Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Pirke Avot, "Verses of the Fathers" or "Ethics of the Fathers" NULL

Compilation of the Ethical Teachings and Maxims of the Rabbis of the Mishnaic period is the only nonlegal tractate of the Mishnah, recorded by Rabbi Judah HaNassi in 200 BCE, the end of 400-600 years of exegesis and teaching

"You are not required to complete the task of repairing the world, neither are you free to abstain from it."

"Moses received the Torah from Sinai and transmitted it to Joshua; Joshua to the elders; the elders to the prophets; and the prophets handed it down to the men of the Great Assembly. They said three things: Be deliberate in judgment, raise up many disciples, and make a fence around the Torah. "

"Rabban Shimon ben Gamaliel said: “On three things the world is sustained: on truth, on judgment, and on peace, as it is it says (Zechariah 8:16): "Speak the truth to one another, render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace.""

"Antigonus of Socho used to say: “Be not like servants who minister unto their master for the sake of receiving a reward, but be like servants who serve their master not upon the condition of receiving a reward; and let the fear of Heaven be upon you.”"

"Hillel used to say: “A brutish man cannot fear sin; an ignorant man cannot be pious, nor can the shy man learn, or the impatient man teach. He who engages excessively in business cannot become wise. In a place where there are no men strive to be a man. Moreover he saw a skull floating on the surface of the water and he said unto it: Because you drowned others they drowned you; and those that drowned you will eventually be drowned… The more flesh the more worms; the more possessions the more anxiety; the more women the more witchcraft; the more maidservants the more lewdness, the more manservants the more theft. But the more Torah the more life, the more schooling the more wisdom; the more counsel the more understanding; the more righteousness the more peace. If a man has acquired a good name he has gained something which enriches himself; but if he has acquired words of the Torah he has attained afterlife.”"

"Rabbi Chananiah ben Teradion said: If two sit together and no words of Torah are interchanged between them, theirs is the session of the scornful, as it is written (Psalm 1:1) "Nor sit in the seat of scoffers." But when two sit together and words of Torah pass between them, the Divine Presence rests between them, as it is written (Malachi 3:16) "Then those who revered the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord took note and listened, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who revered the Lord and thought on his name." Scripture speaks here of two. Whence do we learn that if even one sits and occupies himself in the Torah, the Holy One blessed be He, appoints him a reward? Because it is written (Lamentations 3:28) "to sit alone in silence when the Lord has imposed it.""

"Yosi ben Yoezer of Tzeredah said: “Let your house be a meeting house for the sages and sit amid the dust of their feet and drink in their words with thirst.”"

"Akavya ben Mahalalel said: Reflect upon three things and you will not come to sin. Know from where you came and where you are going and before whom you are destined to give account and reckoning. From where have you come?--from a putrid drop. Where are you going? -- To the place of dust, worm, and maggot. Before whom are you destined to give account and reckoning? -- Before the supreme King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He."

"Rabbi Chalafta ben Dosa of Kefar Chanania used to say: If ten men sit together and occupy themselves with the Torah, the Divine Presence rests among them as it is written (Psalm 82:1) "God has taken his place in the divine council." And from where do we learn that this applies even to five? Because it is written (Amos 9:6) "And founds his vault upon the earth." And how do we learn that this applies even to three? Because it is written (Psalm 82:1) "In the midst of the gods he holds judgment." And from where can it be shown that the same applies even to two? Because it is written (Malachi 3:16)"Then those who revered the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord took note and listened." And from where even of one? Because it is written (Exodus 20:24) "In every place where I cause my name to be remembered I will come to you and bless you.""

"Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah used to say: “Where there is no Torah there is no culture; and where there is no culture there is no Torah. Where there is no wisdom there is no fear of G-d, and where there is no fear of G-d there is no wisdom. Where there is no knowledge there is no discernment; and where there is no discernment there is no knowledge. Where there is no food there is no Torah; and where there is no Torah there is no food. He used to say: He whose wisdom is more abundant than his works, to what is he like? To a tree whose branches are abundant but whose roots are few; and the wind comes and uproots it and overturns it, as it is written (Jeremiah 17:6) "They shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when relief comes. They shall live in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land." But he whose works are more abundant than his wisdom, to what is he like? To a tree whose branches are few but whose roots are many; so that even if all the winds in the world come and blow against it, it cannot be stirred from its place, as it is written (Jeremiah 17:8) "They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.""

