The Perfect Word

Image: Plate from a copy of the Mishnah, Frankfurt am Main, 1720. Public Domain.

.ובמקום שאין אנשים השתדל להיות איש

The absolute best thing about being a teacher is the opportunity to learn from one’s students.

I taught a class on Pirkei Avot, the Verses of the Fathers, a few years ago. One day we talked about Chapter 2, and a question came up about the verse that is usually translated:

In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man.

I pointed out that in a spirit of greater inclusion, some translators translate anashim as “human beings” and ish as “human being.” A student ventured the following translation, which I much prefer:

In a place where there are no menschen, be a mensch!

Originally, the Yiddish word mensch came from the German for “person.” By the 20th century, it had taken on an additional layer of meaning, that of a person who is decent and kind, one who embodies the best of humanity. The Jewish-English Lexicon offers Rosten’s translation: “An upright, honorable, a decent person.”

Perfect, no?

Published by

rabbiadar

Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at https://coffeeshoprabbi.com/ and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

One thought on “The Perfect Word”

Comments or Questions? Speak up!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.