**May our Torah study serve as a merit for the speedy recovery of those injured last night in Meron and for the souls of those killed. **
There is a widespread custom to study a chapter of Pirkei Avot – a popular and particularly accessible tractate of Mishna – each week between Pesach and Shavuot. Known in English as Ethics of Our Fathers, Pirkei Avot contains many teachings that go beyond the letter of the law, offering guidance on character development that may be seen as a prerequisite to appropriate study and fulfillment of Torah law. At the same time, the tractate is rife with messages about Torah study itself. Both aspects make it particularly appropriate to study in the weeks leading up to Shavuot.
At TorahTutors, we are of course all about learning Torah! We’d like to share some highlights from this week’s chapter that especially resonate with our mission.
Avot Chapter 4
Mishna 1: Ben Zoma says, Who is wise? He who learns from every person, as it is said, “From all my teachers, I have learned“ (Psalms 119:99).
Is learning from everyone a mark of wisdom, or its cause? Is Ben Zoma saying it is wise to learn from everyone, or that someone who does so will naturally become wise as a result of collecting so much from so many? Perhaps it’s both, and more. Whatever the details are – and certainly there is much to explore – the core of Ben Zoma’s statement portrays a deep love for Torah and a thirst for learning that cannot be sated. We can relate.
Mishna 10: Rabbi Meir says, Limit business and engage with Torah, and be lowly before all people. And if you have neglected Torah, you have many neglecters opposite you; and if you have toiled in Torah, He has much reward to give you.
Rav Ovadia of Bartenura explains that Rabbi Meir’s advice to be “lowly” refers to learning: be humble enough to learn even from those whose wisdom is less than your own. This perspective complements Ben Zoma’s earlier description of learning from all people and is particularly important in the context of adult education. Adult students might well know more than their teacher in any or every area except that which the teacher is teaching – and might have world experience and perspective to offer greater insight even into the teacher’s own area of expertise. In fact, we’ve learned from our amazing younger students that the same can be said of them. The greatest learning occurs when both student and teacher cultivate the type of humility that acknowledges their own strengths while being eager to learn from the other.
Of course, it’s not easy to dedicate oneself to serious study. Even in the most dedicated yeshiva settings, “batala” – neglect of learning, perhaps in the form of conversation on other topics – is known to occur, and like many habits, it is reinforced by those around us. On a larger scale, our busy lives are full of pursuits and concerns that can distract from learning; there is so much that is, quite legitimately, important to us. Making a point of setting aside time to learn, with someone who will keep us accountable and motivated, is a valuable strategy towards ensuring that we will indeed “toil in Torah.”
Such toil can earn us great reward – and we may even come to discover that the beautiful challenge of toiling in Torah is its own great reward, one we give ourselves.
Mishna 12: Rabbi Elazar ben Shamua says, Let the honor of your student be as dear to you as your own.
This is an easy rule for TorahTutors educators to follow. Those who seek their own honor and glory will not find it in individualized online learning sessions; that is clearly not why we do what we do. We do, however, have deep respect for our students and their commitment to learning, and we glory with them in their accomplishments.
Mishna 13: Rabbi Shimon says, There are three crowns: The crown of Torah, and the crown of priesthood, and the crown of kingship – and the crown of a good name rises above them.
TorahTutors can’t claim the crowns of priesthood or kingship, but we’re quite proud of the Torah we offer – and most of all, of our strong reputation for sharing that crown with a wide variety of students, each one according to his or her level and interest.
Mishna 14: Rabbi Nehorai says, Go as an exile to a place of Torah, and don’t say it will come after you.
Living without a Torah community is a great challenge to those who value Torah study and a Torah-based life, and as we have all learned all too well during the COVID-19 pandemic, the internet cannot fully replace in-person experiences. At the same time, we deeply appreciate the potential today’s technology offers for Torah to indeed follow a person anywhere. Our students and teachers are located around the world and form valuable connections through learning, wherever they are.
TorahTutors wishes all our students, teachers, and friends a wonderful Shabbos and a fulfilling week crowned with Torah from everyone, everywhere.