Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Day 8: Chesed b'Gevurah

This week we welcome Susie Davidson as she writes about Gevurah in the context of agriculture, intrinsic to the human relationship with the Earth. Susie  is a poet, journalist, author, and filmmaker who writes regularly for the Jewish Advocate, the Jewish Daily Forward, the Cambridge Chronicle and other media. She has also contributed to the Boston Sunday Globe, the Boston Herald and the Jerusalem Post, and Ha'aretz. She has written three books about local Holocaust survivors. Susie is Coordinator of the Boston chapter of The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life and a board member of the Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow and the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action.

As we travel with Susie through this second week of the Omer, from Chesed to Malchut, may each of us feel our strength increasing and becoming more solidly embedded in our hearts and souls. Welcome to Week Two of the Omer.

Rabbi Katy Allen

Introducing Gevurah 

An omer, which literally means a “sheaf,” is a unit of measure. In the Temple days, it was a grain offering, specifically, barley. As stated in Leviticus 23:15, we count these units for 49 days, or seven weeks, from the second night of Passover to the night before Shavuot. Passover marks the Exodus from Egypt, but we were not truly redeemed from slavery until we received the Torah at Mount Sinai, now celebrated on Shavuot. The counting period is a time of preparation for the Torah, the greatest object and culmination of our desires.

The sefira of the second week is Gevurah. Gevurah is characterized by restraint, discipline, and discernment, and measure, which is most appropriate to the context of the Omer. The word gevurah is composed of the root letters gimmel, bet and heh. These letters also form the word gever, which means “man,” and geveret, which means “woman.” Other words that share the root letters include "hero," "strength," and the protagonist character in a story.

Day One of Week 2 (8th day of Omer): Chesed b'Gevurah


Compassion and loving kindness combine here with restraint, discipline and discernment – with a measure of barley or a harvested grain. What is more basic to nourishment than recently-harvested grains? Just last week, a friend made me a pot of barley, onion and lentil soup. Right away, I can relate to and appreciate the measure of counting that our biblical ancestors adopted to fulfill this mitzvah and this aspect of agriculture.

“If love (chesed) is the bedrock of human expression, discipline (gevurah) is the channels through which we express love. It gives our life and love direction and focus.” (Chabad.org) Gevurah also signifies respect and awe, and a healthy love includes respect. Discipline and measure. Focus. Health. There's that barley soup! Barley soup is intrinsic to Jewish cookery. If we are measuring our behavior, we are also measuring ingredients for sustenance, in this case, nutritious food needed for survival, harvested from the earth, and shared out of loving kindness. In making this offering, we are tending to the sacred earth we were given, while helping others to be healthy, to thrive, to be strong, and to attain the greatest state of being.

Chesed is love in all its forms. We love the earth, and each other through feeding and nourishment, which, for a mother and for the mother in all of us, is a supreme form of love.

I see restraint, focus and discipline as crucial practices utilized both in tilling the soil, planting, irrigating and producing crops, as well as in the preparation of a recipe of healthful and energy-giving ingredients - as opposed to throwing processed junk food on someone's plate. Our food is the basis of our health and endurance. “We are what we eat” is a truism that manifests in our behavior toward others and toward our planet. Food is a form of love, it was given to us by G-d, and in all of its forms, is holy. The fruits of agriculture involve working with G-d's earth, respectfully harvesting its bounty, preparing the harvested ingredients, and sharing this prepared food with others. When we share nutritious grains together, we are one. It is a very high form of care and respect.

Actions: Exercise and practice – plan a carefully-measured recipe of healthful grains and other natural ingredients that you could serve to others for an upcoming gathering. Research how you might begin to grow some of your own food – even in a window-box garden.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Day Seven: Malkut b'Chesed


by Rabbi Judy Weiss

Malkut: majestic dignity and unity of all with loyalty

Talmud Sotah 30b: How did all Israel know the words to the song? 

When the Israelites ascended from the Red Sea, they desired to sing a song (Exodus 15:1). How did they sing it? Like an adult who reads the Hallel (Psalms 113-118) and they respond with the leading word, “Halleujah”. Moses sang, “I will sing to the Lord,” and they answered, “I will sing to the Lord.” Moses sang, “For He triumphed gloriously,” and they sang in response, “I will sing to the Lord.”

