Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Our Temple Is Being Destroyed

by Lynn Nadeau

On Tisha B'Av, we sit on the floor, a candle barely lighting the page, and we read the words which sear the heart. We lament the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians. And we lament the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans. And today, we mourn the destruction caused by ourselves. Our private profligacy. Our passivity and our lack of participation in public policy letting selfish interests predominate. 
For these things I weep; my eye, yea my eye, sheds tears, for the comforter to restore my soul is removed from me; my children are desolate, for the enemy has prevailed. (Lamentations 1:16)

The deluge is here in Massachusetts. The drought is there in 3/4 of California. The cold is here in my home. The heat is there in the Western states. Climate chaos/weirding has settled in and everyone must notice. I did hear the weather person stating, "Mother Nature has brought us some unusual weather." Blame it on mother.
O how has the city that was once so populous remained lonely! ...Jerusalem sinned grievously, therefore she became a wanderer; All her people are sighing [as] they search for bread; they gave away their treasures for food to revive the soul; (Eicha 8-11)

This is not here in Boston. But it is so in South Asia, where increasing temperatures, sea level rise, more frequent cyclones, flooding of river systems fed by melting glaciers, and other extreme weather events are bringing chaos and disaster. Rapid economic growth and urbanization are accelerating and magnifying the impact and drivers of climate change—the demand for energy is expected to grow 66 percent by 2040. Climate refugees have set out for survival. And it is so in Afghanistan, where war refugees prepare to move to Pakistan from the oncoming cruelty of the Taliban. 
Your prophets have seen false and senseless visions for you, and they have not exposed your iniquity to straighten out your backsliding, but have prophesied for you false and misleading oracles. (Eicha 2:14)

Jeff Bezos will use $10B of his $212.4B to fight climate change over a ten-year period while he uses $30b to travel into space using unearthed fossil fuel to propel his vehicle. The Tokyo Olympics will use $15.4B to pump up competitive patriots "USA! USA!" 
And there is more: we crush underfoot all prisoners in the land, we deny people their rights before the Courts to deprive them of justice—(Eicha 3:34) Let us examine our ways and test them (Eicha 3:40) 
               and work together for the good of all. 
Lynn Nadeau was Jewish for 20 years married a non-Jew became a democrat for 20 years a Buddhist for 20 years and is deeply Jewish again. 

Thursday, June 17, 2021

A Particular Verse of Torah

This speech was given by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen on June 17, 2021, upon being named Alumna of the Year by the Association of Rabbis and Cantors, the professional association of the Academy for Jewish Religion.

Erev tov - good evening.

You know how the verse begins: 

G!d spoke to Moses saying, Speak to the Israelites and say to them. 

This particular verse continues: “You shall put solar panels on your homes, and live and advocate for a sustainable lifestyle for all, for I, your G!d am holy.”

You don't recognize that verse? Really?

Actually, neither do I. 

And yet, I do. 

I do, because I see such messages in nearly every verse.

I see them as the subtext of: In the beginning G!d created the heavens and the Earth” and of, “Take off your shoes for you are standing on holy ground.”

I see them in the injunctions to care for the poor, welcome the stranger, pay attention to what we eat, and pursue justice.

Why do I see them?

Because everything is connected. Because everything and everyone is sacred. Everything. The air we breathe out enters the tree beside us and we breathe in the oxygen it produces. The Holy One of Blessing touches every single cell and fiber of our being and every single aspect of life and non-life, and all that is or was or ever will be. Connections are everywhere.

So when you next open the Torah, I beseech you to see and hear that G!d is saying, “Speak to the Israelites - to everyone, and tell them to understand the impact of fossil fuel consumption on vulnerable communities. 

“Tell them that as long as making the air unbreathable is acceptable, as long as spewing toxic chemicals into the water is not abhorred by all, as long as living comfortably without recognizing the consequences is our default way of being, as long any lives and any part of Creation are considered by anyone to be disposable, the Messiah will not arrive, there will be no peace among us, and everything and everyone we hold dear is in danger.

“Tell them to act while it still matters.”

