Pirkei Avot – Chapter 1, Mishnah 2

Simon the Just was of the remnants of the Great Assembly. He used to say: On three things the world stands: on the Torah (תורה), on the (Temple?) Service (עבודה), and on Deeds of Loving-Kindness (גמילות חסדים).

I’ve read these words many times over the last few years, and each time I read them something new comes to mind. Most recently, my thoughts were turned to the words of the Master when he was asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” His answer actually included three commandments:

“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. ‘There is no commandment greater than these.”

From my perspective, this has the same melody as “On three things the world stands…” We have the same basic components. Let’s examine them.

On the Torah / Shema Israel

Although these phrases don’t sound anything alike, they both put forth the same premise: the Torah and the principles contained therein are the foundations of everything. How else would we know about the monotheistic pillar of our faith that there is only one God? It is through the Torah. Shema Israel! We must hear the Torah in order to be obedient to the voice of Hashem. Devarim 5:1 tells us:

Hear1, O Israel, the decrees and laws I declare in your hearing today. Learn2 them and be sure to follow3 them.

We must first 1) hear Torah (i.e. study) in order to 2) learn the ways of Hashem, and thus 3) follow them. But from there, what are we required?

On the Service / And You Shall Love the Lord Your God

As is commonly known, there are two categories into which all of the commandments fall. There are commandments that have their root in the relationship between the Almighty and mankind (what we might term as our “vertical” relationship), and then those which have their root in the relationship of mankind with mankind (what we might term as our “horizontal” relationship). Both of these statements deal with our “horizontal” relationship. The world cannot stand without its connection to the Almighty.

In Simon the Just’s comment, he merely names avodah (service) as the second item on which the world “stands”. But what is our “service” to Hashem?

Now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require from you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the LORD’S commandments and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good? (Devarim 10:12-13)

And again in the Apostolic Scriptures we have this instruction:

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service. (Romans 12:1)

We are not only to say we love Hashem, or even feel we love Him. We are to love Him with our entire lives, which is displayed by our avodah–service (i.e…works… doh!).

On Acts of Loving-Kindness /
Love Your Neighbor As Yourself

This is the third principle in both accounts: To love and serve others. When we invest our time and our stuff into others, rather than ourselves we will find that Hashem is glorified, we are changed, and others are blessed. How is your world holding up?

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