Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Day 16: Week 3, Day 2 of the Omer – Gevurah of Tiferet

Compassion that is disciplined and focused.
Recently I was rear-ended at a red light. I was more stunned than anything else, and getting out of my car, the thought that was foremost in my mind was the time I lived in Los Angeles and was the victim of a hit and run. My immediate focus was, if nothing else, to get the license plate and make of the car in case my assailant was planning to take off. And I got right on the line with 911.
Stepping out of my car I was greeted by a young man who pleaded with me not to call the cops. It seems he was not only driving his mother’s uninsured car, but he was driving without a license. Why? Because their single-parent family couldn’t afford either one. I felt my twin aspects of Din and Rachamim – Judgment and Compassion – waging a quick war with one another: If the cops came, this 20-year-old from an economically borderline family was going to go to jail. What would his opportunities be after a turn in county? Certainly more limited than they were at present. On the other hand, what if he was giving me a line? He promised to find a way to be responsible for the repairs, but what if those tears disappeared the moment he took off, laughing to himself that he really got away with that one!
The struggle went on inside me as I was waiting for the police to arrive. It was rush hour and the streets were jammed. We spoke back and forth. I got his name and address, his mom’s name, and his phone number. I knew where he lived. Even if he lied about that, with his license plate number written down, I knew I could find him.
“Get in your car and drive away now before the cops arrive,” I finally blurted out. “I will call you and we will figure out how you will pay for the repairs.” 
He thanked me and drove off. I made another call to 911 and told them their arrival wasn’t necessary.
My “friend” told me that he was unemployed, but had a tax refund coming. The plan was that we would speak after I got an estimate for the repairs. I called him the next week and asked him to meet me at work, which he did. I thought of the teaching in Deuteronomy that we never keep a worker’s garment overnight even if he is indebted to us, because it is all he has. Taking his whole tax return, which would have covered about half of the repairs, felt wrong. So I made him an offer:
“I am asking that you give me half of your tax refund, because I imagine you need some money to live on. Then I want you to work with me in my garden for an hourly rate until you work off the debt.” I explained to him that I grow food, having turned my yard into an edible landscape. He said ok, and he’s now been working with me for over a month. The first couple of times he came late. I pointed to my neighbor the cop who lives across the street, letting him know that this agreement was something he needed to take seriously. He’s been early ever since. He was frustrated when his large hands had difficulty planting tiny carrot and celery seeds. He much preferred watermelon, which have substantively larger seeds. He has never eaten a winter squash, and last week had his first asparagus ever. “It tastes like a stem,” he said. We ate them fresh from the garden. I told him they were usually steamed or cooked in oil or butter with seasoning, but when they’re that fresh, eating them raw is a treat. 

I don’t know if my new friend will become a gardener. I don’t know if he will come to like asparagus or squash or any of the other myriad fruits and vegetables he will be cultivating and trying this season. I do know that he has a sweet heart, with a kind spirit, a sharp mind and a fun sense of humor. I hope that I can inspire him to make a positive, proactive choice to use his life for good, and that his experience in the earth will stay with him in some way.
Action: In what earth-related activity can you apply your compassion in a disciplined way that links Tiferet and Gevurah? According to the Farmer’s Almanac, this is good day to plant above ground annuals, like kale, broccoli, cucumbers, tomatoes and squash. Set a focused goal and plant with the kavannah of feeling in harmony with the earth. 

Day 15: Chesed b'Tiferet

Week three of the Counting of the Omer is the week of Tiferet, and in the context of Tiferet, Rabbi Robin Damsky will be sharing thoughts about gardening. Rabbi Damsky is the rabbi of West Suburban Temple Har Zion in River Forest, IL, and the proud mother of SarahIn her spare time she promotes tikkun olam - repair of the world - through her garden.

