This Mishnah is one of the most well-known but we never stop learning from it.
At camp we even sing about it with a song by Debbie Friedman. No matter how many times we read this, or any, Mishnah, there is always something new because we are different each time we study and learn.
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? — Pirke Avot 1:14
Questions to ask:
- What does it mean to “be for myself”? How do we take care of ourselves? Is it wrong to put yourself first? Why or why not?
- If we don’t take care of ourselves, no one else will — do you think that is true? Who else will take care of us?
- Do you think that parents have to take care of their kids first or themselves first? Why? Who should take care of parents?
- What is wrong with being only for yourself? Why does Hillel ask, “What am I?” Does it mean you are a bad person if you only care for yourself?
- Many interpretations say that Hillel was talking about knowing who you are and being someone special. How do you become someone special?
- The final question is important by itself. Talk about what “If not now, when?” means to you.
- Now we must look at why Hillel put these three questions together. How do they relate to each other? What is the entire Mishnah telling us about how we should live our lives?
- Many psychologists today believe Hillel knew just what we needed for good emotional health. What is Hillel telling us about what is important?
- How can you teach this mishnah to others?
- How can we apply this mishnah to our lives every day?
Shalom….from the Shabbat Lady.
Laura Seymour is director of Camping Services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.