I am grateful to the Association of Rabbis and Cantors for the honor of being chosen as alumna of the year, and for the recognition this honor gives to the Jewish Climate Action Network. I will be even more grateful if you will go home and speak from the deepest places of your hearts to your families, your communities, and your G!d, and together make a decision to act in new and impactful ways to preserve this precious planet and all of its inhabitants.

Todah rabbah. Thank you so very, very much.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Everything Is Connected

by Andy Oram

Climate disaster is the crisis of our era, challenging us technically, politically, and economically--as well as a crisis of social justice and a refugee crisis. But less often noted is that climate disaster is a spiritual crisis. It forces us to ask what our life's purpose is, how to stay emotionally centered in the face of destruction, and how to make the thousands of years of our religious traditions relevant in a situation never envisioned by those who fashioned these traditions.

The Third Jewish Climate Action Conference: Everything Is Connected taking place online April 25, 12:00-8:00 PM EDT, offers a holistic and comprehensive view of the work that the climate demands of us today--as much as one can get in just eight hours. This free event covers advocacy (with special events by and for young people), soil and agriculture, decarbonizing, and resilience and weaves together youth, environmental justice, and anti-racism while focusing on action steps. Speakers come from leading Jewish organizations in addition to a wide range of environmental and groups and experts.

Everyone's attention has understandably been consumed by the COVID-19 pandemic this past yer. But the pandemic offers us so many spiritual and ethical lessons that it might well be seen as a divine rebuke: the lesson that invisible trends can erupt into life-threatening threats amazingly fast, that all of us are equally important and must be protected regardless of social and economic status, that prompt and radical responses are possible if we have the will to act, and more.

People often ask what they can do, as individuals or members of modest-sized organizations such as synagogues, to make a difference. Effective action to save the climate, and to create a socially just environment, does require large-scale, global work. But individual efforts make a difference. By treating our land, our food, and our buildings as sacred contributions to a better world and raising up environmental justice, we free ourselves somewhat from our dependence on activities that put carbon into the atmosphere. We also strengthen our ability to demand progress from institutions and other people.

At the Third Jewish Climate Action Conference, you'll connect with fellow activists in an event designed to be as educational as it is spiritually uplifting. Through dozens of workshops, you'll learn how you can improve our use of the soil, whether in your own garden or in agribusiness. Synagogue members can start to set achievable goals and organize within their congregations for greener buildings and grounds. Wind power, sustainable investment, local activism--all these topics are explored. Join climate activists from across the country on Sunday April 25, as well as the pre-conference workshops!

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

On the Mysterious Grace of Waking

by Maggid David Arfa 

From Campo dei Fiori by Czeslaw Milosz, 1943

I thought of the Campo dei Fiori // in Warsaw by the sky-carousel // one clear spring evening // to the strains of a carnival tune. // The bright melody drowned // the salvos from the ghetto wall, // and couples were flying // high in the cloudless sky.

At times wind from the burning // would drift dark kites along // and riders on the carousel // caught petals in midair. // That same hot wind // blew open the skirts of the girls // and the crowds were laughing // on that beautiful Warsaw Sunday. *

I arrived nearly 10 years ago to perform at Poland’s International Storytelling Festival. On our drive to Warsaw, we passed a green road sign with white letters OSWIECIM. My breath stopped and my hair stood on edge. Oswiecim is the Polish word for Auschwitz. Just the actual place sign carried horrible power. 

Later that night, I thought, is this what Native Americans feel in my home region of Amherst and Turners Falls? After all, Lord Jeffrey Amherst ordered mass murder through the perverse ‘gift’ of small pox infected blankets. Captain William Turner led a massacre of native women, children and elders. For the first time I shuddered as I imagined passing this Polish road sign as part of my daily routine, or living in a town named ‘Hitler’. Upon reflection I see how this experience added urgency to my allyship and also distanced me from my inner bystander. 

My guide wanted to take me to Warsaw sightseeing. My grief, horror and caution already activated, I told him, “I can not enter the city casually. Warsaw is the cemetery of my ancestors and I need to visit slowly, with intention”. We went instead to the new shopping district. 

