This series tackles the wide and sometimes thorny subject of ethics. The establishing of sound ethics and a morality of righteousness is of greatest importance in any effort to encourage the pursuit of real peace and harmony in our beleagured world today.
Together with the foundation of the Hebrew Scriptures, and the teachings of Jesus and the Apostolic writings, the main resource we will use in this endeavor is Pirkei Avot, known in English as the Chapters or Ethics of the Fathers. It is pronounced Peer’kay Ah’vote, and not ‘Perky Avos’, like some cheeky fruit! The one word, Avot, often is used as a shorter form of reference.
Apart from the Bible, Pirkei Avot is considered one of the greatest sources of teaching on the development of character and the elevation of the spirit in Hebrew literature. It is probably the most studied book, or tractate, of the Talmud – the great compendium of Hebraic thinking and rabbinic discussion on a wide spectrum of topics related to the Hebrew Scriptures. Pirkei Avot well represents the Second Temple milieu of learning and debate in which Jesus and the first disciples were immersed. They were not out of synch with 1st Century Judaism and Jesus neither rejected nor sought to supersede the faith of his people, only to affirm and complement it. We can trust, therefore, that the contents will enrich and inform our minds as we study through it together. The principle of an ethical, meaningful life is discussed in Pirkei Avot and, interestingly, is also illustrated in its very composition, which is typical of rabbinic literature. Each sage or teacher quoted offers a personal and often different perspective and yet considers the views of his colleagues with patience, respect and tolerance.
A person is a composite entity. We each have a body, a mind and a spirit. In order to live the most fulfilling and meaningful life, it is important to carefully nourish each of these facets of our being as far as we are able. Our physical bodies need to be exercised and fed a healthy, balanced diet. Our minds also need to be exercised and care taken as to what we feed into them. In recent history, Western society has somewhat obsessively placed its focus on the body; and physical health, or the lack of it, dominates the attention. The value of training the mind has fallen into a less popular second place and trails behind somewhat abjectly. The need for nourishment and exercise of the spirit, apart from a superficial, New Age type revival, has virtually disappeared into oblivion. If the topic is raised, one can expect reactions such as, “What do you mean we have a spirit? Isn’t that rather spooky?” or “How on earth do you feed a spirit?” The understanding of (a) the very essence of who we are as a being created in His image and (b) of our purpose in God’s eternal plan seems to have been lost, or hazy at best, even among many who count themselves followers of Jesus and who believe in the Bible as the Word of God.
We know that the human body, like an animal body, has particular drives and impulses and that the human mind is generally considered more adept and creative than that of an animal. What uniquely distinguishes a human being created in the image of God is his or her invisible spirit – the ‘inner being’ of a person. The character of each individual first is formed and developed in his or her spirit, which is why it is good and necessary to be aware of how we can participate with our Creator in nourishing and preparing our spirits now for the then of eternity. In order to best accomplish this, we need to look back to the biblical and Hebraic wisdom of the then of the past, in order to apply it now; which is what we aim to do in this series.
We know only too well that our natural bodies wear out and experience decay, while our spirits have the ability constantly to grow in stature and strength. “Wherefore we faint not; but though our outward man is decaying, yet our inward man is renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16). According to the apostle Paul, at the resurrection of the dead we will receive our new immortal bodies to accommodate our spirits. It is the state of one’s spirit that will determine one’s place and participation in God’s Kingdom that Jesus, Yeshua, as King and Messiah, will establish during His millennial reign. The motivation for growing in spirit is not to seek one’s own eternal glorification, which is a futile endeavor. We do well to remember, however, that each of us is uniquely created for our Father’s glory; and, as His children, our destiny is to be an active part of His Kingdom, now and forever. Our response should be one of loving awe and a fervent desire to fulfill all the potential with which our Father has gifted us. Also, the deepest motivation for all we do should be the glorification His Name and, maybe more importantly, to give Him pleasure. Just as, for example, with a good earthly parent, teacher or sports coach, nothing pleases our Father’s heart more than to see His children participating wholeheartedly and happily succeeding in all He is teaching and enabling them to do.
Let us purpose, therefore, to focus a good amount of our attention on the “inner man” and on the nourishment and strengthening of our spirits. This series, Ethics – Now & Then, presents a means of learning how to do so and will, at the very least, provide healthy spiritual exercise.
There are six chapters in the book and I would like to begin at the end, for now, and quote perek (chapter) 6 and verse 11 as it provides a clear understanding of the reason we should be doing this at all.
Avot 6:11 All that the Holy One, Blessed is He, created in His world, He created solely for His glory, as it is said: “All that is created by My Name, indeed it is for My glory that I have created it, formed it, and made it“ (Isaiah 453:7). And it says: “God shall reign for all eternity” (Exodus 15:18).
As we constantly endeavor to grow in truth as children of God, and subjects of His Kingdom, may we bring greater glory and honor to His Holy Name.
~ Keren Hannah Pryor