Alternatively, it was like a child who reads the Hallel, and they repeat after him all he says. Moses sang, “I will sing to the Lord,” and they answered, “I will sing to the Lord.” Moses sang, “For He triumphed gloriously,” and they sang, “For He triumphed gloriously.”
Or it was like a schoolteacher who recites the Shema prayer (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). He begins first and they sing it along with him (instinctively catching on).

Question: The event just happened. If they sang a song of spontaneous joy and gratitude for an event that had just happened, how did they all know the words? Three answers are given. Which answer involves pure repetition of all of Moses’ song? Which is responsive? Which is magical? Which do you think would express the most dignity and unity of spirit?

Climate: Scientists have a hard time talking to the general public about their climate change research results, and the public has a hard time hearing and repeating the information accurately. Part of the problem is that technical scientific terms carry nuances that the press and the public misunderstand. 

For example, scientists speak about increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and the EPA wants to regulate it as a pollutant. Next thing you know people say silly things like “carbon dioxide in the atmosphere isn’t pollution, it is natural.” Or they say, “We all produce carbon dioxide when we exhale.” These undignified statements don’t approach scientists with the respect, trust and loyalty we owe them. 

One thing these statements misunderstand is that when scientists measure atmospheric CO2, they can also tell the origins of the CO2. Carbon dioxide molecules that come from the burning of fossil fuels are heavier than naturally occurring CO2.

In an attempt to improve communication of scientific climate change conclusions to the public, US National Academy of Sciences and their British counterpart have published a brief guide to climate change.  Read their guide

Action:  Watch an episode of Numb3rs titled “Chinese Box” (season 4, episode 10) in which the mathematician Charlie knows something as certainly as he can know it, and knows that however he tries to explain it to the FBI, his words will fail to convey the truth of what he knows. 

Action: Go to a climate change rally and notice different types of chants song at the rally to get attention and boost community spirit. Which are responsive, which repeat the leader’s words, and which chants are sung in unison? Do they all have the same feel for you?


Sunday, April 20, 2014

Day Six: Y’sod b’Chesed


by Rabbi Judy Weiss


Y’sod: loyalty stemming from connection and communication

MidrashRabbi Yohanan once asked his students to describe the appearance of the walls of the Red Sea when the waters parted for the children of Israel to cross. When none could do so, Rabbi Yohanan described them as resembling a window lattice. Then, all at once, they heard a voice say: “No, it was not like that at all!” And when they looked up, they saw the face of a very old woman peering in the window of the house of study. “Who are you?” demanded Rabbi Yohanan. “I am Serah bat Asher,” came the reply, “and I know exactly what the walls resembled. I was there, I crossed the Red Sea—and they resembled shining mirrors, mirrors in which every man, woman and child was reflected, so that it seemed like an even greater multitude crossed there, not only those of the present, but also those of the past and future as well.” And when Serah had finished speaking, none dared contradict her, for her knowledge was firsthand. (See Jill Hammer, Omer Calendar of Biblical Women, 2012, page 13, translation by Howard Schwartz, Tree of Souls: The Mythology of Judaism, 2004, paragraph 486.)

Question: How does seeing a scene through window lattices rather than with mirrors change one’s sense of connection? At Passover seder we reflect ourselves back in time to the original Exodus, and we mirror them forward into our time. How do the mirrors increase our sense of connection, compassion and loyalty?

Climate Change: will lead to massive resettlement due to rising seas in some locales and drought and lack of food in other regions.

Research “Migration with Dignity” by reading about the Island Nation of Kirbati (thought to be the first nation to lose its home to rising seas) and their climate change plans forresettlement. They have bought land in Fiji to resettle their nation of more than 100,000 people and attempt to maintain a sense of community and connection even as they leave their homeland.

Also read Thomas Friedman on Syria, more than 1,000,000 Syrian farmers, herders and their families refugees from the land, and climate change, and relief work here.

