Friday, August 31, 2012

Earth Etude for 14 Elul

 Elul Greening
by Judith Feinstein

Have we done the reparation
so to take the consolation
and digest it all and well?
Have we  psalms we want to hear
releasing some for other's ears
while disregarding somber prohets' words? 
Can we see Akiva's vision, crumbling Temple fox is running as a sign 
Moschaiach's coming or do we yet deny our state?
Do we choose to not attend to
what this month we must amends do
so that we are then released
from martyr's fate at our own hands.
We do not need  be in danger
as we cannot be a stranger
to our laws and ethics
taught to clear our minds our selves and souls. 
We can aid Moschiach coming
as we heal ourselves from stumbling
while we clear our air and water
and our lands from their decay.
Our earth,Your Temple  tilling,
with kavanah we are willing
to correct the wrongs we've found. 
Close to soil we work with bittel 
our open hearts see   great and little
ways in prayer and joy to heal our home.
We sing in joining all among us
working, tilling all the ruckus
we are greening for Moshiach with our King now in the fields.
We are happy ever greener
Elul's days are ever cleaner
all life and living ever dearer
clearing for Moschaich's nearer.
As we return our earth to Eden,
Hashem's fields with peace  reseeded
reflect teshuvah practiced now.
We are grateful for reflection
deep with care and introspection
we beg release from broken vows.
Tilling as we learn the lessons
happy with forgiveness' blessings
we are in Adamah's Eden 
choosing once again for consolation of atonement, 
plowing fields with Your forgiveness 
greening Eden this Elul 
returning to the garden of Your love. 

Judith Feldstein is a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology, a Certified Hypnotherapist, a Neurolinguistic Programmer, an Eriksonian Hypnosis practitioner, a Sacred Plant Medicine apprentice, and practices Sacred Circle Dance. She is also an Appalachian Mt. Club trail adopter, an Appalachian Mt. Club trail information volunteer, and enrolled in Rabbinical Seminary International. She is a hiker, walker, runner, student and teacher of A Course in Miracles, a student of Buddhism, a student of Gnosticism and mystic paths, an eldercare provider, a wife and a “mother” of several canine rescues (currently Shepherd and Neufy).

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Earth Etude for 13 Elul

Swimming on Our Backs
by Rabbi Judy Kummer

All week long, a challenge with a family member plagued me. I stewed over it, allowed it to twist my kishkes into tight knots and my body into a ship tossing on waves of wakefulness in nighttime. I even watched it tug at my mind and heart during long lake swims thru otherwise placid waters. Tears and fresh water mixed, a potent cocktail of sadness.

And then, during one swim at dusk, as I flipped over onto my back to reach into back crawl, I looked up and saw the most glorious sunset spread across the sky. Streaks of orange and purple hung there, jewel-like, so vibrant and real I wanted to stretch my hands out to touch them.

I swam on my back for much longer than usual that evening, not wanting to turn over and miss even a moment of this glory. And remarkably, the strain of my earlier angst was nowhere in my mind. My muscles, my heart, my limbs all felt freed, untangled, if only for a while. I had allowed myself a wonderful gift in being present in that lovely moment.

The emotional challenges in the family persisted for days. At long last, after much discussion, they finally subsided. Throughout this time, the beauty of those jewel-like colors in the sky remained suspended in my memory, a gentle arcing reminder of the benefits of being present and aware.

I found myself wondering and thinking about that gift of presence – of being present – and of the awareness of the Divine Presence that it can lead to.

As we approach the High Holidays, it is incumbent on each of us to do heshbon hanefesh, a spiritual stock-taking, and make rectification where necessary with God, with our fellow human beings and with our deepest selves.

When we are present with our most true selves, there is a greater chance that we can find a way back to reconcile with those with whom we may be in conflict.

I do think that the reconciliation that eventually happened in the family took place because of a deep awareness of the needs of each soul involved. It was only because each of us was willing to be present both to our own soul’s yearnings and to the yearnings and needs of the other that we could finally move beyond our differences. And the sweetness of this reconciled state has a tinge of the holy to it.

When we are willing to stop and tune out the noise that most of us live with, and be present with what is around us and within our hearts in that moment, then, sometimes, we can be graced with a sense of harmony with others and with an awareness of the Divine Presence, the Source and Creator of All. 

What a remarkable gift we give to ourselves and to those whom our hearts hold dear.