We passed an art gallery where a giant painting was displayed in the window- a painting of three Jewish men wearing black suits with white shirts draped with tallitot. They had small bead eyes, grotesquely large noses, and were gleefully ogling over a table overflowing with gold pieces, jewels, rings and necklaces. My guide just laughed and said “people buy those pictures because they want good luck in business”. 

Further down the road, I noticed little figurines of men in black and white striped concentration camp uniforms mixed in with dancing klezmerim, figurines with little violins and clarinets. Then, a mourning dove dropped dead from the sky and missed me by less than an inch. I jumped back, eyes wide, heart racing and looked up and saw 4-5 terraces above and not a person in sight. I couldn’t help but wonder if my Yarmulke was the target. 

Later in the week, after the storytelling, I visited the memorial for the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. I could not find it from the map. A police officer led me through an apartment complex iron gate into an enclosed courtyard where the memorial lives. There were candles on a stone shelf in the wall; I lit a candle, prayed, remembered and grieved. When I was ready to leave I discovered the gate I entered was locked. I searched for over 15 minutes and could not find my way out. I had to force myself to breathe as I battled panic, desperation and fear. Finally, someone appeared with groceries. Again, with laughter, they showed me the electric switch which allowed me to exit. 

That night at the hostel, other Jews found me and we shared stories; found words for our emotional days immersed in painful history. One story was eerily similar to mine: she was at a concentration camp, walked through construction, entered a room with crematoria and the door stuck shut behind her. She had to kick and push with all of her might to be released. 

We wondered how the other tourists could innocently ignore such violence crying out all around. Someone shared the poem “Campo dei Fiori” by Czeslow Milosz, written in 1943, and we despaired that people could be so morally disengaged that they could actually ride the tall ferris wheel for fun while ‘salvos’ (rapid gun-fire) occurred down in the Ghetto below. 

Once home and back to my routines, I read the book Amazing Grace which took me to the poorest county in America, the South Bronx. As I read, the Shofar’s blare grew louder inside my heart and became deafening, I threw the book down! I screamed and howled as my complicitness was unveiled. Author/educator Jonathan Kozol introduced me to the kids, their families and the school life of that place. Their schools have too few textbooks and desks; broken heaters, leaky roofs, overflowing bathrooms. The kids can't play outside after school because gang members are in the park and drugs are being abused. Their homes are homes of poverty, often without enough food or any books, games or toys- just a TV. 

I was grief stricken, ashamed. I immediately saw myself like the bystanders who ignored the Shoah. My suburban highschool was less than 10 miles away from downtown Detroit where similar places exist. Our abundance of not only books and desks, but also a swimming pool, a weight room, and a state-of-the-art science lab made me complicit, like one who is sleepwalking, riding the ferris wheel next to the ghetto! 

For so long, my suburban naivete (aka white racialized identity as taught by Robin Diangelo) blinded me from connecting what I learned about poverty and structural racism, to my immediate life. In my everyday experience, I wrongly and conveniently protected myself by believing that racism was limited to individual perpetrators who exhibit ugly and mean bigotry. I recognized how my utterly segregated life in suburban Detroit made these harsh disparities disappear. My deep fears of traumatic victimization and primal terror of annihilation, primed by a lifetime of good, solid post-holocaust Jewish education and life, shocked me out of my complacency. But truthfully, the intensity was so painful, I went back to sleep; I moved my attention away, seduced again by the amusement of the ferris wheel. 

What to do? How do I stop sleepwalking and ignore the many amusements that are placed before me?

Lo and behold, Elul wisdom from South Warsaw offers Tikkun, repair for these wrongs we hold tight against ourselves with chains of guilt and shame. Our Rabbi, the Sfat Emet, teaches that in these moments of gazing deeply, we must remember to bring self compassion to ourselves. He teaches that our compassion holds power- the very power that stimulates God’s compassion for us. We are encouraged to reach for compassion for ourselves because we all have our limits, and we all carry an inner spark of holiness,

This compassionate forgiveness does not allow for continued ignoring of wrongs. It frees up action in the present and future; it addresses the paralysis of shame that can overwhelm. Here, when I reach for self compassion, I find hope renewed and new strength for activism. I remember I am part of a multi-generational story and I do not have to be perfect and carry the burden of actually completing all the work of the world. I do not have to walk through the desert, on my knees for miles, all the while chanting repent. 

