Ethics Now & Then 62 – Avot 4:12

Avot 4:12  Rabbi Meir said: Reduce your business activities and engage in Torah study.               Be of humble spirit before every person. If you should neglect [the study of] Torah, you will come upon many excuses to neglect it; but if you labor in the Torah, God has ample reward to give you.

Rabbi Meir said:

Rabbi Meir, the greatest disciple of Rabbi Akiva, became a scholar renowned for his wisdom. His wife, Beruriah, also was recognized as a scholar in her own right. Rabbi Meir gathered and recorded the teachings of the Oral Law, which served as a basis for the Mishnah compiled by Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi. Rabbi Meir remained a loyal friend to another of his teachers, Elisha ben Abuyah, even after the latter had become a “heretic.” Although not specifically stated, and simply a supposition, it is possible that Elisha received a revelation of Yeshua as Messiah through his deep study of the Hebrew Scriptures.

Reduce your business activities and engage in Torah study.

One needs to maintain the study and appreciation of the Word of God as the foremost priority in one’s life and as one’s primary occupation; if not, neglect of it will grow. Many excuses and distractions will rise up to draw one away.  The Hebrew phrase translated ‘many excuses’ is devarim betelim, which carries the meaning ‘worthless things of no value.’ For example, one can have the excuse of not having enough time to study Torah on a regular basis and yet spend endless hours engrossed in front of a computer or television screen. We need to examine our “reasons” and test our justifications for lack of constant study of the Scriptures, and particularly their foundation of the Torah.

In Pirkei Avot 2:6, Hillel states that an ignorant person cannot be pious or fearful of sin. One must have heard and studied and worked at applying God’s Word to one’s life in order to honor it meaningfully and to avoid the violation of His expressed will.

Be of humble spirit before every person.

Interestingly, this exhortation is inserted by Rabbi Meir before continuing with the main theme of Torah study. There is a danger that a person or scholar who is highly educated and well-versed in the Bible might become arrogant of attitude and proud of his knowledge. Rabbi Meir teaches that humility of spirit should be evinced before every person with whom one comes in contact. This may be easier when in the presence of a well-known celerity or a great scholar but the test of humility comes in one’s dealings with the clerk at the grocery store, an employee, a neighbor, or a beggar in the street.

A genuine student of the ways of God knows that, in the spirit of His Word and as perfectly demonstrated in the life of Yeshua, the Torah, or revelation and understanding of the One God, can only thrive and grow where there is humility. The Sages teach: “As water leaves a high place and settles in a low one, so will the Torah’s words remain viable only in one of humble heart” (Talmud Bavli, 7a). Also, it “will leave anyone of haughty mind and cling to someone modest in his thoughts” (Midrash Rabba, Song of Songs 1:2).

True humility is not thinking less of, or demeaning oneself. It is having a clear knowledge of yourself and accepting who you are as a beloved child of God. One then is able to rest in the understanding that, just as a child can fully trust in the wisdom, protection, provision and greater strength of a good parent, so one can trust in our Father in Heaven. In the same vein, Yeshua called a little child to himself and taught his disciples who were seeking greatness in God’s Kingdom: “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn [from your own strength and understanding] and become like children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 18:2).

True tranquillity of soul can only flow from a deep faith and radical trust in the One who is Father of us all and as each one fulfills the purpose for which he or she was created. Every person is wondrously unique and individually formed according to the will of our Creator and only He can guide our steps and lead us in the way He has prepared for us from before the beginning of time.* Our faith is anchored in the One who is faithful to draw us and woo us to Himself, and who strengthens and enables us as we walk in harmony with His will. In this place of rest we can, in humility, offer grace and peace to others in His unfailing love.

If you should neglect [the study of] Torah, you will come upon many excuses to neglect it; but if you labor in the Torah, God has ample reward to give you.

Our Father sent His Word of chesed ve’emet / grace and truth, enfleshed in His anointed Son and Messiah, Yeshua, to be a living demonstration of His Torah. As sons and daughters created in the image of God,  and being conformed in the likeness of Yeshua, we too are in the family business and our occupation is to study the truth of His Word, obey its precepts and act in love and kindness. In so doing our minds are transformed, we live in accord with our Father’s will and influence our fellow human beings for good.

As we commit ourselves to “labor in Torah” we are assured that our Employer is faithful to recompense us justly and fairly. In the economy of God’s Kingdom all our efforts are noted and valued and the rewards are forthcoming. Should a ‘laborer’ become lazy and neglect his task or become focussed only on selfish, material gains or personal satisfaction then the person will find that they need to strive harder in order to cover their own ‘expenses’. These will become greater and will devour more of their time and energy as the lust for material gain or power is seldom satisfied. By neglecting Torah study in the amassing of greater material fortune, one forfeits the opportunity to enrich and exalt one’s life with the higher meaning for which we are created.

When we immerse ourselves in the Living Word, all our every-day activities become set apart in service to God and for His purposes. Then we enjoy not only the provision of our specific needs but also the abundant rewards of Divine revelation and insight. We grow in  a spiritual understanding that brings us into closer and more intimate relationship with the Almighty Creator of the universe – the Giver of all good things – our Father Himself.

Leave a Reply