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 is comprised of six chapters and over 150 mishnayot or teachings. Each mishnah has many lessons for us to learn how to live an ethical life. It would be wonderful if we could just read the “saying” and then would know just what to do. However, it takes a little more work and study, but each of us can do it — even our youngest campers.
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 than 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 than, or not as smart as, or very different than, 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 would that be?
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?
If you are looking for a book to buy, get a copy of Pirke Avot. There are so many different ones with different commentaries to help you study. Even Amazon has lots of choices. Use it for family discussions — it is a much better topic than politics although our sages do have plenty to say about the politics of their day!