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The Systems of the Jewish Year

Devarim Nechmadim on Avos: Introduction

By Rabbi Sender Haber

We read Pirkei Avos between Pesech and Shavuos because it prepares us to properly accept the Torah. This is the period when the students of Rabi Akiva perished because they did not have proper respect for one another. Apparently, it is possible for a person to possess vast Torah knowledge and yet lack the ethical behavior that should accompany it. In order to be a true vessel to receive and transmit the Torah we need to refine our character traits to reflect those found in Pirkei Avos.

The custom is to begin the recital or Pirkei Avos with a quote from the final chapter of Sanhedrin: “כל ישראל יש להם הלק לעולם הבא”. All Jews have a portion in the world to come.

This quote is somewhat perplexing. It seems obvious that there have been Jews in our history who did not merit a portion in the world to come. As a matter of fact, the very Mishna in Sanhedrin that is quoted ends with a list of those who have no portion in the world to come. The quote at the beginning of Pirkei Avos seems somewhat disingenuous.

I believe the answer lies in a famous volume of the Berenstein Bears. Sister Bear had trouble with Nail Biting. No incentive seemed to work. They even tried offering Sister a penny for each nail that she did not bit over the course of a day. It was ineffective. Finally, Grandma Bear had Sister put ten pennies into her pocket at the beginning of the day. As she walked around and heard the coins jingling in her pocket, Sister was able to control her nasty habit.

In that very same way, G-d puts very one of us into this world with a portion in the World to Come. Some of us will get to use it; some of us won’t. But having that portion is incentive to make something of our lives and to keep our eyes on the prize., After all, we already have it, It’s just a matter of holding on to it.

This important lesson about the potential of every Jew is the perfect introduction to Pirkei Avos. As we prepare to receive the Torah and to avoid the mistakes of Rabi Akiva’s students, we need to recognize that every single Jew has a portion in the world to come. We needed to learn to respect one another.


Devarim Nechmadim is a commentary on the first five Mishnayos of Pirkei Avos by Rav Tzvi Elimelech Shapira of Dinov (1783 - 1841). This essay is loosely based on his work. For more essays based on Devarim Nechmadim please see

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