In the Footsteps of our Fathers Avos Perek 1 Mishna 7

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In the Footsteps of our Fathers

Avos Perek 1 Mishna 7

By Harav Y. Reuven Rubin Shlita

In the quiet moments of the morning, when all are still asleep, you sit and think. You worry, even torment yourself, are you doing the right thing? Will this next step in life be a positive one? There are so many different paths that we take in life; at each decision we face new crossroads. Sometimes (most times?) we just go with the flow and follow our instincts. We have created moral borders and hopefully we pray that we won’t be found abusing them. The world of today is a fast moving river, and you just don’t have time to figure out what way is the best. You hope your instincts will guide you in the quick answer tempo of today’s rapid-fire world.

Hopefully there are times in your life when you can stop and take inventory of where you are going. There is a need in every soul for private discussion of one’s own needs – quiet, gentle times, within which you can take measure of how you are proceeding through life. In the loud blasting of the noisy world of the everyday, it is close to impossible to have such thoughts.  It takes an early morning moment for such concentration.

There must be a place of safety for our young, and their souls expect that place to be in the home

So sit with a cup of tea and think, allow your inner voice to hear something besides its own tension bearing whine. Let the sounds of sleeping loved ones create the backdrop of your inner conversation, and come with me into that worrisome place that lives within.

Wherever I go, and to whomever I speak, the same worries rise to the surface. Basically they are thoughts about how to deal with the tensions of the modern world. This is most apparent when it comes to one’s children. A chill runs through the heart just at the thought of “what can happen” to our own sweet neshamos. We have heard the stories, the rumors, the tragedies and we wonder how best to save ourselves from such disasters. We want to create a loving ambience in our home, yet need to draw borders so that our young should remain safe. The howling world outside is full of corruption and it doesn’t take much for its filth to seep into our own young.  After all, the whole world of mass communications was created just to do this. So you sip some more tea and wonder…

Well, allow me to share your thoughts, and let’s look at this particular mishna together.

“Nittai of Arbel says: Distance yourself from a bad neighbor; do not associate with a wicked person; and do not despair of retribution.”

Neighbor means the environment we live in. The first thing you must do is create a border around your family, one that does not permit outside influences to enter. There must be a place of safety for our young, and their souls expect that place to be in the home. You cannot allow yourself to think that you can be trendy and “with it” yet the children will remain simple and pure. Your “shmutz” will drip slowly into all corners of the home. Kids pick things up quickly, they know when they see hypocrisy and they understand what a lie is. Yidden who are attached to the Torah can be of the wider world yet never of it. This is done when we instill in our young the ability to be strong in their own understanding of who they are. When children know what they are, they can carry their safety borders with them.

Many years ago I remember a particular soap being advertised as being “so pure it floats.”  The notion of rising above the waves is one of purity, and it is this that we must try to encourage.  The distancing needed is that of rising above the sewer of this consumer driven world. This happens only when the family creates a safety zone where borders are drawn between its members and those who seek to undermine us.

Whilst talking about this very vital aspect, may I add something. The borders we draw should be enshrined with smiles! Now before you ask what I am going on about, please let me explain. The whole enticement of the secular world is put forward with a smile. They coax us into leaving our treasured traditions with words meant to seduce the soul into leaving the sanctity of the Jewish Torah path. Millions of dollars are spent to create images of fun and happiness. “If you would only buy this one product, you will be forever joyful.” Staying away from such a strong opposition will never be easy, and you won’t stand a chance by trying to do so with threats and anger. The distance we must create from evil neighbours should not be a vacuum, rather it should be a place filled with warmth and the love we share with one another. More than once I have heard from youngsters, who have perhaps strayed away from us, that if only they had experienced some more smiles when young, “if only.”

Another way to see these words can be that the bad neighbour spoken of here is none other than the one that lives within you. The yetzer hara is a close neighbour that seeks to take over your entirety. For you to overcome such a pressure you must be mindful of his attendance within your life and learn to recognize him for whom he is.

Don’t even associate with him. There are times when we are tempted to allow ourselves to slip a bit. You know, “I’m stressed, I need some relaxation,” are moments we all can relate to. How good it would be to just “live a little” and give in to the currents we see all around us? The shame is that those “live a little” moments are not joyful at all. They come with the pain of remorse, and the knowledge that you have fallen for the oldest trick in the book. You have let your own self down for a fleeting moment and now you have to carry the scar tissue that lay over your wounded heart.

“Do not associate with a wicked person” doesn’t have to mean freezing out all those who may be seeking to learn from your positive actions. In a world that has lost its way, every Torah Yid is an ambassador for Hashem’s truth. How then do we keep ourselves from letting others drag us down whilst we seek to bring them forward? The Hebrew word here connotes attachment. We can help others if we don’t allow our inner selves to become attached to their ways. In hospitals we are told to wash our hands, and in some cases even wear special clothing, so that the infections should not attach themselves to those visiting. We visit but are aware of the viruses that are all about.  This mishna tells us that those who seek should attach themselves to our ways, not that we should allow ourselves to become attached to theirs.

If you know who you are, you can give so very much to this world; and if you don’t know, then you are a danger to yourself and to those about you.

And so, drink your cup of tea, and take heart. This can be done, we Jews have survived because we have learned to measure and weigh our options. However, all such accounting must be done with a heart imbued with Torah and its warmth.

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