I recently began learning Rebbe Nachman’s “Likutey Moharan” (“Collected Discourses”), and noted several references to another of Rebbe Nachman’s books, “The Aleph-Bet Book,” also called “Sefer Ha-Midot” (“The Book of ‘Qualities'”). 

The Aleph-Bet book is a collection of aphorisms that Rebbe Nachman began noting down during his young years, for his own reference and use. They are about the personal qualities that are to be preferred for growing in spiritual perception and closeness to God. Some seem to have been created by the Rebbe (even before he was Rebbe). Others seem to be based on other sources.

The Rebbe arranged these alphabetically by theme. The first, for example, is “Truth,” which in Hebrew is “Emet” — a word that begins with “Aleph.” And so on. 

Because of its readability, I have no difficulty making a general recommendation for people to take a look at it.

But it also occurs to me that it makes an excellent, easily-comprehended text for use in all levels of the Jewish education of children and adults. It acquaints those involved with a closer sense of what lies at the heart of Judaism, without requiring a sophisticated ability to interpret the text itself. 

That led me to think about the desirability of a similar study of “Mishlé” (or “Mishley” — the “Book of Proverbs” in TaNaCh). There are many good reasons to do this, regardless of which branch of Judaism (or none at all) that one joins. Aside from the “wisdom” itself, it acquaints a student of any age with a text that is essential to Jewish history and culture. Once one has gained enough ease with the text, this could be followed by studying the text with a chosen commentary. 

“Pele Yo’etz (or: ‘Yoetz’)” is a famous 19th century, Sephardic collection that, like Rebbe Nachman’s “Aleph-Bet Book,” contains aphorisms relating to daily life and Jewish practice. It could be studied in the same way as the volumes above. An English translation by Rabbi Marc Angel is available through Koren Publishers. 

There are also sites that offer proverbs in Yiddish. My preference is for those that provide the English translation, along with the original Yiddish and a transliteration (the Yiddish written in “Latin” letters used, for example, in English). Among them are:

https://www.yiddishwit.com/List.html
and
https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Yiddish_proverbs

In addition to Yiddish proverbs, numerous sites offer Sephardic proverbs. The original language, Ladino, is in most cases based in “Old Spanish” (just as Yiddish is based largely in German). I’ve read that Ladino is commonly written with the “Latin” (e.g. English) alphabet, although versions of written Hebrew like Rashi-script have been used: One sample site is:

http://www.bigbridge.org/BB14/MCASTRO.HTM

In this present post, I’m focusing on collections of aphorisms or “proverbs,” rather than anthologies of larger quotations (e.g. “Everyman’s Talmud” by Cohen; “Rabbinic Anthology” by Montefiore and Lowe; “Hasidic Anthology” by Newman, etc.). But an interested teacher might also look into those and other collections of Jewish quotations for study-material that is firmly based on Jewish tradition. 

Knowing traditional proverbs can be an important part of transmitting Jewish culture — or cultures, in fact — from one generation to another. Strictly speaking, most of us are no longer purely “Ashkenazic” or “Sephardic,” etc. We are the inheritors of everything that Jewish culture has been and still is.

Proverbs of all sorts show us how tradition is related to our everyday life, and how helpful it can be in guiding us through that.

A class might begin with reading an aphorism or proverb in English as well as Hebrew (where possible), to be followed by discussing its meaning and practical use. 

But the texts of the proverbs is really only a beginning. 

Such learning has positive applications for our students and ourselves that can last a lifetime.