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Pirkei Imahot: The Wisdom of Mothers, The Voices of Women Paperback – March 17, 2017
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Pirkei Imahot: The Wisdom of Mothers, The Voices of Women was written by the author team of Rabbi Eve Posen and Lois Sussman Shenker - women who studied together the ancient text of Pirkei Avot and then made a decision to respond through a book of their own. Although written with women in mind, this interactive book (filled with questions for self-reflection throughout) is for all of us looking to fine-tune our own ethical roadmap and gain wisdom on daily living.
The book focuses on numerous important issues and ideas and does so in two separate sections. In the first half of the book, the authors give a female voice to the deeply studied thoughts of the rabbis of long ago (from Pirkei Avot). There is space within the pages for you to respond to the questions they have offered. The second half of the book is comprised of more than 60 "words of wisdom" selections - submitted by women from across the country. In this part of the book, too, space is given for your response to questions and for you to include the lines we've all heard our mothers or grandmas or aunties say to us over and over. The words of wisdom we hold dear, the one-liners we sometimes hear in the back of our head.
I was brought up in an Orthodox Jewish home in Poland. I studied PIRKEI AVOT at the age of three. I am now 91 years old and many words of wisdom from PIRKEI AVOT are still etched in my memory. Some scholars and commentators refer to the word TORAH the five books of Moses, plus learning and acquiring knowledge in general. The real property of man is not what he owns but what he, or she, knows. Ignorance is the enemy of mankind. The word AVODA means service of the Devine, but it also means work, idleness is the killer of the soul. GMILAT CHASADIM the practice of loving kindness between people, men and women.
At the end of each chapter the authors engage the reader with specific questions pertinent to the topics the reader has just finished reading. The reader is given homework to do. I have never come across a similar literary practice. It is unique and interesting.
123 members of my extended family were murdered in the Holocaust. Among them was my stepmother Rachel Wiener (nee Wurtzel). She was murdered in Auschwitz on February 18, 1943 at the age of 49. I am taking the liberty to mention her here, because of her virtues. She was an Eshet Chyile mi yimca, A woman of valor; she was more precious than rubies (Proverbs 31:30-31) Rachel never begrudged the wealthy, and had a tireless compassion for the poor. She handed out food to the needy and the sick in peaceful times, and continued to do so even during the war, when our own food supply was scarce. Before we sat down to eat our meal, Rachel had me carry out a plate of cooked food to a lonely tenant in our building. When a classmate of mine was sick, she sent me to his house with her baked goodies. There were no get well cards in those days. I recall her frequent use of sayings, such as, “There are two ways to deal with the cold—put on a fur coat to be warm, or light a fire so that others can be warm, too.” The element of self-sacrifice was part of her constitution. She had faith that somehow the Almighty would replenish her resources. Rachel deemed God to be her father in heaven, and trusted him as a secure child trusts a dependable parent. Rachel never flaunted her own virtues and never derided others. She was unfailingly kind, and would rather listen than talk. Her motto was, “We were given two ears, but only one tongue—to teach us that we should listen twice as much as we speak. The key to all good human relations is listening. When your loved ones are talking, listen to them as if it were the last time hearing them.” Rachel’s sense of morality was to embrace everybody with kindness. She derived pleasure from imparting happiness to others. She shunned gossip and chitchat. I remember her saying, “Gossip harms three people—the one who is gossiping, the one who is listening, and the one who is being gossiped about.
Our sages said:” A wise person is the one who learns from his or her experience. The wisest person is the one who learns from somebody else’s experience. Thanks to Rabbi Posen and Lois Shenker for sharing theirs in such a unique literary format.