There are two sayings of Pirkei Avos that come to mind this week to give us guidance, support and strength as we face the trials and tribulations of the Baalei Teshuva.
The first is that of Yehuda ben Taima, who said, “Be bold as a leopard…”, meaning that we have to be bold to do the right thing, to do what the Torah requires in every situation. It’s often difficult in that we face pressures both from where we came and from our current environment. But we have to go through the process of determining what the right thing is and then be bold and do it, no matter what the challenges. I give thanks to one of my first Rebbeim, Rabbi Tzvi Kramer, for reiterating this lesson time and again.
The second saying is that of Ben Hai Hai who said, “According to the effort is the reward.” For the Baal Teshuva many things that may be relatively easy for those born into observant homes are a real struggle. But the key to Torah Judaism is to constantly grow through our struggle. Every obstacle we face, every effort we make contributes to us fulfilling the purpose for which Hashem put us in this world. This world is one of struggle and the effort we make overcoming challenges, enables us to build our own eternity.
The entire text from Perek 5 is down below.
1. “The world was created in ten utterances. What does this come to teach us? Could not the world have been created in a single utterance? It was in order to exact punishment from the wicked who destroy the world which was created in ten utterances, and to give reward to the righteous who sustain the world which was created in ten utterances.”
2. “There were ten generations from Adam until Noah. This shows us how slow to anger G-d is, for all those generations increasingly angered Him until He brought upon them the waters of the Flood.”
3. “There were ten generations from Noah until Abraham. This shows how slow to anger G-d is, for all those generations increasingly angered Him until our forefather Abraham came and received the reward of all of them.”
4. “Our forefather Abraham was tested with ten trials and withstood all of them. This shows the love our forefather Abraham had [for G-d].”
5. “Ten miracles were performed on for our fathers in Egypt and ten at the [Red] Sea. Ten plagues did the Holy One, blessed be He, bring upon the Egyptians in Egypt and ten at the sea.”
6. “With ten trials did our ancestors test the Holy One, blessed be He, in the desert, as it is said, ‘They have tested Me these ten times and did not hearken My voice’ (Numbers 14:22).”
7. “Ten miracles were performed for our fathers in the Temple: (1) A woman never miscarried because of the aroma of the sacrificial meat. (2) Sacrificial meat never became spoiled. (3) A fly was never seen in the slaughter house. (4) The High Priest never had a seminal emission on Yom Kippur. (5) Rain never put out the fire of the arranged wood [on the altar]. (6) Wind never prevailed over the pillar of smoke [that rose from the altar]. (7) The Omer offering, the Two Loaves, and the Show-bread were never found to be invalid. (8) [The supplicants at the Temple] would stand crowded together but would bow with ample space. (9) Snakes and scorpions never did harm in Jerusalem. (10) A person never said to his fellow ‘it is too crowded for me to lodge overnight in Jerusalem.'”
8. “Ten things were created on Sabbath eve, at twilight. They are: the mouth of the earth [which swallowed Korach and his co-conspirators] (Numbers 16:32), the mouth of the well [which accompanied Israel in the desert], the mouth of the donkey [which rebuked Bil’am] (ibid., 22:28), the rainbow, the Manna, the staff [of Moses], the shamir worm, the script [of the Torah], the inscription [on the Tablets of the Ten Commandments], and the Tablets. Some say: also destructive spirits, the burial place of Moses, and the ram of our father Abraham [which he slaughtered in place of Isaac] (Genesis 22:13). And some say, also tongs – which are made with tongs.”
9. “Seven things apply to an uncultured person (Heb. ‘golem’), and seven to a wise person. A wise person does not speak before one who is greater than he in wisdom or years; he does not interrupt his fellow; he is not rushed to respond; he asks relevant questions; he answers accurately; he discusses first things first and last things last; on what he did not hear, he says ‘I did not hear;’ and he admits to the truth. The opposite of these is true of the golem.”
10. “Seven types of punishments come to the world on account of seven basic transgressions. If some people tithe and some do not, a famine caused by [partial] drought will come. Some will be hungry and some will be sated. If people have determined not to tithe, a famine resulting from both unrest and drought will come. [If people have also determined] not to separate challah from dough, a fully destructive famine will come.”
11. “Pestilence comes to the world for death penalties mentioned in the Torah which are not in the hands of the courts to administer and for [the forbidden use of] Sabbatical year produce. The sword comes to the world for the delay of justice, the perversion of justice, and for those who expound the Torah not in accordance with Jewish Law. Wild beasts come to the world for false oaths and the desecration of G-d’s Name. Exile comes to the world for idolatry, adultery, murder, and the working of the earth on the Sabbatical year.”
12. “During four periods (of the seven year agricultural cycle) pestilence increases: on the fourth year, on the seventh year, on the year after the seventh year, and following Sukkos (Tabernacles) of every year. On the first year because of [the neglect of] the tithe for the poor of the third year; on the seventh year because of [the neglect of] the tithe for the poor of the sixth year; on the year after the seventh year because of [the misuse of] seventh year produce; following Sukkos every year because of stealing the gifts for the poor.”
