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Ethics of the Fathers: Chapter Three

Ethics of the Fathers: Chapter Three

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1. Akavia the son of Mahalalel would say: Reflect upon three things and you will not come to the hands of transgression. Know from where you came, where you are going, and before whom you are destined to give a judgement and accounting. From where you came--from a putrid drop; where you are going--to a place of dust, maggots and worms; and before whom you are destined to give a judgement and accounting--before the supreme King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.

2. Rabbi Chanina, deputy to the kohanim, would say: Pray for the integrity of the government; for were it not for the fear of its authority, a man would swallow his neighbor alive.

Rabbi Chanina son of Tradyon would say: Two who sit and no words of Torah pass between them, this is a session of scorners, as is stated, "And in a session of scorners he did not sit" (Psalms 1:1). But two who sit and exchange words of Torah, the Divine Presence rests amongst them, as is stated, "Then the G-d-fearing conversed with one another, and G-d listened and heard; and it was inscribed before Him in a book of remembrance for those who fear G-d and give thought to His name" (Malachi 3:16). From this, I know only concerning two individuals; how do I know that even a single individual who sits and occupies himself with the Torah, G-d designates reward for him? From the verse, "He sits alone in meditative stillness; indeed, he receives [reward] for it" (Lamentations 3:28).

3. Rabbi Shimon would say: Three who eat at one table and do not speak words of Torah, it is as if they have eaten of idolatrous sacrifices; as is stated, "Indeed, all tables are filled with vomit and filth, devoid of the Omnipresent" (Isaiah 28:8). But three who eat at one table and speak words of Torah, it is as if they have eaten at G-d's table, as is stated, "And he said to me: This is the table that is before G-d" (Ezekiel 41:22).

4. Rabbi Chanina the son of Chachina'i would say: One who stays awake at night, or travels alone on the road, and turns his heart to idleness, has forfeited his life.

5. Rabbi Nechunia the son of Hakanah would say: One who accepts upon himself the yoke of Torah is exempted from the yoke of government duties and the yoke of worldly cares; but one who casts off the yoke of Torah is saddled with the yoke of government duties and the yoke of worldly cares.

6. Rabbi Chalafta the son of Dosa of the village of Chanania would say: Ten who sit together and occupy themselves with Torah, the Divine Presence rests amongst them, as is stated: "The Almighty stands in the congregation of G-d" (Psalms 82:1). And from where do we know that such is also the case with five? From the verse, "He established his band on earth" (Amos 9:6). And three? From the verse, "He renders judgement in the midst of the tribunal" (Psalms 82:1). And two? From the verse, "Then the G-d-fearing conversed with one another, and G-d listened and heard" (Malachi 3:16). And from where do we know that such is the case even with a single individual? From the verse, "Every place where I have My name mentioned, I shall come to you and bless you" (Exodus 20:21).

7. Rabbi Elazar of Bartosa would say: Give Him what is His, for you, and whatever is yours, are His. As David says: "For everything comes from You, and from Your own hand we give to You" (I Chronicles 29:14).

Rabbi Yaakov would say: One who walks along a road and studies, and interrupts his studying to say, "How beautiful is this tree!", "How beautiful is this ploughed field!"---the Torah considers it as if he had forfeited his life.

8. Rabbi Dusta'i the son of Rabbi Yannai would say in the name of Rabbi Meir: Anyone who forgets even a single word of this learning, the Torah considers it as if he had forfeited his life. As is stated, "Just be careful, and verily guard your soul, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen" (Deuteronomy 4:9). One might think that this applies also to one who [has forgotten because] his studies proved too difficult for him; but the verse goes on to tell us "and lest they be removed from your heart, throughout the days of your life." Hence, one does not forfeit his life unless he deliberately removes them from his heart.

9. Rabbi Chanina the son of Dosa would say: One whose fear of sin takes precedence to his wisdom, his wisdom endures. But one whose wisdom takes precedence to his fear of sin, his wisdom does not endure.

10. He would also say: One whose deeds exceed his wisdom, his wisdom endures. But one whose wisdom exceeds his deeds, his wisdom does not endure.

He would also say: One who is pleasing to his fellow men, is pleasing to G-d. But one who is not pleasing to his fellow men, is not pleasing to G-d.

Rabbi Dosa the son of Hurkinas would say: Morning sleep, noontime wine, children's talk and sitting at the meeting places of the ignoramus, drive a person from the world.

