Now I’d like to address the second chapter of Pirkei Avot, The Sayings of Our Fathers. These are some of my favorite sayings, the ones that resonate with me.

The first one is – three things keep a person away from sin: an eye that sees, an ear that hears, and knowing that all your acts are recorded in a book. This was a way one of our Sages said that we need to have visualizations, in order to keep us in line, in order to keep us from doing stuff we don’t want to be doing.

It’s very common to quote this saying at people’s funerals, because it represents fear of G-d, a fear of heaven. It’s like being a video. If we understand that our words and actions are recorded, 24/7, just as though we’re on a video recording, and from my interaction with people who have had near-death experiences and see a “video” of their lives as the time of their passing, we can’t foolishly think we’re getting away with anything. It’s all there, and it’s all clear. We have to be aware of that.

The second thing is that we need to be cautious of the ruling authorities. They only befriend you for their present interests. At first they appear as friends, but in a time of distress for them, they are not likely to stand by as a friend. I think it’s interesting our Sages picked up on this one ‘way, ‘way back when. We tend to think this is a modern, political dilemma we’re experiencing currently, meaning leaders failing to represent the people who voted them in, and deferring instead to their own interests.

Our best response to this behavior is to keep a healthy distance from the ruling authorities, and to take heed if you are in the position of authority. Politics makes for strange bedfellows, as they say, and when you think the other person is on your side, but it’s a question of political power, you’d better look out. So, this wisdom goes ‘way, ‘way back.

The next one is this – make G-d’s will your will, so that G-d will make your will His will. That’s a tricky one.

In other words, if you do what you can, if you study G-d’s will and try to adapt it to yourself, you are likely to wind up doing what G-d wants you to do. That’s the natural effect, the payoff, so to speak. It goes on to say that you should nullify your own will in the face of G-d’s will, which means, as a result, that G-d will nullify the unfavorable will of others toward you. In other words, your will may be done.

In a nut shell, we are talking about connecting up your will with G-d’s will. Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan says that when a person fuses his will with G-d’s will, his potential for transforming the world into a heavenly kingdom is unlimited. You become G-d’s right-hand man or woman, and your power to get things done becomes unlimited. That is one way to live a miraculous and above-nature life.

The next one is this – Don’t think that you’re ever through learning. No matter how old you are or how much you know, it’s possible to do something really stupid to mess up your life. For example, Yochanan the High Priest, who lived back in the days of the Holy Temple. He was the High Priest, the holiest man in the land, the one who granted forgiveness in the Holy of Holies once a year, going where no other man was allowed to enter.

But in the 80th year, he lost it. He got involved with certain types of fallen groups, and he took on their philosophy and lost what he had. We all have to understand that every day is a battle with our evil inclination, and that no matter how old and weak we become we can lose it. We have to be on our guard at all times.

The next saying is this – a shy person will never learn and a stringent person will never be able to teach. That idea is pretty self-explanatory, but we should understand that you have to be a sort of nudnik to property learn. It’s hard.

You’re sitting in any situation and you find that the one who comes out ahead is the one who is asking questions. Judaism, perhaps more than any other religion, encourages us to constantly ask questions, to see other sides and get clarity. We are a nation of holy skeptics. We will question and keeping questioning anything that is not clear. If you question, you will learn. If you won’t question, you won’t learn.

And the teacher must have infinite patience. That’s what makes a teacher a teacher. They have to understand it’s not about furthering themselves, but to give over that knowledge to others, and to repeat it over and over, possibly hundreds of times.

Another saying is this one – in a place where there are no people, try to be a person. In a place where there’s no mensch, where there’s no proper, respectful, human being, you be a human being. I’ve run into this in my life many times, and it’s a directive regarding Jewish leadership and what it’s all about.

Our leaders don’t run for office, they run away from office. But they will step up when necessary, when there’s nobody else willing to do the job. That’s what leadership is all about. We don’t want it, but we will do it if we have to do it.

The next saying is this – a person who goes above and beyond, who does an inordinate amount of one thing will have the result of something else, both negative and positive. For example, a person who is a glutton and eats too much meat will have worms in their body when they pass away. A person who collects an inordinate amount of possessions will have a great deal of worry in their life. A person who has an inordinate amount of gathering Torah will have a great deal of life in their life. A person who is inordinately charitable will have an extraordinary amount of peace in their life.

Here’s the next one – Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zachai was in a discussion with a number of his students about what trait is the one that encompasses all other traits. They agreed that the #1 trait is a good heart, because a good heart contains all the other good traits, such as being a good friend, being a good neighbor, and being a person who sees what’s going to come from their actions. A good heart contains all the other good traits. A good heart is the essence of what a human being is.

The next one is this – the nature of a true scholar, a true Sage, is one who has an abundance of the element of fire. True scholarship, true Torah is passion. Therefore, you have to understand that when you’re playing with fire you can get either warmed or burned, helped or harmed. Keeping a healthy distance means you’ll get warm, but it you get too close you’ll get burned.

And the next one is don’t make your prayer redundant or habitual. Make your prayer full of true, heartfelt connection to G-d. Our Sages say it’s better to pray a little, tiny bit with heart than to pray a whole lot without it.

And the next one is don’t be evil in your own eyes. This is such an important one today. People put themselves down in place where they shouldn’t, and they lift themselves up in places where they shouldn’t. Here we’re talking specifically about, in your own eyes, understanding that there’s part of yourself that is a holy soul. Don’t put yourself down. You have something to say which nobody else can say.

And the last one for today is about the preciousness of time. Our Sages say, “The day is short, the task is great, the workers are lazy and the reward is great.” We’ve got to know that every second counts. So, don’t be a waster of time. Time is the most important thing, because this life is full of jewels to be corrected at all times, and in all ways.