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Pirkei Avot 1:16 – Avoid Doubt


Pirkei Avot 1:16

רַבָּן גַּמְלִיאֵל הָיָה אוֹמֵר, עֲשֵׂה לְךָ רַב, וְהִסְתַּלֵּק מִן הַסָּפֵק, וְאַל תַּרְבֶּה לְעַשֵּׂר אֹמָדוֹת

Rabban Gamaliel used to say: appoint for thyself a teacher, avoid doubt, and do not make a habit of tithing by guesswork.

Appoint for thyself a teacher, avoid doubt

That you need a Rabbi we have also seen that in Pirkei Avot 1:6 where this was said by Joshua ben Perahiah. But there is a nuance difference. Last time it was mainly about needing a Rabbi to teach. Now it is mainly linked to the doubt that can arise in a man’s heart about all sorts of things.

When you start learning about the 7 Noahide Commandments, you may start doubting about several topics. Consider, for example, a difficult topic like abortion. There seem to be two clear camps in the world: you are pro-life and therefore against abortion or you are for “boss-in-your-own-belly” and abortion is allowed because you decide whether or not you want a baby. But the laws surrounding abortion are not so black and white. There are situations when it is permitted [the mother’s life is in danger and the child has not yet been born with its head] and there are situations when it is forbidden [there is no other reason that the mother does not want the child] and equated with murder. Then advice is needed from a rabbi – who specializes in this – to tell what is and is not allowed. But it is not always such difficult subjects that make you question what is right or wrong and where you want advice. I am reminded of a situation at work where someone borrowed a jar of glue from a colleague and wouldn’t give it back. She had plenty of it anyway and the glue belonged to school and not to the colleague personally. Should you then bring it back or not? If you are unsure what to do in such a situation, then it is good that you can ask a Rabbi what the right course of action is.

But perhaps the above examples should not be called “doubts” but learning questions that need and answer. Doubt might be a much more serious problem. It arises from wrong knowledge that makes you doubt G-d.

It reminds me of 1 Kings 18:21

Elijah approached all the people and said, “How long will you keep hopping between two opinions? If the ETERNAL is God, then follow [ the ETERNAL ]; and if Baal, follow [Baal]!” But the people answered him not a word.

We [sometimes] see this doubt in people who have just found the 7 Noahide Commandments and want to take this path of life. They know they no longer feel at home in their previous religion and rightly question it. Still, there will be a lot of doubt in the beginning. Is it true that my previous religion is wrong, is this new way really the right way to go? In the beginning, one may be tossed back and forth. This is precisely when it is important to be able to ask your questions to Rabbis who specialize in your previous religion and can answer your questions. There are several books on our website from, for example, Jews for Judaism that we can heartily recommend. On our YouTube channel there are Q&A questions and their answers from Rabbi Tovia Singer and Rabbi Michael Skobac and lessons from Rabbi Tani Burton[1] who can give you the answers to leave your former life path and accept and live the 7 Noahide Commandments without doubt.

Doubt is destructive. It makes a person unable to make follow-up steps in their spiritual growth. Questions will always arise that bring you back to square one. There will always be a “tomorrow I will understand”. And when a question is answered, the doubt is clever and throws a new question in your face. Doubt robs you of determination, vision and decisiveness and replaces them with uncertainty, confusion, and inertia.

For years, I struggled with ‘Easter’. The story didn’t make sense, and yet the fear of really letting go was greater than confronting the doubt and seeking answers. All year, I could put the doubts in the closet, but with ‘Easter’ the doubts and turmoil came back. It was always a good feeling to put it back in the closet after ‘Easter’ and end up doing nothing with it.

Until the year came when I no longer felt like the doubts and did explore. I sought out a rabbi and within 1 phone call I knew he could give me the answers I was looking for. I will always be grateful to this rabbi. I see him as my spiritual father, who awakened my soul. It then didn’t take much more for me to permanently turn my back on my previous religion and embrace the 7 Noahide Commandments and its details and way of life with both hands, without question.

Do not make a habit of tithing by guesswork.

Is tithing a requirement for Gentiles? No it is not, you can read the article for this on AskNoah’s website. But what is an important lesson we can learn is, that when you set yourself to give x amount of money and you have promised it, you should keep your promise and not give an “approximate” amount later.

By Angelique Sijbolts


[1] If you have a personal question that you do not yet see answered here, you can always send us an email with your question, and we will get back to you as soon as possible:

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