Lessons from My Parents

The observances of Mother’s and Father’s Days in May and June have me thinking about Avot, literally, in Hebrew, parents, (and also ancestors). A section of the Mishnah, known as Pirkei Avot, Sayings of the Fathers/Parents, is a series of short verses of advice, ethics, and wisdom. Thinking about my avot brings a few of these ancestors’ sayings to mind.  

My father is known to be a man of integrity. In his final professional position, at a major investment firm, he was asked to recommend a stock that he did not feel comfortable endorsing. When he refused to comply with the request, he was fired. But that was not the end of the story, or of the job. Many of his colleagues in the industry called his company in protest. Some of them must have had leverage, and his position was restored to him.

This verse applies to him:

Rabbi Shimon said: There are three crowns: the crown of torah, the crown of priesthood, and the crown of royalty, but the crown of a good name supersedes them all. (Avot 4:13)

My mom, despite having advanced Alzheimer’s, is the warm, kind person she has been her whole life. She smiles at people and laughs and leans in to give and receive kisses. She speaks very little, but she thanks her caregivers after they bathe and dress her.

She used to quote her father, my sweet grandfather, who would say, “if you don’t have anything nice to say about someone, don’t say anything at all.” Another piece of good advice I got from her was, “don’t put it down, put it away.”

This verse applies to her:

Shammai used to say: make your [study of the] Torah a fixed practice; speak little but do much; and receive each person with a pleasant countenance. (1:15)

When I was a child, my parents and a group of their friends sponsored a family of Vietnamese refugees. It was not as easy as they thought it would be. They anticipated that the people would live in our homes for a couple of weeks, and that the larger community would pitch in and help them find housing and work. But there was little help, and the process took months. But the friends worked together and eventually the adults got employment and children went to school and they found a house and were able to build lives in the US. Today, most live in Houston and the child of the boy who lived with us is a doctor.

A few years after that, a friend of my dad’s lost their house and they, too, came to live with us for a time. (That was harder).

This verse applies to them:

Yose ben Yochanan of Jerusalem used to say: Let your house be wide open, and let the poor be members of your household. (1:5)

I am grateful for the lessons of my parents. And I know that I am lucky to have had parents who taught me what to do, and not just what not to do (although there’s that, too, of course). So this verse applies to me:

One who learns from their friend one chapter, or one halakhah, or one verse, or one word, or even one letter, is obligated to treat them with honor….(6:3).

4 comments

  1. Carole Bass · June 8

    Lina, thank you for sharing this beautiful tribute to your wonderful parents.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. NancyLee Langerman · June 8

    Lovely Tribute 🤗

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Janis Jivin · June 14

    I’m forever grateful to your loving parents, Lina. 💕

    Like

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