click here to jump to start of article
Join Our Newsletter

Get latest articles and videos with Jewish inspiration and insights​




The Real Thing: Ethics of the Fathers 2:8

The Real Thing: Ethics of the Fathers 2:8

LIFE: For best results, use as directed.

by

"The more Torah, the more life; the more study, the more wisdom; the more advice, the more understanding; the more charity, the more peace. One who acquires a good name acquires it for himself; one who acquires words of Torah has acquired himself a share in the World to Come."

Ethics of the Fathers, 2:8

In this Mishna, Hillel exhorts us to direct our attention to matters of the neshama, the "supernal soul," and to appreciate the benefits of exerting ourselves in pursuit of the spiritual.

The more Torah, the more life

Young people starting out in the world have often lamented that you need credit to get credit, that lenders will not trust people with money until they have proven that they can be trusted with it.

In the same way, Hillel tells us that the Almighty has given us our very lives on trust. He created us, and He continues to sustain both us and the entire world for our benefit. Like a lender who sincerely hopes that the one who borrows from him will use his money to make more money, so too does the One who has extended the ultimate credit of earthly existence hope that His creations will act responsibly with the riches He has bestowed upon them.

Why did the Almighty provide us with air to breath, with water to drink, with food to eat? Why does He continue to provide us with life itself, with health, with strength to make a living, to pursue our goals, to raise our children?

All the gifts we so often take for granted were given to us for one purpose: that we should use them to live a good life and thereby earn for ourselves the greatest gift of all -- eternal life in the World to Come.

And what is the definition of a "good life"? Whether we buy a car or a washing machine, we find that our new purchase bears a sticker proclaiming this message in bold letters: For best results, use as directed. Parents often muse how easy life would be if every newborn child came with an instruction booklet and a similar warning that life should be lived "as directed."

What we forget is that we have such a booklet. It is called the Torah.

Every Jew can find the secrets of living the good life by applying a small measure of diligence to Torah study.

Problems in business, problems in the community, child raising strategies, conflict resolution, diet aids, and the keys for successful marriage are all included in God's Handbook for Life -- the Torah. And even if we have never succeeded in comprehending the instructions to set the clock on a VCR, every Jew can find the secrets of living the good life by applying a small measure of diligence to Torah study.

Nor must we even wait for our ultimate reward in the World to Come. The reward of a good life is a good life here in this world as well. Whereas the one who pursues physical pleasure is never satisfied and the one who seeks to acquire material possessions is never at peace, the Torah provides us with the sense of purpose and the confidence that fills every moment of our lives with meaning. In place of the insatiable emptiness that stalks the pleasure-seeker, the divine word empowers us to achieve spiritual goals that bring us an enduring feeling of satisfaction unparalleled by the indulgence of any physical delight.

Finally, when our Divine Creditor sees that we are responsible in the use of the priceless treasure He has given us, that we are devoting the days of our lives toward acquiring spiritual sensitivity, then He will extend us even more credit, extending our lives so that we may continue to live as He wants us to, that we may continue to live the good life, and that we may continue to earn for ourselves an eternal life of eternal pleasure.

the more study, the more wisdom

Like things in the physical world, there is no reliable quick fix. A Band-Aid may ease the pain of infection, a swift kick may stop the funny noise in the refrigerator, but problems don't go away that easily, and genuine remedies require determined attention.

So too Torah study. Just as an understanding of Einstein's theories or quantum mechanics cannot be achieved on the first day of high school physics, similarly an appreciation of Torah wisdom requires a commitment to study. Like any body of knowledge, Torah wisdom comes only in proportion to the time and effort applied to its study.

But we don't have time, we complain. Indeed, once we have taken to heart Hillel's message concerning overindulgence in all things physical, we will discover that we have much more time than we thought for all things spiritual. And once we invest the time in matters of the soul, we will wonder how we were ever satisfied devoting so much attention to the body.

the more advice, the more understanding

Western culture has provided us with a remarkable phenomenon called the "self-help book." Is this not an oxymoron? For if self-help was possible, why would we need a book to teach it to us?

As convenient as it might be to expect the Torah to provide an index to every possible situation in life and offer detailed instructions how to respond to every eventuality, the real world is far more complex, and the right response will differ from one person to another, even in the same situation.

Torah does not tell us what to do with each step of our lives. Rather, it teaches us how to understand the world and how to interpret every new situation as it confronts us. For accomplished scholars, these interpretations may be relatively clear. For the rest of us, they may be more uncertain.

