Highlights from Pirkay Avot - Chapter 2
1א

(ב) רַבָּן גַּמְלִיאֵל בְּנוֹ שֶׁל רַבִּי יְהוּדָה הַנָּשִׂיא אוֹמֵר, יָפֶה תַלְמוּד תּוֹרָה עִם דֶּרֶךְ אֶרֶץ, שֶׁיְּגִיעַת שְׁנֵיהֶם מְשַׁכַּחַת עָוֹן. וְכָל תּוֹרָה שֶׁאֵין עִמָּהּ מְלָאכָה, סוֹפָהּ בְּטֵלָה וְגוֹרֶרֶת עָוֹן. וְכָל הָעֲמֵלִים עִם הַצִּבּוּר, יִהְיוּ עֲמֵלִים עִמָּהֶם לְשֵׁם שָׁמַיִם, שֶׁזְּכוּת אֲבוֹתָם מְסַיַּעְתָּן וְצִדְקָתָם עוֹמֶדֶת לָעַד. וְאַתֶּם, מַעֲלֶה אֲנִי עֲלֵיכֶם שָׂכָר הַרְבֵּה כְּאִלּוּ עֲשִׂיתֶם:

(2) Rabban Gamliel the son of Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi said: Excellent is the study of the Torah together with a worldly occupation; for the exertion [expended] in both of them causes sin to be forgotten. And all [study of the] Torah in the absence of a worldly occupation comes to nothing in the end and leads to sin. And all who work for the community, let them work for the [sake of the] name of Heaven; for the merit of their ancestors sustains them, And their righteousness (tsidkatam) will endure forever. And as for you [who work for the community, God says:] I credit you with a great reward, as if you [yourselves] had done it [on your own].

2ב

-We're not meant to be isolated from the world, we're meant to apply our Torah learning to the way we conduct ourselves in the world.

-Those who work with the community, on its behalf, have a special level of responsibility - such that work with the community is equivalent to Torah study. (Yerushalmi Berachot 85)

3ג

(ד) הִלֵּל אוֹמֵר, אַל תִּפְרֹשׁ מִן הַצִּבּוּר, וְאַל תַּאֲמִין בְּעַצְמְךָ עַד יוֹם מוֹתְךָ, וְאַל תָּדִין אֶת חֲבֵרְךָ עַד שֶׁתַּגִּיעַ לִמְקוֹמוֹ, וְאַל תֹּאמַר דָּבָר שֶׁאִי אֶפְשָׁר לִשְׁמֹעַ, שֶׁסּוֹפוֹ לְהִשָּׁמַע.

(4) ...Hillel says: Do not separate yourself from the community. Do not believe in yourself until the day of your death. Do not judge your fellow until you come to his place. Do not say something that cannot be heard, for in the end it will be heard.

4ד

-Don't separate yourself - i.e. do your best to be an active and constructive part of the community

-Don't judge 'until you come to his place' - We cannot judge people through our own eyes.

-Speech is a major focus of Yom Kippur - the bulk of the sins for which we ask forgiveness are related to speech.

5ה

(ה) הוּא הָיָה אוֹמֵר, אֵין בּוּר יְרֵא חֵטְא, וְלֹא עַם הָאָרֶץ חָסִיד, וְלֹא הַבַּיְשָׁן לָמֵד, וְלֹא הַקַּפְּדָן מְלַמֵּד, וְלֹא כָל הַמַּרְבֶּה בִסְחוֹרָה מַחְכִּים. וּבְמָקוֹם שֶׁאֵין אֲנָשִׁים, הִשְׁתַּדֵּל לִהְיוֹת אִישׁ:

(5) ...A timid person cannot learn. An impatient person cannot teach...In a place where there is no mensch, strive to be a mensch.

6ו

'timid person' - The Rabbis speak about the scholars in the yeshivah as ba'aley tri'sin - swordsmen. Confidence in one's own reading is important, and, at the same time, we also need to practice the art of listening. See Avot 6:6, 'Torah is acquired through 48 virtues: (1) Study (2) Listening...'

'Be a 'mensch' - The word is 'man' but it means a virtuous person. Rambam writes: 'Make a habit for yourself and strive to acquire virtues.' If we fall in with the crowd, then we are guilty of the Torah's warning, 'Do not follow the majority to do evil.' Tzedek/justice is meritorious of its own right.

