The Company It Keeps

Ayin Tove
The Company It Keeps

The second mishnah in Avot states “on three things the world stands: on torah, on service, and on acts of lovingkindness. We can use one of the classic rabbinic methods of analysis (a “gezarah shava”) to say that “torah,” “service,” and “lovingkindness” are defined for us by the rest of the sentence. In other words, service is a form of torah, acts of lovingkindness are a form of torah, and service is a act of lovingkindness. This hearkens back to the debate as to which is greater: study or action, and the talmudic answer that study leads to action. I would say that we learn from action, such that action is a form of study. So I would say that they are equal. Aside from the role of rabbis, the privilege of study over action is that it ensures that action is the right kind of action. And that is why both are necessary.

We learn the above (i.e., what the world stands on) from Simon the righteous (“hatzadik”). This is consistent with the idea that the world exists because of the righteous (as G-d explained to Abraham the importance of 10 righteous men). It’s not turtles all the way down. And it’s not Anteus or Icarus and Dedalus who must have their feet planted on the earth to survive. No, the world exists/draws its strength from the word of its Creator and the actions of men.

We return to the idea of Ecclesiastes that for everything there is a season (including study, service, and action). We are taught that the blessing at the holidays ends with “Blessed is G-d who blesses Israel and the seasons” (m’kadesh yisrael v’hazmanim) because Israel determines the seasons by recognizing them (really by recognizing the new moon which is the beginning of the calendar month). The Earth depends upon us to recognize it and keep it. And even at the darkest periods it is our ultimate task to spot the first hopeful glint of the new moon and to spread the word. The seasons depend upon it. This requires study, service, and action. It’s all tikkun olam.

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