Thursday, June 28, 2012

Pirkei Avot for the Soul

In an effort to get back to basics (that is, a Lech Lecha reboot for my neshama), I've decided to get my Pirkei Avot on. Study, study, study.

After all, the focus of the Avot are a guide from HaShem to help us nurse our souls back to spiritual health, according to Knesses Yisrael.

I'm starting small, with the "intro" to the Avot, which is a prologue of sorts and is read as an introduction o the weekly chapter. The question is: Why? Here's the text:
כל ישראל יש להם חלק לעולם הבא, שנאמר "ועמך כלם צדיקים, לעולם יירשו ארץ, נצר מטעי, מעשה ידי להתפאר." 
Okay, so a quick and simple translation here is that to all Israel there is a portion toward the world to come, as it is said, "And all of your people are righteous, they shall inherit the land forever, a branch of my orchard in which I take pride." The latter portion of the text (the quote) comes from Isaiah 60:21.

Easy enough, it's says a lot in a brief bit, but why do we use this particular piece of mishnah from Sanhedrin 90a to begin the study of Pirkei Avot.

Beginning the study of texts that work to nurse the soul back to spiritual health with a text that reminds us that we have a portion toward the world to come musters up a lot of pressure. We're reminded that as members of the nation of Israel, we're granted a portion toward the world to come. It's a given, right? It's interesting to point out that the text uses "l'olam ha'ba" and not "b'olam ha'ba." The former means "to" or "toward" the world to come and the latter means "in" the world to come. Because of this, we can understand that olam ha'ba (the world to come) is not something that already exists that is just waiting for us. Rather, all of Israel is granted a portion toward the world to come, which means that all that we do here in this life serves as construction for what our future world looks like.

Think about it like the Chofetz Chaim did. Helek (חלק), or portion, can be rendered as a plot, like a plot of land. If every Jew is given a plot of land, he must cultivate it through living a life of Torah and mitzvot. If you ignore the plot, ignore your spiritual growth, then that plot that is empty and barren in this world will be the same in the world to come. 

Brilliant! So think of your portion in this world as a plot of land, and make sure you're sowing the seeds, watering the ground, harvesting the fruits. It's a cycle -- it's not a one-off. And so we begin Pirkei Avot, with a call to and reminder of our birthright -- חלק לעולם הבא. 

Moving forward, I'm not going to write about every little tidbit from Pirkei Avot -- only the ones that really strike me as earth-moving and soul-shattering (in the good way, of course). Have a favorite perek? Let me know!