"Rabbi Jacob used to say: “This world is like a hallway to the future world. Prepare yourself in the hallway that you may enter into the banquet hall.”"

"Rabbi Dostai ben Yannai said in the name of Rabbi Meir: He who forgets one word of his study, Scripture regards him as though he was liable for his life; for it is written (Deuteronomy 4:9) "But take care and watch yourselves closely, so as not to forget the things that your eyes have seen." Could this apply even if a man's study was too hard for him? Scripture says (ibid.): "Nor to let them slip from your mind all the days of your life." Thus a person is not guilty unless he deliberately puts those lessons away from his heart."

"Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah used to say: “Where there is no Torah there is no culture; and where there is no culture there is no Torah. Where there is no wisdom there is no fear of G-d, and where there is no fear of G-d there is no wisdom. Where there is no knowledge there is no discernment; and where there is no discernment there is no knowledge. Where there is no food there is no Torah; and where there is no Torah there is no food. He used to say: He whose wisdom is more abundant than his works, to what is he like? To a tree whose branches are abundant but whose roots are few; and the wind comes and uproots it and overturns it, as it is written (Jeremiah 17:6) "They shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when relief comes. They shall live in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land." But he whose works are more abundant than his wisdom, to what is he like? To a tree whose branches are few but whose roots are many; so that even if all the winds in the world come and blow against it, it cannot be stirred from its place, as it is written (Jeremiah 17:8) "They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.""

"Seven marks characterize the clod and seven the wise man. The wise man does not speak before one who is greater than he in wisdom and he does not break in upon the speech of his fellow. He is not hasty to answer. He asks what is relevant and answers according to the Halakah. He speaks on the first point first and on the last point last. Where he has heard no tradition he says, "I have not heard"; and he agrees to what is true. The opposites of these attributes are the marks of the clod."

"Seven kinds of punishment come upon the world for seven classes of transgression. If some give tithe and some do not give tithe, there comes famine from drought. Some hunger while some have a sufficiency. When all resolve not to give tithes there comes famine from tumult and drought. And if they will not set apart drought offerings (Numbers 15:20) there comes an all-consuming famine. "

"Seven kinds of punishment come upon the world for seven classes of transgression. If some give tithe and some do not give tithe, there comes famine from drought. Some hunger while some have a sufficiency. When all resolve not to give tithes there comes famine from tumult and drought. And if they will not set apart drought offerings (Numbers 15:20) there comes an all-consuming famine. "

"Hillel used to say: “He who aggrandizes his name, loses his name. He who does not increase his knowledge, decreases it. He who learns not, forfeits his life. He who makes unworthy use of the crown (of the Torah) shall pass away.”"

"Rabbi Akiva said: “Jesting and frivolity lead a man towards promiscuity. Tradition is a safeguarding fence around the Torah. Tithes are a fence to wealth. Vows a fence to abstinence. Silence is a fence to wisdom.”"

"There are four types among men: He who says, "What is mine is mine and what is yours is yours"--this is the common type, though some say that this is the type of Sodom. He who says, "What is mine is yours and what is yours is mine"--he is an ignorant man. He who says, "What is mine is yours and what is yours is thine own"--he is a saintly man. And he who says, "What is yours is mine, and what is mine is mine"--he is a wicked man."

"Rabbi Judah the Prince said: “Which is the proper course that a man should choose for himself? That which is an honor to him and elicits honor from his fellow men. Be as scrupulous about a light precept as of a weighty one, for you do not know the reward allotted for each precept. Balance the loss incurred by the fulfillment of a precept against the gain and the accruing from a transgression against the loss it involves. Reflect on three things and you will never come to sin: Know what is above you --a seeing eye, a hearing ear, and all your deeds recorded in a book.”"

