Saturday, April 25, 2009

Chapter Two

It is customary during the counting of the Omer, the period between Passover and Shavuot, to study one chapter of Perkei Avot each week.

So ...

I am often depressed at the state of the world. Intellectually I think that only governments have the power to do what it takes to make the massive changes we need to (a) save the planet - literally, given global warming, and (b) change society so that we live in a kinder gentler more moral and caring world.

But around the world governments seem to range from the "Mediocre" to the "Incredibly Evil", with most tending towards the latter. The average is somewhere between "Bad and "Very Bad."

The rabbis of the Mishna seemed to feel the same way about governments and perhaps even about the state of the world in general. And they certainly weren't shy about sharing their cynicism.

Chapter two of Pirke Avot contains these gems:

BE CAREFUL [IN YOUR DEALINGS] WITH THE GOVERNMENT FOR THEY SUFFER NOT A MAN TO BE NEAR THEM EXCEPT IT BE FOR THEIR OWN BENEFIT; THEY SHOW THEMSELVES AS FRIENDS WHEN IT IS TO THEIR OWN INTEREST, BUT THEY DO NOT STAND BY A MAN IN THE HOUR OF HIS DISTRESS.
Omar Khadar stuck in Guantanemo, Abousfian Abdelrazik stuck in Khartoom, as well as the poor of my own city, Toronto, know how little one can count on the government to help its own citizens. And this in Canada, one of the "better places to live" in the world.

HE [Hillel] SAW A SKULL FLOATING ON THE WATER. HE SAID TO IT: BECAUSE YOU DID DROWN OTHERS THEY DROWNED YOU, AND THE END OF THOSE THAT DROWNED YOU WILL BE THAT THEY WILL BE DROWNED AS WELL.
He could have been describing any of a half dozen on going conflicts in the world to day - not the least of which is the one in Israel / Palestine.

HE [Hillel again] USED TO SAY: THE MORE FLESH, THE MORE WORMS; THE MORE PROPERTY, THE MORE ANXIETY;...
Does anyone listen to Hillel's 2000 year old wisdom? Not many. Instead those of us who "have" are consuming the world and ourselves to death, while fighting wars to preserve our priviledges.

So with things so bad - then and now - why not just give up? If the world is going to hell, why should one be "the last righteous perosn in Sodom." Why not just go with the flow and enjoy yourself while you can.

BUT [Hillel continued] THE MORE STUDY, THE MORE LIFE; THE MORE CONTEMPLATION, THE MORE WISDOM; ... THE MORE RIGHTEOUSNESS, THE MORE PEACE.
Perhaps words to live by, while we are trying to change the world at large.

And Rabbi Tarfon added:

THE DAY IS SHORT, AND THE WORK IS MUCH, AND THE WORKMEN ARE LAZY; BUT THE REWARD IS MUCH.

HE [also] USED TO SAY: IT IS NOT INCUMBENT UPON THEE TO FINISH THE WORK, BUT NEITHER ART THOU A FREE TO REFRAIN FROM IT.
Will the "work" ever be completed? Maybe our reward is just to engage in it?

(But, honestly, its hard to do so when you lack the Mishna rabbi's absolute faith that in the long run, the good will win out. Tarfon, after all was sure that one day the "completion" would happen.)

2 Comments:

Anonymous Shmuel said...

Well put and well grounded. Whatever hope there is for mankind depends upon a process that is a value in itself and a conception of global responsibility unrelated to its chances of ultimate success. Thanks and shavua tov.

3:07 am  
Anonymous Eric said...

HE [also] USED TO SAY: IT IS NOT INCUMBENT UPON THEE TO FINISH THE WORK, BUT NEITHER ART THOU A FREE TO REFRAIN FROM IT.

Was the neocons fault that they thought they could complete it, or had completed it?

9:50 am  

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