Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Earth Etude for Elul 29 - Shana Tova

Photos by Gabi Mezger
Words by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen

G!d made a promise never to destroy the world again. We see that promise in every rainbow that arcs across the sky. We see it, too, in rainbows all around us. 

G!d had the power to make the waters of the flood recede. We have no such power. May we make a promise never to destroy the world, not even once.

To keep such a promise requires us to notice every petal of every flower, every color of every hue, every detail of our lives and of the world around us. May we begin with ourselves, our own hearts, and build therein rainbows of promise. May we, during the Days of Awe, find the strength to save ourselves, our families, our communities, and our world, one petal at a time.

Shana tovah - May your New Year be filled with joy and blessings, and may you each and every day, remember the rainbow that we must build.
Gabi Mezger is retired and enjoys photography, reading, beading, and travel. She serves as the cantorial soloist for Ma'yan Tikvah.

Rabbi Katy Z. Allen (ARJ '05) is the founder and leader of Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope in Wayland, MA, and a staff chaplain at the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, MA.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Earth Etude for Elul 28 - I Am My Beloved and My Beloved Is Me

by Daniel Kieval

I have a friend who reads people's auras. He sees all sorts of colors like green & red & purple. He says anyone can do it. All it takes is forgetting everything you think you know & just looking. I've tried it & even though I haven't seen any colors yet, everyone I meet looks so beautiful when I stop knowing everything, that it's pretty hard to go back to the old way.
                                “Beautiful People” by Brian Andreas

Such is the mysterious beauty of our world that when we observe any part of it deeply we have no choice but to fall in love.

Many naturalists and nature educators will say that the best way to develop a connection with the Earth is to practice what is called a “Sit Spot.” Here’s how it works: Choose one place in the world and spend time there daily, at all times of day and night, in all weather, in all seasons. In your spot, sit in silence and focus fully on the world around you. As you learn to quiet your mind and let go of everything you think you know, you become open to receiving what nature is presenting to you in that moment. Over time you gain a deep sense of the patterns of life around your Sit Spot and, just maybe, you fall in love.

A personal connection with Earth is not something new we have to acquire. Every one of us has carried it in our bodies since the first Adam (human) was formed from the Adam-ah (earth). By turning all of our awareness to nature’s gifts, we come home again to that relationship which we’ve had all along.

In Elul, we focus on the process of teshuva – returning, coming home – through personal reflection and examination. What the Sit Spot is to the Earth, teshuva is to our own souls. We visit our “Sit Spot of the Self” daily; we see what it’s like there in all weather and moods. We let go of what we think we know about ourselves and instead we quiet down and listen. We discover the subtle beauties of our inner ecology.

Our souls, like the Earth, have always been there waiting for us, but we lose touch with them as the clutter of everyday life fills up our heads. In Elul we visit our souls with devotion until we fall in love with ourselves again. That is what it means to do teshuva: to come back to our pure essential nature that is as unspoiled and good and true as every other primordial piece of Creation. Only after we’ve done this are we ready to face the infinite on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

Spend time with yourself this Elul. Be quiet. Be curious. Be present. Let go of judgment and observe openly and honestly. In so doing, may you come home again to a loving relationship with the created Earth and your own perfect soul.

Daniel Kieval works as a Jewish environmental educator with Teva, a program of Hazon/Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center.

Earth Etude for Elul 27 - Sunrise Sunset – Evening the Frayed Edges of Our Lives

by Rabbi Jeff Foust

Sunrise and sunset are special liminal times calling forth awe and mindful awakening to spiritual realities we otherwise might totally miss. It’s no accident that the main traditional prayer times for Jews are sunrise and sunset.

This simple profound reality is especially moving me this year as I prepare for the Teshuvah/Realignment/Renewal work of Elul before Rosh HaShanah. I’ve been reflecting on a powerful liturgical adaptation by Rabbi Geela Rayzel Raphael of the opening evening prayer Ma’ariv Aravim. She calls it “Evening the Evenings”. It combines interpretive English with the traditional Hebrew. What especially moves me is the chorus: “Evening the evenings; evening the frayed edges of our lives; Ma’ariv Aravim…; amen.” The key for me is that “Ma’ariv Aravim” refers both to “The One Who brings on the evening” and to the Creator of the heavenly vaults of light and darkness (Aruv can a heavenly vault or a containing boundary) which almost come together at the time of sunrise and sunset (in Hebrew called “Bein HaArbayyim”/Between the Heavenly Vaults of Light and Darkness).

