PIRKEI AVOT: Chapter 1, Mishnah (Teaching) 15

Shammai taught:

Make the study of Torah your primary occupation:

Say little, do much, and

Greet every person with a cheerful face.


This particular Mishnah speaks to me as a woman, mother, grandmother, daughter, wife, teacher, professional, synagogue congregant, friend—-in fact all the roles I play in my life. As I look at all three lines, the words “role model” come to mind, because in each of the roles I just mentioned, doing the act described is not only important to do for its own sake, it is important for its value as a role model as well.

As women, what we do as role models count. They count in our families—as daughters, granddaughters, siblings, mothers. They count in the work place, in the synagogue, in our relationships.

And they count in each line of the Mishnah.

Make the study of Torah your primary occupation.

At any age, continuing to study and re-study Torah and Jewish writings helps us to stay on higher ground morally and spiritually, and seek new meanings in familiar writings as we and our situations change. To make it our primary occupation, as suggested in the writings, would keep us grounded as well. While I certainly agree with the importance of continuing to learn and study, as a mother of young children and/or as a woman working outside the home, having that my primary occupation could not have worked for me, and I doubt it would work for other working mothers with young children. Having said that, however, I believe continuing to study, at all ages, is important for keeping one’s brain active, for learning new things, for keeping up with the things around you, (in my case electronics in particular), for seeking new meanings and applications in familiar writings. It also places us in the position of a role model to our children and grandchildren, our colleagues, our friends.

Say little, do much.

Children learn by modeling behavior, primarily of parents and teachers. So do co-workers, friends, and people who know you. It isn’t what you say that teaches or impacts others as much as a what you do. This passage is another way of saying “Actions speak louder than words.” Be conscious of your actions and the fact that you are a role model in all you do.

Greet every person with a cheerful face.

Greeting people with a cheerful face is a gift—a precious gift—you can give everyone you meet. It is a gift that is guaranteed to make them feel good, and in so doing make you feel good as well. If you have ever been met with a big smile as your friend or loved one looks up and sees you for the first time that day, or when you unexpectedly come into his or her vision , then you know what a gift that is. You know how good it makes you feel. Consider giving the gift of a cheerful face, a warm smile, every single time you greet someone Then maybe in this area, once again you will become a role model. You will become the one about whom people say, ’’She is always so cheerful. I want to be like her. “

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *