Pirke Avot 2:19

Be diligent in the study of Scripture, and know what to answer a heretic;

know before Whom you toil;

and know that your Emploryer can be relied upon to pay you the wage of your labor.

Be diligent in the study of Torah / Scripture, and know what to answer a heretic.   There is no real contradiction or preference to be had between knowing one’s faith and living it out.  We need to know and understand our faith traditions in order to live them out.  In order to live them out we need to understand them on some level.

You don’t have to be a genius or get a PhD in Scripture – my grandmother managed to be a saint (I think) with an elementary school education.  And, come to thinkof it, I know a number of PhD’s who are NOT particularly good or faithful people.

BUT, to the extent that we can do so – we need to show an interest in our faith and in the Scriptures that are its foundation.  What are the stories?  What do they say?  What do they mean?  Who are we?  Why are we here?  and in essence – What does all this mean???

If we care about these questions and are searching for the answers (no one says we are going to have many) then we can talk with those who are not believers and make some sense to them.  Converting them does not need to be our goal.  Helping them see how our faith makes sense of our own life experiences for us may give them some guidance for their own life issues.  Perhaps they will come to our faith, perhaps come to another faith, and perhaps never come to any faith at all but become somewhat better people nonetheless.

The days of “battling with heretics” is long gone, nowadays those who do not believe are more or less the majority of persons (in the West anyway).  They do not hate but are largely indifferent to us (except for the unfortunate Christians who are “in the face” of everyone who disagrees with them).  In some respects their indifference to us is worse than the previous anger and rejection where we could at least engage them in discussion.

The bottom line – know your faith, live your faith, and in the process, understand the questions and stories well enough to use them to make sense of your own life.  Once we can do that, we’ll do a better job of helping others struggle with those big questions for themselves.

Know before Whom you toil.  Well, whom do we toil before?  Our parents?  Our spouses?  Our bosses?  Sort of, for awhile, in some respects.  But that is not what Rabbi Elazar has in mind.  It is the LORD before whom we toil.  The creator of the universe.  The One who sustains the universe.

As small and insiginificant as we are – the LORD of the universe knows us, sees us, and loves us.  The LORD of the universe longs to be in close relationship with us.  It is this LORD before whom we toil.

To live a good and “right” life we must remember this from morning to night, in everything we do.

Know that your Employer can be relied upon to pay you the wage of your labor. Our “employers” in the world can usually be relied upon to pay us our wages – though not all.  The Employer that the rabbi has in mind is God, who created us and gave us each a purpose in life, a mission, a unique task.  Perhaps to be a good mom or dad.  Perhaps to be an architect, a priest, a lawyer.  Perhaps to be a great employee of the local supermarket.

Our Scripture / Torah continually tells us that even when we are unfaithful to the covenant, to our relationship with God – our God remains faithful to us.  And the LORD is kind and merciful toward us.

In a gospel parable Jesus tells us of a vineyard owner who hires men to work in the vineyard throughout the day – and then pays all the workers the same wage!  Those who worked a full day expected to be paid more than those who labored only a few hours.  Jesus tells us, though, that God is free to be generous to us and to others, that God is not bound by our rules and expectations.

We will be rewarded – not on our merits, but by God’s mercy and love for us.