Ethics Now and Then – Chapter 6 – Overview

Pirkei Avot Chapter 6 – Overview

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Chapter 6 was not an original chapter of the tractate Pirkei Avot. The verses are a collection of the sages’ teachings that were not included in the Talmud but are written in a similar style and are supplemental to the preceding five chapters.  It was compiled and included in order that the chapters would correspond to the six Shabbats between Passover and Shavuot, when, traditionally, a chapter of Pirkei Avot is studied each week.

As this chapter is read the week before Shavuot, the Festival that commemorates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, it focuses on the beauty and value of Torah. The chapter opens with a teaching attributed to Rabbi Meir:*

Rabbi Meir said: “Whoever occupies himself with the study of Torah for its own sake merits many things; and not only that, but the entire world is worthwhile because of him. He is called “Friend, beloved of God, one who loves the Omnipresent God and who loves mankind; he brings joy to the Omnipresent God and joy to mankind. It [the Torah] clothes him with humility and reverence, and prepares him to be righteous, pious, upright and faithful; and it puts him far from sin and brings him near to virtue. People enjoy from him the benefit of counsel and sound wisdom, understanding and strength – as it is stated [of Torah]: 

Mine are counsel and sound wisdom; I am understanding, might is mine.**

And it gives him sovereignty and dominion, and penetrating judgment. To him are revealed mysteries of Torah; and he becomes an ever-flowing fountain that never fails and as a river that never runs dry, which constantly gains in vigor. He becomes modest, patient and forgiving of insults; and it makes him great and exalted above all creations.

To diligently and purposefully study and meditate upon the Torah, or teachings, of God –  the foundation of which is the first Five Books of Moses – is the chief discipline that helps to guide one along life’s path and, essentially, bestows meaning, blessing and true satisfaction. The discernment and true judgment derived from its solid and clear concepts of truth, guard those who live by it from error and draw each one closer to God’s good and perfect will for their lives.

According to Rabbi Meir, with the understanding that God’s Word is the “water of life,” when one drinks from it constantly, one’s own spirit, wisdom and understanding become “…like a fountain that never fails.” One’s life becomes ever stronger, “…like a river which constantly gains in vigor.”

Despite the increase of wisdom and blessing gained, however, Rabbi Meir points out that one whose motivation for the study of God’s Word is that “he loves God” and “he loves mankind”; that person will remain “modest, patient and forgiving of insults.” Although his spirit is highly exalted and he is called a “friend and beloved of God,” he fully understands that all gain and success come only from the hand of God Himself, and he relates in love and humility to all his fellowman.

This, surely, should be our constant aim; as the prophet Micah exhorts:

He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?***

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Dear fellow talmidim-students of the incomprehensibly precious Word of God,

This brings us to the end of the series Ethics Now and Then and our study together of Pirkei Avot. For those who have perseverd through the almost 100 instalments, Kol ha’kavod – all honor to you! And to all students who are studying for the love of our God and our fellow man, may all the blessings described above be yours.

Chazak, chazak, ve’nitchazek! Be strong, be strong [as you persevere in your learning] and may we strengthen one another in our journey of faith.

In Him Who loves us with boundless love,

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~ Keren Hannah Pryor

Footnotes:

* Translation by Irving M.Bunim, Ethics from Sinai Vol.3, 260

** Proverbs 8:14

*** Micah 6:8