Action: In January 2014, New York Times columnist Nick Kristof asked his readers what news topic did they think was inadequately covered. Readers responded to his question with a clear communication: CLIMATE CHANGE. So Kristof will be writing frequently this year about Climate change. Here is his first article announcing the winning (or losing) topic. Can you and your friends and family use your network of connections to help all of Kristof’s climate change articles go viral?

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Day Five: Hod b’Chesed

by Rabbi Judy Weiss

Hod: loyalty based in gratitude and humility

Talmudic Midrash: Megillah 10b The ministering angels wanted to chant their hymns of praise and rejoice when Israel finished crossing the sea, but the Holy One said “The work of my hands is being drowned in the sea, and shall you chant hymns?

Question: To save Israel, God split the sea and then allowed it to crash down again drowning the Pharaoh and his troops. Why would God be sad? If God could foresee that buried plant and animal remains could turn into fossil fuels, be mined and drilled and heat the planet, why didn’t God prevent it? Can our use of fossil fuels make God pleased and regretful at the same time?

Climate Change: the oceans protect us We can be grateful that the oceans have protected us by absorbing much of the carbon dioxide we emitted. However, the ability of the oceans to absorb CO2 is going to decrease as the waters warm, leading to faster increases in atmospheric CO2 and faster warming, and an acceleration in sea level rise. Do you know which areas of the US will be affected by rising seas?

Check this map of US cities that will be sorely affected by rising seas.

Here is an international map of cities to suffer:

Question: If you live inland, do humility and loyalty keep you from rejoicing that rising sea levels won’t hurt you?

Action: Most people read newspapers and blogs that agree with their general outlook. However, it is an act of humility to read a publication with an outlook different from yours, and consider how its viewpoint might be justifiable. Whatever type of newspaper you usually read (liberal, conservative, local, or big city), read a different type. Try to get into the mindset of that new paper, its editor and readers. Write a letter to the editor about climate change every day until you are published.


Friday, April 18, 2014

Day Four: Netzach b’Chesed


Netzach: endurance and decisiveness generating loyalty


Midrash: Mekhilta de Rabbi Yishmael
(translation by David Stern, JPS publication, 1993, pp 155-156)

When the Israelites stood at the sea, one said: “I do not want to go down to the sea first,” and the other also said: “I do not want to go down to the sea first,” as it is said (Hosea 12:1): “Ephraim compasseth Me about with lies, and the house of Israel with deceit.”  While they were standing there deliberating, Nahshon ben Amminadab jumped up first and went down to the sea and fell into the waves. Of him (Nahshon) it is said: “Save me, O God; for the waters are come in even unto the soul (neck); I am sunk in deep mire and where there is no standing; I am come into deep waters, and the flood overwhelmth me.” (Psalm 69:2-3)

Question: What makes Nahshon a leader in this story? How does the midrash teach he was willing to take risks? Why do you think he was able to act decisively?  What enabled him to endure until the waters receded and Israel could pass through?

Climate Change: long term CO
2 impacts
The carbon dioxide we emit today endures in the atmosphere between 50 to 200 years, and thus contributes to global warming for a long time, even after we stop emitting. Other atmospheric greenhouse gases last a shorter time but are more powerful at warming the planet. However, climate change action focuses on carbon dioxide because the sheer volume of CO
2 emitted is enormous compared to the volume of other gases emitted.

What does the long endurance of CO
2 in the atmosphere have to do with oceans?

CO2stays in the atmosphere until it is absorbed by the oceans or used by trees as they grow. The amount of CO
2 that is “sunk” in tree growth is only temporary (until the tree decays or is burned). The CO2 absorbed by the ocean fills the upper layers of the ocean but it takes a long time for it to be permanently “sunk” in ocean beds.
Because of the long lasting nature of CO
2 emissions, they will cause more warming than we see now,  working like delayed action capsules. Some projections estimate that by 2050 atmospheric CO2 will reach 600 ppm and by 2100 it will hit 950 ppm, even though scientists warn that 350 ppm is probably the safest upper limit for atmospheric CO2.
Action: Senator Whitehouse has made weekly speeches on climate change for a year. Listen to his 1/7/14 speech dealing with harm to the Oceans, 

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and also watch his fiftieth weekly speech marking one year of making speeches on climate change from the floor of the Senate. 
Send Senator Whitehouse a thank you note for his decisive and enduring actions to save the world. Send a copy to your Senators asking them to work with him to make decisive climate action happen.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Day Three: Tiferet b’Chesed


by Rabbi Judy Weiss

Tiferet: compassion, beauty, and balance to achieve loyalty
According to early interpreters of the Bible, the splitting of the Red Sea involved more than one miracle.