Tiferet is the Divine Attribute of compassion, harmony and truth. Rabbi Damsky quotes from Spiritual Guide to Counting of the Omer, by Rabbi Simon Jacobson, the following reflection for us to consider throughout this week:
Tiferet – compassion, blends with and harmonizes the free outpouring love of chesed with the discipline of truth, which is neither love nor discipline, and therefore can integrate the two. Truth is accessed through selflessness: rising above your ego and your predispositions, enabling you to realize a higher truth.
During this week of reflections on Tiferet, Rabbi Damsky will be considering truth, harmony, and compassion - in the context of her garden. Let us share in her journey, as she focuses on the harmony that is possible between us and the earth: how the earth nourishes us, and how, through our kavaanah - our intention - in planting and cultivation, we can help her to continue to do so. 

May we find our hearts opening wider during this week, and may we find Tiferet imbuing our lives.

Rabbi Katy Allen, Ma'yan Tikvah

Day 15: Week 3, Day 1 of the Omer – Chesed of Tiferet
by Rabbi Robin Damsky

In the late afternoon of Erev Pesach I left my home to head to my seder as light hail was falling. Odd, I thought, a little early for the ten plagues. As the evening progressed, our group would pause now and again to look out the window at the accumulating snow. A good inch was sitting on my car by seder’s end. Yes, it’s late in the season for snow, even by Chicago’s standards. But issues of climate change have been covered well by others in this blog. I was thinking of the asparagus.

One of the first crops to grace us in the fragile days that are just past winter but not quite spring, the fronds poked up their heads the week before. That snowfall killed some of the baby stalks. I wonder if the harsh winter contributed to the fact that many of this year’s stalks thus far are too thin to gather. Nevertheless, one rainfall early this week and more stems are popping up. My first harvest was seven spears, tossed into a sauté/fried rice dish with brown rice, quinoa, herbs and eggs. Delicious.

Chesed of Tiferet demands of us that we examine the love aspect of our compassion, ensuring that it does not come across as pity. In looking at my asparagus bed, it brought to mind the following verse in our Torah in this week’s parashah:
When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not pick your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger. I, Adonai, am your God. (Lev. 19:9-10).
The same text, almost exactly to the word, appears just a few chapters later, in a reading, that synchronously, we just read on Pesach: Leviticus 23:22.

Why leave the corners of our field for those who are hungry? It is a way to preserve their dignity; allowing those in need to eat without them having to ask for help. At the same time, we are exercising our care and compassion through a selfless act. We till the land, we plant the seeds and work the soil, knowing even as we plan our garden that a percentage of it will be dedicated to those who are in want.

One of the names we call God is Ha-Rachaman, the Merciful or Compassionate One. Within this name is the word “rechem,” which means womb. The womb is the source of all life, and God, as Ha-Rachaman, wants all life to be nourished with grace. As we read in the Ashrie prayer: “You open your hand; Your favor sustains all the living. Ha-Rachaman knows that there is enough sustenance for all.

Action: I have shared some of my asparagus with those who have less, and will continue to do so from my garden throughout the season. Are you planting this year? Maybe even a pot of herbs or tomatoes? If not, can you do this today metaphorically? I invite you to share some of what you “grow” with others in a way that is compassionate and selfless while honoring others’ self-respect, so you can personally experience the Chesed of Tiferet.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Day 14: Malchut B'Gevurah

Day Seven of Week 2 (14th day of Omer): Malchut in Gevurah

by Susie Davidson

Malchut is about dignity, and the final manifestation of the intended change. But it is also about sovereignty and authority, and if necessary, assessing if the recipients of such change are deserving and judging if they will utilize it wisely. It could only have been unimaginably difficult for G-d to mete out justice in the form of punishment to those of His creation. Similarly, it is tough for us to judge others, and our own detrimental leanings and inclinations as well. That's where the discernment of Gevurah can help us to realize the impediments that lie along our path.

With Gevurah, characterized by the strict adherence to law and meting of justice, and Malchut, dignity, together they are about restraining the urge to shower goodness upon those who are unworthy or could misuse such gifts. Although G-d's actions of punishment were meant for the bettering of humanity, they have lasting repercussions, and it is our duty to continue to improve upon our past transgressions. We do this during the first 33 days of the Omer, which is a period of mourning recalling the tragic deaths of thousands of students of Rabbi Akiva, as the Talmud explains, because they were disrespectful toward one another. Lag B'Omer, the eighteenth of Iyar, with "Lag" meaning the number 33 in Hebrew, signifies a break in the plague. During the 33 days leading up to this day, we hold no weddings or events with dancing, play no music (purely vocal music is allowed), and don't get haircuts or shave. And we try to find ways to treat others with great respect. In this way, we try to make a "tikkun," a spiritual correction in ourselves and the world. That is the ultimate form of dignity, especially as we are attempting to repair not only our own sins, but the sins of our past brethren.

