One of the traditions I cherish is studying Pirkei Avot each week between Passover and Shavuot. This past week, while teaching the first chapter of Pirkei Avot at Coachella Shabbat Tent, we spoke for over one hour, and only read three sentences. Pirkei Avot can be so powerful that a group of twenty people at the world’s most famous music festival are willing to sit around in 105 degree heat and talk about it.
Pirkei Avot begins by teaching that all of us have a share in the world to come. The Sfas Emes teaches that it’s very inspiring to know this information, but what is so revolutionary? Even those that mess up will have something good in the messianic era. Did I need the mishna to keep teaching me this?
What he explains is that, the mishna is teaching that everyone can have a portion of the world to come — in this world. The radiance and light of the world to come can be channeled into this world.
How? As a consequence of doing things right, a person opens a channel that connects between this world, with the world to come.
How can we do more things “right”? By living in constant awareness of God’s Presence.
When we live with a constant awareness of God’s Presence, our lives in this world can be illuminated by the hidden light, the ”ohr haganuz”, which is the brilliant light that God initially created for this world. But then -- seeing that this world does not merit such bright illumination -- God stored that light in the World to Come.
A former student reached out to me this week. He is 28 and lost. God forbid not lost in the desert, but lost in life. He is smart, married, and a likable fellow. But he felt that he’s missing something. What did I tell him? Study Pirkei Avot. It’s more powerful and enduring than all the motivational speakers, self-help books, and personal growth retreats ever will be. It was composed by the most brilliant teachers who were not looking to sell books, or vitamin mixtures, or red-strings— but to help us to do the right things, to be in constant awareness of God’s presence, and to channel the light of Gan Eden into this world.