Elul 25, 5772 * September 12, 2012
E T H I C S O F O U R F A T H E R S
With a Grain of Salt
Yehudah the son of Teima would say: Be bold as a leopard, light as an eagle, fleeting as a deer and mighty as a lion to do the will of your Father in Heaven. He would also say: The brazen to purgatory; the bashful to paradise.
- Ethics of the Fathers, 5:20
* * *
Use the shamelessness of the leopard to do what is right regardless of what others may think or say, but never acquire its audacity as a personal trait. Every negative thing has its positive use, but exercise great caution and reserve in applying this rule. The same Rabbi Yehudah who exhorts us to "be bold as a leopard" denounces him who, in acting brazenly, becomes brazen.
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Introductory reading to Ethics of the Fathers:
All Israel has a share in the World to Come, as is stated: ``And your people are all righteous; they shall inherit the land forever. They are the shoot of My planting, the work of My hands, in which I take pride.'' (Sanhedrin, 11:1)
1. The world was created with ten utterances. What does this come to teach us? Certainly, it could have been created with a single utterance. However, this is in order to make the wicked accountable for destroying a world that was created with ten utterances, and to reward the righteous for sustaining a world that was created with ten utterances.
2. There were ten generations from Adam to Noah. This is to teach us the extent of G-d's tolerance; for all these generations angered Him, until He brought upon them the waters of the Flood.
There were ten generations from Noah to Abraham. This is to teach us the extent of G-d's tolerance; for all these generations angered Him, until Abraham came and reaped the reward for them all.
3. With ten tests our father Abraham was tested and he withstood them all---in order to make known how great was the love of our father Abraham [for G-d].
4. Ten miracles were performed for our forefathers in Egypt, and another ten at the sea. Ten afflictions were wrought by G-d upon the Egyptians in Egypt, and another ten at the sea. With ten tests our forefathers tested G-d in the desert, as is stated, ``They tested Me these ten times, and did not harken to My voice.''
5. Ten miracles were performed for our forefathers in the Holy Temple: No woman ever miscarried because of the smell of the holy meat. The holy meat never spoiled. Never was a fly seen in the slaughterhouse. Never did the High Priest have an accidental seminal discharge on Yom Kippur. The rains did not extinguish the wood-fire burning upon the altar. The wind did not prevail over the column of smoke [rising from the altar]. No disqualifying problem was ever discovered in the omer offering, the ``two loaves'' or the showbread. They stood crowded but had ample space in which to prostate themselves. Never did a snake or scorpion cause injury in Jerusalem. And no man ever said to his fellow ``My lodging in Jerusalem is too cramped for me.''
6. Ten things were created at twilight of Shabbos eve. These are: the mouth of the earth; the mouth of the well; the mouth of the donkey; the rainbow; the mannah; the staff [of Moses]; the shamir; the writing, the inscription and the tablets [of the Ten Commandments]. Some say also the burial place of Moses and the ram of our father Abraham. And some say also the spirits of destruction as well as the original tongs, for tongs are made with tongs.
7. There are seven things that characterize a boor, and seven that characterize a wise man. A wise man does not speak before one who is greater than him in wisdom or age. He does not interrupt his fellow's words. He does not hasten to answer. His questions are on the subject and his answers to the point. He responds to first things first and to latter things later. Concerning what he did not hear, he says ``I did not hear.'' He concedes to the truth. With the boor, the reverse of all these is the case.
8. Seven types of retribution come to the world, for seven types of sin. When some tithe and others don't, a hunger caused by turmoil ensues: some are hungry, others have their fill of food. When all are unanimous in their failure to tithe, a hunger by drought ensues. For not separating chalah, an utter, annihilating huger results.
Plagues come to the world for those capital crimes mentioned in the Torah that have not been given over to the beth-din, and for desecrating the produce of the sabbatical year.
The sword comes to the world for the procrastination of justice, the corruption of justice, and because of those who misinterpret the Torah.
9. Carnage by wild beasts comes to the world for false oaths and the desecration of G-d's name.
Exile come to the world for idol-worship, sexual promiscuity, murder and the failure to leave the land fallow on the sabbatical year.
There are four time-periods when plagues increase: on the fourth and seventh years [of the sabbatical cycle], on the year following the seventh, and following the festivals of each year. On the fourth year, because of [the neglect of] the tithe to the poor that must be given on the third year; on the seventh, because of the tithe to the poor that must be given on the sixth; on the year after the seventh, because of the produce of the sabbatical year; and following each festival, because of the robbing of the poor of the gifts due to them.
10. There are four types of people: One who says, ``What is mine is yours, and what is yours is mine'' is a boor. One who says ``What is mine is mine, and what is yours is yours''---this is a median characteristic; others say that this is the character of a Sodomite. One who says, ``What is mine is yours, and what is yours is yours'' is a chassid (pious one ). And one who says ``What is mine is mine, and what is yours is mine'' is wicked.
11. There are four types of temperaments. One who is easily angered and easily appeased---his virtue cancels his flaw. One whom it is difficult to anger and difficult to appease---his flaw cancels his virtue. One whom it is difficult to anger and is easily appeased, is a chassid. One who is easily angered and is difficult to appease, is wicked.
12. There are four types of student. One who is quick to understand and quick to forget---his flaw cancels his virtue. One who is slow to understand and slow to forget---his virtue cancels his flaw. One who is quick to understand and slow to forget---his is a good portion. One who is slow to understand and quick to forget---his is a bad portion.
13. There are four types of contributors to charity. One who wants to give but does not want others to give---is begrudging of others. One who wants that others should give but does not want to give---begrudges himself. One who wants that he as well as others should give, is a chassid. One who want neither himself nor others to give, is wicked.
