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Studies in Pirkei Avot

Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Fathers, is a tractate of the Mishnah that is full of timeless wisdom, advice and moral values on how to live a more ethical life with improved interpersonal relationships. This course provides an in-depth exploration on an assortment of these teachings.

What is the focus of Ethics of Our Fathers? What is the difference between a law and an ethic? How can these teachings apply to me?
Mishnah 1:3 “Do not be as slaves who serve their master for the sake of reward…” What drives you? How do you motivate yourself? Is there any place for extrinsic motivation or should it only be internal drive and personal passion that motivates you?
Mishnah 1:12 “Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace.” Peace is not uniformity. Peace brings together disparate parts into harmony. We do not all need to be the same in order to have peace but we need to embrace the diversity. Here are the necessary 4 steps to peace.
Mishna 1:14 “If I am not for myself who is for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?” You are the only one who can own your behavior. If you do not get the job done, it is not going to happen. You are responsible for your own inspiration and your own goodness.
Mishnah 2:1 “Contemplate these three things and you won’t come to the hands of transgression…” Without G-d our world is full of duality and dissonance. Surrendering to G-d’s will, allows us to avoid even the “hands” of transgression and to live at our highest level.
Mishnah 2:4 “Make His will, your will…” G-d asks us to remake our character and refine ourselves. Sensitizing ourselves to G-dliness means to internalize the will of G-d and aligning ourselves with G-d’s will.
Mishnah 3:9 ”One whose fear of sin takes precedence over his wisdom, his wisdom endures.” Why is fear of sin even more essential than spiritual wisdom? Why is wisdom not enough? The mind left to its own devices is on a slippery slope.
Mishnah 3:10 “One whose deeds exceeds his wisdom, his wisdom endures.” Why is action so essential? Reverence and action preserves and grows wisdom. We need to be living what we believe.
Mishnah 4:1 “Who is wise? Who is strong? Who is wealthy? Who is honorable?” The answers that the Book of Ethics provides to the question of how to of attain these qualities seem counter-intuitive. What is Ben Zoma really teaching us about how to reach self-mastery in these attributes?
Mishnah 5:7 “Seven qualities that bring us to the acquisition of truth…” The layout of the Mishnah teaches us that framing things in the positive is better than focusing on what is wrong. It then continues to teach us a progression of seven ideas that help us to attain wisdom.
Mishnah 5:22 “At five, we begin the study of Scripture. At 10, the Oral Tradition…At 80, self-mastery… At 100….” Each age of life is appropriate for a different stage of growth. This class looks at the various stages of development and the deeper meaning behind the Mishna’s description for each one.
Mishnah 6:6 “Torah is greater than priesthood or sovereignty…Torah is acquired with 48 qualities…” Listen and meditate on these 48 qualities necessary to acquire Divine wisdom. How many of these qualities do you connect with? Which of these come easily to you and which are challenging for you?
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