Pirkei Avot, Chapter 3:13

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ג,יג  רבי דוסא בן הרכינס אומר, שינה של שחרית, ויין של צוהריים, ושיחת הילדים, וישיבת כנסייות של עמי הארץ–מוציאין את האדם מן העולם.

 Rabbi Dosa ben Horkenas said: Late morning sleep, afternoon wine, the chatter of the youth, and sitting in the gathering places of the ignorant drive a person out of his world.

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 This mishna inspired the most wonderful and diverse conversation.

What does the mishna mean by ‘late morning sleep’? The phrase is equated with lost productivity. If we sleep well into the morning then we miss the most productive hours of the day, we miss the prime of our lives essentially. It is this that the mishna warns against. Rather, we are encouraged to be fresh in the morning and to make the most of these hours. In the context of Pirkei Avot we understand that this means learning Torah!

‘afternoon wine’ – wine is something that we use for celebrations, at chaggim, smachot, shabbat. We are supposed to appreciate the value of wine in this way. We are not supposed to squander it mindlessly in the middle of the day. You might ask why this is so?? Those of us who have watched while others drink excessively will know that wine dulls the mind, slows us down and causes us to function in a fog. We cannot be productive if we are drunk.  While it might be acceptable to drink at the end of the day, after the work is done (and then in moderation), it is not a good habit to fall into in the middle of the day when we are still supposed to be contributing positively to the world.

‘the chatter of youth’ – does the mishna mean childlike chatter or childish chatter? Is there a difference? Surely talking with one’s children or simply revelling in the beauty of children’s chatter is a positive thing, rather than a negative thing? What is the mishna actually saying? For us, this part of the mishna made sense when considering the context of Pirkei Avot. This was written for men who should not be distracted by the chatter of children or drawn in to childish behaviour. They were expected to be devoting themselves to learning Torah and to be setting a good example for children, providing a model of behaviour and conduct. Prattling mindlessly does not set a good example.

‘sitting in the gathering places of the ignorant’ – this is a contentious segment of the mishna for what does it mean? The interpretation that resonated with us hinged upon the notion that the mishna is referring to those who choose to remain ignorant despite the opportunities that might be offered to them. If a person socialises with such people then they are surely doomed to be distracted from their path.

Each of the described activities is clearly connected to time wasting. However, Rabbi Dosa’s language when he describes the consequences of these activities is very strong – drive a person out of his world. Is Rabbi Dosa equating time wasting with sin? It seems as though the punishment for time wasting is somewhat extreme… the difference between sin and the activities that Rabbi Dosa is describing is that Rabbi Dosa seems to be referring to activities which people are actively seeking out – to sleep away the morning, to numb oneself with alcohol and to engage in frivolity. Each of these are different ways that people manufacture to ‘kill time’ or not take responsibility for their lives. It is this that causes the extreme outcome to which Rabbi Dosa refers.

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