Pirkei Avot 1:11

 Rabbi Philip Weintraub

January 1, 2021

Vayechi and Pirkei Avot 1:11

If there was a piece of Torah that closed the book on 2020 and welcomed 2021, the mishnah I share today seems rather appropriate!  Pirkei Avot 1:11 is the following:

Abtalion used to say: Sages be careful with your words,

lest you incur the penalty of exile, and be carried off to a place of evil waters, 

and the disciples who follow you drink and die, 

and thus the name of heaven becomes profaned.

אַבְטַלְיוֹן אוֹמֵר, חֲכָמִים, הִזָּהֲרוּ בְדִבְרֵיכֶם, 

שֶׁמָּא תָחוּבוּ חוֹבַת גָּלוּת וְתִגְלוּ לִמְקוֹם מַיִם הָרָעִים, 

וְיִשְׁתּוּ הַתַּלְמִידִים הַבָּאִים אַחֲרֵיכֶם וְיָמוּתוּ, 

וְנִמְצָא שֵׁם שָׁמַיִם מִתְחַלֵּל: 

This mishnah is a heavy one--but it follows last week’s.  Together Shemayah and Avtalyon teach us that work and service are better than demanding power and leadership.  Together they are showing us that leadership is a tremendous responsibility.  It is not to be taken lightly.  As a rabbi, I strive to work not as an authoritarian, but as a partner with our community.  Everything I do is to build CBI as a kehillah kedoshah, to ensure that everything we do represents our holy community well.

Looking at Shemayah and Avtalon, we see the carrot and the stick.  Some people are motivated from fear of doing wrong, while others the desire to do right.  When we speak to one another, we have to look at the different motives and motivations.  How can we inspire one another? How can we lift one another up?  How can we bring light to each other?  For me, the language of positivity and uplift is more effective, yet I know that language does not inspire all.  As such, this week’s teaching is vital and relevant.  

In a year that has been challenging, let us remember the great power of speech.  Our Torah opens with the power of words.  Our tradition uses thousands upon thousands of them to inspire, uplift, challenge, and teach.  On this opening day of 2021, let us use our words for good.  I am trying, I hope you will join me!

Let's walk together!