On the Importance of Learning Pirkei Avot
There is a custom in many Jewish communities to learn Pirkei Avot throughout the summer months, a chapter a week on every Shabbat. What we’d like to suggest is that if there is a choice over what public Torah learning program to establish, it should be on Pirkei Avot. Additionally, Pirkei Avot is perhaps the very best material with which to bring Jews closer to Torah and mitzvoth observance. If you have connections with other Jews, there is nothing that has more power to bring Jews back to Torah and God than learning Pirkei Avot.
One of the reasons why this tractate is called “Fathers” is because refining the emotive powers of the soul is the “parent” principle and the root of observing all the practical commandments in the Torah; the halachot. As the sages state, “Good etiquette preceded the Torah.”
With reference to the verse, “What does Havayah your God ask of you except to fear Havayah your God.” The sages ask “Can fear of God be considered something negligible?!” and they reply, “Yes, for Moses it was something negligible.” Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the Alter Rebbe, explained that this can genuinely be stated with reference to any Jew, because of the spark of Moses that is in every one of us.
What we want to explain is that the terms that the sages use can be interpreted in a relative manner. What this means is the pshat, the literal meaning, can be extrapolated and abstracted while not necessarily removing it from the pshat, but relating it to a different scale, a different ruler, as it were. The whole Torah has relativity engraved in it—its interpretation applies to every scale of life, be it from the lowest to the highest, from the smallest to the largest. Here we will see an interesting example on how the meaning of the two terms “boor” and “am ha’aretz” is interpreted in relation to one another on two different scales.