When I allow self compassion to soothe my past inaction, I'm freed to remember I can always pay it forward and begin again. My compassion for my past mistakes and deeds I’ve left undone allows me to sing out loud and clear, without hypocrisy, ‘Wake up everybody no more sleeping in bed’. May we all find ways to awaken, rise up and be fully ready for what this new year may bring. **

**; Contemporary version of ‘Wake Up Everybody’ to encourage voting. 

Maggid David Arfa is currently a full time health care chaplain with a specialty in trauma informed care.  One aspect of this journey has taken him deep inside the new integrative field of ‘interpersonal neurobiology’ which collects the science reminding us that not only are mind and body one, but as the Kabbalists and Ecologists have taught, we truly are interconnected.    

He has also produced two storytelling CD’s, "The Birth of Love: Tales for the Days of Awe", and the Family Choice award winner, "The Life and Times of Herschel of Ostropol: The Greatest Prankster Ever To Live".  His full-length storytelling performance, "The Jar of Tears: A Memorial for the Rebbe of the Warsaw Ghetto" won the Charles Hildebrandt Holocaust Studies Award in honor of its artistic excellence, depth of vision and technical mastery.  To view other writing and programs, please visit

Friday, September 18, 2020

Shanah Tovah!

by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen

The world is on fire,
laying waste to forest and city.

G!d is my life-force and my wholeness: whom would I fear? (Ps. 27:1)**

May we remain ready and willing to engage with the world.

The ice sheets are collapsing, 
and the waters are rising.

G!d is my fortress of strength for my life, whom would I dread? 
(Ps. 27:1)

May we always keep our feet firmly planted on the ground.

The injustice is overwhelming,
    killing too, too many black and brown, indigenous and Asian peoples.

When...attitudes of fear and separation rise up within me to eat away at my energy and physical being, it is they, my thoughts of separation and feelings of being in the narrow straits, that will fall. (Ps. 27:2)

May we not succumb to fear.

The plague is unceasing,
    bringing poverty and despair along with death.

I ask of God oneness, wholeness. (Ps. 27:4)

May our sense of integration with the Universe ever increase.


The storms are raging,
    wreaking destruction along their way.

Hear, God, my voice when I cry, and show me grace and answer me. (Ps. 27:7)

May we know that we are never alone.


The deceit is rampant
turning to truth in the hearts of some.
Do not hide Your face from me, don’t turn aside from Your servant in anger; 
You have ever been my help.  (Ps. 27:9)

May we always be willing to seek help.

The democracy is crumbling,
    leaving ideals struggling for survival.

Do not forsake me, do not abandon me, G!d. You, my wholeness. 
(Ps. 27:10)

May we ever retain the vision of Eden before us.

The New Year is upon us,
    May it be sweet - 
please G!d!

    May it be healthy - 
for everyone!

 May it bring justice - 
for all!

Among the rubble and the ashes, 
the lost votes and the powerful winds,
may we find unexpected blessings.

May we, indeed, have a good year.

Shanah tovah!

Rabbi Katy and Gabi

** Translation of Psalm 27 by Rabbi Ora Weiss

Rabbi Katy Allen is the founder and rabbi of Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope, which holds services outdoors all year long, and the co-founder and President pro-tem of the Jewish Climate Action Network-MA. She is a board certified chaplain and a former hospital and hospice chaplain and now considers herself an eco-chaplain. She received her ordination from the Academy for Jewish Religion in  Yonkers, NY in 2005 and lives in Wayland, MA with her spouse, Gabi Mezger, who leads the.singing at Ma'yan Tikvah.


