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Poster Commentary
"It is not your responsibility to finish the work of perfecting the world, but you are not free to desist from it either."Rabbi Tarfon, Pirke Avot 2:21
Poster design:Bob Gill


by Irving Greenberg

The Jewish religion teaches that this world, God’s creation, is intended to be perfect. What would the perfect world look like? It would be full of life—especially its highest form, human life—and built to sustain justice, equality and peace.

But the present state of the world is so far from perfect. How can we possibly achieve tikkun olam, a repaired world? To get there, we will have to overcome the enemies of life: poverty, hunger, oppression, discrimination, war and sickness.

The Jewish answer is covenant, a loving partnership between God and humanity. We commit our lives to improving the world. We will work steadfastly, faithfully, advancing step by step, until we attain a state of total perfection.

This incremental approach means that the goal cannot be reached in one generation. Therefore, Judaism requires a partnership between the generations. Each generation will improve the world as far as it can. Then it must educate its children and pass on the mission to the next generation, until the goal is reached.

Rabbi Tarfon teaches: Do not be arrogant; do not think that you alone can finish the job. Trust in your children and generations yet unborn to take up the task. Know that you are part of the living chain of people who have dreamed, worked for a better world and carried on this mission for four thousand years in an unbroken covenant.


Conversation Guide


According to the commentary, this famous adage in Pirke Avot encourages us to join the chain of the covenantal legacy and contribute our share toward perfecting the world. Rabbi Tarfon tells us that, while no single person or generation is responsible to perfect the world, each person or generation is obliged to do its part.

Why do you think Rabbi Tarfon teaches that no one person is responsible for finishing “the work of perfecting the world”? If we “are not free to desist,” what are we actually required to do in and for this world?

What life lessons can be learned from Rabbi Tarfon’s outlook?

What role do you play in the multigenerational task of “finishing the work”? Give an example of how you are involved in helping to change or improve the world.

How does this quotation compare with the Talmudic statement by Choni about intergenerational planting: “I found a fruitful world, because my ancestors planted it for me. Likewise I am planting for my children”? What is similar and what is different in these messages?



Each image calls out to us to examine it, to note our thoughts and feelings, and relate these impressions to the quotation. Often clues in the artwork suggest meaning and invite interpretation.

Illustrator and designer Bob Gill depicts Rabbi Tarfon’s teaching with a compelling and thought-provoking image.

How does the image present the quotation? Was this how you interpreted the quotation without the image?

Why do you think the artist chose to illustrate the world in this way? Does the form remind you of familiar games or toys?

Why do you think Gill made the structure look as if it may topple, instead of resting on a firm foundation?

What do you think the hand represents? Why do you think it is important to show a hand adding the next piece? Is this the final piece of the structure?


Copyright© 2012 Harold Grinspoon Foundation

Please use this guide creatively in your programs.  We’d also love to see what you’re doing and share it with others, so please post on our website using the Share button in The Exchange.


Masters Series©2012, Bob Gill, Quote: Rabbi Tarfon, Pirke Avot 2:21,

Harold Grinspoon Foundation, West Springfield, MA