Rebbe says: … “Look at (scrutinize) three things, and you will not come to the hands of sin. Know what is above you: An eye which sees, an ear which hears, and all your actions are written in a book.” (Avot 2:1)

רבי אומר… הִסְתַּכֵּל בִּשְׁלשָׁה דְבָרִים וְאִי אַתָּה בָא לִידֵי עֲבֵרָה,

דַּע מַה לְּמַעְלָה מִמְּךָ, עַיִן רוֹאָה וְאֹזֶן שׁוֹמַעַת, וְכָל מַעֲשֶׂיךָ בַסֵּפֶר נִכְתָּבִין (אבות ב:א).

Akavia Ben Mehalalel says: Contemplate three things, and you will not come to the hands of sin. Know from where you came, and to where you are going, and before whom you will ultimately give judgment and accounting. From where did you come? From a putrefied drop (of semen). To where are you going? To a place of dirt, maggots and worms. And before whom will you ultimately give a judgment and an accounting? Before the King of Kings, The Holy One, Blessed be He. (Avot 3:1)

עֲקַבְיָא בֶן מַהֲלַלְאֵל אוֹמֵר, הִסְתַּכֵּל בִּשְׁלשָׁה דְבָרִים וְאֵין אַתָּה בָא לִידֵי עֲבֵרָה.

דַּע, מֵאַיִן בָּאתָ, וּלְאָן אַתָּה הוֹלֵךְ, וְלִפְנֵי מִי אַתָּה עָתִיד לִתֵּן דִּין וְחֶשְׁבּוֹן.

מֵאַיִן בָּאתָ, מִטִּפָּה סְרוּחָה, וּלְאָן אַתָּה הוֹלֵךְ, לִמְקוֹם עָפָר רִמָּה וְתוֹלֵעָה. וְלִפְנֵי מִי אַתָּה עָתִיד לִתֵּן דִּין וְחֶשְׁבּוֹן, לִפְנֵי מֶלֶךְ מַלְכֵי הַמְּלָכִים הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא (אבות ג:א).


Over the past months, we have learned about Jewish beliefs and perspectives on life. Internalizing and maintaining consciousness of these beliefs and perspectives in a way that facilitates living by them can often be challenging. The Mishnayot of Avot speak about how to generate this consciousness.

Two different Mishnayot encourage us to reflect upon three things in order to avoid sin. One Mishnah quotes Akavya Ben Mahalalel, a Tanna who lived in the first generation of the Tanaaim. The other quotes Rebbi Yehuda Hanasi (known as Rebbe), a Tanna who lived in the last generation. [1] The two Tannaim recommend focusing on two different triplets of ideas.

Rebbi: G-d-Consciousness

Rebbi encourages us to focus on Hashem’s existence, His knowledge of our actions, and the implications of that knowledge. He taught: “Know what is above you: an eye that sees, an ear that hears, and a book that records all of your actions.” [2] Cognizance of Hashem’s awareness and recording of our actions should ensure that we are careful to behave properly. [3]

Similarly, the Rema begins his commentary on the Shulchan Aruch by identifying the pasuk “I set Hashem before me always” [4] as “the great principle that helps man walk before Hashem.” G-d-consciousness inspires us to keep halacha and live our lives properly.

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[1] This concept of focusing on three things in order to avoid sin seems to have threaded the entire Tannaitic period.

[2] Avot 2:1.

[3] The Meiri (Ibid) explains that the three aspects mentioned by Rebbe Yehuda Hanasi parallel the three principles of faith:

  1. The existence of G-d (“Know what is above you”).
  2. G-d’s awareness G-d’s awareness and hashgacha of what is going on in this world (“an eye that sees, an ear that hears”).
  3. The implications of this being that all of our actions are recorded (“and all your deeds are written in the book”).

[4] Tehillim 16:8

Rabbi Taragin is the Dean of Overseas Students at Yeshivat Hakotel. This essay is based on a class by Rabbi Taragin and then written by Yedidyah Rosenwasser.

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