Pirkei Avot
About JIYF
Upon three things the world stands:
The Torah;
The worship of God;
The bestowal of lovingkindness.
-Shimon the Righteous

Commentary [1:2]
Shimon believed that for the sake of these three activities God created the world and keeps it going. Shimon’s motto in effect paints a portrait of the ideal person for us to strive toward, a person both close to God and a boon to mankind. This ideal pious person should learn Torah, should fulfill its commandments in both rituals and actions towards others, and should go beyond the strict obligations of the Torah by making acts of kindness a personal hallmark.

This ideal has its roots in the Bible. However, the paramount importance put on study (including study of both the Bible and the post-biblical, Oral tradition) and on acts of kindness is a new, characteristic note in Rabbinic or ‘Classical’ Judaism. Shimon, roughly a contemporary of Alexander the Great, came to be called ‘the righteous’ because of his renown for piety and for kindness to the people he led.

The worship of God. The commentary in Avot deRabbi Natan [ARN] says that “service” here refers to the sacrifices at the ancient Temple, where Shimon was high priest. After the fall of the Temple, the Rabbis viewed prayer as a “service of the heart” (Ta’anit 2a)which partly served as a substitute for the sacrifices. And Yochanan ben Zakkai is quoted in ARN as saying that deeds of loving kindness are as good a means of atoning for sin as the sacrifices.

The bestowal of lovingkindness. Chesed, lovingkindness, (also translated as mercy, grace, charity) is in the Bible one of the basic attributes of God which mankind is to imitate. The phrase gemilut chasadim, the bestowal of kindness, or “acts of kindness” refers to a broader category than tzedakah, the Rabbinic term for ‘charity’ in the sense of giving money to the needy. Gemilut chasadim includes any helpful action done without expectation of reward or recompense.