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Ethics of the Fathers: Chapter One

Ethics of the Fathers: Chapter One


1. Moses received the Torah from Sinai and gave it over to Joshua. Joshua gave it over to the Elders, the Elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets gave it over to the Men of the Great Assembly. They [the Men of the Great Assembly] would always say these three things: Be cautious in judgement. Establish many pupils. And make a safety fence around the Torah.

2. Shimon the Righteous was among the last surviving members of the Great assembly. He would say: The world stands on three things: Torah, the service of G‑d, and deeds of kindness.

3. Antignos of Socho received the tradition from Shimon the Righteous. He would say: Do not be as slaves, who serve their master for the sake of reward. Rather, be as slaves who serve their master not for the sake of reward. And the fear of Heaven should be upon you.

4. Yossei the son of Yoezer of Tzreidah, and Yossei the son of Yochanan of Jerusalem, received the tradition from them. Yossei the son of Yoezer of Tzreidah would say: Let your home be a meeting place for the wise; dust yourself in the soil of their feet, and drink thirstily of their words.

5. Yossei the son of Yochanan of Jerusalem would say: Let your home be wide open, and let the poor be members of your household. And do not engage in excessive conversation with a woman. This is said even regarding one's own wife--how much more so regarding the wife of another. Hence, the sages said: One who excessively converses with a woman causes evil to himself, neglects the study of Torah, and, in the end, inherits purgatory.

6. Joshua the son of Perachia and Nitai the Arbelite received from them. Joshua the son of Perachia would say: Assume for yourself a master, acquire for yourself a friend, and judge every man to the side of merit.

7. Nitai the Arbelite would say: Distance yourself from a bad neighbor, do not cleave to a wicked person, and do not abandon belief in retribution.

8. Judah the son of Tabbai and Shimon the son of Shotach received from them. Judah the son of Tabbai would say: When sitting in judgement, do not act as a counselor-at-law. When the litigants stand before you, consider them both guilty; and when they leave your courtroom, having accepted the judgement, regard them as equally righteous.

9. Shimon the son of Shotach would say: Increasingly cross-examine the witnesses. Be careful with your words, lest they learn from them how to lie.

10. Shmaayah and Avtalyon received from them. Shmaayah would say: Love work, loath mastery over others, and avoid intimacy with the government.

11. Avtalyon would say: Scholars, be careful with your words. For you may be exiled to a place inhabited by evil elements [who will distort your words to suit their negative purposes]. The disciples who come after you will then drink of these evil waters and be destroyed, and the Name of Heaven will be desecrated.

12. Hillel and Shammai received from them. Hillel would say: Be of the disciples of Aaron--a lover of peace, a pursuer of peace, one who loves the creatures and draws them close to Torah.

13. He would also say: One who advances his name, destroys his name. One who does not increase, diminishes. One who does not learn is deserving of death. And one who make personal use of the crown of Torah shall perish.

14. He would also say: If I am not for myself, who is for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?

15. Shammai would say: Make your Torah study a permanent fixture of your life. Say little and do much. And receive every man with a pleasant countenance.

16. Rabban Gamliel would say: Assume for yourself a master; stay away from doubt; and do not accustom yourself to tithe by estimation.

17. His son, Shimon, would say: All my life I have been raised among the wise, and I have found nothing better for the body than silence. The essential thing is not study, but deed. And one who speaks excessively brings on sin.

18. Rabbi Shimon the son of Gamliel would say: By three things is the world sustained: law, truth and peace. As is stated (Zachariah 8:16), "Truth, and a judgement of peace, you should administer at your [city] gates.''

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Raphael Moïse Jacob Paris April 7, 2016

Hello Dear Rabbi can you explain this to me please ? Thanks
14. He would also say: If I am not for myself, who is for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when? Reply

Reb Chaim Raphael December 28, 2015

A fence is a separation or barrier between what is holy, torah, and what is profane, purity is only possible when what is vile is kept away or separated. Reply

nick macina westlake,ohio July 13, 2015

I thought shammai and hillel were of the great assembly before those mentioned. Reply

Michael September 27, 2014

"10. Shmaayah and Avtalyon received from them. Shmaayah would say: Love work, loath mastery over others, and avoid intimacy with the government."...A lot of our problems would disappear if we would obey this simple commandment. Reply

