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Pirkei Avot 2:14 – Know How to Anser an Epicuros?


Pirkei Avot 2:14

רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר אוֹמֵר, הֱוֵי שָׁקוּד לִלְמֹד תּוֹרָה, וְדַע מַה שֶּׁתָּשִׁיב לְאֶפִּיקוֹרוֹס. וְדַע לִפְנֵי מִי אַתָּה עָמֵל. וְנֶאֱמָן הוּא בַעַל מְלַאכְתְּךָ שֶׁיְּשַׁלֶּם לָךְ שְׂכַר פְּעֻלָּתֶךְ

Rabbi Elazar said: Be diligent in the study of the Torah; And know how to answer an epicuros, And know before whom you toil, and that your employer is faithful, for He will pay you the reward of your labor.

Epicuros is not a word that everyone will immediately be familiar with. The Rambam describes it as follows in Laws of Repentance 3:8

Three individuals are described as Epicursim:

  • a) One who denies the existence of prophecy and maintains that there is no knowledge communicated from G-d to the hearts of men;
  • b) One who disputes the prophecy of Moses, our teacher;
  • c) One who maintains that the Creator is not aware of the deeds of men.

The origin of the term Epicuros comes from the name of the Greek philosopher Epicurus, who taught that the ultimate goal of life is to pursue the pleasures of this world. He emphasized that the gods have nothing to do with human affairs.[1]

Rabbi Moshe Weiner writes in The Divine Code[2]:

Moses was also commanded by G-d to compel all nations of the world to accept the seven Noahide precepts that they had been commanded, and a Gentile who does not accept them is liable.[3] This commandment to Moses to compel all the nations of the world to accept the seven Noahide precepts is not incumbent merely on the Jews, but also upon all the nations of the world; anyone who has the power to compel others to act in the correct way is obligated to do so. If there is a court or government that has the authority, they must establish these seven commandments as an order and statute. If an individual has the ability to persuasively explain to Gentiles about their obligation, he is required to do so from this commandment to Moses.[4]… Just as a Gentile may not mislead another to sin, likewise if one sees someone violating one of the Seven Noahide Commandments or performing a related action which is forbidden by the Noahide Code, he is obligated to prevent the transgressor from continuing in the sin (if it is in his power to exert this influence without putting himself into danger, or even without considerable inconvenience). This is included in the commandment of dinim (establishing a judicial system) that is incumbent for Gentiles.

When you warn people when they want to do something wrong, or when people want to explain to you in advance that what they are doing is right and your thoughts are “old-fashioned and narrow-minded” you should be able to answer them.

When you advise people not to do something wrong, or when individuals explain to you ahead of time that what they are doing is correct and your ideas are “old-fashioned and narrow-minded,” you should be able to respond.

You must be able to respond to them with the truth, which you can learn from the Torah, which teaches the Seven Noahide Commandments, and also from the Sages and Rabbis who explain them. This has the potential to remove faulty belief systems. As stated in Derekh Chayim[5]:

It fits a person therefore to nullify ‘false belief systems’ from the world such that Truth increased in the world. For if Falsity is left to be in the world, the end is that Falsity, G-d Forbid, will cause Truth to be lost and nullify it such that Falsity dominates the world, and therefore, take much care that you do not give any foothold for Falsity, rather that you know what to answer to a heretic.

Learn the 7 Noahide Commandments with the right intentions and concentration. Hashem will expand your knowledge and make you more capable of providing correct responses.

You wil know that:

a) Belief in G-d-given prophecy is one of the foundations of faith.  In The Seven Gates[6] we read:

Since G-d created the world with an intented plan, and it is impossible for a person on his own to know this plan, G-d’s revealing it to mankind is a fundamental imperative. This is the concept of prophecy – a connection of G- to mankind by revealing Himself and His ways, through granting knowledge  of the Divine.

b) Moses and the prophecy he received from G-d and passed on to the world the greatest was because Moses was the most important and greatest prophet of all time.

It is also a foundation of our faith to believe that Moses was the greatest of all prophets, both past and future. It is thus written, “There has not arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom God knew face to face” (Deut. 34:10). Unlike other prophets, Moses received his revelation clearly, not masked by symbolism. God thus said, “I speak to [Moses] mouth to mouth, manifestly, and not in allegory” (Numbers 12:8). Unlike other prophets, Moses would receive his revelation while wide awake and in full command of his senses. God thus said, “When [I] God speak through one of you… I will speak with him in a dream. Not so My servant Moses…” (Numbers 12:6).[7]

c) G-d as Creator of the total Creation knows all the deeds of man.

It is beyond our comprehension how G-d could know everything. However, the Tenach tells us that He knows everything, which we can accept logically since otherwise He could not reward all good deeds and punish all evil deeds. This can only be done fairly and justly if He knows all, as we can see from the text. in  Psalm 139: 1-4

O L-rd, You have examined me and know me.

When I sit down or stand up You know it;
You discern my thoughts from afar.

You observe my walking and reclining,
and are familiar with all my ways.

There is not a word on my tongue
but that You, O L-rd, know it well.

I picture it this way: when we stub our tiny toe, we feel agony. We can tell if we have a hair in our eye right away. Just as we are aware of our body, God is aware of His creation and is directly involved in everything.

By Angelique Sijbolts


[1] English Explanation of Pirkei Avot 2:14:1
[2] The Divine Code by Rabbi Moshe Weiner 4e edition p. 57 and p. 69
[3] Rambam, Laws of Kings 8:10.
[4] This is obligatory based on the commandment for Laws and Courts; see the Preface to Sheva Mitzvot HaShem. See also Kol Bo’ai HaOlam, pp.155, 189.
[5] Derekh Chayim 2:14:1-26
[6] Seven Gates of Righteous Knowledge by Rabbi Moshe Weiner and Dr. Michael Schulman p.41
[7] Aish-Article:Writing the Torah


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