Is the action of nature not unlike drawing a bow?
What is higher is pulled down, and what is lower is raised up;
What is taller is shortened, and what is thinner is broadened;
Nature’s motion decreases those who have more than they need
And increases those who need more than they have.

It is not so with Man.
Man decreases those who need more than they have
And increases those who have more than they need.

To give away what you do not need is to follow the Way.
So the sage gives without expectation,
Accomplishes without claiming credit,

And has no desire for ostentation.


–Tao Te Ching (Chap 77)






Rabbi Gershon Winkler


“All creatures of the sea,” taught the ancient rabbis,” are considered ritually pure, except for the Sea Dog (seal), because when it is troubled, it flees to the dry land” (Talmud, Key’lim 17:13)


This is one of the more obscure teachings in our rich Talmudic tradition. In other words, as my teacher explained it way way back when I studied in Jerusalem: if you make something out of the skins of any creature of the sea, it does not absorb ritual impurities, and can therefore always be used as a ritual implement or vessel for sacred rituals around people, places, or things that are in a state of ritual impurity – except the skins of seals. Why? Simply because under duress they head for the beach instead of the water. Under duress is when our real Self emerges, our convictions are put to the test, our bluff is called. Under duress we discover the truth of what a person or creature really is about. The Sea Dog, or seal, presumes to be a creature of the water, living in the water, traversing the oceans, but when push comes to shove, they head for dry land, thereby showing its true colors, so to speak – that it is a dry-land creature, not a sea creature. And as a dry-land creature, its skin absorbs ritual impurities and cannot be used for sacred rituals around items or people in a state of ritual impurity.


The truth of a person’s selfhood, a person’s essence, is born out by their reaction under duress. Sort of like another Talmudic dictum: “We know a person by their ko’s, kees, and ka’as (literally: goblet, pocket, and temper), by how they react under the influence of alcohol, under financial strain, and in the heat of conflict.” (Talmud, Eruvin 65b).


The seal, writes Rabbi Efraim Zeitchik, another of my early teachers, is truly a creature of the waters, spends most of its time in the waters, is happiest in the waters, flourishes in and is nourished by the sea. Yet, in moments of trouble, it leaves all that it craves and yearns for most, and opts for the alien habitat of the dry land. And likewise, so do we. We yearn for, crave, dabble in, seek, embrace, all that is good and holy and spiritual, bask ourselves in all that is positive and sacred and inspirational; swim in the seas of love and charity and mercy and compassion and peace; embrace all that is right and proper and ethical. But when we are suddenly pushed into a corner…..we leave this beautiful vast sea of all these soul-nourishing attributes, and leap into a realm that is otherwise alien to us, a realm of fury, violence, jealousy, hate, judgment, cruelty, conflict….. (To’rat Ha’Nefesh, p. 225).


To be a vessel that will not take on the “impurities” of life, the antithesis to our personal truths, we need to examine within and work at our behavioral qualities, our relationships with our loved ones at home, to make sure we are what we’re cracked up to be, and that under strain we will not transmute into a whole other creature.


This is a tough one. If we can work on it some, we can improve our relationships, our well-being, our health, and maybe even the condition of our world.