14. There are four types among those who attend the study hall. One who goes but does nothing---has gained the rewards of going. One who does [study] but does not go to the study hall---has gained the rewards of doing. One who goes and does, is a chassid. One who neither goes nor does, is wicked.
15. There are four types among those who sit before the sages: the sponge, the funnel, the strainer and the sieve. The sponge absorbs all. The funnel takes in at one end and lets it out the other. The strainer rejects the wine and retains the sediment. The sieve rejects the coarse flour and retains the fine flour.
16. Any love that is dependent on something---when the thing ceases, the love also ceases. But a love that is not dependent on anything never ceases. Which is a love that is dependent on something? The love of Amnon for Tamar. And one that is not dependent on anything? The love of David and Jonathan.
17. Any dispute that is for the sake of Heaven is destined to endure; one that is not for the sake of Heaven is not destined to endure. Which is a dispute that is for the sake of Heaven? The dispute(s) between Hillel and Shamai. Which is a dispute that is not for the sake of Heaven? The dispute of Korach and all his company.
18. One who causes the community to be meritorious, no sin will come by his hand. One who causes the community to sin, is not given the opportunity to repent. Moses was meritorious and caused the community to be meritorious, so the community's merit is attributed to him; as is stated, ``He did G-d's righteousness, and His laws with Israel.'' Jeroboam the son of Nebat sinned and caused the community to sin, so the community's sin is attributed to him; as is stated, ``For the sins of Jeroboam, which he sinned and caused Israel to sin.''
19. Whoever possesses the following three traits is of the disciples of our father Abraham; and whoever possesses the opposite three traits is of the disciples of the wicked Bilaam. The disciples of our father Abraham have a good eye, a meek spirit and a humble soul. The disciples of the wicked Bilaam have an evil eye, a haughty spirit and a gross soul. What is the difference between the disciples of our father Abraham and the disciples of the wicked Bilaam? The disciples of our father Abraham benefit in this world and inherit the World To Come, and is stated, ``To bequeath to those who love Me there is, and their treasures I shall fill.'' The disciples of the wicked Bilaam inherit purgatory and descent into the pit of destruction, as is stated, ``And You, G-d, shall cast them into the pit of destruction; bloody and deceitful men, they shall not attain half their days. And I shall trust in you.''
20. Judah the son of Teima would say: Be bold as a leopard, light as an eagle, fleeting as a deer and mighty as a lion to do the will of your Father in Heaven. He would also say: The brazen---to purgatory; the bashful---to paradise. May it be Your will, L-rd our G-d and G-d of our fathers, that the Holy Temple be rebuilt speedily in our days; and grant us our portion in Your Torah.
21. Ben Bag Bag would say: Delve and delve into it, for all is in it; see with it; grow old and worn in it; do not budge from it, for there is nothing better.
Ben Hei Hei would say: According to the pain is the gain.
22. He would also say: Five years is the age for the study of Scripture. Ten, for the study of Mishnah. Thirteen, for the obligation to observe the mitzvot. Fifteen, for the study of Talmud. Eighteen, for marriage. Twenty, to pursue [a livelihood]. Thirty, for strength Forty, for understanding. Fifty, for counsel. Sixty, for sageness. Seventy, for elderness. Eighty, for power. Ninety, to stoop. A hundred-year-old is as one who has died and passed away and has been negated from the world.
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, a chassid, 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, ``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, 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 ``A golden nose-ring in the snout of a swine, a beautiful woman bereft of reason.'' And it says: ``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, ``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, ``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 ``The sages shall inherit honor'' ``and the integral shall inherit good'' ; and there is no good but Torah, as is stated, ``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'' : 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, ``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: ``For they are life to he who finds them, and a healing to all his flesh.'' And it says: ``It shall be health to your navel, and marrow to your bones.'' And it says: ``She is a tree of life for those who hold fast to her, and happy are those who support her.'' And it says: ``For they shall be a garland of grace for your head, and necklaces about your neck.'' And it says: ``She shall give to your head a garland of grace, a crown of glory she shall grant you.'' And it says: ``With me, your days shall be increased, and years of life shall be added to you.'' And it says: ``Long days in her right hand; in her left, wealth and honor.'' And it says: ``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: ``Old age is a crown of beauty, to be found in the ways of righteousness.'' And it says: ``The beauty of youths is their strength, and the glory of sages is their age.'' And it says: ``The crown of sages are their grandchildren, and the beauty of children their fathers.'' And it says: ``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.' 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, `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: `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, ``G-d acquired me as the beginning of His way, before His works of yore.'' The heavens and the earth, as it is written, ``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, ``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, ``And he blessed him, and said: Blessed be Abram to G-d Most High, acquirer of heavens and earth.'' Israel, as it is written, ``Till Your nation, O G-d, shall pass, till this nation You have acquired shall pass'' ; and it says ``To the holy who are upon earth, the noble ones, in whom is all My delight.'' The Holy Temple, as it is written, ``The base for Your dwelling that you, G-d, have achieved; the Sanctuary, O L-rd, that Your hands have established'' ; and it says ``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: ``All that is called by My name and for My glory, I created it, formed it, also I made it.'' And it says: ``G-d shall reign forever and ever.''
Studied at the conclusion of each lesson of the Ethics:
Rabbi Chananiah the son of Akashiah would say: G-d desired to merit the people of Israel; therefore, He gave them Torah and mitzvot in abundance. As is stated, ``G-d desired, for sake of his righteousness, that Torah be magnified and made glorious.'' (Makot, 3:16)
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Home »Unlabelled » ETHICS OF OUR FATHERS: With a Grain of Salt (Chapters 5&6)