It is only through proper homage and penitence for the mistakes of the past, and after we have assessed whether or not the intended recipients are deserving, that we can then move to manifest our aims.

The shmita year in agriculture provides for a healing from past transgressions in relation to the earth, such as overuse of the soil and its elements, over-irrigation, over-production. We give the earth a rest, and find other ways to sustain ourselves and others with respect. Then we can move forward in our manifestation of feeding ourselves and others from a dignified and renewed beginning. Giving the earth a rest is a powerful and difficult to imagine task. Here are some ideas from about how to renew the shmita culture and change the way we relate to the Earth: 

  • Plant fruit trees. Reclaim sidewalk green strips, park lands, street meridians, traffic circles...let your street trees gift you fruit, as well as shade, fresh air, rain flow management, and soil retention.
  • Locate and map the fruit trees growing in your areas.
  • Create Tree Care teams to help with tree pruning, fruit thinning, and fertility management.
  • Organize neighborhood harvest parties to gather all the ripe fruit hanging from your trees.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Day 13: Yesod b'Gevurah

Day Six of Week 2 (13th day of Omer): Yesod in Gevurah
by Susie Davidson

Yesod is about foundations, the base of support from which to enact these desired changes. And foundations are bonded together, which reflects Yesod's other attribute of bonding.

With a firm foundation, a springboard that is also a grounded platform, we can join with like-minded others in a disciplined, Gevurah effort of healing, rebuilding, and preparing our agricultural systems toward a more sustainable future.

"Yesod is the final filter in which the test of your sincerity is measured by the degree of integrity your change reflects," the Chabad website states. "[t]he change in me will express my truth—the truth I want to be (the Hebrew word for truth= Emet, constructed of the letters Alef, Mem and Tav all of which have bases—“legs” that allows them to stand firmly on their own)."

Aish explores Gevurah, or "strength" as usually understood to be G-d's punishment of the wicked and judgement of humanity. It is the foundation of stringency, absolute adherence to the letter of the law, and strict meting out of justice." However, Aish continues that Gevurah goes far beyond strictness and judgment. "When G-d said, 'Let there be a firmament,' the world kept stretching and expanding, until G-d said, 'Enough!' and it came to a standstill." Human interaction is both defined, and limited. It's up to us to make our interactions just, effective, and inspiring.

In agriculture, we work with the foundation of the earth, its fields, valleys and surfaces. Through careful action, we produce the crops that feed and bind us together in sustenance.

Action: Reflect upon the different types of the Earth's surfaces, and the varied crops that each yields. Relate them to the different aspects of strength that we receive from each crop. Imagine the power and strength that we are also receiving!

Day 12: Hod b’Gevurah

Day Five of Week 2 (12th day of Omer): Hod in Gevurah
by Susie Davidson

Hod stands for humility and acknowledging limits. In concert with the restraint and discernment of Gevurah, you might want to lower those expectations. But don't, because Hod is also associated with splendor and glory.

Sure, change can be difficult, and there is a certain comfort to same old same old. But it doesn't have to be huge, insurmountable change, either. Eminent environmentalist Henry David Thoreau wrote that the journey was as important, and even perhaps more important, than the destination.

"In Scripture, gevurah and the plural gevurot refer to YHWH's capability of acting like a warrior," writes Michael Zank, who cites YHWH's slaying of the Sea monster Rahab, which led to "the establishment of the protected order of 'natural' life and the acclamation of YHWH's kingship in the assembly of the gods," and "the act of salvation at the Reed Sea (kri'at yam suf), another combat with the element of water but now in the context of history, establishing 'cultural' order in the covenant of Sinai." Zank feels that G-d's feats can help people recognize what he calls "their shameful lack in covenantal trust and truthfulness," and he writes of associations of such heroism of Gevurah with "the angel of salvation...or with the time or figure of messianic redemption.... [t]he enigmatic nature and wherabout of his power of historic salvation are likely to have given rise, after the hurban, to the rabbinic coinage of "The Power" (hag-gevurah) and its usages."