Anonymous ohio August 2, 2013

the problem is that some are so stringent in keeping certain torah laws, that the fence they build so high as to inadvertently keep some outside and apart from the beauty of torah life. Reply

Anonymous USA July 24, 2013

Dear Rabbi Brownstein would you be so kind as to elaborate on verse 11? Thank you for your kindness. I love these teachings!! Reply

Rabbi Shmary Brownstein November 4, 2012

We observe in daily life that men and women have different natures. The potential for impurity of thought and deed is much more likely for a man than for a woman, and an innocent conversation with a woman will have a more deleterious effect on him than on her. As regards friendship, the commandment to love one's fellow applies to both men and women. However, social companionship should be sought among those of one's own gender for reasons of modesty and propriety. Reply

A. S. Toronto October 21, 2012

"do not engage in excessive conversation with a woman."
Has anything ever been said about this being also meant as advice for women when it comes to engaging in conversation with men?

If so, what is the difference between the male and female perspectives?

It almost sounds like if a men wishes to grow spiritually, then he should be "scared" of women, in a way.

I wonder whether avoiding "excessive conversation" means that there can be no friendship between men and women (?). Reply

Roger Dale Hadden Evansville, In. USA July 14, 2012

This chapter touched my soul as does the entire Torah. Shalom. G-d guide you with care and grace. Reply

Anonymous wilmington, n.c. June 2, 2012

May I say a fence to guard against adding or taking away what G-d has so gratuitously given to us as a people, a fence to guard His words that teach us obedience to our Creator and the path of life He chooses for us. Thank you chabad. Reply

Bob Rubin Tulsa, OK June 1, 2012

Very possibly, all good will be attacked. "Build a fence" means to protect all that is valuable. Reply

Anonymous seabrook, tx/usa May 23, 2011

This is afacinating question I have been grappling with my Rabbi on. He suggests the fence is to keep things out. My feeling is that a fence canalso expand the Torah's meaning. For example, the Christian concept of 'turn the other cheek comes to mind.' They may claim originality for that, But I see it as simply Putting a Fence around, 'a soft voice turns away wrath.' This is found long before Jesus ever walked the earth. However, they are on the right track...Perhaps in another 2,000 years...? They will come to cherish our law as much as we do. Reply

george jimenez, sr. escondido, California-U.S.A March 12, 2010

Very well explained for our young generation that needs morals and ethics... Reply

Menachem Posner for August 30, 2009

Good question! The “fence around the Torah” refers to the rabbinic enactments instituted in order to assure that people keep the Torah’s laws properly. An example would be that the sages decreed that dairy and poultry not be eaten together. This is because poultry is often confused with red meat, and they did not want a person who saw people eating chicken and milk to mistakenly assume that beef and milk was okay as well. Reply

Anonymous NYA, MN, USA August 28, 2009

Who or what is the fence around the Torah? Reply

Anonymous June 13, 2009

Thank you Rabbi Freeman for the explanation offered. This should accompany any future study of chapter 1. Reply

Tzvi Freeman Thornhill, Ontario April 27, 2009

The Midrash Shmuel and others explain that this means pointless conversation ("sicha bteila"). With one's wife, a little of even this is important at times. But not too much.

Meaningful conversation, on the other hand, is always good. Reply

harry haifa, israel April 27, 2009

I am an avid hiker. The silence of walking the wadis and back roads is very gratifying. I often wander if our wise sages have done that and how many great deeds came from this silence? Reply

Ezza Amitai April 25, 2009

I appreciate all this handed-down wisdom; what a rich heritage we have! One point I dislike very much though is the instruction to "avoid excessive conversation with women". Many women find endless delight in discussing Torah and Talmud (like me for example). G-d would surely be glad for women to learn and discuss, for He created us in His image too.
Blessed is the Lord. Chabad is an amazing and generous institution. Thank you so much for all your offerings, and may you all be blessed by G-d. Shalom Reply

berthram warren redwood Mumbai, India April 15, 2009

very useful and extremely informative.
I have used it to teach judaism.
please introduce video teaching. Reply

Ethics of the Fathers is a tractate of the Mishna that details the Torah's views on ethics and interpersonal relationships. Enjoy insights, audio classes and stories on these fascinating topics.
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