Rabbi Judy Kummer serves as Executive Director of the Jewish Chaplaincy Council of Massachusetts, and is an organic gardener and social activist in Boston.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Earth Etude for 12 Elul

Dirt and Teshuvah
by Rabbi Howard A. Cohen

One of my favorite lessons to teach when I take a group on a wilderness trip is the dirt method of cleaning up after a meal. It is very simple and effective but invariably elicits chuckles of surprise. After removing all big chunks of left over food by either disposing it in a fire or trash bag people are then instructed to go to the edge of camp and wipe their utensils with dirt and other bits of natural debris. What happens is that the small remaining bits of food particles attach to dirt and other natural debris.  They now become an undetectable part of the natural and healthy decomposition cycle of life.  The very little bit residue that remains is then washed away in warm water with a dash of chlorine.

This method of cleaning remains me of the season of teshuvah that is now upon us. It is not enough for us to cleansing ourselves from our sins. As important as this is it we need to transform our dirt, that is sins, into something that nourishes and brings benefit into the world. So along with the question for what do I need to do teshuva, I also ask myself how do I transform the behaviors for which I am now repenting. Of course committing myself to not repeat the offense is a good start. Asking for forgiveness is another important step.  I also believe it is important to ask myself how do I transform the wrongs I’ve done (and will do in the future) into something of value? One way is to acknowledge in some sort of public venue the lessons learned from my wrong doings. Another action I can take is to embrace my imperfection and realize that to error is part of the learning process. 

One of the Hebrew words, chet, often translated as "sin"  is etymologically instructive.  The word consists of the letter chet tet and aleph. According to Rabbi Ginsburg, “Chet is the letter of life (chaim, from the root chayah, whose most important letter is chet)”.  In addition, if you take the numeric values of the letters that spell chet, (chet / 8 + tet / 9 + aleph / 1) it totals 18, which represents life in Judaism. Thus, in a very real sense to sin or error (even more accurately it means to miss the mark) means to be alive. Just as we cannot praise God when we are dead, so too, we cannot make mistakes.

Howard A. Cohen is a member of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association and Ohalah, The Association of Rabbis for Jewish Renewal. He owns and operates Burning Bush Adventures (BBA), a guiding and educational service combining wilderness experiences and Judaism. Howard has provided rabbinic leadership to congregations from Alaska to Vermont. He has taught in public and private schools.  In addition to running BBA, Howard is an officer in the Bennington Fire Department. He lives on Barefoot Farm in southwestern Vermont.

Earth Etude for 11 Elul

Maintaining the Climate
by Lois Rosenthal

“If you go by my statutes and keep My commands and do them, I shall give you rains in their season and the land will give its yield…” Lev 26:4

The ancient Israelites trusted G-d to maintain the seasons in a fixed and repeatable way.  They had worked out their lunar/solar calendar and holidays based on planting/harvesting seasons. Droughts were certainly a constant worry, but timing of planting and harvest was consistent enough year after year to be considered fixed by G-d.

Suppose they had begun to experience progressively earlier onset of Spring, increasingly extreme weather, changes in animal behavior and other phenomena we now know to be caused by global warming? Surely they would have seen this as a punishment from G-d for sins they would struggle to identify.

We moderns know what “sins” have caused the destabilization of our climate – overuse of fossil fuels, a stiffnecked refusal to believe our scientists, worship of the god of profit. We don’t need to invoke punishment from an angry G-d; the more modern parenting term “natural consequences” will serve. We are witnessing the consequences of sins of the human community, begun most likely out of ignorance; still with us out of arrogance.

What kind of atonement can possibly have an effect on global warming and  accelerating climate change? If every Jew in the whole world minimized their carbon footprint would this have any effect at all? There are so many questions; the problem seems so huge as to dwarf any individual’s ability to help. We must do what we can - certainly work to elect government officials who understand global warming and pledge to seek solutions. We can meditate on this enormous problem during the High Holidays to figure out what can be done. The Earth is in dire need of help.

Lois Rosenthal is a member of Temple Tifereth Israel in Winthrop. In addition to participating in Shabbat services, she works with Hebrew School students and prepares  students for Bat/Bar Mitzvah. Previously, she was an academic in the sciences.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Earth Etude for 10 Elul

Return to the Land of Your Soul
by Adina Allen

In Genesis we read that God places Adam in the garden “to serve it and to guard it.” In the rabbinic imagination there are many possibilities for what this description could mean. It could mean that the first human was given the practical task of keeping the garden watered so that plants would grow, or perhaps of protecting the vegetation of the garden by keeping the animals out of it. However I think there may be another, more thrilling motive to explore in imagining why this task is the task first given to human beings.

Anyone who has had the privilege to tend a garden through all the seasons knows the magic that can be found in this enterprise. Being connected to a piece of land over a period of time gives us constant opportunities for noticing, not just the big, beautiful changes like bursts of colors when the perennials pop up for the first time, but the subtle day to day or even hour to hour changes of seedlings growing, working their way up through the soil, unfurling tender green leaves and pulsing down grounding white roots. Tending a garden can helps us to learn the value of patience, of waiting and watching and letting things happen in their own natural time.

