July 13, 2024
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July 13, 2024
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Highlighting: “The Eternal Wisdom of Pirkei Avos” by Rabbi Yechiel Spero. Mesorah Publications Ltd. 2023. Hardcover.
440 pages. ISBN-13: 978-1422633526.

(Courtesy of ArtScroll/Mesorah Publications) During this time of year, many devote time to study the timeless words of Pirkei Avos. In ArtScroll’s new “The Eternal Wisdom of Pirkei Avos,” Rabbi Yechiel Spero uses marvelous, poignant, true stories and penetrating insights to bring the messages of each Mishnah in Pirkei Avos into our everyday lives. Each Mishnah includes an insight, a story and a practical take-away for us to internalize these vital life lessons.

This bestselling author, master teacher and gifted storyteller will show you how the ageless wisdom of Pirkei Avos will improve and enrich your life.

It’s Your Life. Live It Well. Let “Avos” Show You How.

The shidduch is not working out and you are so upset. Take a hint on how to behave from Rav Chaim Volozhin, who learned it from Rabban Gamliel—in Pirkei Avos.

It’s just one of those days when nothing goes right for you. Time to read about the cheder rebbe who lost the $10,000 he’d borrowed for his child’s wedding, but who did not lose his temper or composure, because of something he’d learned from Ben Azai—in Pirkei Avos.

You try and you try and you try … and you don’t succeed in learning. See what the Steipler had to say to a struggling bachur and how Rabbi Chalafta ben Dosa solved the problem—in Pirkei Avos.

For more than 1,000 years, Jews have spent long summer Shabbos afternoons studying the holy words of Pirkei Avos. Amazingly, the wisdom the Tannaim shared with us two millennia ago is still relevant, still contemporary—still guiding us to live the best lives we can.

In ”The Eternal Wisdom of Pirkei Avos,” master teacher and storyteller Rabbi Spero shares with us an insight, a story and a takeaway for every Mishnah in Pirkei Avos. By combining the brilliant understanding of the Tannaim with stories as contemporary as today, Rabbi Spero offers us a powerful way to bring the messages of Pirkei Avos into our daily challenges and experiences, enhancing our relationships and bringing new, joyful meaning to our lives.

The following is an excerpt from Perek 1 of Pirkei Avos.


Grabbing the Opportunity

.יוֹסֵי בֶן יוֹחָנָן אִישׁ יְרוּשָׁלַיִם אוֹמֵר יְהִי בֵיתְךָ פָתוּחַ לִרְוָחָה וְיִהְיוּ עֲנִיִּים בְּנֵי בֵיתֶךָ

Yose ben Yochanan, leader of Yerushalayim, says: Let your house be open wide; treat the poor as members of your household… (Avos 1:5)

Yose Ben Yochanan Ish Yerushalayim teaches that one should open his house to guests and that poor people should be treated as members of his household. The sefer Otzar Margaliyos (p. 170) wonders why the Mishnah reveals the hometowns of Yose ben Yochanan and Yose ben Yoezer in these Mishnayos. What difference does it make where they come from?

There is a difference in mindset between large cities and smaller ones. Yose ben Yoezer came from Tzereidah, a small town. Thus, he felt it prudent to teach the people of his small village the importance of respecting and honoring talmidei chachamim. While villagers, with constant passersby through their towns, may excel at hachnasas orchim, they have little exposure to gedolim and Torah scholars, and they require guidance in revering Torah giants.

In the large cities, though, people have a tendency to focus more on the talmidei chachamim, who frequent larger cities, as men of means compete to show honor to their respected visitors.

Often, however, the poor and indigent get brushed aside. It is for this reason that Yose ben Yochanan of Yerushalayim taught the importance of opening one’s home to the poor. Yerushalayim was a large city where they excelled in respecting talmidei chachamim.

Gedolim lived in the city and Torah giants often came by. But he suspected that the residents may be lacking in their overall hachnasas orchim, so his words focused on the needy and the importance of opening one’s home wide to all kinds of guests.

Rabbeinu Bachya (Shemos 25:23) mentions that it was customary for people to fashion their coffins from their dining room tables. Obviously, this was not done due to a lack of wood.

Rather, there was great meaning to this custom. Just as the Mizbe’ach facilitated atonement for one’s sins, our “mizbechos,” our tables, where we provide food and drink to our guests, help us gain atonement for our sins, as well. The table’s components serve as an appropriate coffin, as they invoke merit for the chesed performed at the table.

There are costs to hosting guests. There is the financial burden of buying extra food, as well as the emotional strain and lack of privacy. The effort takes its toll. Nonetheless, the Gemara (Shabbos 127a; Shevuos 35b) reveals that hosting guests is greater than greeting the Shechinah.

Certainly, this sublime mitzvah is a worthy investment, an opportunity worth grabbing.

Rav Aryeh Levin, the tzaddik of Yerushalayim, once approached Reb Yaakov Yosef Herman and asked if he knows anyone who sells “Rav Nesanel Sofer” retzuos, tefillin straps. Rav Nesanel’s retzuos were reputed as the absolute finest, and Rav Aryeh’s had become torn.

Reb Yaakov Yosef asked Rav Aryeh how much money he was willing to spend, and Rav Aryeh responded, “Up to two lirot,” a large sum in those days. Impressed, Reb Yaakov Yosef told him he would procure the retzuos for him. A short while later, Reb Yaakov Yosef brought the retzuos to Rav Aryeh, and Rav Aryeh handed him the money.

Rav Aryeh was curious as to how Reb Yaakov Yosef had managed to procure such rare retzuos on such short notice. Reb Yaakov Yosef explained, “I, too, owned retzuos from Rav Nesanel Sofer and I know how precious and rare they are. Yet I also know the value of the mitzvah of hachnasas orchim. Throughout my life, I was able to provide for my guests, but lately, our funds have been depleted and, because of this, I am concerned I won’t be able to continue having guests.

“So I sold you my own retzuos. I can buy less costly retzuos and use the extra money to host guests for the next month.”

One month of guests versus a lifetime of the best retzuos.

Reb Yaakov Yosef chose the mitzvah of hachnasas orchim.

Rav Aryeh was amazed by Reb Yaakov Yosef’s commitment and sacrifice for his guests, and grateful that the money he spent on his retzuos would serve a worthy cause.

Reb Yaakov Yosef Herman was dubbed the Avraham Avinu of his generation. His exemplary generosity to guests of all stripes was legendary. This incident was far from the only one that earned him such accolades, but it crystallizes just how much importance he attached to this mitzvah.


The next time you are given an opportunity to host a fellow Jew, grab it. It may just be one of the most worthwhile investments you ever make.

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