Learning to live an ethical life

Dear Families,

Most of us cannot imagine studying Talmud but it really is possible today (you can even find a study group online). The best tractate to study is Pirke Avot, Chapters of the Sages. Pirke Avot comprises six chapters and over 150 mishnayot or teachings. Each mishnah has many lessons for us to learn about how to live an ethical life. It would be wonderful if we could just read the “saying” and then would know what to do. However, it takes a little more work and study, but each of us can do it — even children. 

Spend time each Shabbat talking about the mishnah using the questions below 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. Remember, that after we have begun to understand the mishnah, we must then work to understand how to apply the learning to our lives. 

Pirke Avot 4:1 Ben Zoma says:

Who is wise? He who learns from every person.

Who is strong? He who controls his passions.

Who is rich? He who is happy with his lot.

Who is honored? He who honors others.

Questions to talk about

·What does it mean to be wise? Is being wise different from being smart? How? Do you need to be old to be wise? Why or why not?

·How can you learn from everyone? What if they are younger or not as smart or very different from you? 

·Why does learning from every person make you wise?

·What does it mean to be strong? Is it about having strong muscles or something different? What?

·What does it mean to control your “passions”? Why does that take strength? How do you use your inner strength to control yourself?

·How many different ways are there to be rich? What does it mean to you to be rich?

·Is it easy to be happy with what you have? Why or why not? Why does that make you rich?

·Finally, what does it mean to be honored? How do you honor other people? How do they show they honor you? Why does honoring others make you honored?

·Are one of these qualities more important than the others? Why are they in the order above? Which is most important to you?

·How can we apply this mishnah to our lives every day?

Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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