In Pirkei Avot 2:21 there is a saying:

לא עליך המלאכה לגמור, ולא אתה בן חורין לבטל ממנה

You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it

It would sound like:

Non hai l'obbligo di terminare l'opera, ma allo stesso tempo non sei libero di evitarla

My question is if there a saying or a proverb with a similar meaning in Italian, such that it is recognizable by people with an Italian cultural background

  • I can't think of any, probably because Italians can always find a way to get around something.
    – user519
    Jun 1, 2015 at 21:59
  • I think “La vita è solo metà dell'opera, l'altra metà consiste nel viverla,” or something similar, is what you are looking for. Jun 1, 2015 at 23:08
  • Non devi finire il lavoro, ma devi almeno cominciarlo. "You don't have to complete the work, but you have to start it"
    – user1519
    Jun 3, 2015 at 13:57
  • If the request was for an Italian equivalent to that saying, a very rough (so much so I don't post it as an answer) approximation is “Chi ben comincia è a metà dell'opera” (Well begun is half done), emphasising the importance of being committed to one's work, even if it completion is not granted.
    – DaG
    Jun 3, 2015 at 14:07
  • 2
    A note for everybody, trying to find an answer: "the work" in this saying means the interpretation of Torah. It must be the work of one's life, something that consumes all the time and all the efforts, even though there is never a chance to finish it, i.e., to give the full and indisputable interpretation. The proverb, if there is one, must convey this meaning. For example, what proverb would you say to dying Mozart, who's trying to write the Requiem even though he knows he might not be able to finish it?
    – I.M.
    Jun 3, 2015 at 14:44

1 Answer 1


The accepted translation into Italian is:

Non sta a te compiere l'opera, ma non sei libero di sottrartene.

...and other variations of this phrase, for example:

Non sta a te compiere l'opera ma non sei libero di sottrarti al tuo compito.

Non sta a te compiere l'opera, ma non puoi nemmeno sottrarti.

Non sta a te portare a termine l'opera ma nemmeno sei libero di desistere da quella.

In the Italian context, it almost always goes with a note that it's a passage from Talmud (detto del rabbino Tarfon) or a Hebrew proverb (detto ebraico). Although, Google finds at least one tweet, where it goes without any context, probably in the hope that it could be understood anyway (as a deep and wise thought, given the hashtag #pensierodelgiorno).

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