Monday, February 3, 2020

The Sap Is Rising – Reflections on Tu BiShvat in a Time of Climate Disruptio

The Sap Is Rising – Reflections on Tu BiShvat in a Time of Climate Disruption
by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen
[Note: This was written for and published by Jüdische Allgemeine” in Berlin, Germany’s largest Jewish newspaper.]

In southern New England where I live, the sap is rising in the maple trees.

Everywhere, it's Tu BiShvat, the New Year for the Trees. Here, it's time to set out the taps and begin collecting sap for making maple syrup.

In order to fill my buckets with sap and make maple syrup, I need to know which trees are sugar maple trees. I need to understand something about the trees around me.

It's easy to clump trees altogether. They're all trees, right? Strong trunks rising high, green on top – that's a tree.

But, like people, not all trees are the same. Glancing out my window in winter, the beginning of differentiation is easy--some trees are barren of leaves and others are green with needles. However, closer observation is needed in order to distinguish sugar maples from Norway maples or from beeches or oaks. Looking more closely is needed in order to tap the appropriate trees.

The sages of the Talmud (Berakhot 16a) teach that laborers working in treetops may recite the Shemawithout coming down, but praying the Amidah, which requires greater concentration, is allowed atop only olive or fig trees, and not other kinds of trees. What a puzzle! But it seems that olive and fig trees have many branches close together, making is possible to stand in the tree and focus properly, without worrying about falling. But other kinds of trees, with sparser branching, can't adequately support a person, so the laborers must climb down and pray with their feet on the solid ground.

To properly follow the halachah, tree-climbers need to know in what kind of tree they are standing.

But to fully understand trees, as with people, it takes further discernment to beyond simply being able to identify and name them. What is happening inside the trees? The sap is rising, but what else is happening?

Trees are connected with each other underground; what are they communicating to each other when someone stands on top of them and prays?

As I put in the first taps this spring, I wonder what the trees might be “saying” to each other. Do they communicate warnings to nearby trees about a dangerous tree-tapper in their midst? If so, what exactly is that message?

I don't know. I'm not good at understanding tree language, though when I lean against one, I feel a sense of kinship and connection. I feel a love and caring. And I feel sadness about what is happening to so many trees. Beyond that, I don't know.

My neighbors, afraid their tall pines might fall on their house, recently cut down about 10 trees. Our yard, next door, has numerous similar pines. On stormy windy nights, we often worry about the trees falling on us, too. And then we always say, “No. We can't cut them down.” We feel too connected to them, and that connection overrides our fears.

Watching images of wildfires engulfing California in the summer and Australia this winter, I imagine that the trees must be screaming. Reading about the destruction of the Amazon forests, the burning, the tilling to satisfy our cravings for meat, I can almost hear the screams. So many trees must be crying out in pain and terror, for themselves, their neighbors and kin, and trees all around the world.

But it's Tu BiShvat, time to celebrate trees. Even though it's still winter here in New England. Even in Israel it isn't always full-blown spring when we celebrate Tu BiShvat, New Year for the Trees. Falling as it does in January or February, the trees may or may not be blooming. So why did the ancient sages decide that the best time to mark the end of one year of produce from trees and the beginning of the next year was in late winter? They needed a New Year for the Trees for tax purposes. How did they decide what date marked that distinction between one year and the next?

In the Talmud (Rosh HaShanah 14a) the sages explain that by the beginning of the month of Shvat, most of the year’s rains, necessary for growth and production in the coming season, have already fallen, even though the winter hasn't fully ended. Thus, they determined, any produce harvested after the end of the rains could be considered produce of the next year. So, fruit harvested before Tu Bishvat (the 15th of Shevat) belongs to one tax year, and fruit harvested after the holiday belongs to the year to come.
But Rashi, the medieval commentator, understood the timing of Tu Bishvat to be a bit more complex and less visible. He tells us that it falls at the time when the sap is starting to rise in the trees.

Knowing when the sap begins to rise is a beginning of understanding that which we cannot see. And when a twig is broken, and the sap drips out on a warm sunny day, and then freezes into an icicle with sundown and falling temperatures, we are able to see evidence of that which is hidden, and understand better.

We cannot see the carbon in the atmosphere, drying the air and raising air temperatures, but can see the burning wildfires. We cannot see the greed that fuels clear-cutting trees, but we can see the harsh reality of clear cuts afterward. We cannot literally see the short-sightedness of building more fossil fuel infrastructure, but we can see the superstorms that engulf vulnerable communities as a result of decades of burning fossil fuels. We cannot see the carbon being pulled out of the air by the trees, into their fresh, green leaves and sequestered in the soil, but we can see trees growing and flourishing.

