Thursday, August 31, 2017

Earth Etude for Elul 10 - I Can Do Something

by Joan Rachlin

I recently retired and have since been immersed in climate change related activities. I once heard it said that most working folk are "denatured," so one of my post-retirement goals has been to “renature.” With this kavannah in heart and mind, I have been trying to more actively appreciate the boundless gifts nature offers us daily.

Most specifically, I’ve begun to notice, appreciate, and more consistently support those who produce the food that sustains my family and me. Through the physical labor of farmers we are given the gift of nourishment, which fuels us as we engage in our chosen pursuits and passions. And through the stewardship of farmers the earth receives the gift of care, which enables it to remain healthy and fertile. The farmers I’ve met love their land, respect their plants and animals, and recognize their synergistic relationship with the sun, rain, winds, and seasons. They rely on that relationship for their livelihood, but it is now threatened by climate change.

As Helen Keller said, "I cannot do everything, but still I can do something." I joined a CSA and went to farmers markets each week. I bought my eggs, honey, and beeswax candles from a farm where the chickens rest peacefully under bushes as though posing for a still life. I buy chicken from a farm family who feed their animals by hand, fretting over any who are not doing well. They “dress” those chickens by holding them gently and killing them softly and swiftly. This farmer accompanies his cows to the nearby slaughterhouse the night before they die in order to feed them their last supper; he then sleeps with them in the barn to ensure that they are calm despite the new surroundings.

The food I purchase from farmers feels holy and wasting it would thus be tantamount to disrespecting them. I therefore compost kitchen scraps, eggshells, coffee grinds, and ash from our grill, being careful not to squash the bugs and worms feasting on my garbage for they, too, are part of the food-waste-to-rich-soil continuum. Everything is connected.

I saw my first red leaf last week with its bittersweet message: Summer was turning toward fall and it was thus time for me to enter this season of self-reflection. I have missed the mark by taking farmers and our earth for granted, but teshuvah affords me the perennial gift of intentionality and change. I hope to put my time, money, and mouth where my words are when it comes to honoring and supporting local farmers, sustainable food producers, vendors, and nonprofits working for a just food system.

Among other things, I’ll be thinking about how I can contribute to inner city agriculture. The Urban Farming Institute, for example, runs training programs, provides land access, engages in public education, and produces food for those who are “food insecure.” A thriving urban food system combines the elements of tikkun olam (healing the world) and tikkun tevel (healing the earth) and I hope to find a way in which I might participate in that sacred work. If we're not careful and caring, successive generations might not have access to nourishing produce during Elul or at all. That prospect is overwhelmingly sad and frightening and although I cannot do everything to prevent it, I can do something.

Joan Rachlin is the executive director emerita of Public Responsibility in Medicine and Research (PRIM&R), an international bioethics organization dedicated to educating, informing and providing a forum for those involved in the ethical, legal and policy dimensions of biomedical, behavioral and social science research. In addition to her work with PRIM&R, she has practiced law and has taught women and the law, health law, and research ethics at several Boston-area colleges. An active member of Temple Israel of Boston, Ms. Rachlin serves on the Leadership Council and chairs the Green Team. She received a Distinguished Service Award from the Association of American Medical Colleges in 2013 and the Harvey M. Meyerhoff Award for Leadership in Bioethics from the Berman Institute for Bioethics at Johns Hopkins University in 2014. She holds a J.D. from the Suffolk University School of Law, and a M.P.H. from the Harvard School of Public Health. She found The Sacred Table helpful in her journey to a personal food ethic.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Earth Etude for Elul 9 - Natural Awe and Artistic Representations

by Rabbi Steve Altarescu

When we stood at Mt. Sinai the mountain was described as ablaze with fire and that the people heard the sound of God from out of the fire but did not see any form or shape -  

We learn that since we experienced God without a form or shape it would be wrong for us to make a likeness, a resemblance of anything in nature. We does Moses repeat this prohibition four times?!  

For the Torah there is power to an image, whether it be a sculpture, a painting or any other art form that stands in contrast to feeling the power of God. 

