So often I am asked for a list of books for a personal Jewish library. Once I start the list, it seems like there is no end because when you ask a bibliophile, there are always more books that you must have. However, first on the list is a Tanakh, the Jewish Bible; included in that suggestion would be one with some commentary, or buy additional commentary to go along with the Tanakh. (Of course, I would not settle for one commentary, but that is another story.) The next “must have” is a volume of Pirke Avot and there are so many to choose from. The study of Pirke Avot is a lifelong endeavor but can be started at a very early age. I have shared with you the experiences of teaching this to preschoolers and they are amazing in their understanding of these important Jewish texts.
Let’s look now at the very first mishnah in Pirke Avot:
Moses received the Torah from (God Who revealed Himself at Mount) 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. They said three things: Be deliberate in judgment; develop many disciples; and make a (protective) fence for the Torah.
There are two parts of this mishnah — the who and then the what they said. I am often asked, “Can’t we skip all the people? What does it really matter who said it?”
The answer is simple: Yes, it matters! And it matters for so many different reasons! We all want to check our sources and decide if we value the authority that says something. We give more weight to something said by someone that demonstrates depth of knowledge or experience and someone that we respect. Today as we listen to political candidates, we are hopefully deciding on what they are saying and our trust in their ability to stand behind what they say.
This mishnah starts with Moses receiving the Torah from God and then transmitting it to Joshua. Receiving is passive but then Moses became the transmitter — giving. Our job today is to continue receiving and transmitting just as it was described from Moses to the Men of the Great Assembly. Judaism has continued because we have taken on this responsibility of passing on the tradition.
The passion for learning is definitely a Jewish value but so is the passion for teaching. The passion to connect to Torah has kept us throughout our history. Let us continue to learn and to teach.
Shalom…from the Shabbat Lady.
Laura Seymour is director of Camping Services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center of Dallas.