And we cannot see our own fear and denial, but we can see our own lack or limited action personally and in our communities.

The sap rising. On this New Year for the Trees, we are transitioning from last year to this. The trees are coming out of dormancy, and so must we. We must come out of our winter dormancy, our hibernation, our fear, our denial. We must allow our spiritual growth from comfort to fear, to learning, to growth to take place. We must confront the fact that climate change is not just someone else's issue, it is ours, it is everyone's. No one is immune. We must all act.

Tu BiShvat is here. The sap is rising, preparing the trees for new growth. Are we ready for our own new growth? Will we allow it happen?

To begin, let's plant not just one tree this year, but many. Let's plant a tree in Israel and a tree in Palestine. Let's plant a tree in Africa and a tree in South America. Let's help plant a billion trees this year And then, let's allow ourselves to grow with those trees.

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. 

Monday, December 23, 2019

Sparks of Light

by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen

The mystics teach that every person contains within a spark of the Divine, the result of G!d's tzimtzum, the contraction of the Divine self to make room for Creation. The resulting holy vessels, containing the sacredness of the Universe, shattered, and sparks of holiness flew outward and entered into that very Creation.

It's not always easy to see the sparks of holiness in a person. When we are hurt by another, our ability to see their holy spark vanishes.

Sometimes I can't see the spark inside my spouse, my children, my siblings, my friends or my partners in social justice work. Sometimes their words or actions touch old wounds within me, and I cannot see the sacredness within them. Sometimes their words or deeds touch new wounds within me, wounds from the world around me, and I cannot see their spark.

And with some people out there in the world, it's sometimes, or often, hard for me to believe the spark is even there.

Rabbi Nachman reminds us to “Seek the good in everyone, and reveal it, bring it forth.” To see the spark.

Mystical tradition teaches that our job on Earth is to help the holy sparks join together. To bring the Divine in all into Unity. To heal the wounded world.

After a rain or an ice storm, when the Sun comes out, all the trees and bushes shine. I'm not able to capture meaningful images of this magical sparkling world, but I can see it and I can feel it. And I am enraptured. But it vanishes quickly, and the images from my camera don't adequately express what I saw and felt.

I do my best to retain the images in my mind's eye and in my heart.

I do my best to allow the image to meld with my own Divine spark, that together they may grow the holiness within me. Together they may help me see the spark in others. Together they may help me find the good in others. And altogether that they may create something new and unique and healing.

As I kindle the lights of Hanukkah, I am reminded that this is both a festival of light and a celebration of rededication. The sparkle of the flame, like that of the Sun on crystals of ice, is fleeting. But I pray that the lifespan of this light is enough to rekindle the spark within me and to remind me that there is a spark within each of those I love, within each of those with whom I struggle, within each of G!d's sacred creatures. And it is my job to find that spark and to join together with it to see the good in others, that I may do my part to increase the holiness in my personal universe and to help bring Unity into the world.

May it be so, for all of us.

Chag Urim Sameach - Happy Hanukkah!

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. 

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Today Elohim

by Judith Felsen, Ph.D.

Today I spent an hour with You
a treat, a prayer, a meditation
I heard you speak
hum in silence
consonant with the wind
air has a language of its own
the universe, green kingdom
intertwined within and out
all substance of one cell
nature spoke for You, Elohim
messaging the Shema
in truth and experience
we are one/One

in peace

Judith Felsen, Ph.D. is a poetess, Clinical Psychologist, coach, 2nd generation holocaust survivor, hiker, dancer, walker, volunteer, lover of nature, gardens, wilderness, beach, ocean and mountains. Her work addresses issues of recovery, 2nd generation survivors, the natural world, gardens and harvests, life cycle issues, spiritual questing, social issues, community issues and personal requests. Her poems have been published and widely distributed in national and specific publications. She is a New York native and resident of new Hampshire. She frequents Long Beach and lives with her husband and two large rescue dogs at their camp in the White Mountains of N.H. and house near the ocean in Long Beach. She actively studies the mystical and esoteric aspects of Judaism and is a member of the board of the Bethlehem Hebrew Congregation and the Chavurah of Mount Washington Valley. She writes often and offers consultation upon request.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Geologic Love

by Jonathan Billig

What does a glacier say?
Let the mice declare, “striation! striation!”
Geologists and the keepers of the holy names.
Glaciers proclaim hilltops
With impossibly slow song,
Glaciers sing rivers,
Fjords and moraines,
Million-year cycles repeating refrains.

