Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Korach - What We Learn About Respect

Korah (Numbers 16:1- 18:32) קרח
What Korah’s company teaches about respect.
By Rabbi Judy Weiss

Korah complained against Aaron. Meanwhile Korah’s associates, Dathan and Abiram, raised a parallel complaint against Moses. Both complaints involved complainers asserting their rights to be priests or leaders alongside Aaron and Moses. Moses set a simple test for God to demonstrate if Korah should be priest. But regarding Dathan and Abiram, Moses requested they meet with him. They refused, disrespectfully accusing Moses of hoodwinking the Israelites into accepting his leadership. Their refusal to meet upset Moses greatly (Numbers 16:15).  Rabbinic midrash (Tanhuma) explains what made Moses so upset:

He was like a person “who debates and argues with his colleague. If his colleague replies to him —he is pleased, if he does not reply, he is deeply annoyed.”

In family or communal life, there will always be differing viewpoints   involving religion, societal administration, or values. There’s nothing wrong with contrasting outlooks, but it’s disrespectful to stonewall a discussion. 

Here’s an environmental parallel. In March, Senate Democrats invited Senate Republicans to participate in climate discussions (no legislation, just talk). Republican Senator McConnell responded: “Even if you conceded the point {global warming is true}, which I don’t  … it isn’t going to be addressed by one country.” McConnell refused to meet and add his important concern about international cooperation to the discussion. Of 45 Senate Republicans, only Senator Inhofe went.

When Inhofe took the floor, he called global warming a hoax. This was equivalent to refusing to discuss it. Indeed, Inhofe acknowledged he once thought global warming might be true, but decided it’s a hoax when he learned the cost of mitigation. To most people, calling global warming a hoax may seem like offering an opinion. However, it really disrespects thousands of climate scientists and indirectly disses millions of other scientists.

A Wall Street Journal blog noted some politicians oppose action because it will cost businesses and consumers.  However, Ceres organized 700 major corporations to sign a declaration calling for national efforts to slow climate change because it’s good for the economy and jobs, and is morally right. Businesses want Congress to confer seriously and respectfully on climate.

In fact, the right policy can improve the economy. A June 2014 study by REMI (Regional Economic Model, Inc) analyzes a gradually increasing carbon tax rebated 100% to the public. Although some politicians claim carbon taxes will “kill jobs,” REMI’s study indicates carbon taxes could create 2.1 million jobs within ten years. That’s serious growth deserving earnest attention!

Recently, some politicians responded to questions about global warming saying: I’m not a scientist, so I can’t debate global warming. Reagan wasn’t a scientist, but supported ozone legislation to cut CFCs, preventing skin cancers. Saying “I’m not a scientist” is just recusing oneself from the climate dialogue. It is disrespectful towards Americans: it assumes we can be dismissed with feeble answers.

Moses became very upset with Dathan and Abiram for not appearing. Does President Obama get upset with Republicans avoiding climate deliberations? Obama told Thomas Friedman:

“Yeah, absolutely … The baseline fact of climate change is not something we can afford to deny. And if you profess leadership in this country at this moment in our history, then you’ve got to recognize this is going to be one of the most significant long-term challenges, if not the most significant long-term challenge, that this country faces and that the planet faces.”

Congress must come to this challenge and lead.

According to Rashi when Moses sent for Dathan and Abiram, Moses was demonstrating that one should persistently work to resolve disputes and make peace. On June 9th, one week after the EPA released proposed regulations, Senate Democrats again invited Republicans to meet to discuss climate change.  Again only Sen. Inhofe came, and again he denied global warming. 

Perhaps if Dathan and Abiram had shown up and talked over their differences with Moses, they would not have died.  For us to have climate action we need the GOP to act as a respectable political force. We need them to come to Congressional meetings with their self-respect intact and with proper respect for Democrats, scientists and Americans.

How will that happen? I don’t know. But I do know that 6000 volunteers working with Citizens’ Climate Lobby are pursuing every opportunity to resolve disputes about global warming and climate policies. Approximately 15 Bay Staters, members of CCL chapters in Boston, MetroWest, North Shore and South Shore, will go to Washington on June 22 to attend CCL’s annual conference. We will meet with every Member of the House and Senate, and will dialogue about legislative options honestly, seriously and with respect.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Parshat B’ha’alotetcha / Finding the Silence

by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen 
For Congregation Agudas Achim, Taunton, MA

I invite you to close your eyes for a moment and listen to words from the most sacred of all our texts, from this week’s Torah portion, B’ha’alotecha. And as you listen, I invite you to imagine that you lived about 3000 years ago in the ancient near east.