Over the cycle of the year the garden teaches us to understand that change and growth are constantly happening. Even in the bitter cold of winter, under mounds if ice and snow, garlic that is planted in the fall takes root and flourishes under ground, hidden from our watching eyes. In the spring, we see the bright stalks of green shooting out from the soil, but the seeds were alive and growing before any of that came to the surface. Tending a garden gives us the opportunity to be in contact with the inspiring strength and humbling fragility of life, and can help us to understand our place in the nature.

In reading this phrase “to serve it and to guard it,” we can ask what, exactly, are human beings meant to be serving and guarding? While the obvious answer, of course, is the garden, I think that there is another possibility. Through the physical act of gardening, we are not only tending the land, but we are tending ourselves. There is an intrinsic relationship between cultivating the soil and cultivating the self. As we work on transforming the earth on behalf of plants, we are, ourselves transformed. Perhaps what we are meant to be serving and guarding is not only the garden, but also the nefesh, the soul.

This High Holy Day season may we have the courage and strength to till and to tend our own souls. May we clear away the weeds that no longer serve us, may we have patience as the seeds within us germinate, and may this work cause the garden within us to flourish.

Adina Allen is a fourth year rabbinical student in Hebrew College's transdenominational program in Boston and a Wexner Graduate Fellow. The is the rabbinic intern at Adamah: The Jewish Environmental Fellowship, Adina's passion lies at the intersection between Judaism, ecology, and creativity. Prior to rabbinical school Adina was the Assistant Editor of Tikkun magazine. She has been a contributing scholar to the interfaith blog State of Formation for the past three years. In her free time Adina loves to ferment foods, bake bread, run around with her dog Barley, and stand on her head. More of her work can be read at

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Earth Etude for 5 Elul

Personal Reflections for Elul: Mindful Turning to the Path of Love
Rabbi Jeff Foust

For me, the key to the entire Jewish New Year period comes in the month of Elul, the Hebrew month which precedes Rosh HaShanah. I often have heard people complaining about being weighed down by all the emphasis during the holiday on the mistakes and wrong doings in our lives that we need to repair. Elul reminds us that the very foundation for the spiritual work that we do at this time of year is returning (in Hebrew Teshuvah) to a loving relationship with the Source of all life, with each other, with our own higher selves, and with the ecology of our earth household. Feeling this love provides me with both the support and the motivation to reciprocate the love and to work through and resolve anything that’s getting in the way of that loving relationship. Then even if someone else is still unable to open their hearts, at least my heart can be open.

This emphasis on love is at the very center of the meaning of Elul, which comes from its initials which point to a passage from the Biblical Book, the Song of Songs: Ani L’dodi V’dodi Li/ I am for my beloved and my beloved is for me.”

Becoming aligned and feeling at one in love is also a central part of our ritual of blowing the Shofar, which is done every weekday morning in Elul. We begin and end with the call of Tekiah, the single blast of the shofar, which powerfully resonates with our underlying oneness in love, and with the reality of love and reconciliation always being there for us if we only open our hearts to it. The other two broken blasts of the Shofar, the Shvarim and the Teruah, represent the broken places in our lives, and are bookended and held in love, while with the support of the One Who is the Source of all life, love, and blessing, we work on our Teshuvah, our return to living in loving relationship.

Rabbi Jeff Foust is Jewish Adviser and member of the Spiritual Life Center at Bentley University. He is a student and teacher of Kabbalah (embodied spirituality) emphasizing the integration of the spiritual, intellectual, emotional, and material aspects of our lives. He is also active in building positive interfaith relations, in pastoral care and counseling, leading creative services and lifecycle events, and teaching a wide variety of subjects  such as Profits and Prophets, Biblical Pathfinders; Davenology (How to Make Prayer Real); Kabbalah, meditation, and creative movement.

For anyone interested in an opportunity to taste first hand some of the spiritual depth of this Elul experience of Tehshuvah through love, including the shofar blowing, Jeff will be leading a free global satsang guided meditation and discussion teleconference on September 6/ 19 Elul at 11:30 AM Eastern Daylight time. The hosts for the Satsang/Higher Knowing teleconference are  Boulder’s Humanities Team and Portland Oregon’s Rev. Anakha Coman. Connection details will be posted at

Monday, August 20, 2012

Earth Etude for 3 Elul

Enfold me, Earth
By Carol Reiman

Enfold me, earth,
Entwine your thick limbs
With mine;
Lift me up above
Your blushing beauty,
Opening me to your new day.