Be the power! Take those small steps to help sustain and preserve our planet.

Action: Write Letters to the Editor about environmental issues. Think about joining a Community-Sponsored Agricultural (CSA) group, and how you might help to link a school, food pantry or synagogue to the CSA.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Day 11: Netzach b’Gevurah

Day Four of Week 2 (11th day of Omer): Netzach in Gevurah
by Susie Davidson

It all begins with ourselves. And Netzach signifies trusting in ourselves by summoning both strength and confidence (Gevurah) and facing challenges that can come from within. Thoughts or feelings can either inspire and empower ourselves, or stand in our own way. Netzach is associated with perseverance, endurance and victory. So hang in there, and don't be your own worst enemy! And remember, it's never too late to change - ourselves, or our environment.

By calling up some of Gevurah's focused restraint, discipline and discernment and Netzach's determined perseverance, we can plant our crops, eat locally, share our bounty, and succeed!
"The week of Gevurah gives us the opportunity to reveal, embrace, and more deeply understand our inner and outer strengths," states the website of the Kehilla Community Synagogue of Piedmont, California. "As we count the Omer, we will see that Gevurah is essential for the health and well-being of our personal lives, our communities and the world."

According to a March 29 article on Massachusetts farming by Boston Globe columnist Scot Lehigh, there are about 7,700 farms inMassachusetts that employ about 12,000 workers, contributing about $492 million to the state's economy. They help to preserve more than half a million acres of land as open space, and being small, don't utilize big factory-farm practices. Only one uses cramped "battery cages" for hens, and none use pig or veal crates. And those farms, which are mostly small operations, don’t employ the objectionable practices of big factory farms. Thirty-two percent are owned by women. There are eight buy-local organizations in the state, and Boston Area Gleaners is has about 700 volunteers who pick surplus crops and distribute the food to low-income communities. Indeed, the "buy local" movement has become a social phenomenon, with a notable proliferation of farmers' markets, restaurants featuring local fare, the revamping of school menus and programming to promote local foods, farm stands, pick-your-own produce sites, and community-supported agriculture. And why not? The food is fresher, you know where it came from, it tastes great, and by eating local, you help support the local economy as well as Massachusetts cities and towns.

In addition to eight seasonal farmers’ markets currently operating in Greater Boston, an indoor, public local food market is set to open in 2014 on Blackstone Street in downtown Boston. The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resource’s website includes a map of local food sites and other information, but according to Lehigh, supermarkets and grocery stores, need a "nudge."

Action: Think about how you might help to get more local produce onto supermarket shelves. Imagine becoming involved in a local agricultural project and helping to expand their programming into a local school. The aim will be to empower young students to lead their families toward healthier and locally-grown diets.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Day 10: Tiferet b’Gevurah

Day Three of Week 2 (10th day of Omer): Tiferet in Gevurah
by Susie Davidson

The aspects of Tiferet are harmony, compassion and mercy. "Tiferet is a blueprint for change, and how your plan for change takes into account the need for balance—both internally and with others.” ( In order for our desired change to manifest, we need reserves of Gevurah's discipline and careful planning. We need its restraint as well, so as to keep our plans attainable and effective. “How far and wide will the change be? When is the change best timed for? And do you need and have support?” It is about formulating your plan and putting your determination into actuality.

Tiferet is about the self-love and determination that help one to achieve and manifest our goals - and balance. These aspects can be most effectively combined with the restraint and discipline of Gevurah.

Agriculture certainly entails harmony in the layout of the rows of planting, the balance of crops, the melding of varied harvested foods. Each sheath of a grain is harmoniously designed. Agriculture requires compassionate, careful planning in order to treat the Earth with respect. Here, I recall the Torah-directed mitzvah of Shmita – letting our fields rest once every seven years. This aligns with the seven days of this week of the Omer.