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to Aaron and say to him, "When you mount the lamps, let the seven lamps give light at the front of the lampstand." Aaron did so; he mounted the lamps at the front of the lampstand, as the Lord had commanded Moses.--Now this is how the lampstand was made: it was hammered work of gold, hammered from base to petal. According to the pattern that the Lord had shown Moses, so was the lampstand made.

Can you envision the seven lamps? Can you envision the lampstand, the hammered work of gold? Can you imagine the pattern?

So far, we are in the realm of the imaginable. One more question. Can you imagine how G!d showed Moses that pattern?

Now we move out of the readily imaginable into the more difficult to comprehend. What does it mean to have G!d show a pattern for a lampstand to a human being?

Even thinking about it requires us to give up some sense of control, some sense of knowing, some sense of our world knowledge.

Our parasha continues:

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Take the Levites from among the Israelites and cleanse them. This is what you shall do to them to cleanse them: sprinkle on them water of purification, and let them go over their whole body with a razor, and wash their clothes; thus they shall be cleansed.

So far so good, we can imagine and handle that. Then we get this:

Let them take a bull of the herd, and with it a meal offering of choice flour with oil mixed in, and you take a second bull of the herd for a sin offering. You shall bring the Levites forward before the Tent of Meeting. Assemble the whole Israelite community, and bring the Levites forward before the Lord. Let the Israelites lay their hands upon the Levites, and let Aaron designate the Levites before the Lord as an elevation offering from the Israelites, that they may perform the service of the Lord.

Do you get it? Do you resonate with it? Is it meaningful to you?

My bet is that for most of us these verses are not easily meaningful. A couple of bulls and some flour for a sin offering to cleanse the Levites, in front of the whole community, who lay their hands upon them.

Now we are in a totally different cultural context. How can we possible relate to this?

So, here’s one way to think of it:

I work as a chaplain at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and I see many people who are extremely ill. As you may know from friends or family members’ illnesses, in today’s world, if we get sick, we may go through incredibly difficult treatments, and we may live many more years in good health, or at some point we may slowly decline and gradually journey toward the end of our lives.

One of the conversations I often have with people who are dealing with pain, incapacitation, loss of a sense of control of their lives, loss of the security of the idea that they will live for a long time, is about giving their burdens and their dilemmas to G!d. I have had this conversation with Christians, with Jews, with Muslims, and with Unitarians, and the conversation with all of them is essentially the same.

What does it mean to give something to G!d? Think about a time when you have been so overwhelmed that you just don’t know what to do. The situation is so complex that you cannot possibly figure out all the ins and outs. The more you think about it, the more distressed you get and the more complex it seems. And then you stop thinking. In the language I am using, you give your unanswerable question to G!d. You step back and let the Divine hold it, you hold the tension of not knowing, and then, suddenly, an answer may appear, a way forward may open before you. Perhaps not immediately, but before too long. This is what can happen when we give something of our lives to G!d.

It is easy to think of this as giving up. But giving up is different, and it feels different. Giving up is about a sense of hopelessnesss, giving something to G!d is about trust and faith in the future.

In the book of Shemot, Exodus, G!d says, ahyeh ashe ehyeh, I will be what I will be. This is what we need to hold on to, the idea that G!d will be. Just be. Not be something. Just be. And to let that sense of just being hold us.

In Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of our Fathers, Rabban Gamaliel says: Provide yourself with a teacher and remove yourself from doubt....

Remove ourselves from doubt – getting rid of doubt means instead to trust, to have faith, to let ourselves be held.

And in the next mishnah, Rabban Gamliel’s son Shimon says: All my days have I grown up among the wise and I have not found anything better for a person than silence. Studying Torah is not the most important thing, rather fulfilling it.

Our relationship with G!d involves all three of the things that Shimon ben Gamliel mentions: study, silence, and doing; both study and silence are forms of prayer.

Shimon ben Gamliel tells us that silence is important, and to fulfill Torah is more important than to study it, but it is out of our study that the knowledge we need of how to fulfill Torah, in its largest sense, arises.

Why is silence so important?

