Avodah Zarah 16 - 22
- Animals that may not be sold to idol worshippers
- What may be built together with them
- Rabbi Eliezer's trial and his contact with a heretic
- Keeping a distance from harlots and heretics
- How a ba’al teshuva gained the title of rabbi
- and gained his eternal reward with one act
- The miraculous rescue of Rabbi Elazar ben Parto
- The martyrdom of Rabbi Chanina ben Teradyan
- The miracle of Rabbi Meir and the rescue he performed
- Avoiding heathen entertainment and the danger of frivolity
- Sage advice on how to study Torah
- The magic elixir of Rabbi Alexandrai
- Avoiding showing favor to heathens and selling land to them
- Sights that provoke immoral thoughts
- Keeping Eretz Yisrael land and houses away from heathens
- Other cautions in regard to heathens
The Ladder of Spiritual Success
- Avoda Zara 20b
When Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto wrote his monumental work on ethics Mesillat Yesharim, he chose as the framework for the holy book that would inspire generations the beraita of Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair cited in our gemara. A step-by-step formula for spiritual development was there presented which culminated in Divine inspiration and resurrection.
The starting point in this formula is the study of Torah, which leads to caution in avoiding transgressions and to zealousness in performing mitzvot. Mesillat Yesharim elaborates only on the steps that follow Torah study, on the assumption that the need for such study is self-evident.
It is worth noting, however, how Rashi explains why Torah is the first step on the ladder to spiritual success. Through the involvement in Torah study, he writes, one begins this climb. In addition to such involvement, continues Rashi, there is the information one acquires in regard to what he may or may not do.
The message here is that the study of Torah is both a spiritual experience that purifies the soul and a source of information on where to apply that purity in climbing that spiritual ladder.
What the Sages Say
"Some people gain their place in the World-to-Come in one moment while for others it takes many years."
- Rebbie (Rabbi Yehuda Hanassi) - Avoda Zara 17a