Lessons in the Talmud:
Justice, Law, Ethics, and Mores

Pirkei Avot is a tractate in the Mishna that speaks to crucial matters of ethics and wisdom.

Pirkei Avot 

Lessons in the Talmud Chapter 1

                      All Israel have a share in the World-to-Come, as it is said:                                                               "Your people are all righteous;                                                                                    they shall inherit the land forever;                                                                              they are a shoot of my own planting                                                                             a work of My own hands, that I may be glorified."


1:1.  Moses received the Torah at Sinai and handed it on to Joshua; Joshua to the elders; the elders to the prophets; and the prophets handed it on to the Men of the Great Assembly.They [The men of the Great Assembly] said three things: Be careful in judgment; raise up many disciples; and make a fence for the Torah. 

1:2.  Shimon HaTzaddik [the Just] was one of the last survivors of the Great Assembly. He used to say: On three things the world stands: on the Torah, on divine worship, and on acts of loving-kindness.


1:3.  Antigonos of Sokho received [the Torah tradition] from Shimon HaTzaddik. He used to say: Do not be like servants who serve their master on condition of receiving a reward, but be like servants who serve their master not on condition of receiving a reward; and let the fear of Heaven be upon you.


1:4.  Yose ben Yo'ezer of Tzereda and Yose ben Yohanan of Jerusalem received [the tradition] from them. Yose ben Yo'ezer of Tzereda used to say: Let your house be a meeting place for sages; sit in the dust at their feet, and with thirst, drink in their words. 


1:7.  Nittai the Arbelite used to say: Keep far from a bad neighbor, do not associate with a bad person, and do not despair of divine retribution.


1:8.  Yehuda ben Tabbai and Shimon ben Shatah received [the tradition] from them. Yehuda ben Tabbai used to say: [When sitting as a judge] do not act as an advocate;when the parties to a lawsuit appear before you, regard them both as guilty;  but when they leave you, having accepted the verdict, regard them both as innocent.

1:9.  Shimon be Shatah used to say: Examine the witnesses thoroughly, and be careful in your words, lest through them they learn how to lie.


1:14.  Hillel: He used to say: If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?


1:18.  Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel used to say: On three things does the world stand - on truth, justice, and peace, as it is said  "Administer truth and the judgment of peace in your gates." 

Lessons in the Talmud Chapter 2


2:1.  Rabbi [Yehuda HaNasi] said: What is the right path a person should choose for himself? Whatever is honorable to one who chooses it and honorable in the eyes of others. Be as meticulous in the observance of a minor mitzva as a major one, for you do not know the reward for each mitzva.  Against the loss that fulfilling a mitzva may entail, reckon its reward, and against the benefit a transgression may bring, reckon the loss it involves. 

2:2. Reflect on three things and you will not fall into transgression: Know what is above you - a seeing eye, a hearing ear, and a book in which all your deeds are written.

Do not judge your fellow until you have stood in his place. Do not say anything that cannot be understood [at once] in the hope that it will eventually be understood. And do not say, I will study when I have the time,  for you may never have the time.


2:6.  He used to say: An uncouth person cannot be sin-fearing, nor can an ignoramus be pious. A shy person cannot learn, nor can an impatient one teach. A person over-occupied in business does not always become wise. In a place where there are no worthy people, strive to be worthy.    


2:13. He said to them: Go and see which is the right way to which one should cling.

Rabbi Eliezer said:  a good eye [generosity of spirit]. Rabbi Yehoshua said:  a good companion. Rabbi Yose said:  a good neighbor. Rabbi Shimon said:  one who considers the consequences. Rabbi Elazar said:  a good heart. Then he said to them: I prefer the answer of Elazar ben Arakh, for his view includes all of yours.


2:17.  Rabbi Yose said: Let the property of your fellow be as precious to you as your own. Prepare yourself to study Torah, for it does not come to you as an inheritance. And let all your deeds be for the sake of Heaven. 


2:20.  Rabbi Tarfon said: The day is short, the task is great, the laborers are lazy, the reward is much, and the Master insistent.

2:21.  He used to say: It is not for you to complete the task, but neither are you free to stand aside from it. If you  have studied much Torah, you will be given great reward, for your Employer will faithfully reward your work. Know, though, that the reward of the righteous is granted in the time to come.

Lessons in the Talmud Chapter 3


3:11.  Rabbi Hanina ben Dosa said: For one who puts fear of sin before wisdom, wisdom endures. For one who puts wisdom before fear of sin, wisdom does not endure.

