When I was in Confirmation class, I recall studying a saying by Hillel:
“If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
If I am only for myself, what am I?
And if not now, when?”
It took hours for my class to unpack its meaning. How do you strike a balance between legitimate self-interest while also knowing you have communal responsibilities? How long can you postpone taking any action when the needs of the moment are pressing?
Even though I first studied Hillel’s saying as a teen, it still speaks to me with great urgency. It remains entirely relevant at every age.
Hillel’s maxim is contained in a tractate of Mishnah entitled Pirkei Avot. This title is often translated as “Chapters of the Fathers.” But I prefer a more nuanced translation offered by Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz: “Chapters of Advice.”
The aphorisms by rabbinic sages are in turn delightful, challenging, enlightening, and disquieting. How wonderful that we have an opportunity in a few weeks to study selections of Pirkei Avot during the festival of Shavuot.
Our friends at Congregation Beth Emek have invited Temple Beth Torah to join them on Sunday morning, June 9. At 10:30am, Rabbi Milder and I will lead a Shavuot morning service that will include Yizkor. It will be followed by a Shavuot lunch and an hour long study session of passages from Pirkei Avot.
There is no need to RSVP. Please come and join in a wonderful communal Shavuot celebration. For if you do not do so this year, when will you?