To hold the tension of not knowing, not knowing what to do or to say, to stand in the breach, demands silence, silence of our heart as well physical silence, like the water of a quiet pond at dawn on a windless morning, and it is out of this silence that the faith that takes the place of doubt can arise. When G!d appeared to the prophet Elijah on the mountaintop, it was not in the wind, and it was not in the earthquake, and it was not in the fire that G!d appeared, but afterward, in the still small voice, kol d’mamma dakah. Out of the silence, quivering fear and uncertainty can be transformed into security and trust. And out of the security and trust can come action, fulfilling Torah, which is, as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel so famously said when he walked beside Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at Selma, Alabama, so many years ago, like praying with our feet. It is the prayers of our feet and our hands and our bodies – our actions, which are, in the end what is important. It is not about speaking, it is about doing, doing not speaking.

The world around us and within us is replete with complex questions and problems that we as communities and as individuals need to give to G!d. We swim in a sea of overwhelmingly intricate issues, but I am here to speak about just one of these.

In April, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its fifth report on the status of climate change, including descriptions of widespread observed current – today – impacts across the globe. In early May, the US Climate Change Research Program released the Third National Climate Assessment, which provides chilling details of the current impact of climate change on each region of the US.

We humans have an impact on planet Earth. We cannot help but do so, for we inhabit nearly every nook and cranny of it. We impact the soil, the water, the air, the lakes, the mountains, the glaciers, the oceans. And we are feeling the impact of our impact. We worry if the water we drink is safe. We worry about the air we breathe and the food we eat. We worry about super storms, about sea level rising, about famine and drought and wildfires, about all the complex impacts of climate change on our planet and our lives. We worry about our children’s and our grandchildren’s future.

Through these two recent reports and many past reports, our nation’s and our world’s scientists are telling us that climate change is real and it is happening now. And they are also telling us that the issue is urgent and that we don’t have much time in which to act. And if we open our eyes and look around, we see it and we know that what they are saying is true. Climate change is already happening, and it is scary. It is, in fact, so scary that it is easier to look the other way and to go about our lives. We don’t want to think about famine and drought and flood and wildfires. We don’t want to experience them, see them on TV, think about them, or consider their impact. We want to go about our lives.

But our lives as individuals and as a society are dependent on all that is causing the problems. We need fossil fuels to heat and cool our homes, to travel, to transport food and clothing, to build plastics, and so much more. As a result, each of us unwittingly becomes a player in causing the destruction of the planet. 

What are we to do?

A bit further on in our parashah, in Chapter 11, the Israelites start moaning to Moses about the conditions in the desert:

The riffraff in their midst felt a gluttonous craving; and then the Israelites wept and said, "If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish that we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. Now our gullets are shriveled. There is nothing at all! Nothing but this manna to look to!"

Think about it – they remember eating fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic when they were slaves in Egypt. Not a bad diet for a slave, wouldn’t you say? And now all they have is manna.

We may not feel like slaves today – we like to think that we are free. But we are, in essence, slaves to fossil fuels. Is there anyone here who can go a day without needing gasoline to get somewhere, oil or gas to heat or cool their home, electricity or gas to cook with, foods that traveled from somewhere – probably far away – transported by vehicles that use fossil fuels?

What are we to do? Silence that does not acknowledge the reality – the silence of avoidance or denial – is not the kind of silence Shimon ben Gamliel spoke of. It is exactly what we don’t need. But how do we fulfill Torah at a time like this – when scientists are telling us that we have so little time before runaway climate change totally disrupts our world?

Can we stop using fossil fuels suddenly, cold turkey? Scary to think about, isn’t it? And in fact, we literally could not survive.

We may prefer to say that we are dependent on fossil fuels, it is a nicer way to talk about it, but in essence we are enslaved by them. We are at their mercy.

And in the process we are destroying the sacred Earth that is the Divine creation.

What are we to do?

Have we given our pain and suffering to G!d? For most of us, the answer is NO. We have instead, eaten another bowl of ice cream, bought another new shirt, taken another trip, or in some other way, demanded something from our planet, gotten it, and not looked back.

What would happen instead, if the next time we were feeling a bit uncomfortable about something – related to climate change or not, we stopped and held onto that discomfort, and then opened up our heart and our mind and said, “G!d, hold me please in this discomfort. Allow my pain to move through me. I give myself to you. Let me serve you with my heart and with my soul.”

This is the kind of silence that Shimon Ben Gamliel was talking about, the kind of service that is the fulfillment of Torah of which he spoke.

Our Torah text speaks in the creation story of Adam being placed in the Garden of Eden l’ov’dah u’lshomrah. This is often translated as “to till and to tend,” or some other active doing to the Earth. But the root of the word ovdah is the same as in the word that is used when referring to the temple service, and it has the meaning “to serve.”

We are to serve the Earth and to guard it. Doing so is one important way to fulfill Torah.