For me, there is a difference in the experience of being in the natural world versus seeing representations of what is in nature. Watching a hummingbird on our deck is very different then the hummingbird engraved on my coffee mug!!! The hummingbird fluttering around has the power to open ourselves up to an experience of great wonder and awe at the vast beauty, intricacy and inter-connectiveness  of the natural world.  Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote:
Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement....get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.
There is an awesome beauty to creation, alive and always changing - when we walk outside and quiet the chatter of our minds and listen to the birds, the cicadas, see a sunset, we can be blessed with moments of radical amazement 

The Torah wants us to see this world as holy, sacred, and mysterious. To look at the world and see the Divine Presence not in any particular form or shape but within the life energy of all forms and shapes. The Talmud wrestles with the reality that we humans will make and enjoy art. I remember visiting synagogues built in Northern Israel 2000 years ago and seeing beautiful mosaic tile floors with all the signs of the zodiac-- 

The rabbis of the Talmud wrestle with the permissibility of artistic representations.   One of the ways the Talmud resolves this question is to only prohibit making an image of anything that represents God or any of the items that were parts of the rituals of the of the tabernacle in the desert or the Temple in Jerusalem.  The reason given is that the Tabernacle and the Temple were the places for sanctioned artistic creation that God commanded.  

Maimonides said that the purpose of the prohibition against copying the ritual art that God sanctioned is to promote reverence for the sacredness of the Temple which would be lost if reproductions, copies of copies of Temple items are created. 

Maimonides took the concept of reverence and awe for the objects of the Temple and related it to how one behaves in the Temple including a particular sacred choreography performed by all the masses of people who attended a Temple service. This choreography had to circles of people who walked in circles that intersected each other. One of the groups was those who were fortunate in life and the script they follow was to ask those in the other circle, the unfortunate ones about their troubles and offer them words of comfort and strength. Like the cherubim in the Tabernacle the space were they faced each other was where the Shekinah, the Divine Presence would be revealed. 

Maimonides wants us to understand that awe and wonder of the natural world will hopefully lead us to reverence in its mostly sacred form. This is when we are facing another human being and in a moment of care and compassion invoke the Divine Presence. 

I suggest we begin the process of teshuva where we look inside of ourselves by spending time in the quiet and open spaces of the natural world. If we start the process of teshuva with awe and wonder we might see and grow the divine spark within and see this light in all we encounter. 

Rabbi Steve Altarescu currently serves as co-rabbi with his wife, Rabbi Laurie Levy, at the Reform Temple of Putnam Valley.  He was ordained in May 2014 at the Academy of Jewish Religion and holds a Bachelors degree in Religious Studies and Literature and a Masters degree in Counseling.  Rabbi Altarescu has completed his Chaplain Pastoral Education and served as a chaplain resident at Beth Israel Hospital in NY, NY and at Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, NY 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Earth Etude for Elul 8 - Where Are We Now?

by Rabbi Dorit Edut

These narrow, dark  cobblestone streets still echo with the click-click  of  many shoes, sandals, boots…. of the modern tourists, flamenco dancers and local yuppies who now populate  these gentrifying neighborhoods  where  once there stood a Jewish ghetto – Toledo, Cordoba, Seville, Granada… Small tiles with the words” Chai” in Hebrew or the Menorah symbol can be found scattered on the sidewalks. A Magen David is discovered above a balcony window, etched in the stone wall. The synagogues are now museums or churches or convents. Even at the advertised Sefardic restaurants there are no Jewish servers or managers. A statute of Maimonides sits alone in a small front courtyard, looking out abstractedly at the ongoings of generations after him, while a huge purple bougainvillea spreads behind him. The cathedrals of the Catholic monarchs, built purposely in the middle of these formerly Jewish neighborhoods like some kind of weeds -  are also museums today.

There are silent sentries who remember – the ancient olive trees – the granite, dolomite and sandstone rocks which form mountain chains – and the endless blue waves of the Mediterranean whooshing on the eastern shores of Spain upon which our ancestors first sailed to this land- and later fled in the Edict of Expulsion.  There were glorious “golden” years until the Moors and Muslim rule, when names like  Hasdai ibn Shaprut, Samuel ibn Nagdela, Solomon ibn Gabirol became household names for their high positions or their famous writings, when wealthy Jews donned silks and lace, made golden and silver candlesticks and other ritual objects, when Arabic, Hebrew, and Ladino were spoken on the streets and in the courtyards …..