Thursday, September 17, 2020

Earth Etude for Elul 29 - Elul Unmasked

by Judith Felsen, Ph.D.
In rendezvous with You
dare I reveal, 
express the self
behind the mask,
the one not dressed in Yom Tov finery,
but quarantined instead in tattered garb,
clutching remnants of protection
combat refugee within and out,
who journeyed through the year 
bracing challenge, tasks You offered?
Might I share my truth, not wishful fantasy,
my doubt, uncertainty and fear,
brokenness and grief,
contained in fragile self 
sustained by You, 
deprived externals
nourished by Your hidden sparks
embedded in each tear?
Might I share in darkness 
impetus for sight otherwise unseen
ex nihilo 
path to see true self
no blocks, defenses,
broken, open, transformation
of perception
struggle birthing vision 
You arise to meet me
when barriers are whittled down
This rendezvous with You
adversity has left me broken, 
open hearted seeking, 
seeing You 
this year of Torah journey cracked the walls, 
the light is there
as I see You in all 
In the field this year 
I am unmasked 
we are One

© J.Felsen, Ph.D. 8/10/20

Judith Felsen, Ph.D. is a N.Y.S. Licensed Clinical Psychologist who resides in Bartlett, N.H. at the edge of the White Mt. National Forest. Judith is a lover of and advocate for nature and all life, a hiker, walker, dancer, meditator, poetess, volunteer, gardener, wife and dog mother of two rescue dogs. She offers consulting upon request and spends time practicing and studying various treatment and healing modalities. She is on the board of the Bethlehem Hebrew Congregation, the Mt. Washington Valley Havurah and Neskaya Center for Movement Arts. Since Covid-19 Judith and Jack, her husband, have lived in Long Beach, New York where she practices, walks the beach, boardwalk and delights in the garden Jack cultivated. Judith participates in virtual services and is active in the Jewish community of both New Hampshire and New York. This year, Judith and her husband were awarded the JFNH Shem Tov Award for work on Holocaust and Genocide Education, related studies and offerings to the public and other organizations and audiences. Judith and Jack are second generation survivors and work to enhance the end of genocide for all.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Earth Etude for Elul 28 - Dying. Birthing.

by Rabbi Robin Damsky

Burning. I am consumed by the burning. I lived in Santa Barbara and other parts of California for about 20 years. I remember the Painted Cave Fire in 1991 that started on “The Pass” – the way we Santa Barbarans referred to the San Marcos Pass that led up into Los Padres National Forest. Santa Barbara is typically a dry, high chaparral, but in the last three plus decades it has faced many years-long running droughts. Lack of water led to restrictions in watering lawns, bathing and flushing toilets. “If it’s yellow, leave it mellow, if it’s brown, flush it down,” was a slogan in many a restroom. Drought of this kind leads to fire.

We are reading now in the news and talking with loved ones whose bags are packed, those who’ve already been evacuated, those who lost homes, those whose lives were taken. In California, in Oregon, in Washington, in Colorado, in New Mexico. 

Too many fires. I remember that the Painted Cave fire did something unusual in its day – it jumped the six lanes of the 101 Freeway. That had formerly been unheard of. Now the power of that kind of fire is overshadowed by fire tornados and millions of acres being burned to the ground. 

I’ve lived through earthquakes – a couple of bad ones, and hurricanes, blizzards and more than one polar vortex. Yet nothing scores my heart the way that seeing fire take down the Creator’s trees does, seeing wildlife scamper for shelter and struggle for food in the aftermath. To see and smell the ash that lingers over everything, forming a carpet of grey inside and out, in one’s lungs and over the earth. The blackness of trees – now twigs – charred to the ground, and the earth that sprouted them baked to a crisp. It is the most pain I have experienced from natural disaster.

It just seems a time to grieve. There are writings on prevention and controlled burns. Things that we can do – could have done. So much prevention is yet in our hands while leaders are willing to wrest the last drop of beauty and life from our planet for the sake of their pockets. 

The earth cries.

I can never find my way to wholeness around this loss. It has torn a hole in my heart. When the earth sprouts again, reminding me of her vitality and her fierce will to bring forth life, I cry the sob that has been held within. And I hope for greener tomorrows. 

As I write, my daughter texts me: “There is a snake out front. By the trash.” I join her outside as we watch a young copperhead sit in the road. Watching us, watching her. “What should I do?” my daughter asks. “Walk slowly and around, just give her space. She’s probably as afraid of you as you could be of her.”

We watched, took a few photos and videos in the growing dark. I told her that this is the season for hatching new copperhead babies. 

I always feel blessed when wildlife reveals itself to me. It is a holy gift. 

