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Pirkei Avot 3:1 Where are you Going?

Akavya the son of Mahalalel would say: Reflect upon three things and you will not come to sin. Know where you came from, where you are going, and before whom you are destined to give a judgment and accounting. From where you came—from a putrid drop; where you are going—to a place of dust, maggots and worms; and before whom you are destined to give a judgment and accounting—before the supreme King of Kings, the Holy blessed, One. (Pirkei Avot 3:1)

 

We can correspond the six chapters of the tractate of Avot with the six months of the summer (from Nissan to Elul) during which we read the chapters of the mishnah every Shabbat. Following the order of the correspondence, we have:

Chapter 1 2 3 4 5 6
Month Nissan Iyar Sivan Tammuz Av Elul

 

According to this correspondence, the third chapter of Pirkei Avot parallels the month of Sivan. The sense of the month of Sivan according to the Book of Formation is walking (חוּשׁ הַהִלּוּךְ).[1] Fittingly, chapter 3 of Pirkei Avot opens with the above-quoted words of Akavya the son of Mahalalel, “Where you are going.”

The sense of walking does not refer to the physical ability to walk with our legs. Animals also walk. The special human sense of walking implies walking with knowledge of where you are going in life—being able to chart out your path through life and identify your destination and purpose. Thus, the sense of walking is sometimes called the sense of progress.

Where are we really going? We are progressing toward the true and complete redemption.

We, as Jews, and all humanity that recognizes our special relationship with God, receive our sense of walking/progress from the Giving of the Torah that occurred in the month of Sivan. It is the Torah that provides us with the perspective needed to identify our ultimate purpose. Only with the Torah can we chart our course  purposefully. By following its laws and wisdom, we make true progress toward our goals, both as individuals and as a community. It is for this reason that the Torah’s laws are called halachot (הֲלָכוֹת), the root of which is “to walk” (הָלַךְ).

However, the mishnah teaches us that to know where we are headed — to recognize our true purpose, we have to ask ourselves two additional questions: “From where did you come” and, “Before whom are you destined to give a judgment and accounting.” It is impossible to recognize our destination if we don’t know where we came from. In addition, a person must know that he is destined to give an accounting, a detailed report of every step that he took along the way. All of life is one long walk, and we must tell God every step that we have taken. When a person knows before Whom he is destined to give an accounting, he receives clarity regarding where he is going, and he goes there in the correct manner.

And now for the numerical allusion: “to where” (לְאָן) has the same gematria as “I” (אָנֹכִי). The Torah that gives us the sense of walking/progress begins with the same Hebrew word for “I” (אָנֹכִי), which the sages say is an acronym for “I [God] have written and given myself [in the Torah] (אֲנָא נַפְשִׁי כְּתַבִית יְהַבִית). One who walks with the Torah’s perspective is constantly walking with God.  

May we know where we came from and before Whom we will give an accounting and may we go straight to the redemption!

 

 

[1] The Book of Formation 5:7.

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