Pirke Avot 1

As mentioned in a previous blog (from 4/2/18), it is customary to study a chapter of Pirke Avot on Shabbat between Pesach and Shavuous. This year, the time between the two festivals also coincides with the daf yomi cycle of Meseches Horayos (which deals with erroneous rulings by Jewish courts). While Pirke Avot deals with ethical and moral issues of daily life (mussar), Meseches Horayos has a legal aspect to it in terms of remedies for those erroneous rulings.  The opening chapter of Pirke Avot (see my blog on Daf Yomi Horayos 2 from 4/2/18) not introduces the chain of mesorah (chain of oral tradition) from Moshe Rabbeinu on down, it also mentions ethical aspects of judging which can apply to both a formal Beit Din and individual aspects of interpersonal relationships. Pirke Avot gives us a guide for ethical living based on the teachings of our sages. In this blog, I would like to look at more sayings from chapter 1 (for the first Shabbat after the Pesach seders) as well as the classic commentary by Rabbi Ovadiah Bartenura since we are still studying Meseches Horayos.

I am using the version of Pirke Avot from, The Sefaria edition of the Mishnah with community commentary (chapter 1). We start with Mishnah 8:

Mishnah 9 is clearly connected with the current Talmud daf yomi study. It warns us to examine witnesses carefully, but to be careful with our words! The Bartneura comments (all comments from Bartneunura are from The Sefaria edition of The Bartenura Commentary with community translation, and will be used from now on in all comments by Bartenura in today’s blog!):

Mishnah 11 also warns to be careful with our words even when teaching. Students will use you as an example, and we must be understanding of that. There then follows some famous statements of Hillel and Shammai. We have discussed the disputes between them and their established “Schools” in previous blogs, but you can see how Hillel generally takes a broader approach while Shammai is usually more narrower in his analysis. Bartenura states:

In Mishnah 18, we see a saying that the world stands on three things:Judgement, truth, and Peace. Later, we learn a different version that the world stands on three things: Torah, Avodah (service), and Gemilut Chassidim (Deeds of Loving-kindness). These versions are connected since since judgement requires knowledge of Torah, truth depends on actively doing mitzvot to demenstrate the Torah of Truth, and Peace will come with love instead of hate. The Bartenura states:

There is much to learn in Pirke Avot, and I hope in the coming weeks before Shavuous to continue the discuss of subsequent chapters.

About the Author
Jonathan Wolf is a retired high school physics teacher. He retired to NJ with his wife. He is an adjunct professor of physics at Fairleigh Dickinson University. He has published professional papers and has been the author of AP Physics review books as well as general HS and college physics review books. He is a past President and ritual chairman at a conservative synagogue on Long Island, NY before he retired to NJ.
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