Happily Ever After

1.12     Hillel and Shammai received the tradition from them.

Hillel taught:

Be a disciple of Aaron: loving peace and pursuing peace, loving your fellow creatures and attracting them to the study of Torah.

There’s a trend in following the Pikei Avot that I’ve come to love. It’s what begins almost every other teaching: the phrase …received the tradition from them. It brings to mind an image of bloodlines and lineages, but such of the spirit and the soul, not of the body. That this teaching—this entire Teaching, an entire Tradition—could be so passed down like genes and chromosomes, it’s stunning to think of it for a moment and wonder, who have I received the tradition from?

According to Hillel, no matter who I’ve received it from, I should aim myself to be a disciple of Aaron. Aaron, of course, was the brother of Moses and the high priest of Israel. He followed the Lord’s commandments and officiated the offerings given to him. Aaron was a lover of peace, a peacemaker among the Israelite people. That, without doubt, is a goal to be strived for, an end of personal growth to be aim at.

But it goes deeper. We are not merely told to be like a disciple of Aaron—we are told to be a disciple of Aaron. And with this admonition comes a set of guidelines, rules to being, or perhaps requirements to becoming, such a disciple as this. Words and wonders as I look for, there’s a certain symmetry and parallelism to this list of requirements that works well when rearranged:

Loving peace
Pursuing peace
Loving your fellow creatures
Attracting them to the study of Torah

Clearly peace is key here—as it should be key everywhere—but the instruction of peace is not merely to love peace, but to love our fellow creatures. We can love peace as much we possibly could love anything, but without expressing that same love towards those around us, how can we truly love peace? Peace is not a singular state—it’s impossible to experience true peace as an individual. Only in groups, and more so in larger groups, does the feeling of peace become apparent, and if you’re part of a group and love no one, that peace will never be reached.

The inverse structure of what we’re not directly told to love also appeals to me: We are to pursue—bringing ourselves closer to others—but also to attract—bringing others closer to ourselves. It is a perfect balance of give and take. We are to pursue peace, but also to attract others to the study of Torah. We don’t quite see the same parallelism as before, however, when we link loving peace with loving our fellow creatures. Nonetheless, I believe there truly is a deeper sense of parallelism at work here, and I think you’ll agree in a moment.

What does it mean to pursue peace? Does it mean chasing it down and snagging it in a cage? Does it mean seeking out those who don’t argue to be in our company? Or is it something we can do without really “doing” anything—something, for example, such as following our traditions and morals to lead a life that reveres peace and seeks to make it a staple of our being?

(Such seems like following the Torah, to me, when by pursuing God’s mitzvot—his commandments—we’re seeking to become a holy and peaceful people.)

What does it mean to attract people to the study of Torah? Does it mean lacing the lessons with honey, so as to draw in more flies than with vinegar? Does it mean proselytizing and trying to convert those around us? Or is it something we can do without really “doing” anything—something, for example, such as living a righteous life and leading by example?

(After all, there’s a lot more to the Torah than just commandments about what foods to eat or what crops to plant—there’s moral traditions, too, and living a life by these standards, to me, seems like it would, like any other action iterated, draw others to the same.)

So of course there’s parallelism at work here. Hillel is likely among the most well-known (and certainly the most quoted—as we’ll see in two weeks) of all the rabbis in the Pirkei Avot, and I share a special bond with him: Three months ago when I decided to begin reading the Pirkei Avot, it was Shavuot and on that particular night, I studied, on more than one occasion, the teachings of Hillel. His succinctness is superlative; his way with words is wondrous. He is as much a poet as a priest, a disciple of Aaron as any other we could aim to emulate.