Listen, O children of your own creation,
The cosmos is our body, the cosmos is
Wounded here at home,
Where squirrels lie open in the roadways,
Children of our parkways,
Heavy with oaks but few foxes,
And flowing with rivers of cars.

What is the sound of a glacier not coming?
What is the sound of a glacier of flesh?

Pebbles in my hand
Weighty and cool as the hand of a loved one is warm-
Billions of years,
Nebulas flaring and spreading.
Coagulation in space from a dust cloud of rocks.
Water condensing on turbulent volcanic surface,
Until somewhere in the oceans lived
A smattering of molecules-
The world decided harmony.

Oh rocks whose name is breakdown layer transform,
Oh elements holding my hands up and down,
Oh cosmos, oh God, oh fellow humans,
Will we avert our harsh decree?
How does a human glacier learn to love?

Jonathan Billig is a connection educator, exploring diverse fields as mutually reinforcing play-grounds for who we are and could become. He has worked as an education coordinator for public gardens and synagogues, taught aboard a sailboat and at outdoor education centers, and spearheaded the design of the volunteer program on Mount Monadnock, the most climbed mountain in the United States. He currently works as a consultant in Jewish, outdoor, science, and mindfulness education. He is committed to the ongoing process of seeing and transforming systemic societal injustice, while diligently practicing love of people and the more-than-human world.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Shanah Tovah 5780 - May We Be Like Rocks

by Rabbi Katy Z Allen
photos by Gabi Mezger

We think of rocks as solid and unchanging,
like G!d.

We call G!d 
Tzur Yisrael - Rock of Israel,
Tzuri v'Goali - My Rock and my Redeemer.

But, rock changes.

Influenced by wind and water,

by plants

and lichens,

rocks break apart,

become smaller

and smaller.

Influenced by heat and pressure,
rocks join back together.

Influenced by global movements,
rocks rise up 
to form vast mountain ranges.

As we enter this new year,
may we allow those we love,
the circumstances of our communities and the world,

and the state of our planet

to change us,
to make us stronger,
and more flexible,

that we may be like G!d,
and like rocks --
but ever-changing.

Shanah tovah u'metukah --
wishing you a good and sweet new year,
Rabbi Katy and Gabi

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Earth Etude for Elul 29 - Waking up to the Climate Crisis

by Rabbi David Jaffe

My guess is that many readers of the Elul Etudes are fully “woke” to the climate crisis and read these blogs with the hope of gaining perspective and spiritual resilience to keep facing the crisis without panicking and burning out. This blog post is for a difference audience – those, like me, who intellectually understand the crisis but don’t feel the urgency. Despite reading articles and watching videos about the famines, flooding and other impacts of rising temperatures on people in the Global South and here in parts of the United States, including the predictions about war and migration, something doesn’t break through to my heart. For me, and others like me, it is not an issue of more information, but, in the words of the prophet Ezekiel, it is more about turning the heart of stone into a heart of flesh. 

וַיֹּ֖אמֶר אַל־תִּקְרַ֣ב הֲלֹ֑ם שַׁל־נְעָלֶ֙יךָ֙ מֵעַ֣ל רַגְלֶ֔יךָ כִּ֣י הַמָּק֗וֹם אֲשֶׁ֤ר אַתָּה֙ עוֹמֵ֣ד עָלָ֔יו אַדְמַת־קֹ֖דֶשׁ הֽוּא׃

And God said, “Do not come closer. Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy ground." (Exodus 3:5)

My colleague, Elder Will Dickerson II, understands God’s words to Moses at the burning bush to mean that Moses needed to take something off to have this full encounter with God. The ground was holy and shoes block the nerve endings at the bottom of the feet from feeling this holy ground. They are a buffer between ourselves and real experience of the world. The shoes are symbolic of what keeps us numb to the beauty and holiness of the world as well as to feeling how the world is burning.

