Everything is foreseen yet freedom of choice is granted, and the world is judged with goodness.
“Rabbi Akiva said: Merriment and frivolity accustom one to sexual licentiousness. Tradition is a fence to the Torah, tithes a fence to wealth, vows a fence to abstinence. A fence to wisdom is silence.”
Tractate of Avot 3:17
Recklessness can lead to sin. This is the reason it’s important to set boundaries for ourselves. Limits and restraint protect our spiritual purity and well-being. Setting high standards for integrity and inner peace helps us to achieve our most important goals. Tradition helps keep the text of the Torah intact. Giving tithes and charity protects our estate from being diminished or lost. Taking vows ensures that we will not repeat the same mistakes. And silence is what helps us avoid saying things we may regret, especially when we are not completely sure what we think.
Self-limitation is learning to channel our energies into specific, carefully selected fields of work.
“Everything is foreseen yet freedom of choice is granted, and the world is judged with goodness. And everything is in accordance with the preponderance of works.”
Tractate of Avot 3:15
Rabbi Akiva’s message is that even though God knows everything, human beings can shape their own fate positively by acting correctly and choosing wisely. Our destiny is in our hands. We cannot change our lives without initiative or effort.
Responsibility is knowing that we are the cause of our circumstances; irresponsibility is blaming others for our situation.
“He [Rabbi Akiva] used to say: Everything is given against a pledge, and a net is spread out over all the living; the store is open and the storekeeper allows credit, but the ledger is open and the hand writes, and whoever wishes to borrow may come and borrow; but the collectors go round regularly every day and exact dues from man, either with his consent or without his consent, and they have that on which they [can] rely [in their claims], seeing that the judgment is a righteous judgment, and everything is prepared for the banquet.”
Tractate of Avot 3:16
Everything we have in this world was given to us temporarily and we will have to return it one day. Death looms constantly over our heads and we cannot escape it. The opportunity to enjoy God’s creation and dream about our future is always available to us, but we will have to “pay interest” for any unnecessary deviation or excess. God “writes down” everything and nothing goes unnoticed. Everything that happens in our lives is just preparation for the world of truth, where we will all be judged according to our actions. Nothing is struck from the record.
Persistence is the relentless pursuit of our personal mission.
“He [Rabbi Akiva] used to say: Beloved is man for he was created in the image [of God].”
Tractate of Avot 3:14
Every person has a divine spark flickering inside them. Human beings are God’s most precious work, as we were created in His image. It follows that every person has a right and opportunity to live a life of meaning and that disrespecting anyone is tantamount to disrespecting God.
Humanity, or humane behavior, is actually God-like behavior—creating and blessing, rather than causing hurt or damage.