History’s sages still have wisdom for your family

Dear Families,
There is so much to learn from the past — history and the words of the wise never lose the message.
We should not discard ideas and words from our sages, yet we often struggle to understand those words. Pirke Avot, a tractate of the Talmud, is filled with messages from the sages that apply today. The opening “mishnah” (saying) is: 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) Our challenge is to read and learn and then pass down the traditions.
Here is one of my favorite mishnayot from Pirke Avot plus questions to help you and your family dig deeper into the meaning. Any ages can have this discussion.
(Pirke Avot 4:27) Rabbi Meir says: Do not look at the jug, but at what is in it; there is a new jug filled with old wine, and an old jug that does not even contain new wine.

Questions to ask

  • Rabbi Meir was a wonderful teacher who really learned from all people. When his teacher was called a heretic, Rabbi Meir was said to have the ability to “take the fruit and discard the peel.” What does that mean? Can we really learn from all people?
  • This mishnah seems very simple but that means we need to look very carefully. What does it mean to not look at the jug but at what is inside? How do we do this all the time in our daily lives? Talk with your children about how we sometimes are fooled by the way things look on the outside. What are some examples?
  • What does it mean to have a new jug with old wine? Is that what you would expect? Why or why not? Why would a new jug have old wine in it?
  • The mishnah then says “an old jug that does ‘not even’ contain new wine.” Why such strange words? What could the old jug contain?
  • Which would you choose — the old jug or the new jug? Why?
  • Is this mishnah the same or different from this common saying: “Do not judge a book by its cover”?
  • Spend time talking with your children about different examples of this mishnah. Does this apply to people as well? How?
  • How can we apply this mishnah to our lives every day?

Laura Seymour is director of Camping Services at the Aaron Family JCC

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