Pirke Avot-4: What You See Is Not Always What You Get

David's Star (Patrick Lentz photo via Flickr.com, Creative Commons license.)
David's Star (Patrick Lentz photo via Flickr.com, Creative Commons license.)

As we continue to honor the tradition of Pirke Avot study between Passover and Shavuot, let me offer up this week’s text, from Avot 4:20 (see Sefaria translation). This is a long text that discusses perceptions between young and old and places this in the context of learning from people of different ages. Let me suggest that we see here a glimpse of the importance of “life experience”. Also, we can discuss the ageism that still exists in society; do we still harbor a preference for youth over age?

Towards the end of the text we see this: Rabbi said: do not look at the container but at that which is in it: there is a new container full of old wine and and old container in which there is not even new wine. Do we sometimes make judgements about a person on the way they “look”? Do we often make a determination on a person’s importance, worth, value based on appearance, without ever getting to know someone? In a society that is so visual and immediate, have we begun to lose the ability to engage people so that we come to “know” them. Perception may be reality for may, but perception, as Avot cautions, can be deceiving.

Todah v’ shalom

Rabbi Richard F Address

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