Further Tractate on Pirke Avot

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March 1, 2001
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Gary Bean

The last tractate of the Talmud is called “Pirke Avot,” which is usually translated as “Sayings of the Fathers.” Recent scholarly research has uncovered an additional one that could be call “Further of the Sayings.” While it has understandably been omitted from most traditional editions of the Talmud, I feel it is especially appropriate to study on Purim:

1. Rabbi Shamllel (who had been thrown out of both the House of Hillel and the House of Shammai at one time or another) was once asked, “What is the central principle of the Torah?” [Lit.: Teach me the Torah SOO”F (standing on one foot).] He replied, “The central principle of the Torah is: Whoever asks ‘What is the central principle of the Torah?’ you shall chase away with a stick, BUT not a stick with which you would not want to be chased.”

2. He used to say, “There are two things you should always remember: The first one is ‘You should always have with you some Kleenex,’ and the other one, … I forget.”

3. He used to declare, “On three things do the suburbs stand: on car pools, on shopping malls, and on septic tanks; but on snow days, none of these will help you that much.”

4. He used to sigh, “There are four kinds of car mechanics in this world: The first can fix your car, but can’t take you until the Tuesday after Tu B’Shvat. Of these there are but few and what can you do? The second can take you today but are incapable of fixing your car. Of these there are many and they are to be avoided. The third can’t take you until the Tuesday after Tu B’Shvat AND are incapable of fixing your car. They are called ‘dealers.’ The last can fix your car and can take you today, but none of them dwell within a five-hour drive from here.”

5. He used to muse, “You know, it’s not what you know and what you don’t know. What matters more is whether you know what you know and what you don’t know. To know what you know opens the gates to confidence. To not know what you know opens the gates to indecision. To know what you don’t know opens the gates to wisdom. And to not know what you don’t know opens the gates to catastrophe. You know what I mean?”

6. He used to say, “I teach this in the name of my daughter who, when she was little, used to climb up behind me on our sofa, lean on my back and whisper in my ear, “Where is me?” and giggle as I looked and looked for her, up and down, left and right and even under the couch: Here is what she taught me: This life is a game of hide-and-seek, but the point of the game is neither to hide too well, for that can become lonely. Nor to be found, for then the game is over. What makes it all worthwhile is knowing that you’re being sought.”

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Gary Bean, a former of member of Havurat Shalom, has been a member of Congregation Beth El in Sudbury, MA for the past 25 years and been involved in education (Jewish, public, and high tech) for more than 30 years.

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