Pirkei Avot Lesson 8
Sandy Kress

Ethics of the Fathers – Lesson Plan – Session Eight – WHPC

I. Introduction

II. Verses to Consider

A. He (Hillel) was accustomed to say: The more the flesh, the more worms; the more possessions, the more worry; the more wives, the more witchcraft; the more maidservants, the more lewdness; the more manservants, the more thievery. 

However, the more Torah (Bible), the more life; the more study, the more wisdom; the more counsel, the more understanding; the more charity, the more peace. One who gains a good reputation has gained something of real benefit; one who acquires for himself Torah knowledge has gained life of the World to Come. 2:8


1. Putting aside some gender issues/concerns with the text, let’s explore whether/how this bias against “more” is right. Specifically, what’s wrong with more of the listed items in the first statement? Plus, is it necessarily so that more of each of these inevitably leads to bad results?

2. Now, let’s discuss whether, why, and how more of the items listed in the second statement leads to good results.

3. Do you see common traits shared by items in the first list? In the second? And, if so, what does that teach us?

B. He (Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai) used to enumerate their (his disciples’) praises: Eliezer ben Hyrkanos is like a cemented cistern that loses not a drop; Yehoshua ben Chanania, praiseworthy is she who bore him; Yose the Kohen is a scrupulously pious person; Shimon ben Nesanel fears sin; and Elazar ben Arach is like a spring flowing stronger and stronger. 2:11


1. Explain what you take away from the Rabbi’s account of his disciples’ strengths to make clearer what the Rabbi means.

2. It’s probably impossible to bring together in any one of us all these traits. But, if I were to ask you how you might try to do more to be more in the way of all these characteristics, what would you say?

C. He (Yochanan ben Zakkai) said to them (the five disciples): Go out and discern which is the good path to which a person should cling. Eliezer says: A good eye. Yehoshua says: A good friend. Yose says: A good neighbor. Shimon says: One who considers the outcome of a deed. Elazar says: A good heart. 

He said to them: I prefer the words of Elazar…because all your words are included in his words. 2:13


1. The Rabbi says he prefers the answer of Elazar and indicates why. How would you support that view? More interestingly, tell us which other response you might prefer, and why?

2. Are there other features of any these specific answers you’d like to emphasize as especially worthy?

III. Conclusion - Takeaways from Our Study

Pirkei Avot Lesson 8

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