What does this mean for us? How does this look, for you? For me? For someone else?

The Talmud teaches us that [Alexander the Great] asked them [the Jewish sages of the south], “Who is called a 'wise one'?” They responded to him, “The person who sees the consequence of their action.” (Babylonian Talmud, Tamid 32a)

This means that we must be first of all “wise people,” and see the consequences of our actions, and then, if need be, change our actions. This is what it means to fulfill Torah in relation to climate change.

Changing our actions alone can feel both lonely and futile – we are so small in terms of the overwhelming nature of the problems. Doing something with our family may feel somewhat more empowering and less alone. And doing something with our community can feel even more empowering.

In my case, one of the ways I am trying to fulfill Torah in relation to climate change is in helping to form and lead the Jewish Climate Action Network. Together with Eli Gerzon, now working for Better Future Project/350MA, I helped this nascent organization come into being. Those of us involved in JCAN are members of the Jewish community who are passionate about the Earth and its inhabitants and the critical need for action. We are diverse in our backgrounds and in the kinds of action we believe are important, but we are united by our care and concern for the world around us.

JCAN is focused on tikkun tevel – healing of the Earth. JCAN’s objectives focus on five areas, and include promoting awareness and understanding of environmental problems, in particular, climate change, supporting political advocacy and action for better climate and environmental policies, encouraging personal and communal change, bringing attention to social and economic injustices associated with climate change, and providing support to those working to preserve the environment.

This sounds wonderful, but what does it mean for all of us?

As individuals and families, we can examine our lives and think about how to live in greater harmony with G!d’s creation, how we can better serve the Earth and G!d though our day-to-day actions.

As a congregational community, you can invite in MA Interfaith Power and Light to help you determine the best ways to make your buildings more energy efficient, saving money for your congregation even as you reduce your carbon footprint.

You can engage in the study of Torah and money in order to be able to fulfill Torah by considering the synagogues finances. The Shalom Center, with its Move Our Money, Protect Our Planet (MOM/POP) campaign can provide resources, as can JCAN.

You can be one of the first 10 synagogues to sign onto the JCAN invitation / challenge to commit to entering into a process of moving your funds out of fossil fuel industry and into the green energy field. Yes, you are a small congregation. But that does not mean that you cannot be a leader in this arena.

You can find ways to engage in advocacy for the environment. JCAN can provide resources to help your congregation learn more about how climate change is not an environmental question, but an existential question about survival. It is a moral question, not a political question, and we as faith communities have a responsibility to stand up and speak out for the Earth and for the most vulnerable in our world who are the most easily impacted and for all of the descendents of all of the inhabitants of the planet.

You can ask your rabbi to be one of the first 10 rabbis to take the JCAN  invitation / challenge to commit to speaking about climate change during the High Holidays, and helping to spread the word to others in your congregation and to the larger community.

What we cannot do alone, we can do together. And there are many things we can do, there are answers and there are ways to build a more resilient and vibrant world.

On a more personal level, I invite you to share with me and with Rabbi Heath your fears, your despair, your grief, as well as to tell us about the actions you are already taking to conserve resources or to act, individually, communally or politically. I invite you to join JCAN and other members of the Jewish community as we explore ways to act together. And please know that JCAN and its members would like to be a resource for your community in whatever way might be helpful.

We read in Leviticus 19:16, “You shall not go about slandering your kin. You shall not stand over the blood of your fellow man. I am the Lord.” The Rambam, Moses Maimonides, in his code of Jewish law, teaches us that “by this prohibition [Leviticus 19:16] we are forbidden to neglect to save a life of a person whom we see in danger of death and destruction and whom it is in our power to save...” (Book of Commandments, no. 297)

We are forbidden to neglect to save the lives of those who are in danger – including from climate change. We must act and we must do, in order to fulfill Torah.

At the same time, we must also take care of ourselves so that we can do the work we need to do. And so, I also invite you to join others from the Jewish community at this year’s third Metrowest Shabbat Retreat in Nature to be held in Ashland in late August, a weekend of outdoor tefillah, outdoor eating and sleeping, being and doing Jewish, and in the process renewing our connection and commitment to the natural world, giving back to ourselves, taking care of ourselves.

I leave you today with two quotes from Jewish tradition. The first, an ancient midrash: Shimon bar Yochai taught that “if you are holding a sapling in your hand, and someone says that the Messiah has drawn near, first plant the sapling, and then go and greet the Messiah.” (Avot d’Rebbe Natan 31b)

And from the Israeli poet, Leah Goldberg

Teach me, O G!d, a blessing, a prayer
On the mystery of a withered leaf,
On ripened fruit so fair,
On the freedom to see, to sense,
To breathe, to know, to hope, to despair.
Teach my lips a blessing, a hymn of praise,
As each morning and night
You renew Your days,
Lest my day today be as the one before;
Lest routine set my ways.

Todah rabbah and Shabbat shalom.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Day 49: Malchut b'Malchut

Malchut b' Malchut
by Maggid David Arfa

I heard a group of historians debating whether we can say Hasidism carries “green” values. The nays were winning when, as I remember it, Rabbi Tikvah Frymer Kinsky stands up and says that our people’s project has always been ‘recombinant theological engineering’. Don’t you love that phrase? She reminded us that textual associations have always reflected contemporary influences, are built on the past and can even contain creative flair! Fitting for our work here, eh, as we have chosen to combine Omer counting with Sefirot and Earth.

We started out 48 days ago politically free but hurting. We’ve journeyed over hill and dale to spiritual freedom and have now reached the penultimate step, Malchut b’Malchut which will carry us to the peak and revelation at Sinai. How do we honor Malchut? What portrait is worthy? The key was unlocked for me when I found this truly subversive Shavuot teaching from the Sfat Emet, a grand Rebbe of for the Jews of Ger and Warsaw. He emphasizes that our awe is more important than our learning. He calls learning ‘the gateway’ and awe ‘the dwelling place’. This Talmudic quote is all the proof needed! “Woe to the one who has no dwelling place, but makes of their life a gateway”. Yes, Torah can open our hearts, but the dwelling place is the awe and love we carry in our lives.

In a beautiful series of creative associations, the Sfat Emet says this is why we read the scroll of Ruth on Shavuot- after all, Ruth is the great grandmother of David, which is linked with Malchut which is linked with awe. If awe and wonder is connected with Malchut, than Malchut b’Malchut becomes Awe b’Awe. Here’s my story offering to take us into revelation, a 6 minute story I’m calling Sense of Wonder b’Sense of Wonder. Chag Shavu’ot Same’ach.

Reflection/Action: Please find a friend or a loved one to sit with and share your sense of wonder b’sense of wonder story. Perhaps share at a meal and ask others for their stories as well. What would it mean if we could remember on our hearts that this everyday world we live in contains experiences such as these? 

Chag Shavu’ot Same’ach.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Day 48: Yesod B'Malchut

Yesod b'Malchut
by Maggid David Arfa

Yesod- creative, procreative, desire, flow, foundation, fertility, Joseph and tzaddik

When Gary Snyder, the great poet and essayist was a teenager in the mid 1940’s, he wanted to read the sexiest book around. He went to the library and held his breath as he asked for Lady Chatterly’s Lover, by DH Lawrence. The librarian paused for a second, and then reached for the key to open the glass doors behind her. She pulled out the book and handed it to him. He grabbed it, left the library as fast as he could without running, and went to a private place to look into this book. To his amazement, upon opening this book he found warm breezes, fragrant flowers, strong trees, rocks in cool water...Craving sexual images, he found beautiful and sensual land images interconnected with beautiful sensuality.

Do you think this is why the Song of Songs is filled with luscious imagery from the natural world- aromas, mares, stags, gazelles, fruiting fruit trees, soft shade, vineyards, pastures and all the rest? After all, Rabbi Akiva did say that if all of Tanach (Torah, prophets and writings) were the Holy Temple, the Song of Songs would be the Holy of Holies. What might this Eros mean for us? It can so easily take us into divorce or leading secret lives, or make us crazy and embittered from neglect. How do we learn to raise the holy power of our desire?

Let’s slow down here. I don’t want to shatter this blog, with the intensity of writing about something so big in a space so small. I can see how it can easily happen. Our focus is how we might expand our sense of sacred desire to include the land. That’s all. DH Lawrence wrote this inspiring and often quoted line back in 1929: “Oh, what a catastrophe, what a maiming of love when it was made personal, merely personal feeling. This is what is the matter with us: we are bleeding at the roots because we are cut off from the earth and sun and stars. Love has become a grinning mockery because, poor blossom, we plucked it from its stem on the Tree of Life and expected it to keep on blooming in our civilized vase on the table.”

Beautiful, eh? But how do we expand our imagination to encompass the entire world and cosmos? I don’t think it will be as hard as you think. Try this. Leave your home and wander the land until you find the entryway that descends into a cavern. Note the cool moist air, enjoy the echo. Follow the labyrinth cave passages until you reach the cave mouth that drops you into a grotto. Sit on the lip of the cave’s mouth and just enjoy the warm sunshine, green plants and the peaceful calm of the dragonflies. Remember that ours is the only world that we know of that has sites such as these. Utter the words, Tov M’od- Very Good.

