Ethics Now and Then 97 – Avot 5:25-26

Pirkei Avot 5:25 -26

Ben Bag Bag said: Turn and turn about in it [the Torah] for everything is in it; and within it you shall look, and grow old and gray over it, and not stir from it; for there is no better portion for you than this.

Ben Hei Hei says: The reward is in preportion to the exertion.

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The two sages quoted in these final verses of Chapter 5 have the rather amusing names of Ben Bag Bag and Ben Hei Hei.  It is understood that both sages were in fact descendants of proselytes to Judaism whose actual names were disguised to protect them from informers who would have turned them over to the Romans. Clues are given to the veracity of this story in that the first proselytes were Avram and Sara, to whose names God added the letter hei, forming Avraham and Sarah. Hei Hei! In the name Bag Bag, the numerical value of the letters bet and gimmel are 2 + 3, which equal 5, the value of hei.*

Avot 5:25

Ben Bag Bag said: Turn and turn about in it [the Torah] for everything is in it…

One should never be content with a one dimensional view of the Torah, or any part of the Word of God. Like a multi-faceted diamond it requires to be studied and viewed and contemplated from every angle – to be turned, turned and turned again. One will never come to an end of its study for, as Ben Bag Bag tells us, “everything is in it.” There is nothing in Creation and life itself that has been overlooked for it was written and given for our guidance and instruction by the Creator of all Himself.

…and within it you shall look, and grow old and gray over it, and not stir from it;

Ben Bag Bag here reiterates the information of the previous verse. One should be looking into, with great concentration and unswerving dedication, the inexhaustible spring of wisdom that is Torah all of one’s life. The more we do so, the broader and deeper our knowledge and understanding will become of all that is good and true and worthwhile. Therefore, even when one is old and gray, and one’s physical strength and energy for other pursuits has waned, the treasure of God’s Word can always be at your side to delve into and to enjoy; an endeavour in which one’s spirit can continue to grow ever stronger.

…for there is no better portion for you than this.

The prophet Isaiah tells us:
The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God will stand forever.**
As worthy as our worldly pursuits may be, all material things fade and do not last forever. At the end of one’s life journey there is nothing that will compare with the value of the investment of one’s time and energies in the study of God’s Word in order to grow closer to Him in understanding and in loving relationship. We are promised reward in eternity for our commitment and obedience to His Word;  the portion or reward alluded to here, however, is one’s present portion – the blessing and joy we can experience here and now in our day to day lives.

Avot 5:26

Ben Hei Hei says: The reward is in preportion to the exertion.

Much blessing and reward is promised to those who “hear and obey” the Word of God. Ben Hei Hei adds extra encouragement in his use of the word ‘exertion’. To some the study and practice of Torah might come more easily due to a gifted intellect and greater powers of application. Here we are assured, however, that God notices the effort involved as well as the carrying out of the mitzvah – the exertion as well as the execution. Every small effort and struggle in the study of His Word, and in obeying His commandments, is noted and valued and will bring eternal blessing.

 

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Footnotes:

* Pirkei Avos, The Artscroll Mesorah Series, 53

** Isaiah 40:8

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