Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Not so fast (Avot 1:1)

I am endeavoring to add some regular Torah features to this blog . . . I'm trying to push myself, but I don't want to push myself too hard (that is, add so many regular features that, from exhaustion, I suddenly stop doing any of them). . . So this is one of those features: I am going to go through Pirkei Avot (often translated as "The Ethics of the Fathers") one-mishnah-a-day and just say something very brief about what I find meaningful or notable in that day's mishnah. . . . I've always avoided studying Avot for some reason . . . . I guess, in part, because in a kind of "rabbinic macho" I wanted to go straight to more _serious_ texts. . . . the kind of texts that the more _serious_ scholars spend their time on. . . . And Avot is a typical "beginner's" text in Judaism, in part because it's one of the most accessible and understandable on first read.

But, I think I've really been missing something with my "macho". Avot is full of wonderful wisdom and, as my teacher Rabbi Pinchas Giller says, it's a wonderful thing for a rabbi to have little bits of wisdom from Avot in his or her pocket to be able to bring out as the moment demands . . . to help people find inspiration and meaning.

So, here's my first entry: I'm starting at the very beginning, Avot 1:1:

א,א משה קיבל תורה מסיניי, ומסרה ליהושוע, ויהושוע לזקנים, וזקנים לנביאים, ונביאים מסרוה לאנשי כנסת הגדולה. והן אמרו שלושה דברים: היו מתונים בדין, והעמידו תלמידים הרבה, ועשו סייג לתורה

Moses accepted the Torah from Sinai and passed it down to Joshua. Joshua passed it to the Elders. The Elders to the Prophets. The Prophets to the men of the Great Kenneset.
They said three things: be deliberate in judgment, raise up many students and make a fence around the Torah.
What does it mean to be deliberate in judgment? Albeck comments that it means to not complete judging anything until you have thoroughly investigated the issues involved.

We live in a age where we are saturated by 15 second television commercials and other quick images urging us to make decisions -- that is judgments -- about everything around us. About who we want to be. About what kind of people we would like to be connected with. About what makes our lives meaningful or worthwhile.

This extends even to our political choices. The political ads blare, asking us to make decisions that impact the future of our nation and our communities based on mere impressions that come from quick images and short soundbites.

When you go to the poles (and I hope you do!!) next Tuesday, take a breath before you pull the lever (or hit the touchscreen, as the case may be). Have you been deliberate in your judgment? Have you made an effort to investigate the issues.? Or are you lettting others -- and their images -- decide for you?

Have a great rest of the week!

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