Pirkei Avot, Day 4

Mishna 1:14

(In Pirkei Avot, we call each entry a mishna)

“He used to say: If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I am for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”

This is one of the most famous writings in Pirkei Avot. It’s message withheld the test of time (there are modern songs that use this passage) and speaks to us even today. As you read ahead, remind yourself that other generations before you have also received this message.

“If I am not for myself who will be for me.” As I wrote about in the faith chronicles, no one knows you better than you. Or at least, no one has the capacity or access to know you better than you know yourself. Each of us must be our biggest advocate, our biggest cheerleader, our most loving companion. The message is to be the person you are looking for. Look for the answers within you, not outside of you.

On the other hand, this message asks the question: “if we are only for ourselves then what are we?” Are we selfish? Are we self involved? The truth is, it doesn’t matter. It’s a rhetorical question and is basically telling us that although we are the most important person in our lives, we have to look outside of ourselves too. Not for the answers. But for the connection, the knowledge, the empathy. The message is telling us to live within ourselves and outside ourselves simultaneously.

This is one of the balances of life. To nourish ourselves so that we can be present to each other. “If not now when?” Now is all we have. Do we want to spend it alone or together? Or both? Nourishing ourselves means looking within. Being honest with ourselves. Finding the places for growth. Loving ourselves. Being patient with ourselves. And the list goes on. Only when we can offer those things to ourselves can we truly connect with others from a place of authenticity.

We can do this. Now is the time to look within ourselves but to remember that there are others in our lives. To reach out and connect.

Do two things today. Give yourself an hour to be by yourself whether in nature or listening to music or journaling or all of the above. Then reach out to someone that you haven’t connected with in recent weeks. See how that feels.

Love you all!

Rabbi Gabi

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