Now take a deep breath and dive into the water and swim to the river where the waters are calm and wide, shallow and warm, allowing you to float and be supported without worry. This river, which flows from Eden is available to us at all times, ready to infuse our desires with the waters of life.

Ready to go deeper? Let the living power of letters and language grow in your imagination and become part of you. These common words are from the newish dictionary, Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape, by Barry Lopez. This great writer and adventurer has gathered dozens of poets and novelists to create a geographical dictionary of uncommon power. Lopez says at first the geographers on the project rejected the idea for this book. "There are already lots of geography dictionaries", they said. And then they read the first definitions coming in. Here are a few that will help us remember that our home ground is sacred land; and help us journey into the River that is always flowing from Eden.

CAVERN: A cavern is a large chamber within a cave, a subterranean hollow- some with astonishing dimensions. The word cavernous implies a place where body and psyche can be lost, a sanctuary where philosophical speculation, a la Plato, can blossom. The words cavern and chamber are sometimes used interchangeably with cave, but the cave is labyrinthine, a maze of subterranean chambers, galleries, and passage-ways, while the cavern is the biggest room of them all. Mark Twain described the discovery of such a space in the Adventures of Tom Sawyer: "Tom went first, cutting rude steps in the clay hill as he descended. Huck followed. Four avenues opened out to the cavern which the great rock stood in." Carlsbad Caverns National Park contains more than 100 limestone caves, outstanding in the profusion, diversity, and beauty of their formations. The details of caverns - drip-stone features such as stalactites and drapery- are fragile environments affected by human activities and natural process both above and below ground. Gretel Ehrlich

CAVE: A cave mouth is a door to mystery and beauty, the entryway to a mineral world of water and moving air that, over time, has become a sacred place. A womb of Earth. Many cave walls were once painted with animals and the history of different peoples. In far deeper caves, Earth has painted its own history. Some caves developed during the life-nourishing eruptions of the planet: lava tubes, where magma runs underground and leaves empty tunnels behind. Some are tectonic, created by quaking movements of the planet. And there are long-lived caves of ice. The caves most widely known in the United States, however, are those created by dissolution and erosion in karst landscapes. "The finest workers in stone are not copper and steel tools," wrote Henry David Thoreau, "but the gentle touches of air and water working at their leisure with a liberal allowance of time." Karst caves include passageways and rooms with mineral deposits in the form of stalactites and stalagmites, soda straws and draperylike ribbons, all built up by trickles of calcite-bearing water. Patricia Hampl describes this water in Romantic Education as "running steadily, timelessly, making its slow, hypnotic mark on the stone, on the ear, on the brain." Caves have their own ecosystems and many animals and insects depend on them. Not just hibernating bears but resident blind crayfish and endangered cave fish. Many caves harbor bats and indigenous beetles and salamanders. Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico shelters crystal formations in cathedral like rooms. The stable temperature in caves near San Antonio preserves bat guano, once used to make gunpowder. Mammoth Cave in Kentucky is the world's longest cave system, with 350 miles of chambers and passages. Linda Hogan.

Note: every handful of entries have a quote from a novel or poem on the side in italics. Here's the text next to CAVE: Standing against a sheer face of red rock one thousand feet high; kneeling in a cave dwelling two thousand years old; watching as a million bats stream from the mouth of Carlsbad Caverns into the purple dusk- these nowheres and notimes are the only home we have. Kathryn Harrison, The Kiss.

GROTTO: A small cavern scooped in a cave wall, usually by erosion, is called a grotto. The term vaguely suggests protection, shelter, or sustenance. As a river term, grotto usually refers to a small, shaded hollow a the foot of a cliff that, most often, leads back to a hidden spring or rivulet. Harriette Arnow in Seedtime on the Cumberland, describes a type of grotto worn into the base of a limestone cliff by a river of stream, an undercut feature known in that country as a rockhouse. Arthurs Sze.