Just as we seek medical advice from doctors, legal advice from attorneys, and automotive advice from mechanics, so too should we seek spiritual advice from those more expert than ourselves in matters of the spirit. Inquiry from a Torah authority may not yield an answer such as "do this" or "don't do that," but it will yield an interpretation of circumstances and options that will enable us to make a spiritually informed and enlightened decision.

the more charity, the more peace

The impulse to indulge the physical is fueled by our perception that our every resource has no value or purpose other than to serve our pleasure. "Give to Him from that which is His," says King David, reminding us that all the contents of the world belong to the Creator of the world, who has simply placed them in our custody on condition that we use them responsibly.

Why are some people rich and others poor? So that the fortunate may take pity on the needy and recognize their obligation to share their blessing with others. When I see my own wealth as an opportunity to help my fellow man, I become more Godly and less absorbed with my own indulgences and my own ego. I become invested in the community and help eliminate envy and jealousy, bringing inner peace into my heart and peace among men into the world.

One who acquires a good name acquires it for himself

Many blessings are given, whether deserved or undeserved: good health, good fortune, intelligence, talent, and beauty. But a good name derives only from one person's deeds toward others. A person of integrity, commitment, loyalty, self-sacrifice, moderation, patience, generosity, and with a pleasant disposition will earn for himself a good name no matter what his station in life. No one can earn it for him. No one can take it from him once he has it.

And nothing is more precious.

One who acquires words of Torah has acquired himself a share in the World to Come

A king traveling through the wilderness found himself attacked by bandits who killed his entourage and fell upon him. A moment before his end, a nomad appeared out of the woods, chased of the king's attackers, treated the king's wounds, and then led the king back to his kingdom.

Wishing to reward the nomad but unable to speak his language, the king indicated that his savior should accompany him into the palace. Taking the nomad into the treasure room, the king handed him a bag and indicated that he should fill it with whatever he wished.

An hour later, the king returned and led the nomad out so that he might return home. Arriving back among his people, the nomad related his experience to a friend. "This king was truly a madman," he complained. "After I saved his life, he put me to work filling a sack with rocks. I put a few of them in the bag so that he wouldn't get mad, but more than that I refused to do."

Curious, his friend asked to see the rocks. "You fool!" he exclaimed. "These are diamonds! They are worth a fortune!"

"Then I'm rich!" cried the nomad.

"Yes you are, my friend. But if you would have used the whole hour to fill your sack, you would be wealthy beyond all imagination."

Every word of Torah is a diamond beyond price, placed before us by the Almighty so that He might reward us for learning them. If we see them as a burden or an inconvenience, we might pick up a few so that the True King will not be angry with us. But if we recognize their value, we can enjoy a life of spiritual wealth in this world and in the next.

Published: May 28, 2005


Give Tzedakah! Help Aish.com create inspiring
articles, videos and blogs featuring timeless Jewish wisdom.

Visitor Comments: 2

(2) Ronnie Y. Fredman, May 29, 2005 12:00 AM

On the mark, again!

Raising a child is an art. There are milestones and hoped for development goals; but, the trip from here to there is filled with infinite possibility.

The irony of self-help books (Rabbi G. nails it with humor) is a reflection of the small case 'r' reason or rationality of the Age of Enlightenment: everything can be boiled down into a recipe of thought.

Yes, thought is important; but, capital 'R' Reason is more than thought. Reason is the gatekeeper between this world and the next. Torah is the key. It is the blue print. It is the coal which stokes the fire which Hashem breathed into us.

Thus, through Reasoned investigation, when one looks into the smallest event in the universe, one can observe the Infinite of G-d's creation. When one observes the astrophysical projected into 'billions' of years and billions of light years of time and amplitude, one can see the care which Hashem gave to this detail, as well.

The scope of raising children mixes the infinite with the infinitesimal; the practical and impractical; reality and whimsy. It is how I have gained a deeper appreciation of G-d's brilliance.

(1) Chana Sharfstein, May 29, 2005 12:00 AM

Your article was filled with meaningful teachings

I always enjoy exploring Pirkei Avos. It is always down to earth meningful Torah teachings that aptly apply to our everyday existence. Now that we are in the process of preparing ourselves for matan Torah we really ahould contemplate these teachings. Learning Torah makes life more meaningful and worthwhile. Thank you Aish for ALWAYS bringing us good reading material on your website to enrich our existence.

Submit Your Comment:

  • Display my name?

  • Your email address is kept private. Our editor needs it in case we have a question about your comment.


  • * required field 2000
Submit Comment
stub