Perhaps this is the fuel of renewal.

© Rabbi Robin Damsky

Robin Damsky is the founder and executive director of In the Gardens: She brings organic, permaculture garden design, mindfulness, meditation and movement to communities and individuals to cultivate spirit, mitigate hunger, support our planet, and to nourish healthy relationships with self and others. She serves part time as the rabbi of Temple Israel in Gary, IN, and lives in Chapel Hill, NC.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Earth Etude for Elul 27 - Speaking Through Underground Networks

by Rosie Rosenzweig

At my land’s end, the Burning Bush began an early blush this past July

when its bright green leaves were to be made bold by summer.
It, like me, is aging quickly towards some end not yet in sight.
Now, only the hydrangea tree blooms. Gone are the fulsome stalks 
of my ever-blooming ones, fading into brown from their new-born white lace. 
I sweltered at the end of August when, weeding my yard to give my plants more life,
I sought to do the same with the lingering debris hidden in me.

When will that arise? In the middle-of-the-night when seasonal dreams 
are sent to examine my life? Will a sudden memory infiltrate
when I watch some intense family drama on the stage? 
            Once, in Nova Scotia, 
over 50 years ago, my eyes seized on a bald eagle, rarely seen then at home,
flying above our tourist boat. Beak curled, talons ready, 
floating aloft on motionless wings, he glided for miles to nest in Canada for safety.
I wondered at his flight, and yearned, in vain, to see him again. 
At my backyard feeder, I see only the local finches, cardinals for color,
black-capped chickadees, and the brief sojourn of a rose-breasted grosbeak. 
This morning parade with breakfast is a meditation in itself.
Just yesterday, a hummingbird admonished me mid-air with the reminder
that I once filled a window feeder with sugar water just for him. A memory, 
as invisible as his wings, flickered by my mind, hovered, and flitted away 
elusive and quick with the faint buzz of his spheroid flight. 

I’ve read that trees have a secret language speaking through underground networks
to share water with their roots when drought attacks their sap. Hearing 
when a virus will strangle the earth, they know when pandemics creep the globe.
I pray they speak to me, warn me as they sing their eulogy of leaves, 
and help me know which wrong to pound from out my heart. 
Today, all I can do is water them with what I have.

A resident scholar at Brandeis University's Women's Studies Research Center, Rosie Rosenzweig just published her poetry book Bring Me into Flesh, as well as Emergence: the Role of Mindfulness in Creativity.  Her memoir, A Jewish Mother in Shangri-la, describes her travels to meet her Buddhist sons' teachers in the U.S. France, and Nepal.


Monday, September 14, 2020

Earth Etude for Elul 26 - Why Is This Elul Different from All Other Eluls?

by Joan Rachlin

During the Passover Seder we ask “Why is this night different from all other nights?” and we then spend the evening answering the four – and more – questions. Reciting the plagues, remembering enslavement, identifying with the “other,” and rising up against abuse of power are four pillars of Passover.

The four questions and search for answers provide a relevant framework for this year's Elul reflection. As I engage in teshuvah, the ritual of stock-taking in advance of the high holidays, I ask myself many questions as I seek to find and return to my best self. The questions are uncannily similar to those of the Seder. Among them:

  • What can I do to help repair the Earth after the plagues of fossil fuels and environmental degradation?

  • How can the memory of enslavement in Egypt fuel my commitment to fighting systemic racism?

  • What can I do to help lessons learned from Covid lead to strategies for fighting the disparities in healthcare?

  • How can I fight political chicanery and the degradation of our democracy?

Each question gives rise to many more: 

  • Isn’t it too late to repair the earth? 

  • How will something as entrenched as racism ever be eliminated? 

  • Aren’t healthcare systems always going to give the needs of the wealthy priority? 

  • What can I, one white-haired senior citizen, do to help rebuild our broken and divided country and heal our battered and burning earth?

The answer is “something”... I can do something. I must do something! If I am to find and return to my best self, I cannot be who came out of Egypt in April and forgot about it by September. I must remember that I, too, am “other” and act on the resultant thirst for justice, equality, and peace. 

