Ethics Now & Then 76 – Avot 5:2-3

Pirkei Avot 5:2-3  

There were ten generations from Adam to Noah – to show the degree of His patience; for all those generations angered Him increasingly, until He brought upon them the waters of the Flood.

There were ten generations from Noah to Abraham – to show the degree of His patience; for all those generations angered Him increasingly, until our forefather Abraham came and received the reward of them all.

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There were ten generations from Adam to Noah – to show the degree of His patience; for all those generations angered Him increasingly, until He brought upon them the waters of the Flood.

We saw, in verse 1, how this beautiful world was created by God through His Word. However, an interesting pronouncement was made that He deliberately used ten utterances to speak things into being in order to “…execute dire punishment to the wicked and to grant rich reward to the righteous.” Now we see that, until the time of “the days of Noah,” God waited patiently through nine generations of growing evil until he found one righteous man. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God” (Gen.6:9).  And again: “Then the Lord said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you are righteous before me in this generation” (Gen. 7:2). In the generation of the Flood – Dor ha’Mabul –  Noah and his family, eight persons in all, were saved along with a cross section of  animal life, due to their righteousness, while great punishment and total destruction fell on the wicked. And then…

There were ten generations from Noah to Abraham – to show the degree of His patience; for all those generations angered Him increasingly, until our forefather Abraham came and received the reward of them all.

Again we see how the Almighty waited patiently for ten generations until He found the righteous Abraham. A significant difference in the accounts is that now the wicked are not totally destroyed but, rather,  Abraham “…received the reward of them all.” What can this mean? An interesting consideration is that, as well as his great, unstinting love for God,  Abraham had a great love for all people. He saw each one as created in the image of God and, when the Lord threatened to destroy all the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah, he argued and interceded that they be spared. Noah was faithful in obedience to God’s commands and was spared along with his family, but there is no hint that he made any effort to reach out and influence his fellow man, nor to intercede on their behalf.

Abraham, on the other hand, was not content to remain safe and satisfied in his knowledge of God and in his relationship with Him. He spoke up, reached out and acted. With wisdom and love, he drew people out of their superstition, idolatry, and fear, into the light of faith in the loving Creator of all.

Abraham was called ha’Ivri  (one who crossed over) because all the world was on one side, as it were, while he crossed over in faith to the other side – the side of God. He did not disparage or rage against the other side, however. His chief characteristic, after total loving obedience to God, was chessed – the quality of loving-kindness extended to one’s fellow man. As Irving Bunim describes, “He taught his life-giving faith because he cared deeply for others.” * Therefore, God our Father awarded Abraham, the first forefather of those who would worship Him in spirit and in truth, “the reward that was due them all.” From Abraham and his family, through Isaac and Jacob, the people of God were formed and given the mission of being a blessing in the world and of bearing the light of His Presence and truth through the generations to come.

The prophet Nehemiah writes, “You are the Lord, the God who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and gave him the name Abraham. You found his heart faithful before You, and made with him the covenant to give to his offspring the land of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, the Perizzite, the Jebusite, and the Girgashite. And You have kept your promise, for You are righteous” (9:7-8). Thanks to the emunah – the faith and faithfulness – of Abraham, the nation of Israel came into being and, in Israel’s Messiah, all Creation was offered the hope that the Kingdom of God would be restored in the earth and His people, all people, would come into the light of His Presence and become “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6).

So may it be, for His glory in the earth.

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* Irving M. Bunim, Ethics from Sinai, Vol 3.

4 thoughts on “Ethics Now & Then 76 – Avot 5:2-3

  1. There’s is so much to learn from our fore fathers. Already the Heavenly Father was beginning to write His word into our hearts, that we would love others as ourselves. What a beautiful action picture. Applying this to everyday life is so very attainable. Blessings for your insight!

  2. There’s nothing quite like reading & learning from our forefathers. I never realized how important this was until I started studying Torah & Ethics of The Fathers. What blows me away is that we can learn in a deep & profound way from Abraham who lived thousands of years ago, but still lives on with us today.

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