Pirkei Avot- Ethics of the Fathers

Chapter 2

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Click here for Chapter 1 of Pirkei Avot. Click here for Chapter 3.

1. Rabbi Judah the Prince said: Which is the proper course that a man should choose for himself? That which is an honor to him and elicits honor from his fellow men. Be as scrupulous about a light precept as of a weighty one, for you do not know the reward allotted for each precept. Balance the loss incurred by the fulfillment of a precept against the gain and the accruing from a transgression against the loss it involves. Reflect on three things and you will never come to sin: Know what is above you--a seeing eye, a hearing ear, and all your deeds recorded in a book.

2. Rabban Gamaliel the son of Rabbi Judah the Prince said: Great is study of the Torah when combined with a worldly occupation, for toil in them both puts sin out of mind. All study of the Torah which is not supplemented by work is destined to prove futile and causes sin. Let all who occupy themselves with communal affairs do so for Heaven's sake, for then the merit of their fathers sustains them and their righteousness endures forever. And as for you, God will then say: I count you worthy of great reward as if you had done it all yourselves.

3. Be careful in your relations with the government; for they draw no man close to themselves except for their own interests. They appear as friends when it is to their advantage, but they do not stand by a man in his time of stress.

4. He used to say: Do His will as if it was your will that He may do your will as if it was His will. Make your will of no effect before His will that He may make the will of others of no effect before your will.

5. Hillel said: Do not separate yourself from the community; and do not trust in yourself until the day of your death. Do not judge your fellow until you are in his place. Do not say something that cannot be understood but will be understood in the end. Say not: When I have time I will study because you may never have the time.

6. Hillel used to say: A brutish man cannot fear sin; an ignorant man cannot be pious, nor can the shy man learn, or the impatient man teach. He who engages excessively in business cannot become wise. In a place where there are no men strive to be a man.

7. Moreover he saw a skull floating on the surface of the water and he said unto it: Because you drowned others they drowned you; and those that drowned you will eventually be drowned.

8. He used to say: The more flesh the more worms; the more possessions the more anxiety; the more women the more witchcraft; the more maidservants the more lewdness, the more manservants the more theft. But the more Torah the more life, the more schooling the more wisdom; the more counsel the more understanding; the more righteousness the more peace. If a man has acquired a good name he has gained something which enriches himself; but if he has acquired words of the Torah he has attained afterlife.

9. Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai received the Torah from Hillel and from Shammai. He used to say: If you have learnt much Torah do not claim for yourself moral excellence, for to this end you were created.

10. Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai had five disciples and these are they: Eliezer ben Hyrcanus, Joshua ben Chananiah, Yosi the Priest, Shimon ben Natanel, and Elazar ben Arach.

11. He used to say their praise: Eliezer ben Hyrcanus is a plastered cistern which does not lose a drop; Joshua ben Chananiah--happy is she that gave birth to him; Yosi the Priest is a saintly man; Shimon ben Natanel is fearful of sin; Elazar ben Arach is an ever-flowing spring.

12. He used to say: If all the sages of Israel were in one scale of the balance and Eliezer ben Hyrcanus in the other, he would outweigh them all. Abba Shaul, however, said in his name: If all the sages of Israel, together with Eliezer ben Hyrcanus were in one scale of the balance, Elazar ben Arach would outweigh them.

13. Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai said to them: Go and see which is the good a man shall cherish most. Rabbi Eliezer said, a good eye. Rabbi Joshua said, a good companion. Rabbi Yosi said, a good neighbor. Rabbi Shimon said, foresight. Rabbi Elazar said, a good heart. He said to them: I prefer the words of Elazar ben Arach to your words, for in his words yours are included.

14. He said to them: Go and see which is the evil way which a man should avoid. Rabbi Eliezer said, an evil eye. Rabbi Joshua said, an evil companion. Rabbi Yosi said, an evil neighbor. Rabbi Shimon said, he that borrows and does not repay. He that borrows from a man is as one that borrows from God, for it is written (Psalm 37:21) "The wicked borrow, and do not pay back, but the righteous are generous and keep giving." Rabbi Elazar said, an evil heart. He said to them: I prefer the words of Elazar ben Arach to your words, for in his words yours are included.

15. They each said three things. Rabbi Eliezer said: Let the honor of your fellow be as dear to you as your own. Be not easily moved to anger. Repent one day before your death. Warm yourself before the fire of the sages, but be heedful of their glowing coals for fear that you be burned, for their bite is the bite of a jackal and their sting the sting of a scorpion and their hiss the hiss of a serpent, and all their words are like coals of fire.

16. Rabbi Joshua said: The evil eye, the evil desire and hatred of his fellow creatures put a man out of the world.

17. Rabbi Yosi said: Let the property of your fellow man be as dear to you as your own. Prepare yourself for the study of the Torah, for the knowledge of it is not yours by inheritance. Let all your deeds be done for the sake of Heaven.

18. Rabbi Shimon said: Be careful in the reciting of the Shema and in prayer. When you pray do not make your prayer a form of routine but a plea for mercy and supplications before God, for it is written (Joel 2:13), "For he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing." Do not be wicked in your own mind.

19. Rabbi Elazar said: Be eager to study the Torah. Know what to respond to a heretic. Know before whom you toil and who is your employer who shall pay you the reward of your labor. Rabbi Tarfon said: The day is short, the task is great, the laborers are lazy, the wage is abundant and the master is urgent.

21. He used to say: It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task. Yet, you are not free to desist from it. If you have studied much in the Torah much reward will be given you, for faithful is your employer who shall pay you the reward of your labor. And know that the reward for the righteous shall be in the time to come.

Click here for Chapter 1 of Pirkei Avot. Click here for Chapter 3.

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