How do we find and maintain humility in our compassion?
by Rabbi Robin Damsky
Nature is an abundant force. Those who swim the ocean know just how powerful an undercurrent can be. Those who have witnessed a wildfire jumping across a six-lane freeway can only feel miniscule, as well as terrified, at its indomitable force. In moments like these, how can we help but feel humble? The more intimate our relationship with the earth, the more humbled we become.
Gardening is an exercise in humility. It is wonderful to reap the benefits, and feel like a proud mama when what you plant comes to fruit. But any urban or rural farmer, any backyard grower tastes humble pie each season when the seeds that you diligently planted don’t come up. Or worse yet, they sprout, but then, as in the case of some of the seeds I started indoors last month, there was too much humidity under the clear dome cover, and the seedlings died. Then there are the seeds that come up, like the celery and cauliflower I have planted each year, but never get big enough to harvest, or aren’t strong enough to grow heads. Humbling.
Let’s not forget the sunflowers that grew from their tiny seeds into majestic, 10 foot tall plants, with stems that looked like tree trunks. Their heads waved in the sunny breeze sporting gorgeous seeds. With a ladder and the hands of neighbors, we covered those heads with nylon netting until the seeds would be ripe enough to pick. And the squirrels ate through every single nylon cover. They had a feast, as represented by the empty sunflower hulls lying in piles on the earth under the now-empty heads. Frustrating, and humbling.
I do very small gardening, but friends of mine have field after field, acre after acre. They share with me the issues of the winter that was too warm that caused a proliferation of insects the following summer. Or the spring that was too wet and therefore delayed the following planting season. Then there was the summer that was too dry and hot, making plants wilt, toughen, or worse, simply die off. All of these can occur in the same climate zone, affecting the planting and the bounty of the harvest. Yes, gardening is humbling.
And yet, isn’t it Tiferet’s very truth that God’s majesty as expressed in nature is simply beyond our control? God says to Job: “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations?… Do you know who fixed its dimensions… set its cornerstone?… Who closed the sea behind doors when it gushed forth from the womb?… Have you ever commanded the day to break, assigned the dawn its place so that it seizes the corners of the earth?” (Job, Chapter 38)
In the face of the splendor, might and supremacy that is God’s created universe, the only honest response is humility.
Action: Take time today to be in God’s creation. Whether observing a tall tree or the industrious ant, new spring growth or the strength of the wind, feel its immensity and your gratitude for being a part of this wonderful net of life that is God’s handiwork. As you feel your humility, I invite you to recite the following prayer from the weekday Amidah:
“Adonai, our God, make this a blessed year. May its varied produce bring us happiness. Grant blessing upon the earth, satisfy us with its abundance, and bless our year as the best of years. praised are you, Adonai, who blesses the years.”
Robin Damsky is the rabbi of West Suburban Temple Har Zion in River Forest, IL,B www.wsthz.org. She is the proud mother of Sarah. In her spare time she promotes social justice and tikkun olam – repair of the world -B through the garden.