceeds his works, his wisdom will not endure.

13. He used to say: He who in whom fellow people find no delight, in him the God finds no pleasure.

14. Rabbi Dosa ben Hyrcanus said: Sleeping away the morning, drinking at noonday, childish playing and sitting in the meetinghouses of the unlearned remove a man from this world.

15. Rabbi Elazar of Modiim said: If a man profanes things which are sacred, and offends the holidays and puts his fellow to shame publicly, and makes void the covenant of Abraham our father, and teaches meanings in the Torah which are not according to halakhah, even though he has a knowledge of the Torah and good works, he has no share in the world to come.

16. Rabbi Yishmael says: Be submissive to an elder and courteous to the young. Receive every man with good cheer.

17. Rabbi Akiva said: Jesting and frivolity lead a man towards promiscuity. Tradition is a safeguarding fence around the Torah. Tithes are a fence to wealth. Vows a fence to abstinence. Silence is a fence to wisdom.

18. Rabbi Akiva used to say: Beloved is the man that he was created in the image of God; an extra love is made known to him that he was created in God's image, as it says (Genesis 9:6) "for in His own image God made humankind." Beloved are the Jews that they are called sons to God; an extra love is made known to them that they are called sons to God, as it says (Deuteronomy 14:1) "You are children of the Lord your God." Beloved are the Jews that there has been given to them the precious instrument; an extra love is made known to them that they were given the precious instrument of the world's creation, as it says (Proverbs 4:2) "For I give you good precepts; do not forsake my teaching."

19. Rabbi Akiva said: All is foreseen, but freedom of choice is given. The world is judged in goodness, yet all is proportioned to one's work.

20. Rabbi Akiva used to say: All is given against a pledge, and the net is cast over all living; the shop stands open and the shopkeeper gives credit and the account book lies open and the hand writes. Every one that wishes to borrow let him come and borrow; but the collectors go their daily rounds and exact payment from man with or without his consent; for the collectors have that on which they can rely; and the judgment is a judgment of truth; and all is made ready for a feast.

21. Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah used to say: Where there is no Torah there is no culture; and where there is no culture there is no Torah. Where there is no wisdom there is no fear of God, and where there is no fear of God there is no wisdom. Where there is no knowledge there is no discernment; and where there is no discernment there is no knowledge. Where there is no food there is no Torah; and where there is no Torah there is no food.

22. He used to say: He whose wisdom is more abundant than his works, to what is he like? To a tree whose branches are abundant but whose roots are few; and the wind comes and uproots it and overturns it, as it is written (Jeremiah 17:6) "They shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when relief comes. They shall live in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land." But he whose works are more abundant than his wisdom, to what is he like? To a tree whose branches are few but whose roots are many; so that even if all the winds in the world come and blow against it, it cannot be stirred from its place, as it is written (Jeremiah 17:8) "They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit."

23. Rabbi Elazar Ben Chisma used to say: The rules about bird offerings and the rules about ritual impurity of women are essentials of the Torah; but astronomy and linguistic numerics are incidentals to religious learning.

Click here for Chapter 2 of Pirkei Avot. Click here for Chapter 4.

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