"Rabban Gamaliel the son of Rabbi Judah the Prince said: “Great is study of the Torah when combined with a worldly occupation, for toil in them both puts sin out of mind. All study of the Torah which is not supplemented by work is destined to prove futile and causes sin. Let all who occupy themselves with communal affairs do so for Heaven's sake, for then the merit of their fathers sustains them and their righteousness endures forever. And as for you, G-d will then say: I count you worthy of great reward as if you had done it all yourselves. Be careful in your relations with the government; for they draw no man close to themselves except for their own interests. They appear as friends when it is to their advantage, but they do not stand by a man in his time of stress… Do His will as if it was your will that He may do your will as if it was His will. Make your will of no effect before His will that He may make the will of others of no effect before your will.”"

"Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai said to them: Go and see which is the good a man shall cherish most. Rabbi Eliezer said, a good eye. Rabbi Joshua said, a good companion. Rabbi Yosi said, a good neighbor. Rabbi Shimon said, foresight. Rabbi Elazar said, a good heart. He said to them: I prefer the words of Elazar ben Arach to your words, for in his words yours are included. He said to them: Go and see which is the evil way which a man should avoid. Rabbi Eliezer said, an evil eye. Rabbi Joshua said, an evil companion. Rabbi Yosi said, an evil neighbor. Rabbi Shimon said, he that borrows and does not repay. He that borrows from a man is as one that borrows from God, for it is written (Psalm 37:21) The wicked borrow, and do not pay back, but the righteous are generous and keep giving. Rabbi Elazar said, an evil heart. He said to them: I prefer the words of Elazar ben Arach to your words, for in his words yours are included."

"Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai said to them: Go and see which is the good a man shall cherish most. Rabbi Eliezer said, a good eye. Rabbi Joshua said, a good companion. Rabbi Yosi said, a good neighbor. Rabbi Shimon said, foresight. Rabbi Elazar said, a good heart. He said to them: I prefer the words of Elazar ben Arach to your words, for in his words yours are included. He said to them: Go and see which is the evil way which a man should avoid. Rabbi Eliezer said, an evil eye. Rabbi Joshua said, an evil companion. Rabbi Yosi said, an evil neighbor. Rabbi Shimon said, he that borrows and does not repay. He that borrows from a man is as one that borrows from God, for it is written (Psalm 37:21) The wicked borrow, and do not pay back, but the righteous are generous and keep giving. Rabbi Elazar said, an evil heart. He said to them: I prefer the words of Elazar ben Arach to your words, for in his words yours are included."

"Rabbi Nechunya ben Hakanah said: “Whoever takes upon himself the yoke of Torah, from him will be taken away the yoke of government and the yoke of worldly care; but whoever throws off the yoke of Torah, upon him will be laid the yoke of government and the yoke of worldly care.”"

"Rabbi Chaninah ben Chachinai said: “He who stays awake at night and goes on his way alone and turns his heart to idle thoughts is liable for his life.”"

"Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa said: “He in whom the fear of sin takes precedence of wisdom, his wisdom will endure; but he in whom wisdom takes precedence of his fear of sin, his wisdom will not endure… He whose works exceed his wisdom, his wisdom endures; but he whose wisdom exceeds his works, his wisdom will not endure…He who in whom fellow people find no delight, in him the G-d finds no pleasure.”"

"Rabbi Jacob said: “If a man is walking by the way and is studying and then interrupts his study and says: How fine is this tree? Or How fine is this ploughed field? Scripture regards him as though he was liable for his life.”"

"Rabbi Yishmael said: “He who shuns the office of judge rids himself of enmity, theft, and false swearing. He who presumptuously rules in Torah matters is foolish, wicked, and arrogant… Judge not alone, for none may judge alone except One. And say not, Accept my opinion, for it is for them to decide and not you.”"

"Ben Azzai said: “Be eager to fulfill the smallest duty and flee from transgression; for one duty induces another and one transgression induces another transgression. The reward of a duty is a duty, the reward of one transgression is another transgression… Despise no man and deem nothing impossible; for there is no man who does not have his day and there is no thing that does not have its place.”"

