Mishna Avot 3

Read It In Hebrew has the full Hebrew text.

Chapter 3.

1. Aqav’yah Ben-Ma’halla’él said this: Consider three matters and the hands of sin will not grab you. Know this! From where you come. To where you are going. Before Whom you will give an accounting. You come from a fetid drop. You will go to a place of dust and insects. And you will account for yourself before the Holy Blessed One.

2. Rebbe Hanin’yah S’gan Ha’Kohanim taught: Prayer for the welfare of the government. Were it not for a healthy fear of the authorities, we would be at each other’s throats. Rebbe Hanin’yah Ben-Trad’yon had this to say: Two who sit and do not share Torah perspectives? Scoffers have assembled! He quoted Tehilim 1: “Do not join an assembly of scoffers.” Two who sit and discuss Torah? The Shekh’ina sits with them, for it says (Mal’akhi 3:16) “Then those in awe of G!d spoke one to the other. G!d Heard, became attentive, and took note by writing in the Book of Remembrance those who felt awe in even thinking of The Name.

3. Rebbe Shimon would teach: Three who eat together and don’t teach each other Torah?! It’s as if they eat from the offerings made to dead idols. Ysha’yah proved it with his remark (Is. 28:8): “And these tables? Without G!d they are merely of puke and waste!” Ah! But three who dine and learn Torah one from the other! Of these it may be said that the eat at the table of the Holy Blessed One. Yehezqel (Ez. 41:22) has it thus: “This is the table of G!d.”

4. Rebbe Hanin’ah Ben-Hakin’i states: Walking alone by the light of the evening and diverting your heart? It abolishes what you know! This puts your very soul in jeopardy.

5. Rebbe Nehun’ya Ben Haqana said this: All who accept Torah as an obligation are relieved of the yoke of government and the yoke of livelihood.

6. Rebbe Halafta Ben-Dosa, the leader of K’far Hanan’yah, taught: The Sheh’hina settles among those who form public forums dedicated to Torah. His prooftext is from Tehilim (82:1): “G!d Is a pillar upholding the Congregation”. These forums need not be a minyan. I can prove it is so even for five, for Amos (9:6) said this: “G!d’s Bundle is the foundation of the Earth”. And I can prove it for three. The same Tehila states: “G!d Is in the midst of those who judge.” And of two Malahi (3:16) said “Those in awe of G!d spoke one to the other attentively and G!d Listened”. One? In Shmot (20:21) G!d Says: “In every place I will remember. I Will come to you and Bless you”.

7. Rebbe Eli’ezer, the leader of Bartota had this saying: Give to G!d what is G!d’s: You and yours. And thus David said (I Ch. 29:14) “Everything is Yours. We are merely a conduit through which it flows.” R Shimon cautioned that this perspective does not apply to Torah study when he said: One who walks on the path reviewing a pasuq only to exclaim “What a beautiful tree!; what lovely. productive field!” obligates the soul.

8. Rebbe Dost’i B’rabi Yahnye attributed this perspective to Rebbe Mé’ir: One obligates the soul by forgetting but a single Mishna. It is taught in D’varim (4:9): “Guard yourself, guard your soul; do not forget what you have witnessed”. Is this so even if the Mishna is too difficult to grasp? No, for Dvarim continues “let it circulate in the heart all the days of your life.” Lifelong learning resolves all such difficulties, for you will come to understand tomorrow what you can’t understand now.

9.Rebbe Hanin’ah Ben-Dosa says: An acknowledgement that we are powerless and our lives are unmanageable must precede the acquisition of wisdom. This wisdom will endure. If wisdom takes precedence over maintaining a spiritual balance? It will not endure. The same is true of actions. Merely going through the motions is not enough. Content is more important than form — and content requires you to maintain your spiritual balance.

10. He also said this: The Admiration in which G!d Holds you reflects he admiration of those you encounter. Rebbe Dosa Ben-Harkinas was more explicit. He said this: Sleeping well into the morning, drinking liquor by mid-day, behaving like an adolescent, and sitting in the assemblies of the ignorant is no way to live a life!

11. Rebbe Elazar of Moda taught: Profane the sacred? Degrade the festival? Embarrass a colleague or friend in public? Violate the covenant of Avraham Avinu? Revealing a facet of Torah that is heretical? One such as this has no concept of Torah or good deeds. No portion of Olam Haba is available to one such as this!

12. Rebbe Ishma’él taught: Give way to the voice of your superior and be patient with people who see matters only in black and white. Furthermore, be cheerful to everyone you encounter.

13. Rebbe Aqiva taught: Laughter and light-headedness lead to immodesty. Tradition guards the Torah. Proper tithing guards your wealth. Vows guard against inappropriate self-denial. Silence guards wisdom.

14. He also said this: Humanity is created in the Divine Image. We are each beloved. If we know this, then we must know also that a Greater Love has made us so aware – for it says In G!d’s Image humanity was created (Bréshit 9:6). We who struggle with G!d are beloved, for we are truly G!d’s Children – for it says You are all G!d’s Children (Dvarim 14:1). A highly desirable tool was given to these “godwrestlers”– for it says I Have given you something beneficial: My Torah! Do not abandon it! (Mishlé 4:2).

15. All is Revealed, yet permission is given. Judgement is based on the goodness of the world. An abundance of good acts testifies favourably before the Judge.

16. Another saying: A security is pledged against everything we have. All life is provided for. The market is open and the Merchant extends credit; even so, accounts are kept in a Ledger, though anyone who wants to borrow may do so. Collection occurs whether or not the borrower is aware! The matter is proven, the Judgement is True; all is reset to the default standard.

17. Rebbe Elazar Ben-Azar’yah was known to say: Without Torah there can be no derekh eretz – and without derekh eretz? There is certainly no Torah! Wisdom requires awe and awe requires wisdom. Understanding implies knowledge and knowledge implies understanding. If there is no food security there is no Torah. If there is no Torah there is no food security. He also had this perspective: Someone committed to wisdom but less so to performing good works is like a tree with many branches and few roots. A wind comes and blows the tree down! It was Yerem’ya (Je 17:6) who said “Like an ar’ar in the desert he shall not see what good may come; his neigbourhood will be the wild, dry soil of a salted, unsettled land. When the commitment is to piety and wisdom takes second place? This one is like a tree with branches and deep roots. Even the strongest wind imaginable will leave the tree upright and in place. For Yerem’ya continues as follows (17:8): He is as a tree planted near the water and upon the brook it will send its roots; it will not whither in the heat, it will stay fresh, and when the year is one of drought it will not worry: Fruit will sprout.

18. Rebbe Eli’ezer Ben-Hisma would teach: Halakha includes the sending the mother bird from her nest1 and family purity2. Astronomy3 and mathematics4 are important; they are not essential to the cultivation of wisdom.