Sayings of the Fathers (Pirkei Avot or Pirqe Aboth)

Sayings of the Fathers (Pirkei Avot or Pirqe Aboth)

Pirke Avot "Ethics of the Fathers,” is the only nonlegal tractate of the Mishnah, included toward the end of Nezikin, the fourth of the six “orders” of the Mishnah (which is the codification of the Oral Law, based on biblical passages, recorded by Rabbi Judah HaNassi in 200 BCE, the end of 400-600 years of exegesis and teaching.). Pirke Avot is a brief, very accessible book, comprised, itself, of six chapters filled with the practical insights, moral advice, and spiritual sayings of ancient sages.

Author Quotes

Rabbi Yossei the son of Judah of Kfar HaBavli would say: One who learns Torah from youngsters, whom is he comparable to? To one who eats unripe grapes and drinks [unfermented] wine from the press. One who learns Torah from the old, whom is he comparable to? To one who eats ripened grapes and drinks aged wine.

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.

Rabbi Shimon the son of Elazar would say: Do not appease your friend at the height of his anger; do not comfort him while his dead still lies before him; do not ask him about his vow the moment he makes it; and do not endeavor to see him at the time of his degradation.

Rabbi Yossei would say: The property of your fellow should be as precious to you as your own. Perfect yourself for the study of Torah, for it is not an inheritance to you. And all your deeds should be for the sake of Heaven.

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.

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 judgment of peace, you should administer at your [city] gates.'

Rabbi Yossei would say: Whoever honors the Torah, is himself honored by the people; whoever degrades the Torah, is himself degraded by the people.

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.

Rabbi Shimon would say: Be meticulous with the reading of the Shma and with prayer. When you pray, do not make your prayers routine, but [an entreaty of] mercy and a supplication before the Almighty, as is stated ``For He is benevolent and merciful, slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness, and relenting of the evil decree'' (Joel 2:13). And do not be wicked in your own eyes.

Said Rabbi Meir: Look not at the vessel, but at what it contains. There are new vessels that are filled with old wine, and old vessels that do not even contain new wine.

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.

Rabbi Shimon would say: There are three crowns--the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood and the crown of sovereignty--but the crown of good name surmounts them all.

Samuel the Small would say: "When your enemy falls, do not rejoice; when he stumbles, let your heart not be gladdened. Lest G-d see, and it will displeasing in His eyes, and He will turn His wrath from him [to you]" (Proverbs 24:17-18).

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 person). And one who says "What is mine is mine, and what is yours is mine" is wicked.

Rabbi Shimon would say: Three who eat at one table and do not speak words of Torah, it is as if they have eaten of idolatrous sacrifices; as is stated, "Indeed, all tables are filled with vomit and filth, devoid of the Omnipresent" (Isaiah 28:8). But three who eat at one table and speak words of Torah, it is as if they have eaten at G-d's table, as is stated, "And he said to me: This is the table that is before G-d" (Ezekiel 41:22).

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 annihilating hunger results.

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.

Rabbi Tarfon taught: "It is not your responsibility to finish the work [of perfecting the world], but you are not free to desist from it either."

Shammai taught: "Say little and do much."

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.

Rabbi Tarfon would say: The day is short, the work is much, the workers are lazy, the reward is great, and the Master is pressing. He would also say: It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task, but neither are you free to absolve yourself from it. If you have learned much Torah, you will be greatly rewarded, and your employer is trustworthy to pay you the reward of your labors. And know, that the reward of the righteous is in the World to Come.

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.

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.

Rabbi Tzaddok would say: Do not separate yourself from the community. Do not act as a counselor-at-law (when serving as a judge). Do not make the Torah a crown to magnify yourself with, or a spade with which to dig. So would Hillel say: one who make personal use of the crown of Torah shall perish. Hence, one who benefits himself from the words of Torah, removes his life from the world.

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.

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Sayings of the Fathers (Pirkei Avot or Pirqe Aboth)
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Pirke Avot "Ethics of the Fathers,” is the only nonlegal tractate of the Mishnah, included toward the end of Nezikin, the fourth of the six “orders” of the Mishnah (which is the codification of the Oral Law, based on biblical passages, recorded by Rabbi Judah HaNassi in 200 BCE, the end of 400-600 years of exegesis and teaching.). Pirke Avot is a brief, very accessible book, comprised, itself, of six chapters filled with the practical insights, moral advice, and spiritual sayings of ancient sages.