Vaera Pirkei Avot 1:13

 Rabbi Philip Weintraub

January 15, 2021

Vaera and Pirkei Avot 1:13

Each mishnah of Pirkei Avot is a brief moment of wisdom.  Some resonate with us powerfully and timelessly, while some seem more confined to their time.  This lesson from Hillel the Elder, one of our most acclaimed teachers and moral leaders reminds us of the dangers of stagnation.

הוּא הָיָה אוֹמֵר, נָגֵד שְׁמָא, אָבֵד שְׁמֵהּ. 

וּדְלֹא מוֹסִיף, יָסֵף. 

וּדְלֹא יָלֵיף, קְטָלָא חַיָּב. 

וּדְאִשְׁתַּמֵּשׁ בְּתָגָא, חָלֵף: 

He [also] used to say: one who makes his name great causes his name to be destroyed; 

one who does not add [to his knowledge] causes [it] to cease; 

one who does not study [the Torah] deserves death; 

one who makes [unworthy] use of the crown [of learning] shall pass away.

In the Jewish tradition, Torah is life.  Studying Torah is our blood, our milk, our water.  It is the source of all.  Proverbs 1:8 says:

My son, heed the discipline of your father, And do not forsake the instruction of your mother;

שְׁמַ֣ע בְּ֭נִי מוּסַ֣ר אָבִ֑יךָ וְאַל־תִּ֝טֹּ֗שׁ תּוֹרַ֥ת אִמֶּֽךָ׃ 

As we come together in this moment, we are celebrating Sisterhood Shabbat.  This is a moment of hope and opportunity.  Our mothers are mentioned repeatedly in our Torah.  Rivkah speaks and hears directly from the Holy One. Devorah is the greatest of the Judges, our people’s leaders before the kings.  Throughout rabbinic literature, the wisdom of wise women is sprinkled in.  Today, we have much work to do to listen to the Torah of our mothers, to the Torah of our sisters, to the Torah of our daughters.  On my desk are several commentaries written by women.  I try to cite them regularly, so that you all hear that Torah does not ONLY come from the voices of male rabbis and teachers.  I am the rabbi I am because of the female teachers I had, the female hevrutot, and my female classmates.  

Our Torah is great and powerful and beautiful.  It is everything to us--and it can only be that way if we hear the voices of all of her children.  This year, a beautiful project has been formed through Sefaria--an online Jewish resource that compiles tremendous Jewish wisdom.  They have created a fellowship for female teachers and clergy to share their writings and commentaries with us all.  I hope that this resource add to the vitality of the Jewish community.  Shabbat Shalom.

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