Jewish Texts for Adolescents and Those That Teach Them
Compiled by Rabbi Daniel S. Brenner © 2013
Becoming a Teenager
Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, wrote in Derech Hashem (The Way of God, 18th cent.)
“An adult’s inclinations are balanced between selfless (Yetzer HaTov) and selfish (Yetzer HaRa), and he has the power of choice and is able to choose either side knowingly and willingly…”
“When Jacob and Esau were boys, their actions were not different and no one could see a difference in nature between the twins. As soon as they turned thirteen, one went off to the house of study and one went off to drunken pagan rites.”
-Rashi commenting on Parsha Toldot
A Man’s life has three phases: the phase when his body develops; the phase when his thought develops; and the phase when his deeds develop. – Tikkune Zohar, Tikku, 19, 67a.
At first, the educator tells the child: Study and I will give you nuts, figs, or a piece of sugar. When the child grows older nuts, figs, and a piece of sugar will be viewed lightly and instead will consider other things to be valuable. Therefore, to encourage study, the child is promised the things that are valuable in the child’s eyes. For example, the teacher will say: Study, and I will buy you attractive shoes or clothes that look like this.” When this loses its effectiveness the teacher will say: Study this passage or this chapter and I will give you a dinar coin or two dinarim.” Finally, as the student matures and “reaches a deeper level of understanding, and knows to appreciate even this matter [money] as having little importance, the teacher will say: “Study so that you will become a Rabbi or a judge, and others will honor you. They will stand before you, listen carefully to your words and your inspiration, and you will have a good reputation, both in your lifetime and afterwards, like so and so, and so and so.”
1) “People were created unique, in order to proclaim the greatness of the Holy One. For if a person presses many coins from one mold, they are all alike. But even though the Holy One, intended every person to come from the first human, not a single one of them is exactly like another.”
(Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 37a)
2) “Charm is deceptive and beauty is vain.”(Proverbs 31:30) 3) “How beautiful you are, my darling, there is no flaw in you!”
(Song of Songs 4:7)
4) If you see a strange person, a person with some physical feature that is unusual or atypical, even from far away, even through a window, you are supposed to say the following blessing:
Baruch Atah….Meshaneh Habriot. Blessed are you, Adonai, who makes difference in all creatures.
(Shulchan Aruch 225:8-9)
A heart at peace gives life to the body, but jealousy rots the bones. (Proverbs 14:30)
There are many Yiddish proverbs on friendship that teach us about life:
“A good friend to everyone is a good friend to no one.”
“The bond of friends is greater than the bond of siblings”
“One old friend is better than two new ones.”
“A friend isn’t someone who wipes your tears but someone who does not make you cry in the first place.”
“A good enemy is better than a bad friend.”
Texts on Self-Knowledge from Rambam
(Sefer Hamada Hilchot De’ot 1:1)
“There are many temperaments, all of which are different and each of which is distinct, and which are possessed by different men. There are men of angry disposition who are always annoyed, and there are those who are even-tempered and are never angry, and if they do get angry, it is only slightly and rarely. There are men who are obnoxious, and there are men who are excessively humble in spirit. There are men consumed by desire, never satisfied, and there are those who overly value physical purity and do not desire even the simplest things that the body needs. Other temperaments, such as cruelty, mercy, cowardice, courage, also follow this pattern of extremes.”
? “The way of the righteous man is to find his path in-between the extremes of these temperaments. …How is this done? One should not be easily angered, nor should one be like a dead person who does not feel, but one should be in the middle – one should not get angry except over a big matter about which it is fitting to get angry, so that one will not act similarly again. Likewise, one should not have lust except for those things which the body needs and without which cannot survive, as it is written, “The righteous eat to satisfy his soul”. One should not be [excessively] praised or merry, and nor should one be sorrowful or miserable, but one should be happy for all one’s days in satisfaction and with a pleasant expression on one’s face. One should apply a similar principle to the other temperaments – this is the way of the wise.”
-Hilchot De’ot 1:4
? moral excellences or defects cannot be acquired, or implanted in the soul, except by means of the frequent repetition of acts resulting from these qualities, which, practiced during a long period of time, accustoms us to them. If these acts performed are good ones, then we shall have gained a virtue; but if they are bad, we shall have acquired a vice.” (Maimonides, Eight Chapters iv).