What do you need to “take off” or remove to really feel that our common home is burning? For me, I need to remove a certain buffer I wear as a middle class person in the United States. There is a way I’ve been acculturated to not notice the ways capitalism and our consumption-oriented society does not work for many people, but rather, to be thankful for any comfort I’ve been privileged to receive as part of this society. If I am really honest with myself I need to admit how addicted I am to this physical and emotional comfort and how many of my beliefs and behaviors are directed towards maintaining this comfort for myself and my family, despite the cost to the larger world. I need to take off middle class comfort to feel the house burning and move to action. 

Maimonides understands the Shofar blasts on Rosh Hashana to be symbolically saying to us, "You that sleep, bestir yourselves from your sleep, and you slumbering, emerge from your slumber, examine your conduct, turn in repentance, and remember your Creator!” (Hilchot Teshuva 3:4) Middle class comfort is a form of spiritual sleep. Powerful dynamics in our economic system urge us to remain asleep. As long as I can have my living place, my car, my little life, I shouldn’t complain! Can the Shofar blast pierce this addiction to material comfort and create enough of a crack in the buffer so that the reality of the climate crisis can get in? For me and others like me, this is the spiritual work of Elul and Rosh Hashana.

Rabbi David Jaffe is the author of Changing the World from the Inside Out, winner of the National Jewish Book Award. He directs the Inside Out Wisdom and Action Project, which integrates Jewish spiritual wisdom and practice with social change. David lives with his family in Sharon, MA.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Earth Etude for Elul 28 - Swimming in Circles in Life

by Rabbi Judy Kummer

Every August I participate in a 1-mile breast cancer fundraising swim at a pond on Cape Cod. I have done this swim every year since 2007, training each summer day to swim further and faster. 

I especially delight in swimming outdoors. Sometimes my practice swims are in daytime, sometimes at “golden hour” as the sun is setting, and sometimes at dusk, when I can watch the moon rising, cycling inexorably through its phases towards the High Holidays. 

What a feast for the senses: I find myself savoring the sunlight spangling the pond where I swim or the glorious sunset colors spreading out over my head. I note the lovely contrasts of tanned arms, gilded by sunlight, reaching toward deep blue sky before slicing down into clear water, feeling the health and strength in my limbs and heart. 

Each time I step into the water and swim out and away, by the end of the swim I end up coming back to the same place on the shore– – but somehow, when I return, the place seems different. Perhaps it is just a change of my perception or perspective— or perhaps it is I who have changed in some way. 

As we move through the Jewish month of Elul leading up to Rosh Hashanah, we are taught to examine our lives and our deeds. We are encouraged to do Teshuvah, to repent or return, to turn and return toward being our best selves, toward being the selves we wish we could be in life. While we may find ourselves coming back to “home base” and to the familiar at times, it is as if we are swimming in circles through our lives, ever aiming at improving and transforming ourselves —so that it is virtually a different self that comes back to the place from which we had we set out. 

The end of the season of summertime warmth approaches, and the days begin to grow shorter. We become more aware of the shortness of time — in this season, and in our lives. 

Time grows short. Life is short, time is limited, the time for us to make changes in ourselves and in our lives is now. May the circles we travel through in life bring our renewed and renewing selves to ever-brighter shores.

Rabbi Judith Kummer is a board-certified chaplain and Program Leader for the Community Chaplaincy Initiative at Hebrew SeniorLife. A Boston native, she earned a BA from Barnard College in Environmental Studies and Urban Planning and was ordained at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Philadelphia. Rabbi Kummer is an avid organic gardener, liturgist, teacher and social activist.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Earth Etude for Elul 27 – A Vegetarian Journey

by Susan Levine 

When I think about Elul, I think about things I have done over my lifetime and the most important thing I’ve tried to do is to become a vegetarian. 

But let me start at the beginning: Both my parents grew up in kosher homes and when they got married, they had a kosher home. But it wasn’t kosher enough for my father’s mother who would visit my parents but wouldn’t touch the food. My mom didn’t see the point of being kosher if her mother-in-law still wouldn’t eat in her home. Instead she went full treif. As a child I pretty much ate what I wanted and really didn’t know what it meant to be kosher. I remember one Friday in fifth grade when I packed a ham-and-cheese sandwich for lunch and my friend Kelly, who was Catholic chastised me for eating meat on a Friday since at that time many Catholics ate fish instead of meat on Fridays. I took another bite of my ham and cheese and laughed, “Kelly, I’m Jewish.” 

