Each week at summer camp at the J, we follow the tradition of our sages and study the Talmudic Tractate known as Pirke Avot, Chapters of the Sages.
Pirke Avot is comprised of six chapters and over 150 mishnayot or teachings. Each mishnah has many lessons for us to learn how to live an ethical life. It would be wonderful if we could just read the “saying” and then would know just what to do. However, it takes a little more work and study, but each of us can do it — even our youngest campers. The “Mishnah of the Week” has been chosen because it provides lessons for each of us as part of our community. Camp is filled with experiences of learning and living together; we can learn more by studying together and so our lives are filled with the same.
Spend time each Shabbat talking about the mishnah using the questions as guidelines. Begin by reading the words, then breaking down the parts and trust in the fact that even young children can add their thoughts to the discussion. Listening to one another is the beginning of learning.
The first mishnah tells how the tradition was passed from Moses on down the line — the very same teaching Moses received at Mount Sinai. Why begin with this? What are the lessons we learn from how the tradition was passed down? How can we continue to add our chapters to the teachings?
Moses received the Torah from Sinai and transmitted it to Joshua; Joshua to the Elders; the Elders to the Prophets; and the Prophets transmitted it to the Men of the Great Assembly. (Pirke Avot 1:1)
Remember that after we have begun to understand the mishnah, we must then work to understand how to apply the learning to our lives. This is the true gift of our sages — the lessons continue to today to guide us in how to live. The next step is to write our own chapters and continue to pass on the lessons.
Shalom….from the Shabbat Lady.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services and Jewish life and learning at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas.