The first part of this final mishnah of chapter two of Pirke Avot is most well known. It has even been put to music. No matter how long our live might last, most of us will die with some unfinished business. We might have unresolved relationships, unread books, unwritten books, unpublished articles, undiscovered breakthroughs, unshared wisdom, or we might just be waiting for the Vikings to win their first Superbowl. We might be able to minimize the number of broken relationships we leave behind, but with a finite life span, we will never be able to see all the movies, read all the books, learn Chinese, and, gosh darn it, why can’t the Vikings finish a season with a win!
Rabbi Tarfon’s suggestion is that along with whatever else we do with our lives, we make a deliberate effort to learn Torah. It is Torah, more than anything else, that will give our lives meaning. And I’ll add, not just learning Torah but living it as well. Doing mitzvot is a way of publicly proclaiming the importance of our covenantal relationship with God. It begins with healing the wounds within ourselves, continues by creating strong families and communities, and ultimately results in having done our part to heal the wounds of the world.
When we do the work of learning and living Torah, we subject our moral character to continual examination. And for this, we receive an abundant reward. We may not see the reward immediately, but Rabbi Tarfon takes it as a matter of faith that we will see it eventually, in the world to come.
So Vikings, I’m not giving up hope. Someday, I’ll see you win the Superbowl, as will Fran Tarkenton, Alan Page, Bud Grant, Carl Eller, Cris Carter, and the rest of the former great players. But the Timberwolves in the NBA finals …even my faith in Minnesota teams doesn’t stretch that far!
Hebrew Words of the Month:
- Atid Lavo – A Time to Come
- Olam Haba – The World to Come
- Gan Eden – The Garden of Eden
- Y’mot Hamashiah – Time of the Messiah