STREAM: A stream is an expression of its watershed; that is, liquid is literally “expressed” from an ecological matrix, the green breast of Earth, to form a flow confined by discernible banks. A stream’s water originates in snow, spring, and rain. At its head, it may ooze from a muddy slope; at its mouth, it spreads wide and gives itself to another body of water- a lake, a river, an ocean, or even another stream. Its velocities are various: it can flow in ribbons, braids, or as flat as a scarf. Sometimes a stream runs underground or deep in the Earths surface….A stream can also, eventually, cut through rock like a blade. A stream always moves under the spell of gravity. It is a medium for transport-silt, pollen, pine needles, and leaves float its rapids and riffles and are deposited in its bed. Under the water is that streambed, all rock and roll, a home for sediment and rock and a nesting ground for fish. Steelhead, trout, and salmon lay their eggs one to three feet deep in a gravel redd, while benthic invertebrates such as stoneflies, mayflies, blackflies and caddisflies hide in stream’s cobble. A stream is dynamic- and it receives, and thus reflects, all that takes place on the land. Gretel Ehrlich

Reflection/Action: What are you favorite words? What's the land by your home like? Where do you live in relation to the nearest ocean? For me, out my door, I’m sheltered by the Berkshire foothills and can see ridgelines (including firetower and highledges) on either side of my village. Down through the garden, past our orchard (of 5 fruit trees), cross state street and we can dip into the Deerfield River. It’s source is up in Southern VT, and flows South East, over 10 miles (as the crow flies) and as many dams, until it connects with the heart of the CT river. Just paddle down, past the Holyoke Dam with it’s fish elevator, helping Shad and Sea Lamprey and other anadromous fish up to spawn, through the state of CT all the way down to Long Island Sound and you reach the Atlantic Ocean! What’s the journey like where you live?

PS And now, for something completely different. Here's another way to enter the river that is always flowing from Eden, and remember that we all live on sacred ground. The simple act of dancing in the moonlight. Try it, I think you'll find its a supernatural affair!

Day 46: Netzach B'Malchut

Netzach b’Malchut
by Maggid David Arfa

How do we endure?  How do we persevere for the lang haul, over decades? I remember how giddy I was during Earth Day 1990. I graduated from Michigan  State with my brand new Bachelor degrees in Environmental Policy and Wildlife Ecology while at the same time, I saw Earth Day go mainstream!  Newsweek, Time and dozens of other
magazines had glossy covers with real information about the state of the Earth - forest, oceans, farmland, toxics, extinction and even climate change! In my euphoric haze, it seemed to me that environmental education was to the 1990’s as ‘plastics’ were to the 1960’s. Lists of simple changes were selling like hotcakes! The world seemed ready. I conveniently ignored my confusion when my Valedictorian speaker squawked excitedly about how she can now go out and buy all sorts of new things...stereo’s, clothes, cars…  

Cognitive dissonance was easy - sure, no one paid much attention to the 50 difficult things to save the Earth list, however did that matter? After all, a certain prince, er, senator, wrote the truly smart and visionary book, Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit. He had entered politics after taking classes in divinity school and working as an investigative reporter! And then he actually became vice president and a heartbeat from the presidency! We were one step away from the Garden of Eden, weren’t we?  

Needless to say, Mashiach, the Messiah, did not come. I find I am a sucker for leaders who espouse hope, and yet, when I allow my hope to take up residency inside their heart, I find myself eventually forsaken. Why is it so easy to deny our inner source of hope, (as easy as a hand blocks the sun says the Baal Shem Tov)? How do I learn to listen, as Emily Dickinson did, to the hope with feathers perched in my own soul?  

Could the prayerbook be seen as a hope manifesto? A healing remedy for daily endurance and perseverance. After all, it is filled with gratitude, wonder, love, emotional honesty, interconnectedness, presence, silence, grief and a fierce yearning for personal and collective redemption. How does the prayerbook manage to send us into our days with renewed hope in our hearts? What does the prayerbook teach about hope?  

Well, to open one facet of this diamond that is the prayerbook, have you ever noticed how the powerful images of past national redeemings are placed strategically? For instance, crossing the sea and becoming freed from slavery is placed in the redemption blessing that comes just after the Shema. When the grind of daily actions begins to overwhelm, our zeal begins to flag, and we think our days will just go on and on with the same old drudgery, the same old cranky conversations without ever getting to redemption, bam - the Rabbis remind us of the success of past redemption. It happened before and it can happen again. 

Remember, they seem to say, that our world is a non-linear system, and our tomorrow can be very different from today. No one knew the day before the Berlin Wall came down, and yet everything changed. No one could predict a musical genius named Stevie Wonder would enter the world, and everything changed. No one could predict that the small shrew like mammals living under the feet of the dinosaurs would evolve into the robust bush of mammals we see today! Who really knows what tomorrow will bring? Netzach b’Malchut.  

