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Pirkei Avot 1:15 – Fixed Practice

Pirkei Avot 1:15

שַׁמַּאי אוֹמֵר, עֲשֵׂה תוֹרָתְךָ קֶבַע. אֱמֹר מְעַט וַעֲשֵׂה הַרְבֵּה, וֶהֱוֵי מְקַבֵּל אֶת כָּל הָאָדָם בְּסֵבֶר פָּנִים יָפוֹת

Shammai used to say: make your [study of the] Torah a fixed practice; speak little but do much; and receive all men with a pleasant countenance.

There is sometimes much confusion about whether non-Jews are allowed to learn Torah or not. However, non-Jews have an obligation to observe the 7 Noahide Commandments and it is not possible to observe them if one does not learn and study Torah and seek instruction on it. For more on this topic, see the shiur listed below[1].

A non-Jew should not say the blessing that Jews say before studying Torah, G-d did not oblige Noahide to do so, unlike the Jewish people who were given that obligation. But one can thank G-d for reading, in his own words, that G-d gave him the ability and insight to learn Torah, the 7 Noahide Commandments, and improve himself through it.

Now let’s look at the first comment:

Make your [study of the] Torah a fixed practice

The temptations of the world are great; there is always something to do or experience that makes you put off Torah study until later. The following points can help you bring structure and regularity to your studies.

You can study many different things. Chumash, Emunah, Mussar etc. Pick 1 or 2 subjects that you will focus on for a longer time. This way, you don’t have to decide what you want to learn at a time and can grab the books and materials right away.

Make a reading schedule for yourself. For example, from book A I read 2 pages every day and from book B I read 1 page every day. Remember that it is better to read little well, than a lot with little attention and concentration.

Pick 1 fixed time in the day for yourself where you are sure it is possible for you to learn daily at that time. For some people that is easiest in the morning, for others in the evening. I have adopted the habit of getting up early before everyone else in the house is awake. That way, nothing and no one distracts me.

While learning, you regularly come across mitzvot that G-d gave only to the Jewish people, among them, however, are mitzvot that have a logical basis. All mitzvot with a logical basis, such as charity giving or honoring parents, for example, can be adopted. When studying thus, it is always important to think about the relevance of the text for non-Jews and how you can give form to what you have read in everyday life.

A good habit is to read a section of “The Divine Code” every day. For this, you can use the reading schedule.from AskNoah.

Speak little but do much

You must put into practice what you have learnt during your studies. You can spend hours talking to your neighbours about giving charity to person A down the street who is having such a hard time, but if you don’t act practically, person A will get little use out of it.

Or think of hospitality, you can read and learn all about the hospitality Abraham gave to his guests: freshly baked cakes, the best calf etc. But if you don’t put that into practice, what good will it do your guests. Which brings us to the third point.

Receive all men with a pleasant countenance

This refers to guests coming into your home, but you can also draw it further. You should always have a friendly face with whoever helps you. Visiting the sick, giving charity to the poor, welcoming guests into one’s home and giving presents to friends must all be done with joy, for if he does so with a downcast face, his good deed will be spoiled.[2]

We all know this is not always easy. We do not like all people equally and some people come across as unpleasant to us. We must overcome our own tendency to be irritated or angry, because if we manage to do so, we might also reach the other person’s heart. Whereby he will start evaluating and hopefully changing his own behavior and conquer his inclination [to do bad] and fight against his wicked heart. [3]

Let us put into practice what we have learnt from the Torah with a warm and open heart and face to our neighbor.

By Angelique Sijbolts


[1] Torah Study
[2] English Explanation of Pirkei Avot 1:15:2
[3] Bartenura on Pirkei Avot 1:15:3

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