Ethics – Now & Then 42 – Avot 3:14

Avot 3:14  Rabbi Dosa ben Harkinos said: Late morning sleep,
                  midday wine, children’s chatter, and sitting in the
                  assemblies of the ignorant, remove a man from the world.

The Talmud records that Rabbi Dosa lived to a very old age. [1] Perhaps he was extending this exhortation to the older generation in particular, who may be tempted to sleep away the mornings, as well as to those of any age who spend time on trivial pursuits at night and retire to bed unnecessarily late. Idleness is the central trait alluded to in the four activities described in this verse; wasting precious time that could be invested in more meaningful pursuits.

The issues of “midday wine, childish chatter and sitting in the assemblies of the ignorant” imply a self-indulgent and shallow lifestyle, which eventually leads to dissolution and irresponsibility. These will “remove a man from the world” as it renders him unfit to function positively in society. As a person grows older and physical strength weakens, a person’s mind and mental interests become of even greater importance. Without the intellectual stimulation and spiritual growth experienced in constant study of the Word of God, and the riches of a deepening relationship with Him, an elderly person can only fill his or her time with things of temporal value. The world of physical and material pleasures will have proved elusive and communication sadly will be on the level of superficial “chatter.” On the other hand, those who have invested their time in the Kingdom of God and His Word, and have guided their children and grandchildren to do the same, will be able to relate and share the depths and joys and values thereof with others of like mind. The older generation then are appreciated and not simply tolerated. They are valued and respected for their experience and store of biblical learning and understanding.

Rabbi Twerski makes the interesting observation that ‘morning sleep’ also can be understood as a person’s youth, which, without spiritual understanding, often can be ‘slept away’ in a world of materialistic values where the focus is on physical pleasures. The Talmud records that Rabbi Yehudah haNasi would weep when a person would repent and find redemption when older, after existing almost an entire lifetime without God. He would say, “It is possible for a person to achieve his entire world in one brief moment.” [2] Why would this cause him to weep? Although the redemption of a person is a joyous wonder, the waste of precious years of life is a sadness. This is especially true when one realizes the potential and opportunity for spiritual learning and living that has been has forfeited.

As a psychologist, Twerski points out that this verse lists four examples of adult behavior that, when indulged in on a regular basis, are immature. He cites another inherent danger: “When the adult culture tolerates, condones and even promotes these, it is adopting a lifestyle which young people are likely to mimic.” [3] This juvenile lifestyle might adversely affect them for life and literally “remove them from the world.” Any waste of time, whether through too much sleep, escapism through substance abuse or “killing time” on trivial entertainment, will distract one from reality and from dealing effectively with the opportunities and also the challenges and problems of life that inevitably arise.

We can, however, hold onto the hope that a person will wake up, repentance will come and one’s life can turn around and be redeemed in a moment. In His infinite love, God always is pursuing and patiently waiting, like the Merciful Father in Yeshua’s parable [4], with arms ready to receive and embrace a lost and wandering child who has turned toward home.

 

Footnotes:

1. T. Bavli, Yevamoth 16a; T. Yerushalmi I,6
2. Avodah Zarah 10b
3. Rabbi Abraham Twerski, Visions of the Fathers; 168
4. Luke 15:11-32

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