Pirkei Avot 1:10

 Rabbi Philip Weintraub

Congregation B’nai Israel

December 25, 2020

Pirkei Avot 1:10

Before sharing a few words on Pirkei Avot, I would like to address the elephant in all of our rooms.  COVID-19 has been around and caused so many challenges.  Our community has been largely healthy, but we are touched at times and in different ways.  This Shabbat is one of them.  We had one individual who was sickened and is recovering.  They had been in the building (masked) and around staff.  As such, in consultation with our medical team, we are doing a cleaning of the building and all staff and clergy are out of the physical office this week.  I was going to take a vacation between this Shabbat and next, but since I cannot go anywhere, I’ll be home and available to all of you!

Now to Pirkei Avot 1:10

Shemaiah and Abtalion received [the oral tradition] from them. Shemaiah used to say: 

love work, 

hate acting the superior, 

and do not attempt to draw near to the ruling authority.

שְׁמַעְיָה וְאַבְטַלְיוֹן קִבְּלוּ מֵהֶם. שְׁמַעְיָה אוֹמֵר, 

אֱהֹב אֶת הַמְּלָאכָה, 

וּשְׂנָא אֶת הָרַבָּנוּת, 

וְאַל תִּתְוַדַּע לָרָשׁוּת:

These two gentlemen led the Jewish community in a very challenging time.  Interestingly they are both either converts or descendants of converts, reminding us that no matter when one discovers their Jewish faith, they can become scholars and leaders.  This is a testament to the power of our tradition, that we need not come from a singular background, but can be 100% Jewish if we work at it!

Shemaiah teaches us that we cannot separate from our community, work is essential for us all.  How often do retirees discover that their identity was tied up with their work? After retirement, it is essential to reconnect with our faith, our purpose, and to create meaningful goals.  In this way, we are immersed in what matters to us, and gives us the drive to succeed in all we do.

Shemaiah notes that when one is in a leadership position, power can lead to poor choices.  As such, we must be incredibly judicious in our choices, be careful, remember that we are serving the community--not the other way around.  

On a related note, he expresses deep concern for the government.  In our history, that suspicion is clearly warranted.  Our people have been kicked out from virtually every nation we have lived in.  Here in the United States we have been quite fortunate, we have been blessed with a nation with far less anti-semitism than elsewhere.  That does not mean it is absent. Every year, according to the FBI, hate crimes against Jews are higher than any other group.  Let us continue to work for a world where that will no longer be true!

Wishing you all a Shabbat shalom.  We will conclude tonight with Mourner’s Kaddish and Yigdal.  We remember …