Thursday, May 22, 2008

A brief simplicity mishna

Avot 4:12 begins: "Rabbi Meir said, Reduce your business activities and engage in Torah study. " Jewish tradition places a high premium on Torah study, considering it more important than, in this case, business activities. Kehati interprets this verse to mean, "Make the study of Torah at fixed times your principal occupation, and your worldly business a casual activity."

This is in keeping with the principle, articulated often in the not-for-profit world, that you can tell what's really important to you by your calendar and your checkbook - by where you spend your money and where you spend your time. This verse is saying that those should be focused on ultimate values rather than on the temporal. "Torah" here can be interpreted broadly to mean anything that puts one's values into the world, that increases one's quality of life and positive impact, whether that be study, mitzvah opportunities, volunteerism, involvement in civic activities, time with one's children, etc.

Certainly Jewish thought doesn't encourage an ascetic lifestyle, and neither for that matter does voluntary simplicity. What there is, is a sense that there are things far more important than acquiring and "succeeding" in the American, financial sense, and that those things are readily available to us should we prioritize our lives properly.

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