And with that said, with this teaching taught and this lesson learned, what more needs to be said? Love and peace, pursuit and attraction—it could be a romance, for all those words involved, and in a way it should be a romance, in the truest sense of the word: a tale of heroism and marvelous exploits, of idealism and chivalry, and of love, the eternal pursuit of love and life. Isn’t that what we all want, in the end, love and life and heroism? Perhaps heroism and marvelous exploits went out with the Middle Ages, but perhaps, in each of us, is a shred of what remains, and with that single spark of something outstanding, we can take this teaching to heart and pave our own paths, our own stories of heroism as we weave our tales of love and peace happily ever after.

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3 thoughts on “Happily Ever After

  1. What is heroism? Similar question to ‘what is a hero?’ which reminded me of this, from a story I wrote a while ago:

    “What is a hero? A hero does not need to be a legend. A hero does not need to be glorified. A hero does not need to be born high, nor does he need to be born low.

    “A hero does not need to be anything other than a common person who, when presented with injustice, does his best to right it. A hero does not need to be anything more than a brave soul in the right place at the right time. A hero does not become worthy of the title simply by being given it. No, a hero becomes worthy of his title when he sacrifices himself to save the lives of others. A hero becomes worthy of his title when he defends those who cannot defend themselves. A hero becomes worthy of his title when he does the impossible.”

    To continue on that theme: Heroism cannot be dead; the idea that heroism ‘went out’ with the Middle Ages simply cannot be true. Heroism can be such a simple, small thing; it doesn’t need to be flashy and grand. Think of all those posts on ‘GMH’ or the like where people thank others for the simple things that saved their lives; are those saviours heroes, even if they don’t know it?

    I think so. So heroism isn’t dead. Though the flashy ideals of dragons and damsels in distress might have left with the Middle Ages, heroism won’t die so long as there are people willing to stand up for their fellows, even for people who they don’t know — heroism won’t die until there is nobody left to become a hero.

    …I just went on an overly long thing about a side comment of yours, sorry. I don’t think you mind, though.

    Anyway, about the ideas of bringing people to the Torah and all — I love reading these posts, because I agree with pretty much every idea that is contained within the Torah (and the Bible as well, I think); it’s the trappings of religion that I dislike. Reading about how you interpret the Torah’s teachings and how to better yourself as a person by following those teachings is a wonderful thing, and I believe that I learn from what you say, even if I do not (and likely never will) follow the same religion, the same God, as you.

    <3

  2. I don’t think I could ever mind anything you do, love, and in this case, I feel honored that you should divulge such a statement about heroism here–it’s a perfect complement to my original piece, I feel, and it’s certainly an interesting mini-essay on its own. It also made me aware of GMH (GivesMeHope.com), which I think will be awesome to explore sometime, especially on lousy days.

    I’m also so glad you learn from these posts–I’m ecstatic for that, more than I can put to words. I must clarify something, however: The Pirkei Avot, from which all these verses are taken, is not part of the Torah, nor part of what would be called the Bible, if I’m not mistaken….

    After checking at JewFAQ.org, however, I can provide a definitive answer: The Pirkei Avot is part of the Mishnah (commentary on the Torah), which is part of the Talmud, which is referred to as the Oral Torah, which was believed to have been passed down orally from Moses from the time he received it at Sinai with the written Torah until it was written down in the second century (this also explains why it says who everyone received the tradition from, as I commented on at the start of this post). Is it part of the Bible? If we see the Bible as the Tenakh (the Torah, plus the Prophets and Writings), then no, it’s not part of the Bible, but it is part of Jewish tradition, and in a way, part of the Torah as well.

  3. <3 I wrote the basis of that statement a year ago, though I'm sure I've edited it since. The context of the story I wrote it for expands some upon the themes, but the point is clear just from that. And I'm glad you like it.

    I'm somewhat surprised you hadn't heard of GMH before. I'm glad I introduced you to it, then. It truly is a beautiful website.

    Thank you for the clarification that I'll almost certainly forget in another few days. xD It's interesting to know, but for the way I meant my comment it doesn't particularly matter. The principles of religion I agree with, much of the time. The structure, I understand the point of but don't particularly like for myself.

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