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Ethics of the Fathers: Chapter Six

Ethics of the Fathers: Chapter Six

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1. The sages expounded in the language of the Mishnah (blessed is He who chose them and their learning):

Rabbi Meir would say: Whoever studies Torah for Torah's sake alone, merits many things; not only that, but [the creation of] the entire world is worthwhile for him alone. He is called friend, beloved, lover of G-d, lover of humanity, rejoicer of G-d, rejoicer of humanity. The Torah enclothes him with humility and awe; makes him fit to be righteous, pious, correct and faithful; distances him from sin and brings him close to merit. From him, people enjoy counsel and wisdom, understanding and power, as is stated (Proverbs 8:14): "Mine are counsel and wisdom, I am understanding, mine is power." The Torah grants him sovereignty, dominion, and jurisprudence. The Torah's secrets are revealed to him, and he becomes as an ever-increasing wellspring and as an unceasing river. He becomes modest, patient and forgiving of insults. The Torah uplifts him and makes him greater than all creations.

2. Said Rabbi Joshua the son of Levi: Every day, an echo resounds from Mount Horeb (Sinai) proclaiming and saying: "Woe is to the creatures who insult the Torah." For one who does not occupy himself in Torah is considered an outcast, as is stated (Proverbs 11:22), "A golden nose-ring in the snout of a swine, a beautiful woman bereft of reason." And it says (Exodus 32:16): "And the tablets are the work of G-d, and the writing is G-d's writing, engraved on the tablets"; read not "engraved" (charut) but "liberty" (chairut)---for there is no free individual, except for he who occupies himself with the study of Torah. And whoever occupies himself with the study of Torah is elevated, as is stated (Number 21:19), "And from the gift to Nahaliel, and from Nahaliel to The Heights."

3. One who learns from his fellow a single chapter, or a single law, or a single verse, or a single word, or even a single letter, he must treat him with respect. For so we find with David, king of Israel, who did not learn anything from Achitofel except for two things alone, yet he called him his "master," his "guide" and his "intimate," as is stated (Psalms 55:14), "And you are a man of my worth, my guide and intimate friend." Surely we can infer a fortiori: if David, king of Israel, who learned nothing from Achitofel except for two things alone, nevertheless referred to him as his master, guide and intimate, it certainly goes without saying that one who learns from his fellow a single chapter, a law, a verse, a saying, or even a single letter, is obligated to revere him. And there is no reverence but Torah, as is stated (Proverbs 3:35; 28:10), "The sages shall inherit honor" "and the integral shall inherit good"; and there is no good but Torah, as is stated (ibid. 4:2), "I have given you a good purchase; My Torah, do not forsake it."

4. Such is the way of Torah: Bread with salt you shall eat, water in small measure you shall drink, and upon the ground you shall sleep; live a life of deprivation and toil in Torah. If so you do, "fortunate are you, and good is to you" (Psalms 128:2): fortunate are you in this world, and it is good to you in the World To Come.

5. Do not seek greatness for yourself, and do not lust for honor. More than you study, do. Desire not the table of kings, for your table is greater than theirs, and your crown is greater than theirs, and faithful is your Employer to pay you the rewards of your work.

6. Torah is greater than the priesthood or sovereignty, for sovereignty is acquired with thirty virtues, the priesthood with twenty-four, and Torah is acquired with forty-eight qualities. These are: study, listening, verbalizing, comprehension of the heart, awe, fear, humility, joy, purity, serving the sages, companionship with one's contemporaries, debating with one's students, tranquility, study of the scriptures, study of the Mishnah, minimizing engagement in business, minimizing socialization, minimizing pleasure, minimizing sleep, minimizing talk, minimizing gaiety, slowness to anger, good heartedness, faith in the sages, acceptance of suffering, knowing one's place, satisfaction with one's lot, qualifying one's words, not taking credit for oneself, likableness, love of G-d, love of humanity, love of charity, love of justice, love of rebuke, fleeing from honor, lack of arrogance in learning, reluctance to hand down rulings, participating in the burden of one's fellow, judging him to the side of merit, correcting him, bringing him to a peaceful resolution [of his disputes], deliberation in study, asking and answering, listening and illuminating, learning in order to teach, learning in order to observe, wising one's teacher, exactness in conveying a teaching, and saying something in the name of its speaker. Thus we have learned: One who says something in the name of its speaker brings redemption to the world, as is stated (Esther 2:22), "And Esther told the king in the name of Mordechai."

7. Great is Torah, for it gives life to its observers in this world, and in the World To Come. As is stated (Proverbs 4:22): "For they are life to he who finds them, and a healing to all his flesh." And it says (ibid. 3:8): "It shall be health to your navel, and marrow to your bones." And it says (3:18): "She is a tree of life for those who hold fast to her, and happy are those who support her." And it says (1:9): "For they shall be a garland of grace for your head, and necklaces about your neck." And it says(4:9): "She shall give to your head a garland of grace, a crown of glory she shall grant you." And it says (9:11): "With me, your days shall be increased, and years of life shall be added to you." And it says (3:16): "Long days in her right hand; in her left, wealth and honor." And it says (3:2): "For long days, years of life and peace, they shall add to you."

