As we begin to wind down our Pirke Avot study between Passover and Shavuot, let me suggest that this week’s text again speaks to all of us in so many different ways. Avot 2:5 tells us that in a place where we encounter no one acting as a human being,
strive to act like a human being” (hishtadel l’hiyot ish).
Full disclosure, this is my favorite passage in Avot. What does it mean to act like a human being? Heschel cautions us that it speaks to the way we act with each other, the world and even our own self. It means that in a world that so often seems to negate the values of humanity, Judaism commands us to embrace our actions in a cloak of humanity, values, gratitude, compassion and love. It means that–and this is especially meaningful in light of the pandemic–we need to act in a way that secures the peace and welfare of the community, even it means that we are or may be inconvenienced.
In the midst of so much anxiety and fear that we are living with, this text calls to mind the growing number of quiet acts of gratitude and compassion that we see, all to rarely. It is the donations to food banks, the giving of stimulus checks to people in need, the drive by birthday parties and sacrifices of essential workers, from health care workers to bus drivers and postal workers and more. So, as you contemplate the text, either by your self or in a study group, consider how each of us can “strive to act like a human being” by simply being human. In doing so, society wins, each of us win and we can build a humane world.
Stay safe and healthy
Rabbi Richard F Address