Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The Talmud

As many of you know, for about five years I was a Zen student in New York City. This was from 2004 until 2009 or so. I don't sit much (well, okay, at all) these days, but at the time I was quite serious about it, studying with a teacher and taking a Dharma name. I keep thinking I may go back to active practice someday, but in the meantime I stay in touch with the Zendo community through its e-mail exchange.

Yesterday, a woman I practiced with sent an e-mail message that I found so comforting. It's a passage from the Talmud:

Do not be daunted
by the enormity
of the world's grief.

Do justly, now.
Love mercy, now.
Walk humbly, now.

You are not obligated
to complete the work,
but neither are you free
to abandon it.

I am certainly no Talmudic scholar, so I don't know the context of this verse. But given the horrifying incidents of the last few days, I thought it was a touching reminder that we must do our own small part, daily, to resist the evils of the world. We can't expect to stop them -- and that helps alleviate my personal frustration and sense of helplessness -- but we can't turn our backs either.

I suppose it's up to each of us to determine what form our resistance will take, whether it's voting or simply trying to act, with our "feet on the street," in kind, just and compassionate ways.

I briefly Googled* the verse to make sure it's authentic, and it seems to be -- a writer from a Jewish newspaper in San Diego cited it a few years ago when she was writing about the ills of the world. (And that was before Donald Trump got elected! Good Lord, is it really possible that man has been president NOT EVEN TWO YEARS YET?!)

So, anyway. Do not be daunted. The world's grief is enormous, but it is not entirely your (or my) burden -- we can address only our tiny piece, as seemingly insignificant as that cup in the photo at the top of the page. I found it lying in a parking lot while walking the dog. It stands out, doesn't it? With that beautiful bright purple color?

*(By the way, have you used Google yet today? There's a Halloween computer game in place of the Google doodle, and it's fun! I am not a computer gamer at all, but I got a kick out of it.)


  1. Thankyou Steve for this post. I struggle with the world all of the time, sometimes I hate it. Actually its not the world is it? it's the people in it that are the problem. I love the world and the wonder of it all and get upset at what man is doing to it.
    Recently I have started to smile at strangers and do you know what, they usually smile back, maybe that's my small effort to making a change.

  2. I don't think one needed Zen or wise verses like that one to see the world through comonsensical eyes and to realise our relative impotence. Yesterday I saw a creamy alpaca. She came to me across a meadow and I gave her grass and stroked her cheek. The golden autumnal sunlight shone low from the western sky.

  3. I like the balance in this verse. It's how I strive to approach things too. We can't give up but we can't drive ourselves crazy but we can't give up but we . . .

    Walking the tightrope, every day.

    I did not know about you being a Zen student. That's quite intriguing.

  4. Talmud? I recognize the second verse from the book of Micah, because I used to live near a synagogue in Manhattan and it was carved in stone on its front wall:

    He hath shown thee, O man, what is good: and what doth the Lord require of thee but to do justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.

    Oh. I just looked it up: while the Talmud does contain commentary on Micah 6:8, the verses that you (and many others) quote is a mash-up of several different Talmudic commentaries.

    I'm so tired of living in trump's America. So tired.

  5. I'm having a hard time this morning shaking off the angst I wake up with every day. I do believe those words you quoted. Some days are just harder than others.
    Not even two years...

  6. not even two years. and if we don't take back congress next week I can't even imagine what horrors will come before his term is done. those verses (however a mash-up they are) are true and it's good to be reminded of it. all we can do is be as loving and compassionate as we can and contribute that to the world.

  7. We all must do our small part. Yes! Vote. March. Do not give up. I vacillate between despair and anger, but hope is what gets me out the door.

  8. That is a beautiful passage and it does give one a feeling a peace for a moment. I needed that after listening to NPR this morning while they interviewed Trump supporters in some of the key election states about why they trust him and who they will vote for in the upcoming election. I really don't know how people who sound like they are rational can endorse something so irrational.
    I must add that it is also comforting to read the comments above and know that I am not alone.

  9. So, in keeping with the passage, did you pick up the cup and place it in a trash can?

  10. Such an inspirational post, beautiful passage as well, a good reminder when it becomes suffocating, so much bad in the world right now, it’s outshining the good some days,

  11. Beautiful quote. Many thanks for sharing it.

  12. Do you remember Mr. Natural? you are probably too young, but he was an astute guru- "What's it all mean, Mr. Natural?" , asked Flakey Foont- "Don't mean shit". answered the master. None of this tRUMP horror makes sense even to the enlightened who may see the larger scope of things- I agree with Mr. Pudding. The lid has been removed and all the tiny minds have been given license to do their worst mischief- must find a creamy alpaca- or squirrel or crow to take me out of my miserable human mind. Or, more productively, clean the house, the yard, the beaches.
    Staying busy has been a help.

    See you in January I hope.

  13. Thank you for this quote and your thoughts today.

  14. Briony: We all struggle, I think. But I like your smile approach -- I think that's exactly the kind of thing we need more of.

    YP: You've got a bit of a haiku there! Religion isn't necessary to see those sorts of moments or to realize our place in things, but I find it somewhat comforting to know that humanity has confronted these issues for thousands of years.

    Jenny O: Exactly! It's about balance. Yes, I talked about Zen quite a lot in the early years of this blog. It was a little annoying, actually. :)

    Vivian: Interesting! Thanks for the background. Being Old Testament, I'm not surprised that Micah features in the Talmud.

    Ms Moon: I KNOW! How is it possible that he's only been in office such a short time? It seems like an eternity. Believe me, there are a lot of angsty people out there these days! (As you know!)

    Ellen: Yes, they ARE true. I'm fine with a mash-up!

    Robin: And anger can be motivating, too!

    Sharon: It seems like there are a lot of people who just don't care about Trump's personality and his demeanor. They want someone to bust up the china shop and dismantle what Bannon called "the regulatory state." He's certainly doing that.

    Catalyst: I did not! Doh!

    Laurie: All we can do is our small part. I keep returning to that idea and find it very comforting.

    Colette: You're welcome! I'll pass on your thanks to the friend who e-mailed it to me.

    Linda Sue: I do not know Mr. Natural! Was he a TV show or something? Anyway, yes, staying busy in our own small ways is definitely a help. See you soon!

    Sabine: You're welcome! I hope it was as helpful to you as it was to me!

  15. Love that saying! I have the Micah verse on a t-shirt. It was the "mission statement" of the first Episcopal church I was a member of in Cincinnati.