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Ethics of our Fathers - Pirkei Avot - How to be "Just a Good Person"
ETHICS OF OUR FATHERS
HOW TO BE A MENTSCH - "JUST A GOOD PERSON"
The Torah is made up of a written law and an oral law. In the oral law we find 63 tractates dealing with the explanation of everything written in the Written Law. One of these tractates is known as Pirkei Avot – literally “Chapters of our Fathers”. Colloquially it is known simply as “Ethics of our Fathers.”
We live in a world where everybody believes they have the right approach to living. Who needs a Divine set of laws to tell us what to do?! How often do we hear people speaking of “just being a good person”? Who needs the laws of keeping the Sabbath day holy, the laws of eating Kosher, or the laws for Family Purity? So many think that “just being a good person” is all that counts!
Of course there is far more to it than simply being a “good person.” But – in any case, how does one become a good person? Is being a good person all about placing one’s knife on the right of one’s plate and one’s fork on the left side? Is it about a man opening the door to let a lady through first?! Is it about a man moving a chair, waiting for a woman to be seated, and then pushing the chair into it’s correct place?!
Is being a good person simply about smiling at everyone all the time? What does it mean to “be a good person”?! Actually even those who continually philosophise life into “being a good person” have little idea of what this means. (Those who seem to think it’s all about ‘The Ten Commandments’ also need to reconsider… all 10 of them!)
The Sages knew well what “being a good person” is really all about. Their main teachings are included in this tractate of just 6 chapters and a little over 100 short sayings. In fact, these teachings were also given to Moses when he was on Mount Sinai, and are no less important to life than Tefillin, Tzizit, Kashrut, Shabbat or any other teaching!
Within this short space of just 6 chapters, our Sages have taught us what being a good person is really all about. Even if you feel you can’t take on the commandments that seem too illogical to you at this point in time, you surely agree that we all need to be “good people”. But like everything in life, even learning how to be a good person takes time and patience as one needs to know the true system behind it all.
Our Sages have taught us that “Derech Eretz Kadma LeTorah” – basic good behaviour precedes Torah. When it comes to grounding oneself in learning Torah, the first thing we need is a set of really good manners – about everything in life, whether pertaining to man, or to G-d. Just like one must build a foundation to a building before the building, so too must one cultivate one’s behaviour, and refine it to be an example to all – before one can tread the truly refined path of Torah.
Artscroll have done a remarkable job in presenting to the public these teachings in an easy to read English. If you’re interested in seeing what life really is all about, and what it means to be nothing less than just “a good person” – then you’ll have to purchase this book. It will keep you entertained for hours and hours. Great to read together with other family members and friends. Discuss these beautiful teachings together. I have no doubt, if improving yourself is a goal you strive for, this book will be one of your favourites ever!