By Laura Seymour
When asked what Jewish books every family should have, the No. 1 answer is a Tanach, the Jewish Bible, which contains the Torah, the Prophets and the Writings. The No. 2 “must have” is Pirke Avot, a tractate of the Talmud that is filled with sayings of the sages. Each one makes for great discussion and learning for all ages. This one is an important one for each of us to teach and remember:
“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.” — Pirke Avot 4:27
Here are a few discussion starters for your family:
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? Talk about how this relates to respect for all people.
This mishnah seems very simple but says that 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”?
Of the many jobs I have at the JCC, the one that gives so much joy is Habima Theatre. Twenty adults with developmental disabilities began practicing in January for our Sunday, May 3 production. This year we are performing an adaptation of “Oklahoma!” This group of actors proves that we must “look on the inside” — so mark your calendars for May 3!
Laura Seymour is director of camping services and Jewish life and learning at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas.
By Laura Seymour