pirkei avot 2:17 - Fix yourself Toward Learning

This post is dedicated in memory of Etya Sarah bat Yitzchak ha-Levi. May it be an aliyah for her neshama.

By Elisheva Maline 

Rabbi Yosei said, "Make your friend's money as dear to you as if it were your own; fix yourself up to learn Torah since it is not an automatic inheritance; all your deeds should be intended for the sake of Heaven."

A pious man is defined by his ability to go beyond the strict letter of the law. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that pirkei avot (5:10)  quotes the pious man as saying "What's mine is yours and what's yours is yours." Actually, Rabbi Yosei was one such person. He regarded all wealth not as a private treasure to be hoarded but, rather, as a means to benefiting the world. There was once an elderly gentleman living in NewYork; he was my grandfather. My Zeidie, grandfather, was a really nice guy. I don't remember him once without a smile and people tell me he always had a kind word for everyone. One night, many years ago, a co-worker asked my grandfather if he could stay over at his house. My grandfather didn't ask questions. He led the guy home and fed him. The next morning, after sending him off with many friendly slaps on the back, my grandmother discovered that the "friend" had pilfered her husband's salary. She was furious but he mused, "Apparently he really needed the money." And as far as he was concerned, that settled the incident.

How can we, as outsiders, make head or tail of such a bizarre story? At first glance, one might be tempted to peg Mordachai Eliezar as naive, at best, and too good for the corruption of this world, at worst. Personally, I think he understood what being pious entailed and went about supporting his views quietly. Not only that, he created extenuating circumstances for someone who returned his good deed with ill just so that he could maintain his good opinion in others. 

How is it possible to arrive at such piety? If one has fixed in his mind that his possessions are tools, or extensions, by which he can improve society and the personal lives of those in need he is less likely to find it upsetting when someone takes advantage of his goodness. I am not advocating inviting charlatans and thieves into one's life; however, should one come across another who seems like just "a little too much," bear in mind that s/he was sent to you as an opportunity for improving this world. Do not turn him away; help him.

It must be noted, yet again, that a pious man cannot be an unlettered one so, Rabbi Yosei continues, "Fix yourself for the learning of Torah." I have often heard the phrase, "I toiled and I found" in relation to learning. In the word "found" is the connotation that though I sweated blood and tears over trying to understand this passage in the gemara, and although I finally arrived at a satisfying answer, I must recognize even that is a gift, a gemstone I happened upon in my quest for truth. Thinking in this manner staves off vanity and also keeps G-d involved in the process.

After awhile, we find ourselves in keeping with the ultimate ideal which is that "all one's deeds should be intended for the sake of heaven." Judaism is not a religion based on abstinence. By gifting us with the Torah, G-d also gave us the means by which to serve Him through the sanctifying of His world i.e. materialism. For instance, men were given the mitzvah (commandment) to be "fruitful and multiply," i.e. to use relations as a means to become part of the creation process. Women were given the mitzvah of modesty i.e. to use clothes as a means to look beautiful but not to attract objectifying jerks. The more we learn, the more we understand; the more we implement our understanding, the stronger our inner, spiritual light will glow.

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