My Jewish education consisted of going to an occasional family seder and getting a present on Chanukah. We didn’t belong to a synagogue, but I had a lot of Jewish friends and sometimes we would make cameo appearances at the Reform synagogue on Rosh Hashanah. When my husband and I met it seemed like we were from two different cultures. His parents were Holocaust survivors who spoke Yiddish as their first language. They belonged to a synagogue and kept a kosher home. In fact, keeping a kosher home was a condition that I had to accept to get married. I had a lot to learn, and I had to give up one of my favorite foods, shrimp. I started cooking kosher and gained weight as people often do after their weddings. By our second anniversary, I couldn’t fit into any of my clothes. 

Something had to change. I started eating more salads and less junk food and took a yoga class. At the end of each class we were flat on our mats with our eyes closed while the teacher spoke about reverence for life and not eating animals. But I wanted to know: What did Judaism teach about not eating animals? I read Richard Schwartz’s book, Judaism and Vegetarianism and I was surprised to learn that from the time of Adam and Eve, people were supposed to be vegetarians (Gen.1:29). And it wasn’t until after the flood that people were given permission to eat meat (Gen. 9:3). I chose to become a vegetarian and I asked my husband if he’d join me. We’ve been vegetarians — and living at healthy weights — ever since. 

Research has shown that vegetarian and vegan diets reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and some forms of cancer I also can help save the planet since vegetarian diets use far fewer natural resources and produce far fewer greenhouse gases than diets that include meat.2

I admit that I haven’t been a perfect vegetarian. While I haven’t cheated with shrimp, every now and then I have eaten some salmon or other kosher fish. Just a few weeks ago I ate trout for dinner. But a bone caught in my throat, reminding me that fish are living creatures. One of my goals for 5780 is not to eat fish anymore. And now I know that the Jewish thing isn’t simply to refrain from eating ham, but to refrain from killing and eating all of our fellow animals. 

* Schwartz, RH. 3rd ed. New York, NY: Lantern Books, 2001. (1st edition: Smithtown, NY: Exposition Press, 1982.) 
** Melina V, Craig W, Levin S. "Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets." Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2016; 116 (12): 1970-1980.

Susan Levine is the volunteer and intern coordinator, and social media coordinator for Aytzim: Ecological Judaism. She holds a master's degree in education. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Earth Etude for Elul 26 - What do animals feel and think?

by Rabbi David Seidenberg 

What do animals feel and think? Who are they?

That’s too broad a question by many degrees, but the difference between asking “who are they?” and “what are they?” is the gulf between civilizations, between epochs, between a world in which humans dominate and destroy, and a world in which humans collaborate with other species in the great project of the universe, Life. 

Since Descartes, the idea that the other animals (besides human beings) are not subjects has reigned in science. It became forbidden to say animals have feelings, consciousness, thinking, to the point that rationalists compared the cries of animals to the sounds a broken machine might make. But all that has changed over the past two decades. fMRI scans of other animals’ brains and human brains, for example, show unequivocally that animals have feelings and consciousness.*

It turns out that the question of “who?” versus “what?” is also the line between how different rabbis understand the mitzvah of shiluach hakein, sending away the nesting bird. The Torah descibes the mitzvah like this: “When a bird’s nest is met before you in the way, in the tree or on the ground, chicks or eggs, and the mother is crouching over [them], you will not take the mother on top of the children. Sending, you must send the mother, and the children you may take…” (Deut 22:6-7). 

There’s a well-known machloket (argument) between Maimonides and almost everyone else about what this mitzvah means. Most later commentators say its purpose is to teach us not to be cruel, so that we won’t be cruel to each other. But Maimonides says the reason is that in this case “animals feel very great pain”. He adds: 
[T[here [is] no difference regarding this pain between humanity and the other animals. For the love and the tenderness of a mother for her child is not consequent upon reason, but upon the activity of the imaginative faculty, which is found in most animals just as it is found in humanity. (Guide for the Perplexed, 3:48, p.599 in Pines translation, cf. 1:75, 2:1). 
To the greatest rationalist in the history Jewish thought, animals were subjects. But something went awry in the generations after Maimonides, and the forest was lost for the trees. That’s reflected not just in this famous machloket, but also in how a later midrash on shiluach hakein was interpreted. The midrash comes from Devarim Rabbah (6:5): 
“Sending you must send”—Said Rabbi Elazar: there would be no need to say so, except that the Holy One says, “Since she is engaged with glorifying the world and establishing the world / ho’il v’nitaskah bikh’vodo shel olam v’tikuno shel olam, it’s worthwhile for her to be saved.
If the bird is engaged with a mitzvah, and we must not stop her from being able to carry it out, even if we may delay it. 