7ז

(ט) אָמַר לָהֶם, צְאוּ וּרְאוּ אֵיזוֹהִי דֶרֶךְ יְשָׁרָה שֶׁיִּדְבַּק בָּהּ הָאָדָם. רַבִּי אֱלִיעֶזֶר אוֹמֵר, עַיִן טוֹבָה. רַבִּי יְהוֹשֻׁעַ אוֹמֵר, חָבֵר טוֹב. רַבִּי יוֹסֵי אוֹמֵר, שָׁכֵן טוֹב. רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן אוֹמֵר, הָרוֹאֶה אֶת הַנּוֹלָד. רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר אוֹמֵר, לֵב טוֹב. אָמַר לָהֶם, רוֹאֶה אֲנִי אֶת דִּבְרֵי אֶלְעָזָר בֶּן עֲרָךְ מִדִּבְרֵיכֶם, שֶׁבִּכְלָל דְּבָרָיו דִּבְרֵיכֶם. אָמַר לָהֶם צְאוּ וּרְאוּ אֵיזוֹהִי דֶרֶךְ רָעָה שֶׁיִּתְרַחֵק מִמֶּנָּה הָאָדָם. רַבִּי אֱלִיעֶזֶר אוֹמֵר, עַיִן רָעָה. רַבִּי יְהוֹשֻׁעַ אוֹמֵר, חָבֵר רָע. רַבִּי יוֹסֵי אוֹמֵר, שָׁכֵן רָע. רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן אוֹמֵר, הַלֹּוֶה וְאֵינוֹ מְשַׁלֵּם. אֶחָד הַלֹּוֶה מִן הָאָדָם, כְּלֹוֶה מִן הַמָּקוֹם בָּרוּךְ הוּא, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (תהלים לז) לֹוֶה רָשָׁע וְלֹא יְשַׁלֵּם, וְצַדִּיק חוֹנֵן וְנוֹתֵן. רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר אוֹמֵר, לֵב רָע. אָמַר לָהֶם, רוֹאֶה אֲנִי אֶת דִּבְרֵי אֶלְעָזָר בֶּן עֲרָךְ מִדִּבְרֵיכֶם, שֶׁבִּכְלָל דְּבָרָיו דִּבְרֵיכֶם:

(9) He said to them: Go out and see what is a straight path that a person should cling to. Rabbi Eliezer says: A good eye. Rabbi Yehoshua says: A good friend. Rabbi Yosi says: A good neighbor. Rabbi Shimon says: Seeing the consequences of one's actions. Rabbi Elazar says: A good heart. He said to them: I see the words of Rabbi Elazar ben Arakh [as better than] all of yours, because your words are included in his. He said to them: Go out and see what is an evil path that a person should distance himself from. Rabbi Eliezer says: A bad eye. Rabbi Yehoshua says: A bad friend. Rabbi Yosi says: A bad neighbor. Rabbi Shimon says: One who borrows but does not repay. Borrowing from a person is like borrowing from the Omnipresent blessed be He, as it says (Psalms 37:21) "The wicked borrow and do not repay, but the righteous one gives graciously." Rabbi Elazar says: A bad heart. He said to them: I see the words of Rabbi Elazar ben Arakh [as better than] all of yours, for your words are included in his.

8ח

What does it mean to have a 'lev tov'? A good heart? -- Commentary from Mossad Ha'Rav Kook: "The one who has a good heart is also a person with a good-eye (someone who looks for the best in others) is [also] happy with what he/she has, and that person receives kind support from the goodness of others. With the goodness of heart that person is able to have a positive impact on the hearts of others...that person is good with God and with others.(Rabbenu Yonah & Rashbatz)

9ט

(יב) רַבִּי יוֹסֵי אוֹמֵר, יְהִי מָמוֹן חֲבֵרְךָ חָבִיב עָלֶיךָ כְּשֶׁלָּךְ, וְהַתְקֵן עַצְמְךָ לִלְמֹד תּוֹרָה, שֶׁאֵינָהּ יְרֻשָּׁה לָךְ. וְכָל מַעֲשֶׂיךָ יִהְיוּ לְשֵׁם שָׁמָיִם:

(12) Rabbi Yosi says: The money (property) of your friend should be as dear to you as your own. Prepare yourself to study Torah, for it is not an (automatic) inheritance for you. All of your actions should be for the sake of Heaven.

10י

Your friend's property - take care of it as if it were yours. A natural extension of 'Love your fellow human being as yourself'. Why is this extra teaching needed? While things are not as important as people, we still need to make living and care for ourselves, family members, & friends. We show good faith by helping others and hopefully they will show similar good faith.

'For the sake of heaven' - Whatever it is that we do, let is be for the sake of heaven. R. Alexander Ziskind of Horodna: All our actions have the potential to 'please' God if we do them with the proper intention - that we should point both our yetzer tov and yetzer ha'ra to heaven - is this even possible?

11יא

(טז) הוּא הָיָה אוֹמֵר, לֹא עָלֶיךָ הַמְּלָאכָה לִגְמֹר, וְלֹא אַתָּה בֶן חוֹרִין לִבָּטֵל מִמֶּנָּה. אִם לָמַדְתָּ תוֹרָה הַרְבֵּה, נוֹתְנִים לְךָ שָׂכָר הַרְבֵּה. וְנֶאֱמָן הוּא בַעַל מְלַאכְתְּךָ שֶׁיְּשַׁלֵּם לְךָ שְׂכַר פְּעֻלָּתֶךָ. וְדַע מַתַּן שְׂכָרָן שֶׁל צַדִּיקִים לֶעָתִיד לָבֹא:

(16) He used to say: It is not your responsibility to finish the work, but neither are you free to desist from it. If you have learned much Torah, your reward will be much; and the Master of your work is trustworthy to pay you the wage for your activity. And know, the giving of reward to the righteous is in the future to come.

12יב

Not free to desist - So many challenges arise that may be obstacles to doing mitzvoth - we continue to strive even though our actions may never be completed. We feel frustrated without fulfillment. Rashbatz: God is not concerned with completion; rather, God is concerned when we give up on our efforts.