Show me how to know you
As we whisper in each other's ear--
Willow rustle,
Sizzling spray upon the sand;
How I meant to help,
How I hurt you,
How we can heal
In easy forgiveness,
How I can keep you as
You keep me--whole.

Dance in freedom,
Moving together,
None to crowd out
Both our voices--yours and mine--
Gulls' cry, sudden thunder;
Rushing torrents, oaks riven
Into fresh surfaces
For new growth.

Groom me to your model,
Shaker of change,
Mentor of shores that welcome
Both fresh and salt;
Teach me to leave
My shell behind,
For other use
As home for hermit crab.

Reach for fresh tastes,
Those not yet sampled;
Urge your passion onward,
Twist, turn, recombine.
Yet hold me, earth,
In your warm embrace,
As I seek to reach
The Consciousness
Of Creation
In the New Year.

Carol Reiman's past year has been one of exceptionally active change and adjustment in the Boston Metro area.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Earth Etude for 2 Elul

The Earth Is Crying Out in Pain
by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen

“The Earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” (Ps. 24:1)

The Earth is crying out in pain. Yet, its beauty and mystery shine forth, ever ready to calm us, inspire us, strengthen us, and remind us of our smallness in Creation. We walk in the woods and find wonder in the spring wildflowers. Eagerly we bite into the delicious bounty of the late summer harvest. In awe we gain inspiration from the night sky, a sudden and unexpected rainbow, a brilliant sunset.

The Earth is crying out in pain. Yet, we climb in our cars and drive to the mall, spewing noxious chemicals into the air as we go. We buy what we need and what we want, gobbling up the Earth’s limited resources, entering eagerly or reluctantly into our consumer culture that tells us that this object will make us happier. We turn on the heat in the winter and the air conditioning in summer, needing, wanting to be comfortable.

The Earth is crying out in pain. Day after day, images flash across our TV and computer screens of floods and fires and famine and drought and war. We hear catastrophic predictions of the impact of climate change on our planet. Consciously or not, fear grips us. We wish it wouldn’t be so. We feel helpless.

The Rule of Context and its subset the Broken Windows Theory: Our microenvironment – the immediate context in which we find ourselves and the peer group in which we stand – has a profound influence on how we behave. If the subway station is dirty and urine soaked and the windows of nearby abandoned buildings are broken, no matter how upstanding we consider ourselves, we are more inclined to litter, to evade paying our fares, and even to commit a crime.

Bystander Syndrome: If we collapse of a heart attack in a public place we are more likely to get help if just one person is nearby than if there are one hundred. Most will walk by us. After one person has stopped to help, only then are others also likely to stop.

The Earth is crying out in pain.

How can we fix the Earth’s “broken windows” and fill its “abandoned buildings” so that we stop committing crimes against it? How do we find the courage to be the first to stop and help the fallen stranger, our planet?

The Earth is crying out in pain.

As we engage in teshuvah, as we re-turn, as we turn again and again and again toward all that is holy in life, let us hear the Earth’s cry and not be afraid. Let us band together with our neighbors to transition to a more resilient and gentler society. Let us find the courage and the strength to stop rushing and to extend a helping hand to the broken Earth. Let us remember that although we may not be guilty, we are responsible. Let us take heart with the knowledge that every journey begins with the first step. Let us know in our hearts that we are not alone.

“The Earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof” (Ps. 24:1)

Rabbi Katy Z. Allen lives in Wayland, MA. She is a chaplain at the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, MA, and the founder and leader of Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope, a congregation without walls that holds services outdoors all year round. Through the Nature Chaplaincy Program of Ma'yan Tikvah, she leads interfaith programs connecting nature and spirituality.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Earth Etudes for Elul 5772

Rosh Chodesh for the month of Elul, 5772, lasts for two days. Saturday is the last day of the month of Av and Sunday is the first day of the month of Elul, and together they mark the beginning of a month-long period of reflection as we travel through the remaining days leading up to Rosh HaShanah, the New Year.

Summer is still with us, and the hot, humid days of August often carry thunderstorms, but already the nights are coming earlier. The warm days and the early evenings convey a sense of urgency, for we know that the cooler days of autumn are not far away. As we enjoy these days outdoors, we also know that the call of the shofar not far away. It is time to begin to prepare, to unpack, unearth, and explore, to be ready to engage with the One on the holiest days of the year. It is time for teshuvah, re-turn, return to the One, the Mystery, the Spirit.

To help us on this journey, we at Ma’yan Tikvah have again gathered from among ourselves and our friends a series of reflections for the month of Elul, divrei Earth – teachings that connect Earth and Torah – which we call “Earth Etudes for Elul.” Through the coming weeks, we will be posting Etudes on selected days of the month of Elul.

We invite you to join us for our occasional reflections on the journey through Elul.