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Pirkei Avot 1:15: Abraham Says Little and Does Much

Shammai would say: Make your Torah study a permanent fixture of your life. Say little and do much. And receive every man with a pleasant countenance. (Pirkei Avot 1:15)

Rabbi Ovadiah of Bartenura explains the principle "Say little and do much," as we see with Abraham our forefather who initially said, "I will fetch a piece of bread," but ultimately "he took a calf, tender and good."[1] Abraham, the Torah's quintessential example of "say little and do much," is the primary human rectification. He is referred to as "the great man among the giants," a great benefactor in the attribute of greatness-kindness. "These are the generations of the heavens and the earth בהבראם (when they were created)" spells out באברהם 'in Abraham'. Abraham is the rectification of creation and man in the attribute of kindness, "the world is built through kindness."

"Saying little" is not just about speaking less but about saying something good, concise, and high-quality, in the sense of "a little [say little] sustains much [do much]." The correct relationship between speech and action is like conception and birth—the conception in the womb of speech (in the mystical concept of the initials of אור מים רקיע  (light, water, firmament) forming the word אמר (say) gives birth to abundant action.

In the creation of man, it is said "and man became a living soul," translated as "a speaking spirit"—the power of speech that must be carefully preserved to be correct and 'high-quality.' The primary purpose of speech is to reveal faith, "I believed, therefore have I spoken." [2] This is the speech of Abraham, the head of all believers, who dedicated his life to proclaiming Divinity in the world. This speech of faith is "say little," for faith is in the one God, the true "little" that encompasses everything and does everything, "Blessed is He who says [little] and does [much]."

The small yet good aspect of the speech of faith reveals the point of the consummate tzaddik (righteous person) in every person from Israel ("a little is good for the righteous")[3] from the perspective of the level of yechidah in the soul, as is written "Yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be: you will contemplate his place, and it shall not be."[4]] Our master, the Baal Shem Tov, explained "that in every Jewish soul, there is the aspect of 'yet a little… the aspect of the yechidah in the soul.' It is from this aspect that a person can repent and transform from a consummately wicked person to a consummately righteous person: ‘and then you will contemplate his place, and it shall not be ' 'for the evil can no longer exist as it has transformed into true good'."

[1] As per Avot D’Rabbi Natan and similarly in the explanation of the Rambam.

[2] Psalms 116:10.


[3] Psalms 37:16.

[4] Psalms 37:10.

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