Reflection/Action: What redemptive memories do you carry that inspire you socially or politically?  Reb Nachman of Bratslav asks us to also remember personal redemptions - along with redemption by sea...especially at Pesach. To remember and share personal stories about surviving a life-threatening illness, fire or other calamity. What stories of
personal redemption do you carry?

For me, I 
remember being 17 and illegally riding in a camp car with 5 other camp counselors. It was during session break and no campers were around. We were driving 50 mph, which was way too fast for the dirt road we were on.The road turned left; we did not. Miraculously, we skidded off the road into the only open patch of field along that roadside - all the rest of the roadside was forest trees. Hope renewed. How about your stories of redemption? Here's to the power of carrying on. Netzach b'Malchut.

Day 47: Hod B'Malchut

Hod B'Malchut
by Maggid David Arfa

Thank you Hod for being a reminding presence that everyday endurance also contains majesty. Reminding us of the glory inherent in our steps. If redemption is the horizon line, than our steps become the actual work that brings us there. Glory be to the everyday work of planting trees; teaching children; and tending gardens, relationships and public groups. Yes, we can gaze far across the world and through time seeing the many woes and joys of the world, knowing that much work is needed, and yet our work can only be here, where our steps touch the ground. Did you know that in one of Henry David Thoreau’s journals, I can’t remember which one, he comments on the ancient proverb from a wise Rabbi (Hillel) ‘If I am not for myself, who will be for me, If I am only for myself, what am I, if not now, when?” What does Thoreau add - “if not here, where”?

But wait, if redemption is just the horizon line, a semi-mythical someday soon, where wars will be banished, greed and corruption disappear, sustainability governs our politics and vine and fig trees are grown in every home, than where are our steps taking us? Besides, truth be told, I think my horizon line contains as much ‘staving of catastrophe’ as it does building a sustainable society. Remember Pete Seeger’s quote about a million small acts. In my mind that was the path to utopia… right? All our actions taken together? However when I go back and look, he begins with “I’m convinced that if there’s a human race in a hundred years…” Gulp! Utopia or Dystopia; Disney’s ‘happily ever after’ or Kafka’s ‘there plenty of hope, just not for us’.

And then, what about the redemption that just comes on its own schedule - we wait and wait, yearning without any correlation with our steps, coming in a graceful flash...or not coming at all. Oy voi voi, my head is spinning. Hod, take me away, back to the majesty of an enduring journey.

For me, even after all the head spinning challenges grocking redemption, I actually do believe in the glories of small redemptions, of milestones along the way- In civil rights legislation passed, acts of teshuvah changing the arc of lives, moments of grace filling us with a sense of deep healing. And its our majestic small steps of action and our thank you’s that we have to offer.

The Sfat Emet (~1900 Poland) talks of “small redemptive acts we do each day” which makes ‘bread from the earth’. This is sent upward, just as the ‘bread from heaven’, the manna of blessing, is sent downward. Here, the Sfat Emet is radically reminding us that the flow of blessing is both received and given by us, round and round again. A truly interdependent affair.

In another parsha, he goes on to say that redemption could have come at the very beginning and then, as Art Green comments, all souls would have come and gone in that same instant! The quickening swoosh of a fast creation was thankfully slowed by the Hebrew word “Dai”, sustainability’s watchword (from Dayenu fame), Enough! This enough not only allowed for the world as we know it to exist, but also for appreciation. Slow creation is what allowed the Holy One to look around at all that was created and say, ‘Tov M’od-Very Good!’

Art Green writes in his commentary (to this teaching which appears in Parshat Vayachel) that we humans also need to learn this lesson, “human activity needs the same self limitation; knowing when to stop is part of the task of our human doing. We need to leave some room, after all, for the countless generations coming after us, who will also want to take a hand in building Gd’s dwelling-place on earth”.  

Pretty cool, eh? Not only are we not obligated to finish the task, but after all, other souls in future generations will want a chance to help out too! The glorious majesty of the limits of our everyday actions.

The last word goes to Yaakov Yitzchak, the Yehudi. He teaches in For the Sake of Heaven by Martin Buber, speaking in a whisper as audible as any voice, "The Shechinah is wandering the roads, in exile, dressed in black. Many turn away because they think they can do nothing, some turn away and grieve while waiting for a miracle...but our job is to offer a hand...after all, no one knows what may be accomplished until we try." The glorious majesty of our everyday actions. Hod b’Malchut.

Reflection/Action: Glory be to the everyday work of planting trees, teaching children, tending gardens, relationships and public groups. What majestic everyday projects are you working on?