Midrash: Legends of the Jews 3:22
"The dividing of the sea was but the first of ten miracles connected with the passage of the Israelites through it. The others were that the waters united in a vault above their heads; twelve paths opened up, one for each of the tribes; the water became as transparent as glass, and each tribe could see the others; the soil underfoot was dry, but it changed to clay when the Egyptians  stepped upon it … Through the brackish water flowed a stream of soft water, at which the Israelites could slake their thirst . .. The sea yielded the Israelites whatever their hearts desired. If a child cried as it lay in the arms of its mother, she needed but to stretch out her hand and pluck an apple or some other fruit and quiet it."

Question: How did midrashic interpreters imagine God ensured that Israel had plenty of strength to cross over? What things did God do to make the trip beautiful?  or aethestically pleasing? or to show compassion?

Climate Change: protection from the Oceans
Today, oceans not only provide us with food, but they also protect us. As the planet warms due to greenhouse gases, the oceans absorbed about 93% of the heat. The steady rise in sea level reflects the on-going warming of the planet. If someone tells you that global warming stopped 15 years ago, or says there has been a hiatus in warming, tell them they misunderstand. Just because air temperatures over land don’t follow a consistently increasing path does not mean global temperatures aren’t still increasing. Most of the increase is seen in ocean temperatures. In effect, the oceans have been working a miracle for us, protecting us from rapid warming over land.

See this video: No slowdown in global warming 


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Actions:  In order to pass climate change legislation, Congress needs a balance of leadership concerned about climate from both Republicans and Democrats. People in Red states have compassion for the environment  and cherish the beauty of the planet too. In fact a recent survey indicates they trust the EPA to protect the environment more than they trust Congress.

Try calling or email friends and relatives who live in Red states. Talk to them about what you have learned. Answer their questions. Ask them to join a local climate change group and schedule a meeting with their Members of Congress to discuss sea level rise. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Day Two: Gevurah b’Chesed



by Rabbi Judy Weiss

Gevurah: strength and courage in service of loyalty

Midrash: Genesis Rabbah 5:6
At the beginning of creating the world, God decreed ‘Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together into one place.’ Whatever God brought to pass, is so humans will fear God (Ecclesiastes 3:14). Compare this to a country that rebelled against its king. The king sent a strong army and encircled them, so the inhabitants might see it and fear him. Why did God gather the waters of the sea together as a heap (Psalm 33:7)? In order that all the inhabitants of the world may stand in awe of God (Psalm 33:8).
Question: Why do you think the midrash describes the creation of the waters in terms of fear?  Is there anything scary about the oceans to you? How do you channel fear into productive behavior?
Climate: Modern day fearsomeness of the oceans
With global warming, sea levels are rising. Historically, the main reasons they have been rising is that warming waters expand as they warm. The second reason they are rising is the melting of glaciers and ice sheets like those on  Greenland and Antarctica.  Over the last few years, the contribution to sea level rise from the ice sheets has grown.
Watch this video: Projected Sea Level Rise
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According to the recent IPCC report, sea level rise by 2100 could be approximately 3 feet. However, 2/3 of the climate scientists who contributed to that report felt the estimate of 3 feet was too conservative. Some scientists warn that if the Greenland ice sheet melts, it will contribute approximately 21 feet (7 meters) to sea levels, and if Antarctica melts, it will contribute about 57 meters or 170 feet.
Watch a second video: Impacts of Sea Level Rise
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Action: Watch the film “Chasing Ice” with friends and family. Schedule a meeting with your U.S. Representative or Senator, and discuss your fears of 3 feet, 21 feet and 170 feet sea level rises.