On the labyrinth there is one way in and one way out.
As we recite the Pirket Avot I imagine myself looking up from the feet of the ancient sages, the feet of Jesus Himself, hearing Him ask me, “Are you surrounded by My living hedge?” There was a time when I would have received this as a passive question invoking a positive but sentimental answer, inflated by a lack of experience or naivete. Fortunately that naivete broke and opened me to the deeper meaning. Now, I hear this question actively asking me if I am awake in continuous prayer to timeless truth, am I awake in service to timeless truth, am I awake in the study of timeless truth that has been painstakingly written down and lived for me? My answer is yes but, of course, I can do better. May I strive to be more like the ant who carries six times its own weight back to the communal nest.
This question can inspire great pride, great shame, rebellious and sometimes dangerous resistance, or deep humility. It reveals where we are in our readiness for the truth of our life and for our return home from wherever our reveries have broken us open or continue to break us open. It probes the heart where the cracks live, where our innocence is lost and our suffering and mortality is found, where idealism and sentimentality give way to realism, where words without experience have no power, where compassion and the hope of eternality beam light into the heart. This is precisely where the birth canal to the soul opens and requires constant compassionate midwifing to birth our souls slowly into the world and plant. When one is truly seated in humility with one’s regrets, remorse, and atoning heart, the words of the sages are a living hedge around the soul, gentle revelatory lights on the path that keep us moving forward into Mystery, into life, into love, into justice.
2 thoughts on “Are You Surrounded By A Living Hedge?”
Been wanting to comment on all the new posts so now before Shabbos begins–doing a bit of it. Reading pirke avot in September I wrote this daily poem-very rough draft-not edited yet…. so much to ponder–as we consider how best to put hedges around the laws:
“….a hedge is a living shield protecting what it surrounds.”
To fulfill the obligations of the Shmita year
we are taught to tear down our fences.
In Pirke Avot we are taught to “surround Torah
with a hedge.” Of course, back in the day there were no
chain link fences, treated posts, plastic netting fences.
There were stones. There were hedges
planted by the farmer between her fields, between
the fields and the road.
Any farmer knows that any perennial hedge
left to its own rhythms will gradually over
grow its neighbor plants.
Reb Abba Shaul, gravedigger, knew well
every being’s mortality. He also understood
as bread baker the hunger among the poor,
and how much more often they died young.
Let us study his words and make no judgment
that harms the poor who choose to profit
from our gifts to them, as they sell our gifts of food
for enough money to buy an extra meal or two
to feed themselves, their family, or to eat another day.
~Rabbi Rami Shapiro Ethics of the Sages, Pirke Avot, note to Chapter , p.4
** “And with regard to all other fruit, Abba Shaul said: He must be given enough to sell them and buy food that suffices for two meals with the proceeds of their sale.”~
Abba Shaul-teaching on tithes given to the poor https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/eruvin-29/
Abba Shaul, “little remembered in the Talmud: Some say he was a gravedigger, while others say he was baker in the employ of Yehudah HaNasi (Pesach 43a, Niddah 24b)” p. xxv-“Biographical Sketches of the Rabbis in Pirke Avot,” ~Rami Shapiro, “Ethics of the Sages, Pirke Avot”
Thank you Thank you Thank you for amplifying this reflection with your own and that of Rabbi Abba Shaul and the tithes given to the poor! Oh how the Talmud and Torah probe the heart and keep the heat on!