But its interpreters didn’t believe a bird could be a moral subject, so they concluded that the midrash couldn’t have meant. They changed the verb in which the bird is active, “nit’askah / she is engaged”, dropping the letter Heh at the end, so that it became “nit’asek / he is engaged”—meaning the person sending the bird away. To them the midrash meant something like this: “The person taking the eggs is building up the human world by taking from the natural world. To show that his purpose is truly for the greater good, for the glory of the world, he should not selfishly take the mother as well.” It’s an interpretation that actually doesn’t make much sense, but it made more sense to them than the idea that a bird was doing a mitzvah.

But today, we need to know, and learn, and recognize, that we are not the only species engaged in tikkun olam. We are not the only species fulfilling mitzvot, nor are we the only species that is thinking and feeling and hoping. 

If animals are subject, would that mean human beings can’t use the other animals? No! All animals necessarily use other creatures to survive. In a thriving ecosystem, every species takes what it lacks from other species, and is used by other species, in order to “give life through them to the soul of all Life”. But in every inter-species interaction, there must be a gift given, an implicit promise and covenant, that the way one species uses another will help everyone. In a word, if one subject is used by another, they must used well.

This gives us a way to reconcile Maimonides with the rest of Jewish thought. Forget about the rabbis who think animals aren’t subjects. Nachmanides, who also disagreed with Maimonides, who also thinks the mitzvah teaches us not to be cruel, says it means more than that: the point of the mitzvah is to prevent species from becoming extinct. We learn not to be cruel so that we won’t be so cruel as to cause extinctions. 

In this way, we also respect the mother-principle of all Life, which is the third reason Nachmanides gives for the mitzvah. In Kabbalah, this principle is called Binah or Mother, and she is the matrix from which all life evolved and is sustained, the principle which continues to move life to evolve. 

In this way, not only is each animal and each species a subject, but the principle of Life itself is a subject, a “who”, to whom we address ourselves, in humble submission.

* See The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness,, July 7, 2012. See also Kabbalah and Ecology, pp.21-24.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Earth Etude for Elul 25 - To the Silent Stones

by Sarah Chandler / Kohenet Shamirah

Do you count your days in footsteps?
In strollers? In sunlight?

Cement and concrete
Below my feet
I take a peek at the patterns
And the places
Where tiny rocks gather
Solid, safe, secure

What was it was like
To move your entire being
From a quarry of friends
To this square of sidewalk?

City stones
Bricks, brownstone, marble
Are your family now

The eyes of
Our neighborhood
My commute
My shabbat walk

Sometimes the trees
Insist that their roots
Decorate your patterns

Your cracks keep my steps whole
Each journey down the block
Following butterfly trails
Tracing bark into branches
Welcoming glimpses of stars

Reminding me
To breathe between steps
Circling and retracing
Routing our pathway
Of grids and spirals.

Based on the teachings of Rabbi Moses ben Jacob Cordovero in Sefer Tomer Devorah 3:6 - ספר תומר דבורה ג׳:ו׳

עוֹד צָרִיךְ לִהְיוֹת רַחֲמָיו פְּרוּשִׂים עַל כָּל הַנִּבְרָאִים, לֹא יְבַזֵּם וְלֹא יְאַבְּדֵם. שֶׁהֲרֵי הַחָכְמָה הָעֶלְיוֹנָה הִיא פְרוּשָׂה עַל כָּל הַנִּבְרָאִים דּוֹמֵם וְצוֹמֵחַ וְחַי וּמְדַבֵּר.
To have mercy upon all of the creatures: He must also have his mercy extend to all the creatures. He [should] not disgrace them nor destroy them. As behold, the Highest Wisdom is spread over all the creatures - the silent, the growing (plants), the living (animals) and the speaking (people). 

Sarah Chandler aka Kohenet Shamirah is a Brooklyn-based Jewish educator, ritualist, artist, activist, and poet. Currently, she is the program director of the new Romemu Yeshiva and a garden educator with Grow Torah. She teaches, writes, and consults on issues related to Jewish earth-based spiritual practice, farming, and mindfulness. Ordained by Kohenet: the Hebrew Priestess Institute, she studies as a shamanic healer apprentice at The Wisdom School of S.O.P.H.I.A and Kabbalistic imaginal dream work at The School of Images. Her new initiative, Shamir Collective, launches in 2020.