In a book of Jewish wisdom, one might expect the text to be solely focused on a person’s relationship with God. However, since Judaism places as much if not more emphasis on interpersonal relationships, it is not at all surprising that a great portion of Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers is primarily focused on basic human self-improvement.

One excellent example of Pirkei Avot’s prioritization of interpersonal relationships over Divine relationship is a quote from Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa, who said: “One who is pleasing to his fellows is pleasing to God. But one who is not pleasing to his fellows is not pleasing to God” (3:13).

A person could be the most “religious” person in the world, but if that person is mean, dour and offensive to others, then that person has missed the point of religious observance.

While Rabbi Chanina does not give direct advice on how to be pleasing to others, his preceding quote in the Mishna is significant. “One whose deeds exceed his wisdom, his wisdom endures. But one whose wisdom exceeds his deeds, his wisdom does not endure” (3:12). One who constantly studies but never helps other people makes all the acquired knowledge pointless. The laws of the Torah are meant to be lived, not just studied, and those laws, when lived correctly, make one pleasing to one’s fellows.

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