Translation by Yehoshua Siskin
There is a wonderful custom that begins tomorrow on the Shabbat that follows Pesach, as summer approaches: to learn Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers). This is a text that is preoccupied with descriptions of good character traits and proper social interaction. It seems to me that this custom is especially appropriate this year. The spirit of Pirkei Avot can be highly beneficial to us in these stressful, close-quarter, wall-climbing corona days.
Here for example is a series of revolutionary definitions that give new meaning to wisdom, strength, wealth, and honor. “Who is wise? One who learns from every human being. Who is strong? One who conquers his evil inclination. Who is rich? One who is happy with what he has. Who is honorable? One who honors others.”
Every definition shatters what we are accustomed to thinking about each subject and provokes us to work on improving ourselves.
Here are other examples: “May the honor of your fellow be as dear as your own”, “Receive every person with a cheerful countenance”. These two valuable recommendations may seem like kindergarden cliches, but think for a moment if society was serious about applying them in everyday life.
In the days ahead, next to washing hands, disinfecting counter tops, and wearing gloves, perhaps we need to add reading Pirkei Avot to our list of protective measures.