When I hear and experience “Evening the evenings” I experience the light of “Bein HaArbayyim” touching the shadows and ragged edges first between the heavenly vaults of day and night at sunset, and then touching all the shadowy dark constricted frayed places of the world, including in my own self and my entire bodyheartmindspirit. I actually tremble and shake in the original sense of “haredim” (the tremblers), but it feels good because I know that the path to teshuvah and renewal is in letting my frayed, shadowy dark place be evened out by G!D’s light and love.

With G!D’s help and our sincere efforts, may our Elul journeys be enlightening and renewing.

*If you would like to check out the full song see HTTP://WWW.CDBABY.COM/CD/RABBIGRR
It's also often sung Friday nights at Boston's B'nai Or.

Rabbi Jeff Foust is Jewish Chaplain and member of the interfaith Spiritual Life Center at Bentley University. He does pastoral care and counseling through the Jewish Chaplaincy Council, leads creative life cycle events and services, tutors youth and adults, and has a special interest in Kabbalah and embodied spirituality. He can be reached through his website www.rabbijeffreyfoust.com or email foust.jeff@gmail.com.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Earth Etude for Elul 26 - Teshuvah and Eden

by Rabbi Robin Damsky 

I am sitting in my yard as I write this, amidst the din of cicadas singing their love songs to one another, with the wind lusciously blowing around the 93-degree day. Although hot, the garden is nevertheless my favorite place. To my left are the grapevines yielding their first crop of grapes. To my right is a series of raised beds forming a giant U: lettuces under their shade cover, two compost bins, onions, carrots and beets, turnips and daikon, broccoli and collards, peppered with kale plants in every available space, with companions of sweet alyssum to keep the aphids at bay.

There is the tomato jungle; I call it thus because picking the fruits takes me into their internal forest. Only one sunflower sprouted this year, but she is majestic. Near her is the peach tree, barely able to hold up her arms right now for the weight of her pearly orangey fruits. Surrounding her are mints – chocolate and orange, spearmint and peppermint, fennel, peas and beans and onto the baby fig tree with its first set of figs: twelve. Not bad for a first year crop, and on a tree that’s just over three feet high. Aah. I exhale at the grace that God provides through these food plants.

This is only one side of the yard. Last year I began the project of turning my yard into an organic, edible landscape. Culinary herbs, fruit and nut trees, medicinal herbs, fruit shrubs, and plants with edible parts such as rose hips, ferns and violets abound.  There are artichokes – Chicago’s not their normal habitat, but I’m giving them a shot. Abundant berries, winter squash, cucumbers and watermelons. And the Jewish connection: parsley, of course, hyssop and horseradish. It is a work in progress, but it is immensely fulfilling, a personal Eden.

Our tradition tells us that we were exiled from Eden to toil the soil, but I find that working the earth brings Eden. The sounds and smells, the growth and the creatures are all a piece of Eden. As a rabbi, the idea of a time when all life – human, animal and plant, can live together peaceably, is one of my main visions. The garden contains all the ingredients for that. It is a place where we learn respect, because we know the potential myriad of setbacks: weather, “pests,” soil conditions, to name a few. It is a place where we learn gratitude. How happy is the child that picks her homegrown carrot? The boy who chews on his first string bean that he planted himself?

That’s just the beginning. Sharing produce with the homeless is an important gift to give each season, through our local food pantry and homeless shelter. Bringing community members in to work the earth who need extra income helps those in need while teaching them about how to grow their own food. Simultaneously, we build community across all lines: religious, ethnic, racial, even across the generations. I have made some wonderful friends through the garden that I never would have met otherwise. And we also teach our children in the arenas of Judaism, nutrition, and sustainability.

What is teshuvah if not return? Are we not working to return to source – to God, to oneness, to wholeness with all of creation? The shofar rings out each day of Elul: Awake! Awake! Awaken to our work to create wholeness.

How interesting it is that the Messianic Age is the very vision of Eden. What better way, then, for us to do the work of the High Holy Days than to plant? We bring ourselves closer to God’s creation and advance the healing that pulls us a little closer to the Messianic Age. Plant and tend. A little Eden awaits you.

Shana tovah – A year of wholeness for all. 
Robin Damsky is the rabbi of West Suburban Temple Har Zion in River Forest, IL, www.wsthz.org. She is the proud mother of Sarah. In her spare time she promotes tikkun olam - repair of the world - through the garden.