Sunday, October 16, 2022

E-Torah October 16--Avot 1:1

For this year’s e-Torah, I will be featuring passages from the Talmudic tractate Avot, a compilation of the ethical, spiritual, and political teachings of second-century Rabbis.  I’ll be approaching this venerable text through the lens of Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz’s Pirkei Avot: A Social Justice Commentary.

Avot 1:1—Moses received the Torah at Sinai and transmitted it to Joshua, Joshua to the elders, the elders to the prophets, and the prophets to the Men of the Great Assembly. They said three things: Be patient in [the administration of] justice, raise many disciples and make a fence round the Torah.

Pirkei Avot begins by establishing a line of Torah transmission that begins with Moses and will continue through all of the Sages quoted in the forthcoming chapters.  That chain—in which we, our children and grandchildren are the latest links—embraces both commitment to tradition and creative innovation.  Each generation pays homage to their teachers and reinterprets their wisdom to meet the needs of changing times and circumstances.

The story is told of a congregant who asks the new rabbi why she sometimes modifies or departs from the practices of the previous rabbi—her father.  She replies: “In fact, I diligently follow my father’s example—just as he honored his own rabbinic father by finding his own way, so do I.”

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook taught: “The old must be made new, and the new must be made holy.”

How can we creatively honor and renew our own familial and communal traditions?

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