8. Rabbi Shimon the son of Judah would say in the name of Rabbi Shimon the son of Yochai: Beauty, strength, wealth, honor, wisdom, sageness, old age and children are becoming to the righteous and becoming to the world. As is stated (Proverbs 16:31): "Old age is a crown of beauty, to be found in the ways of righteousness." And it says (ibid. 20:29): "The beauty of youths is their strength, and the glory of sages is their age." And it says (ibid., 17:6): "The crown of sages are their grandchildren, and the beauty of children their fathers." And it says (Isaiah 24:23): "And the moon shall be abashed and the sun shamed, for the L-rd of hosts has reigned in Zion, and before his elders is glory."

Rabbi Shimon the son of Menasia would say: these seven qualities enumerated by the sages for the righteous were all realized in Rabbi [Judah HaNassi] and his sons.

9. Said Rabbi Yossei the son of Kisma: Once, I was traveling and I encountered a man. He greeted me and I returned his greetings. Said he to me: "Rabbi, where are you from?" Said I to him: "From a great city of sages and scholars, am I." Said he to me: "Rabbi, would you like to dwell with us in our place? I will give you a million dinars of gold, precious stones and pearls." Said I to him: "If you were to give me all the silver, gold, precious stones and pearls in the world, I would not dwell anywhere but in a place of Torah. Indeed, so is written in the book of psalms by David the king of Israel: `I prefer the Torah of Your mouth over thousands in gold and silver' (Psalms 118:72). Furthermore, when a person passes from this world neither silver, nor gold, nor precious stones, nor pearls accompany him, only Torah and good deeds, as is stated (Proverbs 6:22): `When you go it will direct you, when you lie down it will watch over you, and when you awaken it shall be your speech.' `When you go it will direct you'---in this world; `when you lie down it will watch over you'---in the grave; `and when you awaken it shall be our speech'---in the World To Come. Also it says (Chaggai 2:8): `Mine is the silver and Mine is the gold, so says the L-rd of Hosts.' "

10. G-d acquired five acquisitions in his world. These are: one acquisition is the Torah, one acquisition are the heavens and the earth, one acquisition is Abraham, one acquisition is the people of Israel, and one acquisition is the Holy Temple. The Torah, as it is written (Proverbs 8:22), "G-d acquired me as the beginning of His way, before His works of yore." The heavens and the earth, as it is written (Isaiah 66:1), "So says G-d: The heavens are My throne and the earth is My footstool; what house, then, can you build for Me, and where is My place of rest?"; and it says (Psalms 104:25), "How many are your works, O G-d, You have made them all with wisdom; the earth is filled with Your acquisitions." Abraham, as it is written (Genesis 14:19), "And he blessed him, and said: Blessed be Abram to G-d Most High, acquirer of heavens and earth." Israel, as it is written (Exodus 15:16), "Till Your nation, O G-d, shall pass, till this nation You have acquired shall pass"; and it says (Psalms 16:3), "To the holy who are upon earth, the noble ones, in whom is all My delight." The Holy Temple, as it is written (Exodus 15:17), "The base for Your dwelling that you, G-d, have achieved; the Sanctuary, O L-rd, that Your hands have established"; and it says (Psalms 78:54), "And He brought them to His holy domain, this mount His right hand has acquired."

11. Everything that G-d created in His world, He did not create but for His glory. As is stated (Isaiah 43:7): "All that is called by My name and for My glory, I created it, formed it, also I made it." And it says (Exodus 15:1): "G-d shall reign forever and ever."

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Discussion (6)
August 25, 2013
Avot 6:2
The famous economist Milton Friedman, though he was a Jew (non-observant and indeed atheist) wrote that "freedom has nothing to say about what an individual does with his freedom; it is not an all embracing ethic".

This seems directly to contradict Avot 6:2, which says in effect that you cannot expect to be free unless you learn G-d's laws and strive to abide by them.

Thus, in free-market economics, freedom is defined in a purely negative way, as absence of constraints. Regulation of the economy is frowned upon, because it imposes constraints and undermines our 'freedom' as Friedman defined it.

But without adequate regulation, our banks and other institutions have gone very badly astray, severely damaging themselves, and the economy, and human society.

We see how the economic theories of atheists have got us into terrible trouble!.By contrast, Ben Franklin had a sounder view: "only a virtuous people is capable of freedom".
ANGUS SIBLEY
PARIS
August 3, 2013
Thank you
Thank you so much and may HaShem bless you.
Stan
Montreal
July 7, 2012
fasting
Your information is appreciated. Thank you, george
Anonymous
los alamos , NM US
May 22, 2012
Thank you
I would like to thank you Chabad.org for the wonderful free resources on this website. I've been studying the 6 Chapters of Pirkei Avot during Sefirat HaOmer and it's very blessing to me.

One of my favorite portion is Chapter 6:2 by
Rabbi Joshua the son of Levi: And it says (Exodus 32:16): "And the tablets are the work of G-d, and the writing is G-d's writing, engraved on the tablets"; read not "engraved" (charut) but "liberty" (chairut) - for there is no free individual, except for he who occupies himself with the study of Torah.

It's very insightful and Baruch HasShem this Shavuot for the liberty!

Thank you so much and may HaShem bless you.
Matti
Dunwoody, GA, USA
April 24, 2011
Charity (response)
Mr. Yenoff,

HaRambam writes about the levels of charity and I think that is what you are looking for.

Best,
SA
Shelomo Alfassa
Brooklyn, NY
March 17, 2011
Charity
My father quoted the various levels of charity from the ethics. The first being the giver and the recipient being aware of each other. The final being enabling a person to not require charity.
I did not find this in the chapters. Please enlighten me.
Thank you.
Irving Yenoff
Amherst, New York
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