With great discipline, and restrained, carefully-planned action, we can work the soil in a thoughtful manner to grow the barley and grains and all of the gifts of produce that will sustain and enrich our bodies and minds.

Action: Study biblical methods of farming, and contrast with modern machine-driven, pesticide-oriented agriculture. Think about or research ways by which we can improve these modern systems so as to reflect original methods of growing our food.

List hazardous by-products of modern agriculture, and suggest ways that they might be mitigated through other methods of production. How can we spread these ideas, perhaps through online petitions aimed at agricultural conglomerates and corporations?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Day 9: Gevurah b'Gevurah

by Susie Davidson

Day Two of Week 2 (9th day of Omer): Gevurah in Gevurah

Focus, discipline, restraint, determination, careful measure - times two. This is steadfastness in the face of challenge. Michael Zank, who teaches biblical studies at Boston University's Department of Religion and is Director of the Elie Wiesel Center for Judaic Studies, writes in his book Approaches to Ancient Judaism that the epithet Gevurah “refers to that which makes the hero (gibbor) a hero.” Zank writes that the root gv”r, in biblical as well as rabbinic literature, is associated with masculinity.

Gever meaning "man," and gibbor, "hero" – that's one powerful combination that to me is not gender-specific. We can all possess this power and utilize it in ways that benefit the planet and its people. Power has different connotations. In physics, it is the amount of energy consumed per unit time. We power all our technological devices with energy sources. Power, in the social sciences and political spheres, signifies an ability to influence peoples' actions and behavior.

In agriculture, power plays a role in farming equipment and the man- or woman-power needed to work the soil and produce its bounty.

Clearly, there is a danger of abusing power to control, rather than influence. It is best to influence others by good example. Zank goes on to link Gevurah to “the power of horses and...the manly deeds of kings and G-d.” He states that he relates "power," to the Greek abstract noun dynamis, as it was comprehended by Greek-speaking ancient Jews. “When translating the divine epithet (hag-gevurah), I render it as 'The Power,'” he writes.

Actions: So what do we do with all this power? This 9th day of Omer is opportune to performing an action for the good of the earth. Organize a public event, promote an environmental cause. In a disciplined way, plan the action carefully, so that it will be most effective.

It's spring! Envision yourself leading a workshop on organic gardening, or giving a talk on how we can personally counter climate change in our daily lives and behavior. List earth-friendly ways of living that we can adhere to with discipline and power, acting in our own way to save the Approaches to Ancient Judaism that the epithet Gevurah “refers to that which makes the hero (gibbor) a hero.” Zank writes that the root gv”r, in biblical as well as rabbinic literature, is associated with masculinity.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Day 8: Chesed b'Gevurah

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

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

Rabbi Katy Allen

Introducing Gevurah 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 21, 2014

Day Seven: Malkut b'Chesed

by Rabbi Judy Weiss

Malkut: majestic dignity and unity of all with loyalty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Day Six: Y’sod b’Chesed

by Rabbi Judy Weiss

Y’sod: loyalty stemming from connection and communication

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Day Five: Hod b’Chesed

by Rabbi Judy Weiss

Hod: loyalty based in gratitude and humility

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

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

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

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

Here is an international map of cities to suffer:

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

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

Friday, April 18, 2014

Day Four: Netzach b’Chesed

Netzach: endurance and decisiveness generating loyalty

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Day Three: Tiferet b’Chesed

by Rabbi Judy Weiss

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

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

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

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

See this video: No slowdown in global warming 


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

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

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Day Two: Gevurah b’Chesed

by Rabbi Judy Weiss

Gevurah: strength and courage in service of loyalty

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

    Tuesday, April 15, 2014

    Day One: Chesed b’Chesed

    by Rabbi Judy Weiss
    Chesed b'chesed: the purest form of loyalty

    The beginning of the Omer period is marked by mourning customs, born from innate human anxiety about springtime grain production: will food production provide enough to sustain us or will weather aberrations ruin our crops?
    Midrash: Exodus Rabbah 21:6
    When Israel stood at the edge of the Red Sea terrified by the approaching Egyptians, God commanded Moses to lift up his rod and split the sea so Israel could cross. The sea refused. What did God do? Placed God’s right hand upon Moses’ right hand. When the sea saw God’s hand on Moses’ hand, it could delay no longer, but fled … Thus Exodus 21:6 says: “and the waters were divided.”
    Notice the verse does not say the water was divided, but the waters were divided. This teaches that all the waters that were in all the fountains and wells, and every other place were divided.
    Question: Regarding God’s hand on Moses, explain it as a sign of loyalty. If God was annoyed with Moses in Exodus 14:15 when God said “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to go”, where did the annoyance go? What does the division of all the waters symbolize to you?
    Climate Change: Modern Day Food Anxiety
    Climate scientists raise food issues as a serious concern. One billion people today obtain their only protein from the oceans. Much of our CO2 emissions land in the oceans causing them to become more acidic. The change in acidity prevents some sea creatures from forming properly. For fish and other sea life, ocean acidification prevents their eggs from surviving, and diminishes their ability to sense predators.
    Oceans also absorbed more than 90% of the additional heat caused by CO2 emissions.  In warmer water fish need more oxygen to remain active, so fish size is expected to decline.Both warming and acidification mean coral reefs will decline. Reefs provide habitats for ocean fish that feed humanity. With human population expected to hit 9 billion by 2050, loss of oceanic food production can put extra pressure on our production of grains from agriculture.
    Click this picture to watch the video, Increasing Ocean Acidification:
    Question: Is God annoyed with us that we have sullied the planet? Are you annoyed?
    Action: Transform annoyance over emissions and climate change into actions based on the purest loyalty and love for the planet, oceans, and humanity. What reality-based (non-magical) action would you take if God’s hand were on yours? Since God isn’t visibly at your side, join a local group working on climate change. Working with others will feel like God’s power.

    Thursday, April 10, 2014

    Counting the Omer 5774

    We are counting down the days to Passover, to our journey out of slavery and into freedom. And then, on the second night of Passover, we will begin counting in a serious way, we will begin counting the Omer. 

    With the Counting of the Omer count seven weeks of seven days - 49 days - from crossing into freedom to receiving the Torah, from redemption to revelation, from Passover to Shavuot, from the  Sea of Reeds to the Mountain of Sinai, from the depths of despair to the heights of joy, from physical enslavement to spiritual freedom, from the barley harvest offering to the wheat harvest offering, from the food of animals offering to the food of humans offering. We count 49 days. 

    In Jewish mystical tradition, each of these seven weeks is equated to one of seven Divine Attributes. During each week, we also travel through these seven attributes day by day. In this way, each day represents a combination of two attributes, and throughout the 49 days we experience every possible combination of the attributes, 49 different combinations, so very many ways of considering the sacred, and our connection to it.

    This year, seven of the writers of our Earth Etudes for Elul have each agreed to write seven Omer reflections for Ma'yan Tikvah. We are grateful for the immense thought and effort that each of these writers has put into their work. As always, they have woven some aspect of the natural world into their writings. And also, as always, you will see great variety from week to week - we begin with hard-hitting science, and then the week after switch to poetry. You will read political views, thoughts on personal growth, ideas on how to get closer to the Earth and closer to G!d, as each of the writers expresses her or his innermost feelings and pulls you into her or his personal world. I invite you to journey with us, and to see where our writers' reflections will lead us. 

    The first week of Omer reflections begin on Tuesday evening, April 15. They have been written by Rabbi Judy Weiss, and in addition to the Divine Attribute of Chesed, which is the focus of the week, she also focuses on the oceans and climate change. Rabbi Judy Weiss lives in Brookline, MA, with her husband Alan. She teaches Tanakh, and volunteers with Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

    Passover is almost here. We are counting the days. 

    I wish you a joyous sense of leaving behind all that binds you and an entrance into an expansive sense of freedom. 

    Chag Sameach!

    Rabbi Katy Z. Allen, Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope

    Sunday, April 6, 2014

    A Transformation from Environmental Grief to Environmental Action

    Last month, Robyn Purchia of Eden Keeper hosted a webinar with Rabbi Katy Allen on how to deal with grief about the environment. We invite you to click here to watch the video.