These thoughts are from the fourth chapter of Pirkei Avos, Sayings of the Fathers:

The first one is a question. Our Sages ask, “Who is the wise person, the rich person, the honored person and the hero person?”

The wise person is one who is willing to learn from anybody.

The rich person is not the one who has a lot of money, but one who is satisfied with whatever they have.

The honored person is not the one who chases after honor, but one who runs away from honor, and seeks after other people to honor them.

The hero person is the one who doesn’t dominate or control others, but is able to control himself, his yetzer hara.

One of the clear messages here is this – most things in life that you chase after will run away from you. But if you spend your time and energy helping others, those things will chase after you, and they will find you. The things which people are running toward throughout their lives – wisdom, wealth, honor and glory – we are being taught to grant them to others or run away from them entirely.

The next idea is this – a good deed, a mitzvah, perpetuates another good deed.  And a sin, an aveirah, or a bad deed, perpetuates another sin. I think the lesson here is that momentum is a reality in our lives. Whatever we plug into the airspace of our lives is going to perpetuate more of the same thing, specifically when it comes to going with or going against G-d’s will.

The next teaching is this – don’t despise anyone, because every person has their time. This is a good lesson because we have to understand that G-d sees into the heart of a person, but we don’t see into that place. And G-d also has a time frame for who gets what, whenever they are supposed to get it. So, even if you see somebody you can’t stand, know that G-d has a plan for that person, and they are going to have their hour, or their minute of glory. Like the old David Bowie song said, “We all can be heros… Everybody has their day to be a hero.” That’s part of it

The next saying is this – when we learn Torah, we should learn in order to teach. Or, even better, we should learn Torah to DO. When we learn Torah, we will be able to do and to teach, and much more also.

Here is a lesson in the power of purpose, of intention. Your learning, or anything else in life, for that matter, is not about gaining something you didn’t have before, but it’s about giving it over to others, or making an impression in the world. It cycles into something beyond yourself, and in doing so it has more power. Same thing with making money, making friends, anything. If you let yourself focus not only on the thing itself, but on the effects it can accomplish, you’ll get the thing itself and its effects as well.

The Sages say, “Be a tail among lions, rather than being a head among foxes.” The idea here is that it’s better to hang out with people who are better than you are, and to learn from them, and not be the center and the focus of attention, rather than hang out with people who are lower than you are. It’s not that you are in danger with those people, but you’re not going to be growing. You’re not going to be stretching yourself beyond your limit, your comfort zone, unless your whole purpose is to help out in places nobody else can serve. That’s the difference.

The next saying is this –  our lifetime should be a lifetime of preparation for the world to come. When we understand life as, “this is not the end of the line, but only preparation for a world of truth, eternity and divinity,” then we approach this life in a much different way. We’ll be detached from this life, from this world, and we’ll be able to focus more on what’s most important.

The next one is this – our Sages say it’s better to spend one hour in this world improving ourselves, doing teshuva and good deeds, than to spend the entire creation in the next world.  On the other hand, it’s better to spend one hour of spiritual bliss in the next world, than the entire direction of this world.

This idea is clear… this world is designed to be the place of self-improvement, of growth. We have a soul, which is completely the opposite of our body, and it has to live with all the obstructions of the body. When we do good things here in this world, the value of it in eternal currency is much more than when we don’t have a body in the future world.

Whereas, the truth and the bliss of the future world is beyond us here and we can’t compare life in this world with it at all, with its different currency.

The next saying is, as I would call it in big, red letters – TACT. It says, don’t try to pacify someone when they are angry, and don’t try to comfort someone when their judgment lies in front of them. When a person is in their moment of humiliation, don’t look at them. Simply look away. All these things are teaching us tact, to really put ourselves in the other person’s place and to leave them alone, to just be silent and wait. There will be a time, later, when we can pacify and comfort them, and raise them up. But not right in the moment. Silence is a very wise thing to give in this kind of situation.

The next thing is this – that wisdom which we learn in our youth is compared to brand, new ink on brand, new paper. Whereas the wisdom learned later in life is like very faded ink on very faded paper. This idea is teaching us that a person has a clean slate when they are new, when they are young. And what they learn goes straight in and stays there for a lifetime.

The Sages say, “Exile yourselves to a place of Torah.” This idea means this – even if you have to exile yourself, even if you’re in a place that’s not so comfortable but there’s a lot better Torah over there, then go there. Once again, if you’re trying to influence people and you’re the only one who can do it, meaning you’re the only one for the job, then that’s a different story.

But, if possible, try to be in a place where there is a lot of Torah being learned, because it will have its influence on you.

And finally, the last one for today is this – “When you respect Torah, people respect you. That’s pretty self-explanatory.