This series of Pirkei Avot is made for the benefit of the 7 weeks between Tisha Be’Av and Rosh Hashana.
משֶׁה קִבֵּל תּוֹרָה מִסִּינַי, וּמְסָרָהּ לִיהוֹשֻׁעַ, וִיהוֹשֻׁעַ לִזְקֵנִים, וּזְקֵנִים לִנְבִיאִים, וּנְבִיאִים מְסָרוּהָ לְאַנְשֵׁי כְנֶסֶת הַגְּדוֹלָה. הֵם אָמְרוּ שְׁלשָׁה דְבָרִים, הֱווּ מְתוּנִים בַּדִּין, וְהַעֲמִידוּ תַלְמִידִים הַרְבֵּה, וַעֲשׂוּ סְיָג לַתּוֹרָה
Moses received the Torah at Sinai and transmitted it to Joshua, Joshua to the elders, and 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.
Be Patient in Justice
Our Rabbis, may their memory be blessed, said (Sotah 22a), “‘For she has cast down many wounded’ (Proverbs 7:26); this is [referring to] a Torah scholar who has not yet attained the ability to issue rulings, and yet issues rulings.
We ourselves are always in a learning process. Sometimes we get excited about something we have learnt – about the 7 Noahide Laws – and then in our enthusiasm we sometimes tend to think that others should act or think the same way. However, if we are in a learning process and have not yet gained sufficient knowledge, we should be slow in our judgement of others. Provide your own Torah foundation first, with the help of the rabbis, and only then be slow and thoughtful in your judgement towards others. In doing so, remember that you only judge the behavior of others and articulate it in a positive way to others, but do not negatively condemn the person as a human being.
Once we have gained correct, Torah-based knowledge, we can pass it on to others. This does not have to be difficult or complicated learning. If you know the Aleph you teach it to your neighbor and if you know the Beth you teach that. [ see also the blog Promoting the 7 Laws of Noah ]
Make a Fence
A fence round the Torah, from the Gentile world, this is sometimes met with doubt. Isn’t that the same as adding your own hand to the commandments G-d has given us? Doesn’t that fall under the prohibition of creating a new religion? I think it is important to always see fences as rules given or introduced by the Sages to ensure that people do not come to the actual breaking of a commandment.
But fences can also very well be made by ourselves. If you don’t want to be too focused on the material world or your children to be too preoccupied with it, it might not be wise to live in a neighbourhood where everyone goes for the big money, the big houses and the most expensive autos. A fence might then be not to live in a rich neighbourhood.
One of the 7 commandments is the prohibition of forbidden relationships. A fence for this could be that men and women do not touch each other, or hang out on the phone for hours with an ex.
So what fences are needed can also be very personal. A person has to look at his own pitfalls and around those pitfalls you put a fence, from those pitfalls you consciously take extra measures, distance to avoid the temptation for a wrong action.
By Angelique Sijbolts
Sources: Pirkei Avot 1:1
See also blog: Parshat Ve’atchana 5783.
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