"Samuel the Younger used to say (Proverbs 24:17-18) “Do not rejoice when your enemies fall, and do not let your heart be glad when they stumble, or else the Lord will see it and be displeased, and turn away his anger from them.”"

"Ben Zoma said: “Who is wise? He who learns from all men”, as it is written (Psalm 119:99) “I have gained understanding from all my teachers. Who is mighty? He who subdues his passions”, as it is written (Proverbs 16:32) “One who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and one whose temper is controlled than one who captures a city. Who is rich? He who rejoices in his portion”, as it is written (Psalm 128:2) “You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be happy, and it shall go well with you. You shall be refers to this world; and it shall be well with you refers to the world to come. Who is honored? He that honors his fellow men” as it is written (I Samuel 2:30) “For those who honor me I will honor, and those who despise me shall be treated with contempt.”"

"Rabbi Eleazar ha-Kappar used to say: “Jealousy, lust, and ambition remove man from the world… They who have been born are destined to die. They that are dead are destined to be made alive. They who live are destined to be judged, that men may know and make known and understand that He is G-d, He is the maker, He is the creator, He is the discerner, He is the judge, He is the witness, He is the complainant, and it is He who will in the future judge, blessed be He, in whose presence is neither guile nor forgetfulness nor respect of persons nor taking of bribes; for all is His. And know that everything is according to the reckoning. And let not your evil nature assure you that the grave will be your refuge: for despite yourself you were fashioned, and despite yourself you were born, and despite yourself you live, and despite yourself you die, and despite yourself shall you are destined to give account and reckoning before the supreme King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.”"

"Whosoever possesses these three qualities belongs to the disciples of Abraham our father: a generous eye, a humble spirit, and a meek soul. But he who possesses the three opposite qualities--an evil eye, a proud spirit, and a haughty soul--is of the disciples of Balaam the wicked. How do the disciples of Abraham differ from the disciples of Balaam? The disciples of Abraham enjoy this world and inherit the world to come, as it is written (Proverbs 8:21) Endowing with wealth those who love me, and filling their treasuries. The disciples of Balaam inherit Gehenna and go down to the pit of destruction, as it is written (Psalm 55:23) But you, O G-d, will cast them down into the lowest pit; the bloodthirsty and treacherous shall not live out half their days. But I will trust in you."

"Rabbi Tzadok used to say: “Do not make the Torah a crown with which to aggrandize yourself, nor use it as a spade with which to dig.” As Hillel used to say: “He who makes worldly use of the crown of the Torah shall perish. Thus you may infer that anyone who exploits the words of the Torah removes himself from the world of life.”"

"There are four temperaments among men: Easy to provoke and easy to appease--his loss is canceled by his gain. Hard to provoke and hard to appease--his gain is canceled by his loss. Hard to provoke and easy to appease--he is a saintly man. Easy to provoke and hard to appease--he is a wicked man. Four characteristics are found among students: Quick to learn and quick to forget, his gain is canceled by his loss. Slow to learn and slow to forget, his loss is canceled by his gain. Quick to learn and slow to forget, his is a happy lot. Slow to learn and quick to forget, his is an unhappy lot. There are four types of charity-givers: He who wants to give but does not wish that others should give -- he begrudges what belongs to others. He who wants that others should give but not that he should give--he begrudges what belongs to himself. He who wants to give and also that others should give--he is a saintly man. He who does not want to give himself and does not wish that others should give--he is a wicked man. There are four types among those who attend the house of study: He who goes and does not practice (study)--he has the reward of his going. He who practices (studies) but does not go--he has the reward of his practicing (studying). He who goes and also practices (studies)--he is a saintly man. He who neither goes nor practices (studies)--he is a wicked man. There are four types among those who sit in the presence of the sages: the sponge, the funnel, the strainer, and the sieve. The sponge, who soaks up everything. The funnel, who takes in at this end and lets out at the other. The strainer, who lets out the wine and retains the dregs. The sieve, who removes the coarse meal and collects the fine flour. "

"Rabbi Elazar ben Shammua used to say: “Let the honor of your student be as precious to you as your own; and the honor of your colleague as the respect due your teacher; and the respect towards your teacher as your reverence for G-d.”"