I know what I cannot do. I am not prepared to risk my life like those “Righteous Among the Nations” non-Jews who risked—and often lost—their lives in order to protect Jews during the Holocaust. But I can work to ensure that my higher self wins a battle over my sluggish and scared one.

  • I can participtae in Dayenu’s Chutzpah 2020 Campaign and support and help seed Roots and Shoots chapters, part of the Jane Goodall Institute. 

  • I can decide to which of Ibram X. Kendi”s suggestions for building a more just society in How to Be An Anti-Racist I can commit. I can support Black Lives Matter. 

  • I can support institutions like Boston Medical Center, Boston Healthcare for the Homeless, Pine Street Inn, and Health Care for All. 

  • I can be part of “The Rising.” I can write post cards as part of the “Reclaim Our Vote,” and other campaigns. 

  • I can work to elect candidates up and down the ballot who are committed to addressing these issues.

In this strange and surreal year, I will work toward a teshuvah that’s more than words. Elul 2020 finds us engaged in an epic battle for the soul of our country. As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “We are not all guilty, but we are all responsible.” I pray that I can rise to my responsibilities and “Get into trouble. Good trouble. Necessary trouble.” I’ll try, Congressman Lewis, I’ll try. Ha'levai.

Joan Rachlin is the executive director emerita of Public Responsibility in Medicine and Research, an international bioethics organization. In addition, she practiced law for many years, specializing in cases involving women’s health. Following her retirement, Joan has focused on climate change education and advocacy, including founding and chairing the Green Team at Temple Israel, Boston, and serving on the Steering Committee of the Higher Ground Initiative, a national organization that provides the Jewish community with information on sea level rise and environmental issues more broadly. 


Sunday, September 13, 2020

Earth Etude for Elul 25 - "If the world is created for my sake..."

by Rabbi David Seidenberg

According to tradition this day (the 25th of Elul) is when the Creation of the world began - six days before Rosh Hashanah.

According to the Mishnah, every person should believe, "the world was created for my sake". (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5)

But what does this mean? That we can do whatever we want with the world because it is ours, or that I can do whatever I want because the world is *mine*? On the contrary, says Rebbe Nachman. He explains, "Since the world is created for my sake, I need to see and look in every moment into repairing the world (tikkun ha’olam), and to replenish what the world lacks, and to pray on their behalf." (Likutei Moharan 1:5)

Imagine the holy chutzpah Rebbe Nachman had, to take one of the most anthropocentric teachings in the whole of rabbinic tradition and turn it into a teaching about humility and service! That’s the kind of chutzpah we need now to face the pandemic, and the kind of chutzpah we need to meet the challenge of global climate disruption. 

Yechiel Mikhel ben Uzziel (d. 1730), gave us a related teaching about the world being created for “my sake”:

The purpose of Creation was for the sake of the human being to have free choice, in order that there be punishment and reward. And the reward and the punishment are not from the perspective of whether one has benefited the Holy One, God forbid, as if there could be some usefulness or harm to God from the actions of a person... rather it is from the perspective of benefiting the world and settling it (tikkun ha’olam viy’shuvo), for the righteous benefit the world (m’taknim ha’olam) through their actions, while the wicked are destroying it and turning it back into chaos and void, and limiting the flow of divine abundance (shefa). (Nezer Hakodesh 53a)

Here is more holy chutzpah: if you think that the world was created as a test for you, know that that the test is whether you live your life to benefit the world. And the measure is this: are your actions increasing the abundance of Life-energy available to the world and all its creatures? 

Maimonides also teaches us to have holy chutzpah. Imagine, he says, that the whole world stands in the balance between merit and guilt, and that your actions will tip the scales to the side of merit or the side of guilt. (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot T’shuvah 3:4) 

These three teachers each tell us to re-center ourselves: if all the world is created for my sake, then it all depends on me, on my next choice. How will you choose?

Rabbi David Mevorach Seidenberg is the creator of and the author of Kabbalah and Ecology: God's Image in the More-Than-Human World. He has completed groundbreaking research on many issues, including not only ecology but also tikkun olam and animal rights, and is well-known as a liturgist and translator. He has smikha from both JTS and Reb Zalman. David lives in Northampton MA.