13. “There are four character types among people. One who says ‘what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours’ is of average character, and some say – this is the character of Sodom. [One who says] ‘what’s mine is yours and what’s yours is mine’ – is unlearned (lit., [of] the people of the land). [One who says] ‘what’s mine is yours and what’s yours is yours’ – is pious. [One who says] ‘what’s yours is mine and what’s mine is mine’ – is wicked.”
14. “There are four types of temperaments. One who is quick to become angry and quick to calm down – his gain is outweighed by his loss. One who is slow to become angry and slow to calm down – his loss is outweighed by his gain. One who is slow to become angry and quick to calm down is pious. One who is quick to become angry and slow to calm down is wicked.”
15. “There are four types of students. One who is quick to understand and quick to forget – his gain is outweighed by his loss. One who is slow to understand and slow to forget – his loss is outweighed by his gain. One who is quick to understand and slow to forget – this is a good portion. One who is slow to understand and quick to forget – this is a bad portion.”
16. “There are four types of givers of charity. One who wants to give but that others not give – has a bad eye towards others. One who wants others to give but not to give himself – has a bad eye towards himself. One who gives and wants others to give is pious. One who does not give and does not want others to give is wicked.”
17. “There are four types among those who go to the study hall. One who goes but does not do receives reward for the going. One who does but does not go receives reward for the doing. One who goes and does is pious. One who does not go and does not do is wicked.”
18. “There are four types of students (lit., among those who sit before the Sages) – a sponge, a funnel, a strainer, and a sifter. The sponge absorbs everything. The funnel brings in on this side and brings out on the other. The strainer lets out the wine and retains the lees. The sieve lets out the flour dust and retains the fine flour.”
19. “Any love which is dependent on something, when the ‘something’ ceases, the love ceases. Any love which is not dependent on anything will never cease. What is a love which is dependent? The love of Amnon for Tamar. What is a love which is not dependent? The love of David and Yehonasan.”
20. “Any dispute which is for the sake of Heaven will ultimately endure, and one which is not for the sake of Heaven will not ultimately endure. What is a dispute for the sake of Heaven? This is a debate between Hillel and Shammai. What is a dispute not for the sake of Heaven? This is the dispute of Korach and his assembly.”
21. “Anyone who influences the many towards merit – a sin will not come about through him. And anyone who brings the many to sin will not be given the opportunity to repent. Moses merited and brought merit to the many. The merit of the many was dependent upon him, as it is said, ‘He did G-d’s righteousness and G-d’s justice with Israel’ (Deuteronomy 33:21). Jeroboam son of Nevat sinned and brought the masses to sin. The sin of the many was dependent upon him, as it is said, ‘…for the sins of Jeroboam which he sinned and caused Israel to sin’ (I Kings 15:30).”
22. “Whoever possesses the following three traits is of the students of our father Abraham, and [whoever possesses] a different three traits is of the students of the wicked Bilaam. [Those who have] a good eye, a humble spirit and a ‘lowly’ soul [are] of the students of our father Abraham. [Those who have] an evil eye, an arrogant spirit and a desirous soul [are] of the students of the wicked Bilaam. What is the difference between the students of our father Abraham and the wicked Bilaam? The students of our father Abraham enjoy this world and inherit the World to Come, as it is said, ‘There is for those who love Me to inherit (in the World to Come), and their storehouses (in this world) I will fill’ (Proverbs 8:21). But the students of the wicked Bilaam inherit Gehinnom and descend into the pit of destruction, as it is said, ‘And You, G-d, will bring them down to the pit of destruction, men of blood and deceit [who] will not live half their days. But I will trust in You’ (Psalms 55:24).”
23. “Yehuda ben (son of) Taima said, be bold as a leopard, light as an eagle, swift as a deer, and strong as a lion to do the will of your Father in Heaven.”
24. “He (Yehuda ben Taima) used to say, the boldfaced are destined to Gehinnom (Hell), and the shamefaced are destined to the World to Come. May it be Your will, L-rd our G-d and G-d of our fathers, that the Temple be built speedily in our days, and You grant us our share in Your Torah.”
25. “He (Yehuda ben Taima) used to say, at five [one should begin the study of] Scriptures; at ten, Mishna; at thirteen [one becomes obligated in] the commandments; at fifteen [the study of] the Talmud; at eighteen the wedding canopy; at twenty to pursue; at thirty strength; at forty understanding; at fifty counsel; at sixty old age; at seventy fullness of years; at eighty spiritual strength; at ninety bending over; at one hundred it is as if he has died and passed on from this world.”
26. “Ben (son of) Bag Bag said, turn the Torah over and over for everything is in it. Look into it, grow old and gray over it, and never move away from it, for you will find no better portion than it.”
27. “Ben (son of) Hai Hai said, according to the effort is the reward.”