3:12.  He also used to say: For one whose good deeds exceed his wisdom, wisdom endures. For one whose wisdom exceeds his good deeds, wisdom does not endure. 


3:22.  He used to say: To what may one whose wisdom exceeds his deeds be compared? To a tree with many branches but few roots. When a wind comes, it uproots and overturns it, as it is said, "He shall be like a juniper tree in the desert, which does not sense the coming of good:  it is set in the scorched places of the wilderness in a barren, uninhabited land."

To what may one whose deeds exceed his wisdom be compared? To a tree with few branches but many roots.  Even if all the winds of the world come and blow against it, they cannot dislodge it from its place, as it is said, "He shall be like a tree planted by waters, sending forth its roots by a stream: it does not sense the coming of heat; its leaves are ever fresh; it has no care in a year of drought; it does not cease to bear fruit."


3:20.  He used to say: All is given on collateral, and a net is spread over all the living. The shop is open, the shopkeeper extends credit, the ledger is open, and the hand records. Whoever wishes to borrow may come and borrow. The collectors continually every day make their rounds and collect payment from a person, whether he realizes it or not. They have [a record] on which they can rely; the judgment is just; and all is prepared for the banquet.


3:21. Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya said:If there is no Torah, there is no respect; if there is no respect, there is no Torah. If there is no wisdom, there is no reverence; if there is no reverence, there is no wisdom. If there is no knowledge, there is no understanding; if there is no understanding, there is no knowledge If there is no flour [sustenance], there is no Torah if there is no Torah, there is no flour.

Lessons in the Talmud Chapter 4 

4:1. Who is strong?  One who masters his evil impulse, as it is is said, “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules over his spirit is better than he who conquers a city.” Who is rich?  One who rejoices in what he has, as it is said,“ When you eat from the labor of your hands, you will be happy and all will be well with you. “You will be happy” - in this world, “and all will be well with you” - in the World-to-Come. Who is honored?  One who honors others, as it is said, “Those who honor Me, I will honor; but those who scorn Me will be despised.”


4:2.  Ben Azzai said: Run to do even a minor mitzva, and flee from sin, for one mitzva leads to another, and one sin leads to another - for the reward of a mitzva is another mitzva,  and the recompense of a sin is another sin. 

4:17. Rabbi Shimon said: There are three crowns: the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood, and the crown of kingship - but the crown of a good name surpasses them all.


4:19.  Rabbi Yannai said: It is not in our power to explain either the peace of the wicked or the suffering of the righteous. 


4:23.  Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar said: Do not try to placate your fellow in his hour of anger. Do not try to comfort him while his dead lies before him. Do not question him about his vow at the time he is making it. Do not try to see him in his hour of disgrace.

Lessons in the Talmud Chapter 6 


6:6.  The Torah is greater than priesthood and kingship for kingship is acquired with thirty attainments, and priesthood is endowed with twenty-four [gifts]  but the Torah is acquired by forty-eight virtues.

They are:

                    study, attentive listening, well-ordered speech,

                    intuitive understanding, awe, reverence, humility,

                    joy, purity, serving the wise, association with colleagues,

                    debate with students, serenity, knowledge of Scripture

                    and Mishna; minimizing time spent on business,

                    worldly matters, pleasure, sleep, small talk, or laughter;

                   patience, a kindly heart, faith in the sages, and acceptance of suffering;

                    knowing one's place, being happy with one's lot, restraining

                  one's words, and claiming no credit for oneself; being loved, loving God,

                    loving mankind, and loving righteousness, justice, and admonishment;

                    shunning honors, avoiding arrogance in one's learning or delight

               in giving decisions; sharing someone else's burden, giving him the benefit

             of the doubt, guiding him to truth and peace; concentrating on one's study,

             asking and answering questions, listening and adding to one's knowledge;

                  learning in order to teach, learning in order to do, making one's teacher

                 wiser, being precise in one's studies, and reporting a saying in the name

                    of the one who said it.

                    For you have learned:

               Whoever reports a saying in the name of the one who said it brings deliverance to the world, as it is said, "And Esther told the king in the name of Mordekhai." 

6:7.  Great is Torah

         for it gives life to its practitioners in both this world and the World-to-Come,

              as it is said, "For they are life to those that find them, and healing to all their flesh":

              and it says, "It shall be healing for your body and marrow for your bones."

Lessons in the Talmud:    Justice, Law, Ethics, and Mores

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