Pirke Avot 1:17

Shimon, his son, says:

All my days I have been raised among the Sages and I found nothing is better for anyone than silence;

not study, but practice, is the main thing;

and the one who talks excessively brings on sin.

Shimon (this one) was the son of Gamliel who was the authority of Pirke Avot 1:16.  He was killed by the Romans during the destruction of the Temple and of Jerusalem in the year 70C.E.

All my days I have been raised among the Sages and I found nothing better for anyone than silence. When we are surrounded with smart people – be quiet and listen!  Makes sense doesn’t it?

The old adage is true – we have two ears and only one mouth, so we ought to listen at least twice as much as we talk.

The one who is quiet and attentive during a discussion at least appears to be intelligent!  Fools will discard that approach to interject with what appears to themselves to be a smart or witty observation – only to have those who truly know what they are talking about realize the truth about them.

A second dimension of this advice – listen until the others have spoken fully and completely.  Do not make assumptions about what they are going to say or about which direction they will go – lest we again look foolish when they respond to us.

The sages go on to advise us all to be careful and precise with our words, never to gossip or engage in purely idle talk.

The advice might appear to be contrary to much other advice about studying the Torah – which is,  above anything else, an exercise in study, discussion, debate and even argument!  Not so.  When in the presence of those who are true experts – be quiet and listen and learn.  When in the company of one’s peers – discuss, debate and argue about the meaning of the text (always being considerate of one’s companions).

Not study, but practice, is the main thing. The purpose of study of Torah / Scripture  is to change our lives, to change the decisions we make each day, to live in relationship with the LORD of all.  Study that does not move us to do that is a waste of time.  So, study is extremely important – without being the ultimate thing.  Rashi says: “One who performs mitzvahs (the commandments, good deeds for others) is greater than one who studies Torah but does not translate it into action.”

My father in law was an artist and a musician.  It took years of study and then putting it into practice to make it real.

One who talks excessively brings on sin.

Are we not quite critical of people who are “all talk, no action”?  Of those who don’t “walk the talk”?   Again, this is not at all to diminish the importance of study – without it we have no guidance and no knowledge.  But it has to be put into use to have value.

Questions to reflect on:

  1. Is there enough silence in your life today?  Does it renew you when you have it?
  2. Is there a good balance in your life between learning and practice?  Do the things you read and study change you or simply get filed away in your head?