11. Rabbi Elazar of Modi'in would say: One who profanes the kodoshim ("holy things" consecrated for the service of G-d in the Holy Temple), degrades the Festivals, humiliates his friend in public, abrogates the covenant of our father Abraham (i.e., circumcision), or who interprets the Torah contrary to its true intent---although he may possess Torah knowledge and good deeds, he has no share in the World to Come.

12. Rabbi Ishmael would say: Be yielding to a leader, affable to the black-haired, and receive every man with joy.

13. Rabbi Akiva would say: Jesting and frivolity accustom a person to promiscuity. Tradition is a safety fence to Torah, tithing a safety fence to wealth, vows a safety fence for abstinence; a safety fence for wisdom is silence.

14. He would also say: Beloved is man, for he was created in the image [of G-d]; it is a sign of even greater love that it has been made known to him that he was created in the image, as it is says, "For in the image of G-d, He made man" (Genesis 9:6). Beloved are Israel, for they are called children of G-d; it is a sign of even greater love that it has been made known to them that they are called children of G-d, as it is stated: "You are children of the L-rd your G-d" (Deuteronomy 14:1). Beloved are Israel, for they were given a precious article; it is a sign of even greater love that it has been made known to them that they were given a precious article, as it is stated: "I have given you a good purchase; My Torah, do not forsake it" (Proverbs 4:2).

15. All is foreseen, and freedom of choice is granted. The world is judged with goodness, but in accordance with the amount of man's positive deeds.

16. He would also say: Everything is placed in pledge, and a net is spread over all the living. The store is open, the storekeeper extends credit, the account-book lies open, the hand writes, and all who wish to borrow may come and borrow. The collection-officers make their rounds every day and exact payment from man, with his knowledge and without his knowledge. Their case is well founded, the judgement is a judgement of truth, and ultimately, all is prepared for the feast.

17. Rabbi Eliezer the son of Azariah would say: If there is no Torah, there is no common decency; if there is no common decency, there is no Torah. If there is no wisdom, there is no fear of G-d; if there is no fear of G-d, there is no wisdom. If there is no applied knowledge, there is no analytical knowledge; if there is no analytical knowledge, there is no applied knowledge. If there is no flour, there is no Torah; if there is no Torah, there is no flour.

He would also say: One whose wisdom is greater than his deeds, what is he comparable to? To a tree with many branches and few roots; comes a storm and uproots it, and turns it on its face. As is stated, "He shall be as a lone tree in a wasteland, and shall not see when good comes; he shall dwell parched in the desert, a salt land, uninhabited" (Jeremiah 17:6). But one whose deeds are greater than his wisdom, to what is he compared? To a tree with many roots and few branches, whom all the storms in the world cannot budge from its place. As is stated: "He shall be as a tree planted upon water, who spreads his roots by the river; who fears not when comes heat, whose leaf is ever lush; who worries not in a year of drought, and ceases not to yield fruit" (ibid., v. 8).

18. Rabbi Eliezer [the son of] Chisma would say: the laws of kinin (bird offerings) and the laws of menstrual periods---these, these are the meat of Halachah (Torah law). The calculations of solar seasons and gematria are the condiments of wisdom.

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Discussion (5)
June 20, 2014
Text Of Chapter 3
Though I am not rabbi, the plain meaning of this paragraph the way I understand it is that that laziness, drunkenness, senseless chat ("children's talk"), and wasting your time with the ignoramus (men pretty much devoid of knowledge of Torah), drive indeed men out of Torah, effectively cutting off their connection to G-d...

Again, I am not a rabbi, and you should know that any passage in both Mishna and Talmud have deeper meanings that can be learnt through study.
Livni
New York
July 24, 2013
Text Of Chapter 3
Dear Rabbi, would you be so kind as to elaborate on the last sentence of verse 10? Thank you so much. I cannot understand its meaning. Thank you so much for your teachings.
Anonymous
USA
August 3, 2012
Thank you. I appreciate very much these readings. They give a lot very meaningful insights and help me as father to know and understand where I stand.
Anonymous
Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea
May 1, 2010
Gratitude
Thank you!
For allowing these commentaries of the fathers and knowledge with understanding of Torah be studied.
Mikyael Webb
Chicago, IL
April 24, 2010
Chabad
Thank you for making these great orthodox teaching available. The website allows an easier way to study them, for me. It is much more convenient and easier for me to read.
Mr. Nathan Dragoo
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