Why is it customary to study Ethics of our Fathers during the Omer period?
by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg
Firstly, let's talk a little about this custom: Pirkei Avot (Ethics of our Fathers) contains six chapters,* and there are six Shabbatot between Passover and Shavuot. Every Shabbat (customarily after Minchah), one chapter is studied. Many (including Chabad) continue this chapter-a-week regiment throughout the summer months, until Rosh Hashanah.
After the Jews left Egypt, they embarked on a period of self-refinement and character improvement. This was critical, in order they should be worthy of receiving the Torah on Shavuot. (See What is the spiritual significance of the counting of the 49 days between Passover and Shavuot (“the omer”)?)
While counting the Omer, we too try to perfect our character. To achieve this, we study Avot, the tractate which is devoted to piety, humility, kindness and ethics.
Similarly, the summer in general is a time when people are more active, tend to vacation, and all too often relax their standards. The chapter-a-week of Avot is meant to keep us spiritually strong and healthy; and prepared to face the moral challenges the summer months present.
*The original tractate contained five chapters; one chapter was added from braita (a collection of the teachings of Tannaic scholars which were not included in the Mishnah).
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