Mishna Avot 2

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Chapter 2.

1 Rebbe asked: Which is the straight path one should cross? Tiferet, for Tiferet is both the essence of living and sustains the guides who will guide you correctly on the path. Rebbe was known also to say this: Be as careful with leniency as you are with stringency; you are not aware of how the mitzvot are rewarded. Consider the loss of a mitzva against its reward – and the reward of a sin against its cost! If you ponder on three ideas you will not be overcome by transgression: Know this — Heaven Above sees,listens, and records your deeds in a book.

2 Rebbe’s son was Rabban Gamaliel, who taught: Learn Torah and pursue a career path. Only this way can you truly avoid the grip of sin. If Torah is not combined with work? This is not a good end, for it abolishes Torah and drags transgressive behaviour along to meet you half-way. Furthermore, become occupied with the affairs of the community; such occupation is for the sake of Heaven. Let the merit of precedent guide you; if it is righteous it will endure. It’s as if G!d Says: “As for all of you? From My View great rewards accrue on account of your activities!”

3 Leaders do not govern. Do not become too close to governors: They need you only for their own ends. They like you when their need is acute but when you need support do not count upon them to support you.

4. He would often say: Do G!d’s Will as if it were yours. It’s paradoxical, but your will will eventually become G!d’s Will. Declare yourself as powerless in the presence of G!d and G!d Will empower you. Hillel said: Do not separate yourself from the community. Do not be certain of yourself until the day of your death. Do not judge someone unless you have stood in his (her) place. Most importantly: Neither teach on the assumption you will eventually be understood nor say “I will study when I am in the mood”; perhaps you will never be in the mood.

5. He would also say this: A boor cannot fear sin; the ignorant cannot be pious; the bashful cannot learn and the impatient cannot teach; anyone who spends most of the time acquiring trade cannot acquire wisdom. Furthermore, in a place without leadership, strive to be a leader

6. It once happened that Hillel saw a skull in the water. He said to it “Drowning others and thus you were drowned. Those who drowned you will in turn be drowned.”

7. He also had other slogans: Too much meat breeds worms. Worry accompanies too many possessions. Comfort accompanies too many wives. Too many maids leads to lewdness. Too many servants leads to theft. Abundant Torah? Abundant life! Abundant learning? Abundant wisdom! Abundant counsel? Abundant understanding! Abundant justice? Abundant peace. Acquire a good reputation and you will benefit; but acquire Torah and obtain life in Olam Haba!

8. Rabban Yohanon Ben-Zaqi received from Hillel and Shamm’i. He taught this: If you learn much Torah, don’t think you’re so great; you are only fulfilling your life’s imperative mission. He had five primary students: Rebbe Eli’ezer Ben-Hirq’nos; Rebbe Yehoshu’a Ben-Hanan’yah; Rebbe Yosé Ha’Kohén; Rebbe Shimon Ben-Natan’él; and Rebbe Ele’zar Ben-Arak. He praised them thus: Rebbe Eli’ezer Ben-Hirq’nos? A reservoir that doesn’t lose a single drop! Rebbe Yehoshu’a Ben-Hanan’yah? His mother is praiseworthy to have given us one such as he! Rebbe Yosé Ha’Kohén? A kind and pious man! Rebbe Shimon Ben-Natan’él? He fears sin! Rebbe Ele’zar Ben-Arak? A geyser! He had another praise of Rebbe Eli’ezer Ben-Hirq’nos: If all the sages of Israel were on a scale, Rebbe Eli’ezer Ben-Hirq’nos would balance it! Abba Sha’ul, however, transmitted it in Ben-Zaqi’s name this way: If all the sages, including Rebbe Eli’ezer Ben-Hirq’nos, were on the scale, Rebbe Ele’zar Ben-Arak would balance it!

9. Ben-Zaqi asked to envision the straight path on which one should adhere. What is it? Rebbe Eli’ezer replied: A good eye. Rebbe Yehoshu’a replied: A good friend. Rebbe Yosé replied: A good neighbour. Rebbe Shimon had a different approach. He said: Foresight to assume consequences. Rebbe Ele’zar replied: A good heart. Ben-Zaqi answered them: In my view, the words of Elazar Ben-Arak include all else that has been suggested. Then Ben Zaqi asked them to envision the crooked path one should keep away from. What is it? Rebbe Eli’ezer replied: An evil eye. Rebbe Yehoshu’a replied: An evil friend. Rebbe Yosé replied: A bad neighbour. Rebbe Shimon had a different approach – for which he offered a proof text (Tehilim 37:21)! He said: The one who has not discharged a loan; this borrows from the Holy Blessed One, as it is said “The wicked borrow and do not fulfill; the tzadiq gives with grace. Rebbe Ele’zar replied: An evil heart. Ben-Zaqi answered them: In my view, the words of Elazar Ben-Arak include all else that has been suggested.

10. Each of Ben Zaqi’s students had three favourite sayings. Rebbe Eli’ezer? Honour your friend as you love yourself, fully and completely and do not seek refuge in anger. Repent one day before you die. Warm yourself from the light of the sages, but be cautious: All their words are like heated coal and embers can burn! Furthermore, sagacious words bite like a fox, sting like a scorpion, and strike with the speed of a cobra.

11. Rebbe Yehoshu’a? The evil eye, the evil inclination, and unvarnished hatred lead people from the world.

12. Rebbe Yosé? Protect your friend’s investment no less than you would protect your own. Improve yourself by learning Torah, for this is your heritage. Everything you do must be motivated by service to G!d.

13. Rebbe Shimon? Say Shma and pray reverently. Don’t use a formula to pray; your prayers should be heartfelt petitions which seek G!d’s Mercy as it says (Yoel 2:13) “Grace, mercy, slow to anger, great kindness, and comfort from the effects of evil. Do not be evil in your own eyes.

14. Rebbe Elezar? Learn Torah to the limits of your ability. Know how to return an apiqoros. Know before Whom you toil: A faithful Employer who gives wholly to you from your labours.

15. Rebbe Tarfon taught: The day is short. The work is burdensome. The labourers are idle. The reward is tremendous and the Master doesn’t give you work you can’t handle — even as you may feel otherwise!

16. He also taught this: You are not obligated to complete the work but neither are you free to avoid it. You have earned a reward for your commitment to Torah-based lifestyle and G!d can be relied upon to compensate you fully. And know this: The righteous are ready for the future.