? A person who for example has a bad temper should act as follows: If he is struck or cursed, he should not take it to heart at all. He should continue to act in this manner for a long period of time until his trait of anger is uprooted from his heart…. Such people may then return to the middle path which is the proper one, and continue in it for the rest of their lives.”
“If a man finds that his nature tends or is disposed to one of these extremes…, he should turn back and improve, so as to walk in the way of good people, which is the right way. The right way is the mean in each group of dispositions common to humanity; namely, that disposition which is equally distant from the two extremes in its class, not being nearer to the one than to the other.”
Samuel, a young scholar, is told by the Elders that he has been ranked as the best student of his class. He is now ready to leave school and to become the rabbi of the small Polish town of Nikolsburg. A coachman will take him to the town and show him his new home. Then all the Jewish people of the town will throw him a welcome party.
Samuel is taken by the coachman to his new home in Nikolsburg. The scholar sits in front of the mirror in his new bedroom and says to his reflection: “I’d like to introduce you to the great Rabbi of Nikolsburg!”
The coachman is shocked: “Why did you say that, sir?”
The rabbi responded. I want to say it to myself so that when other people say it to me, I will not think to highly of myself. – Chasidic Folktale
When the daughters of Yitro mistakenly called Moses an “Egyptian” Moses kept quiet. This is one of the reasons why he was not allowed into the Promised Land.
Moses cried out to the Holy One: Please, if I cannot enter the land in my life at least let my bones be buried there beside the bones of Joseph.
The Holy One said: Even when Joseph was captured, he said that he was a Hebrew. But you pretended to be something you are not.
– Tanhuma Buber, 134
Once a young man came to the Rabbi of Koznitz.
“Rabbi,” he said, “I am not able to concentrate. Every time I start to read something I get dizzy. I have to close my eyes. I can’t learn, my friends are frustrated with me. I don’t know what to do.”
The Rabbi said – When my father was a young man he could not concentrate. He lost many hours of sleep worrying about what he should do. He heard that there was a great miracle worker, the Baal Shem Tov, visiting a place fifty miles from his house. He began to walk, but the road was muddy and wet. After the first mile his boots were caked with mud and were too heavy to lift. So he took off his boots, and in his bare feet he walked forty-nine miles to the Baal Shem Tov’s door.
The Baal Shem Tov saw his bare feet and he knew how much my father wanted to change. The Baal Shem Tov gave him a blessing and he eventually became the best student in his school.
The man said “I too will walk barefoot to the Baal Shem Tov and be healed.”
“I wish it worked that way,” The Rabbi said. “but you have to find your own story.”
Texts on How You are Perceived and How You Perceive Others
Three things you must know to be an adult: Don’t fool yourself. Don’t fool others. Don’t let others fool you– and do it all without trying to impress anybody.
–Rabbi Shalom Dov Ber (Russia, 19th century)
Friends? There are three kinds: friends made to achieve a goal, friends who pursue pleasure together, and friends who lift one another up.
–Maimonidies on Pirkei Avot 6:1
Don’t be too sweet, or you will be eaten up; don’t be too bitter, or you will be spit out.
-Yiddish folk proverb
Texts on Lashon Ha-rah
The person who listens to gossip is even worse than the person who tells it, because no harm could be done by gossip if no one listened to it. It has been said that lashon ha-ra (disparaging speech) kills three: the person who speaks it, the person who hears it, and the person about whom it is told. (Talmud Arachin 15b).
“Rabbi Ishmael said: ‘One who engages in gossip is guilty of a sin equal to the three prohibitions for which a Jew must accept death–idolatry, adultery, and murder'” (Arakin 15b).
The Talmud itself concedes that virtually everyone will violate the laws of ethical speech at least once a day (Babylonian Talmud, Bava Batra 64b-65a).