"Rabbi Eleazar ha-Kappar used to say: “Jealousy, lust, and ambition remove man from the world… They who have been born are destined to die. They that are dead are destined to be made alive. They who live are destined to be judged, that men may know and make known and understand that He is G-d, He is the maker, He is the creator, He is the discerner, He is the judge, He is the witness, He is the complainant, and it is He who will in the future judge, blessed be He, in whose presence is neither guile nor forgetfulness nor respect of persons nor taking of bribes; for all is His. And know that everything is according to the reckoning. And let not your evil nature assure you that the grave will be your refuge: for despite yourself you were fashioned, and despite yourself you were born, and despite yourself you live, and despite yourself you die, and despite yourself shall you are destined to give account and reckoning before the supreme King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.”"

"Ben Bag-Bag used to say of the Torah: “Turn it and turn it again, for everything is in it. Pore over it, and wax gray and old over it. Stir not from it for you can have no better rule than it.”"

"Judah ben Teima used to say: “Be strong as the leopard, swift as the eagle, fleet as the gazelle, and brave as the lion to do the will of your Father in Heaven. He also used to say: The impudent are for Gehenna and the affable for Paradise. (He used to pray ): May it be thy will, O Lord our G-d and G-d of our fathers, that the Temple be rebuilt speedily in our days, and grant our portion in your Torah… At five years old a person should study the Scriptures, at ten years for the Mishnah, at thirteen for the commandments, at fifteen for the Talmud, at eighteen for the bride chamber, at twenty for one's life pursuit, at thirty for authority, at forty for discernment, at fifty for counsel, at sixty to be an elder, at seventy for gray hairs, at eighty for special strength (Psalm 90:10), at ninety for decrepitude, and at a hundred a man is as one who has already died and has ceased from the affairs of this world.”"

"Simeon, the son of Rabban Gamliel, said: “I was brought up all my life among the Sages, and I have found nothing as good for the body as silence, and it is not the study/explication that is the essence – but the practice/doing, and whoever is profuse of words occasions sin.”"

"Joshua ben Perachyah said: “Provide for yourself a teacher and get yourself a friend; and judge every man towards merit.”"

"Nittai the Arbelite said: “Keep far from an evil neighbor and do not associate with the wicked; and do not abandon belief in retribution.”"

"Rabban Simeon, son of Gamliel said, “On three things the world stands: On Judgment, on Truth, and on Peace.”"

"Ben Zoma taught: “Who is wise? He who learns from every man... Who is a hero? He who controls his passions.” "

"Rabbi Jacob used to say, “Better is one hour of t’shuvah (returning/repentance) and good deeds in this world than the whole life of the world-to-come and better is one hour of spiritual bliss in the world-to-come than all the life of this world!”"

"Rabbi Akiva said: “Everything is foreseen, yet free will is granted; By goodness is the universe judged, yet all depends on the preponderance of (good) deeds.”"

"Ben Zoma said, “Who is wise? The one who learns from all people… Who is mighty? The one who subdues the evil inclination… Who is rich? The who rejoices in his portion… Who is honored? The one who honors other human beings.”"

"Rabbi Eliezer said: “Let the honor of your fellow be as dear to you as your own. Be not easily moved to anger. Repent one day before your death. Warm yourself before the fire of the sages, but be heedful of their glowing coals for fear that you be burned, for their bite is the bite of a jackal and their sting the sting of a scorpion and their hiss the hiss of a serpent, and all their words are like coals of fire.”"

"Rabbi Shimon said: “Be careful in the reciting of the Shema and in prayer. When you pray do not make your prayer a form of routine but a plea for mercy and supplications before G-d, for it is written (Joel 2:13), For he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing. Do not be wicked in your own mind.”"

"Rabbi Tarfon said: “The day is short, the task is great, the laborers are lazy, the wage is abundant and the master is urgent. It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task. Yet, you are not free to desist from it. If you have studied much in the Torah much reward will be given you, for faithful is your employer who shall pay you the reward of your labor. And know that the reward for the righteous shall be in the time to come.” "