Pirke Avot 2:5

Hillel says:

Do not separate yourself from the community;

do not believe in yourself until the day you die;

do not judge your fellow until you have reached his place;

do not make a statement that cannot be easily understood, on the ground that it will be understood eventually, and

do not say, “When I am free I will study, for perhaps you will not become free.

Wow!  This one is packed with heavy-duty advice on how to live.  If we had to choose just one saying from one rabbi on how to live our lives perhaps this might be a contender.

Do not separate yourself from the community. Essential to both the Jewish and Catholic understanding of ourselves is the recognition that “we are who we are” only in relationship with God and with others.  To be human is to be in relationship.  To be in relationship with God means that we acknowledge a greater reality and power than ourselves, that we accept  a will and a wisdom that is not our own.  To be in relationship with others means that we recognize our dependence on others for help, guidance, and support AND recognize that others depend on us for help, guidance, and support.  One rabbi comments on this section that “in the company of the community God does not focus on our personal faults”.  However – if we were somehow out there standing on our own…

 

In journeying together through life we discocver the presence of God.

 

Do not believe in yourself until the day you die. This is not a call to self-doubt.  This is not a recommendation that you second-guess your every decision.  This IS advice that reminds you to be humble in your self-assessment each day, to recognize your dependence and formation by others (parents, teachers, advisers, mentors and more) who helped you become who you are and helped to achieve what you may have achieved.   Do not become complacent with your accomplishments (or despairing for lack of them!) – you still have more to do.

Do not judge your fellow until you have reached his place.  Also heard as “Don’t judge another until you have walked a mile in his / her shoes”.    We rarely have all the information, all the points of view, all the background to make solid judgments.  Yet we often leap to a conclusion and express our judgment on others.

Do not make a statement that cannot be easily understood, on the ground that it will be understood eventually.  Do not be intentionally obscure or misleading to others, perhaps with the hope that it will make you seem particularly wise or smart or educated.  The mark of the TRULY smart and wise is that they make the effort to be understood by others – now.  This advice, while seeming rather trivial, really has to do with the underlying attitude and the underlying relationship one might have with others.  Are we working to establish and deepen a relationship?  Or are we showing off, considering ourselves to be above the “little people”?

Do not say “When I am free I will study”, for perhaps you will not become free.  Do not presume to plan your life too fully – for you are not really in control of your life – God is.  Do not put off until tomorrow that which you are required to do today and everyday.  This same advice also implies – do not wait until tomorrow to forgive or to ask forgiveness, do not wait until tomorrow to love and to tell others that you love them.

Someday there will not be a tomorrow for us.

In this lengthy saying from Hillel (who lived at the time of Jesus more or less) we have profound advice on how we are to live our lives – even today:

  • Be in communion with God and one another
  • Be humble
  • Do not rush to judge others
  • Be considerate of others
  • Do not put off until tomorrow what needs to be done today

If we do these things – we are going to have a good life.