Your friend’s dignity should be as precious to you as your own.?– Pirkei Avot 2:10
Why is gossip like a three-pronged tongue? Because it kills three people: the person who says it, the person who listens to it, and the person about whom it is said.?– Babylonian Talmud, tractate Arakhin, page 15b
Whoever can prevent members of their household from committing a sin, but does not, is punished for the sins of their household. If they can prevent their fellow citizens from committing sins, but does not, they are punished for the sins of their fellow citizens. If you can prevent the whole world from committing a sin, but does not, they are punished for the sins of the whole world. ?– Babylonian Talmud, tractate Shabbat, page 54b
Life and death are in the hands of the tongue. ?– Proverbs 18:21
One who gives his neighbor a bad name, can never gain pardon. ?– Jerusalem Talmud, Bava Kamma 8:7
Even if we upset somebody only through harsh words, without committing any tangible act of injury, we are still required to seek forgiveness. ?– Maimonides, Laws of Repentance, 2:9
If a person guards his speech, others will emulate him and he will be rewarded for that merit also. ?– Guard Your Tongue, Chofetz Chayim, p.189
Whoever shames his neighbor in public, it is as if he shed his blood. ?– Bava Mezia 58b
Do not humiliate your fellow in public, whether he or she is a minor or an adult. ?– Maimonides, Law of Character Development 6:8
If the humiliation took place in the presence of others, make your apology in their presence, as well as in private. Otherwise the victim has the right to say, “You shamed me in front of others, and now you want to apologize in private. Bring me all the people who heard you embarrass me, and then I will accept your apology. ?– Yalkout Shimoni, Hosea 14
It is forbidden to call someone by a name they dislike. ?– Maimonides, Law of Character Development 6:8
Before you speak, you are the master of your words. After you speak, your words become your master.- Orchot Tzaddikim, ch. 21
The whole world exists only in the merit of one who restrains themselves during a quarrel.- Khullin 89a
Whoever tells tales about another person violates a prohibition, as it is said, ‘Do not go about as a talebearer among your neighbors’ (op. cit.) Who is a tale-bearer? One who carries reports and goes about from one person to another and says, ‘So-and-so said this;’ ‘I have heard such-and-such about so-and-so.’ Even if what the person repeats is true, the talebearer ruins the world.
There is a still more grave offense that comes with this prohibition, namely the evil tongue. This means talking disparagingly of anyone, even though what one says is true; but one who utters falsehood is called a slanderer.
A person with an evil tongue is one who, sitting in company, says, ‘That person did thus and such a thing;’ ‘So-and-so’s ancestors were so-and-so;’ ‘I have heard this about them;’ and then proceeds to talk scandal.
There are modes of speech that may be styled ‘dust of the evil tongue:’ such remarks as ‘Who would have thought that so-and-so would be as they are now;’ or, ‘Be silent about so-and-so. I don’t want to tell what happened;’ and so on. . .
Equally reprehensible is the person who indulges in evil speech deceitfully, that is speaks as though innocently, unaware that what they say is an evil utterance. – Maimonides, Hilkhot Deot, 7:1-4
Rav Amram says, ‘There are three sins which no one escapes every day. . . lashon ha-ra.’ Lashon ha-ra! Rather- the dust of lashon ha-ra.- Baba Batra 165b
Why do human fingers resemble pegs? So that if one hears something improper, one can plug one’s fingers in one’s ears.- Ketubot 5b
6. A person is born with a fixed number of words to speak; when they are spoken, the person dies. Imagine that this is true for you. Every word that you speak brings you closer to death. The next time you are about to utter a word, ask yourself whether this word is worth dying for.- Baal Shem Tov
The Holy One said to the tongue: All the members of the human body are standing, you are lying down; all the members of the human body are outside, you are inside; not only that, but I surround you with two walls, one of bone and one of flesh.- Arakhin 15b
A healing tongue is a tree of life. – Proverbs 15:4
Twice a week you should have a set period for reflection and meditation on how you should be as careful in giving out words as in giving out money. – Hayei Musar, 3:89
You should receive every person with warmth, bear his yoke, and treat him with gentleness as if he were your king. It is part of human kindness to listen to him talk, even if he overdoes it.- Zot Zichron, p. 3
12. There are seven signs of a fool and seven of a wise person. The wise one does not speak in the presence of those who are greater in wisdom or number; does not interrupt another person’s speech; does not rush to answer; asks to the point and answers correctly; speaks of the first point first and of the last, last; if he has not heard of something, he says: ‘I have not heard of it;’ and he admits the truth. The reverse is true of the fool. – Pirke Avot 5:7
Just as a person dislikes any blemish on their own name, so they should avoid damaging someone else’s reputation. – Avot d’Rabbi Natan 15:1
