Pirkei Avot

June 20, 2006

translated, literally but not too helpfully, as “Chapters of the Fathers,” or, slightly better, as “Ethics of the Fathers.”

This work contains the moral and ethical and philosophical teachings of about sixty great “Tannaim,” Scholars of the Mishnah, over a period of some five hundred years. Deals with topics of freedom of the will, true love, the Purpose of Man, how to develop one’s character, etc. etc. This is the work of the Oral Law devoted entirely to the behavior of Man, and how he can improve it.

Some examples:

Chapter 1, Mishnah 14: “He (Hillel) used to say, ‘If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?’ ”

Chapter 1, Mishnah 15: “Shammai says, ‘Make your Torah study a fixed practice. Speak little and do much. And receive everyone with a cheerful face.’ ”

Chapter 3, Mishnah 12: “He (Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa) used to say, ‘Anyone whose good deeds exceed his wisdom, his wisdom will endure; but anyone whose wisdom exceeds his good deeds, his wisdom will not endure.’ ”

Chapter 3, Mishnah 13: “He (Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa) used to say, ‘If people are pleased with a person, then Hashem is pleased with him; but if people are not pleased with a person, then Hashem is not pleased with him either.’ ”