“Turn it and turn it, since everything is in it,” Pirkei Avot instructs us.
After four years of rabbinical school, sometimes it feels like turning pages is all I have done – pages of Talmud, Midrash, history, the list goes on. Don’t get me wrong – I am a passionate reader and an avid consumer of Jewish texts, but sometimes all of the turning leaves me feeling a little…dizzy?
The opportunity to work on our new project Ben Franklin Meets Pirkei Avot – which looks at Franklin’s 13 virtues through a Jewish lens – represented a different kind of turning: a turn inward. As opposed to just wondering how others have tackled questions of self-improvement, I had the opportunity look at myself. What is the place of order in my life? How can I find more silence in a city that never sleeps? What does it mean to engage in industry? So many questions that I have neglected to reflect upon as I have engaged in life’s bruising business came rushing at me.
What makes this a less lonely and less daunting journey are the texts that have accompanied me.
Again, I was turning page after page to find connections between Ben Franklin’s virtues and rabbinic wisdom – but that outward turning brought about the kind of inner reflection and meditation that Franklin and the Rabbis both esteem. Rabbinic aphorisms that I had read hundreds of time took on new relevance as I wondered: how can I use this to make myself a better person? This opportunity for study allowed me to press pause on the noise around and dive deep into words that then transformed my inner life.
Pirkei Avot begins with a chain of tradition. It teaches us that Joshua received his wisdom from Moses, the elders from Joshua, and it continues onto the rabbis. Rabbis receive wisdom from their teachers and then become teachers to a new generation. Ben Franklin Meets Pirkei Avot allows us to add our voices to that chain. We learn from the wisdom of our predecessors, change our lives, teach those around us, learn from those around us. Let us turn it and turn it, so that we ourselves may turn into our ideal selves.