Rabbi Yossi taught, ‘I never made a statement for which I would have to turn around and check whether the person about whom I was speaking was present.’- Arakhin 15b
Do not speak in praise of your neighbor, for through speaking their praise you will come to disparage them. – Arakhin 16a
A person who says of a rabbi that he has no voice and of a cantor that he is not a scholar is a gossip. A person who says of a rabbi that he is no scholar and of a cantor that he has no voice is a murderer.- Rabbi Israel Salanter
Take heed and know that a person who agrees with a slanderous statement when they hear it is as bad as the one who says it, for everyone will say, ‘That person listened to what has been said and agreed with it, and that shows that it must be true.’ Even if the hearer only turns to listen to the gossip and gives the impression of believing it to be true, they spread the evil, bring disgrace on their neighbor, and encourage slanderers to carry their evil reports to all people.- Jonah ben Avraham Gerondi, Shaarei Teshuva, section 3
A person who publicly shames their neighbor is like someone who has shed blood. To which Rabbi Nakhman answered, ‘You have spoken well. I have seen that when someone is shamed, the color leaves their face and they become pale.’ Abbaye asked Rabbi Dimi, ‘What do people in Palestine most carefully try to avoid?’ He answered, ‘Putting others to shame.’ Three categories of people are condemned to Gehinnom for eternity. . . one who calls their neighbor by a degrading nickname, even if the other is accustomed to that name. . . It would be better for a person to throw themselves into a fiery furnace than publicly put their neighbor to shame.- Baba Metzia 58b-59a
The gossip stands in Syria and kills in Rome.- Peah 1:1
It once happened that while Rabbi was giving a lecture, he smelled garlic in the room. ‘The person who has eaten garlic must leave,’ he announced. Rabbi Khiya stood up and left, and then all the other scholars followed him out. In the morning, Rabbi Shimon, the son of Rabbi, met Rabbi Khiya and said, ‘Was it you who caused that annoying odor?’ ‘Heaven forbid,’ said Rabbi Khiya.- Sanhedrin 11a
If a person has said “I’m sorry” it is forbidden to say to them- ‘Remember what you did before.’- Baba Metzia 58b
Cursed is the one who strikes their neighbor in secret.- Deuteronomy 27:24
A person should never enter another person’s home without warning. In this regard we can learn good manners from God, who remained outside the Garden of Eden and called to Adam before entering, as it is written, “Adonai Elohem called out to man and said to him, ‘Where are you?’”- Derekh Eretz Rabba, ch. 5
Tell no tales about friend or foe; unless silence makes you an accomplice, never betray a person’s secret. Suppose someone has heard you and learned to distrust you, they will seize the first chance to show their hatred. Have you heard a rumor? Let it die with you. Never fear, it will not make you burst. A fool with a secret goes through agony like a woman in childbirth.- The Wisdom of Ben Sira, 19:8-11
You shall not hate your neighbor in your heart. Reprove your neighbor but bear no guilt because of them.- Leviticus 19:17
Whoever can stop the members of their household from sinning and doesn’t is held responsible for the sins of the household. If one can stop the members of the city from sinning and doesn’t, one is responsible for the sins of the city. If one can stop the whole world from sinning and doesn’t, one is responsible for the sins of the whole world.- Shabbat 54b
How do we know that one who sees their friend do something ugly is obligated to rebuke them? Because it is written, ‘You shall surely rebuke, yes, rebuke your neighbor.(Leviticus 19:17)’- Arakhin 16b
Love unaccompanied by criticism is not love.- Bereshit Rabba 54:3
Do not rebuke a scoffer for they will hate you; reprove a wise person and they will grow wiser.- Proverbs 9:8
Just as a person is commanded to speak up if they will be listened to, so a person is not commanded to speak up if they will be ignored.- Yevamot 65b
A person who rebukes another, whether for offenses against the rebuker themselves, or for sins against God, should administer the rebuke in private, speak to the offender gently and tenderly, and point out that they are speaking only for the wrongdoers good. . . If the wrongdoer accepts the rebuke, well and good. If not, they should be rebuked a second and a third time. And so one is bound to continue the admonition until the sinner assaults the admonisher and says, “I refuse to listen.”- Maimonides, Hilkhot Deot, 6:7
The punishment of a liar is that even when they speak the truth they are not believed.- Sanhedrin 89b
It is permitted to tell a complete lie for the sake of peace.- Chofetz Chayyim, Hilkhot Rekhilut, 1:8
“The students of Reb Zusya, hearing that their teacher was about to die, came to pay him one last visit. But entering the room, they were surprised to see him trembling with fear.
“Why are you afraid of death?” they asked. “In your life, have you not been as righteous as Moses himself?”
“When I stand before the throne of judgment,” Zusya answered, I will not be asked, “Reb Zusya, why were you not like Moses?” I will be asked, “Reb Zusya, why were you not like Zusya?”