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Bablyonian Talmud, Book 5: Tracts Aboth, Derech Eretz-Rabba, Eretz-Zuta, and Baba Kama (First Gate), tr. by Michael L. Rodkinson, [1918], at


LET all thy ways be for the sake of Heaven. Love Heaven, and fear it. Tremble at, and at the same time rejoice Over, all commandments. Sit before the elders, and let thy cars be attentive to their words. Incline thine ears to the words of thy comrade. Be not hasty in answering, and consider everything from the right point, and answer to the first question first, and to the last, last; and always confess the truth. Do not discuss in the presence of one who is greater than you in wisdom. If somebody wants to teach you something, do not say that you have heard it already. If you are questioned on the most unimportant matter, and you do not know it, be not ashamed to say, "I do not know." If somebody taught you something and you did not listen to it, be not ashamed to say, "Repeat it again"; and say not that you have not listened to it, but that you did not understand it. Do everything for the sake of the Creator, and talk of thy deeds in the same sense (according to Elias Wilna). Do not make thy merits as a crown to be glorified by it, and not as a hatchet to cleave with it, nor a spade to dig with it. Accept the words of Law, even when you are in affliction. Do not seek to wrong him who wronged you. Let thy accounts always be correct, and thy conduct excellent. Keep thy promise. Love the Law, righteousness, rebukes, straightforwardness.

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[paragraph continues] Do not run after honor. Be not proud when rendering a decision: Consider that all of which thou art possessed to-day may not be thine to-morrow; and if thou art not certain, as to property already in thy possession, that it will remain with thee, what is the use of thy striving to possess what belongs to others? Remember what the prophet says [Habakkuk, ii. 6]: "Woe to him that increaseth what is not his! for how long? and to him that loadeth himself with a burden of guilt!" Let it be thy habit to finish everything in a good manner. Let thy tongue be always soft. Be a good merchant, pay well, and strive always to do good. Be afraid of a light sin, for this may bring you to a grave sin. Respect all kind of men. Do not say, I will flatter this man, that he may give me food; that man, to give me beverages; that man, to cover me: for it is better that thou shouldst bear thine own shame than to be ashamed of others who will do so unto thee. Take care that thy teeth shall not shame thee, and thou shalt not be disgraced by thy mouth, and not cursed by thy tongue, and not put to shame by thy lips. Take care that thou shouldst not need to bow to some one on account of thine own words. If thou wishest to become attached to thy neighbor through bonds of love, always consider what good thou art able to do unto him. If it be thy wish to be kept away from sin, always look to the result of it. If thou art craving for merits, consider carefully their details. If thou hast done much good to some one consider it as very little; and thou must also not say that thou hast done it from what belongs to thee, because there is One who has done that unto thee, and thou art obliged to thank Heaven for it. If, however, some one has done thee some good, consider it as if he has done much. Do not say that Heaven has done good to me because of my good deeds; on the contrary, be afraid that it was done unto thee because of thine unworthy deeds [Deut. vii. 10]: "And repayeth those that hate him to their face, to destroy them." If,

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however, thou hast done any wrong, consider it much, and say: "Woe is me that I have sinned," or, "Woe is me that I was the cause of the wrong." If others have done thee much wrong, it shall be considered in thine eyes as little, and say: "This is only a part of the retribution that I deserve."


DELIBERATE before a word passes thy lips, and be thoughtful how thou shouldst act in worldly affairs. See always that thy steps shall be rewarded. justify the judgment that was imposed upon thee and free thyself from anger. judge favorably thy neighbor, and see that thy verdict shall not make him guilty (if his guilt is not fully established). Be content with thy share, and adorn thyself with the little thou dost possess. Do not hate the one who reproves thee. Thy share wilt be blessed forever if thine eye will always be: good, and thy soul always satisfied. Let it be thy habit to say, "I do not know" (of a thing that thou art doubtful about), for thou mayest be caught lying. If thou neglect one command, thou wilt finally be negligent of other commandments. The same is if thou hast overlooked the words of the Law willingly: finally thou wilt be overlooked, willingly or unwillingly. If thou hast taken away others' property, thine will be taken away.

The commencement of making vows is the door to foolishness. Frivolity with women is the beginning of adultery. If thou hast guaranteed for some one, remember that it must be paid by thyself. If thou hast borrowed money, know that thou hast borrowed it to be repaid in time. If thou hast loaned money to somebody, be prepared to have difficulty in collecting it. Remember the time thou hast to repay, and settle thy accounts.

The following fifteen customs are ascribed to the sages: He is pleasant in entering, and so also when leaving; is

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prudent in his fear for Heaven; versed in wisdom; wise in his ways, has a good conception, a retentive memory, is clear in his answers, questions to the point, and answers according to the Law; he learns something new from every chapter taught to him; he is going to the wise; he learns for the purpose of teaching it and performing it.

Be as the lower threshold, upon which all persons tread, and still it lasts even when the whole building is demolished.

Next: Chapter IV.