Silence now as the wind rustles through the cypress trees and the husky smell of oleander bushes catches one’s attention. Suddenly there are strange sounds coming from the thick  top branches of a row of  acacia trees and several wild parrots sweep down and back around – non-native  pets brought here from Australia, now released, finding hiding places and adjusting to this new environment . Will they learn to sing the songs of Andalusia and Iberia? Will they be driven out by larger, more powerful native birds – the buzzard, the kestrel, or the grey heron, or the great white egret? Will anyone notice and put parrot feathers in a natural history museum one day?

But all this is but part of the great mystery of life. We are here today, the descendants of those Spanish poets, philosophers, merchants, craftspeople and viziers. And even if our days seem to be troubled now, we can find hope  as they did in the words of their inspired poetry and their belief in God’s infinite power:
From Thee to Thee I fly to win 
A place of refuge, and within 
Thy shadow from Thy anger hide, 
Until Thy wrath be turned aside. 
                      --from The Royal Crown by Salomon ibn Gabirol
For over 40 years, Rabbi Dorit Edut has been a Jewish educator in Metro Detroit. She was ordained in 2006 at the Academy for Jewish Religion, a pluralistic Jewish seminary, in Riverdale, NY. She served congregations for eight years and then brought together a diverse group of clergy and civic leaders in Detroit to create the Detroit Interfaith Outreach Network (DION), where religious and faith groups share their projects and gain support from this network. DION has also created a literacy tutoring service for two elementary schools in Detroit, holds interfaith services with potlucks and social/educational programs every few months to spiritually uplift Detroit, is working with an urban gardening group, and has created programs for career exploration, conflict resolution, and arts and cultural awareness for youth and families in Detroit. Expanding an annual program of Muslim-Jewish Twinning, in April 2015 Rabbi Dorit helped to create the Greater Detroit Muslim-Jewish Solidarity Council to encourage social action and cultural exchanges. Rabbi Dorit strongly believes in the power of interfaith work to bring peace and enlightenment into our modern world.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Earth Etude for Elul 7 - Our Last Elul?

by Judith Felsen, Ph.D. 

If this were our last Elul
might we see a different world?
On the verge of our demise
would each spark of nature
sent by You remind us
of Your light we are?
In these days of hidden peace
do we know we are Your kin
together in the field?
In darkest times does not
the moon and sun still shine on us?
Today may  elements of earth  be  manna,
all reminders of divine connection
and Your care through deserts now.
This Elul may we see You within all shadow
and not be blinded by our darker nature.
May we not only see Your back
but  perceive that challenges
call forth our strengths and vitalize commitment.
In days of Elul sparks may be revived
as we apply Your lessons of our past,
each ancestors’ descent  
a teaching of divine decree.
Each year You met us in the field,
we  greet You there  today
with pain and fear and open hearts
connected in Your sparks divine and destined
ready to go forth in prayer and in our bond with You
as nature witnesses and chants
O Israel we are One
Yes we can.

 © Judith Felsen, Ph.D.

Judith Felsen holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology, certificates in hypnotherapy, NLP, Eriksonian Hypnosis, and Sacred Plant Medicine. She is a poetess, consultant, creator of collaborative integrative programs involving  nature, Judaism and the arts,  daily student of Torah, sacred texts and various teachers particularly the Baal Shem Tov and Chassidus, sacred circle dancer and an avid kitchen worker. She enjoys sharing studies, all of the outdoors, the garden, harvesting, prepping ,walking, hiking, running, meditating and conversing with the earth. She serves on the board of the Bethlehem Hebrew Congregation, Neskaya Center for Movement Arts, and the Mount Washington Valley Chavurah.  She lives in the White Mountains with her husband, two large dogs and thenative community of the surrounding forest.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Earth Etude for Elul 6 - Looking to the Sky, Remembering Our Ideals

by Rabbi Natan Margalit, Ph.D.

Recently, I read an article in the New York Times Magazine that talked about the way that people do or say things, say, supporting a good cause or political opinion, not because they really believe in it, but because they want to signal to their social network that they are virtuous.  Apparently, there is a popular new label for this behavior: “virtue signaling.” The author reports that this term is most often used by people on the right against people on the left (“Virtue Signaling Isn’t the Problem. Not Believing One Another Is,” August 8, by Jane Coaston).

My reaction to this accusation is that it reminds me of the way that the classic Torah commentator Rashi describes the evil tribe of Amalek suddenly coming upon the Israelites in the desert (Deuteronomy 25:18): the Hebrew word used to mean “suddenly coming upon you” is karkha. Rashi plays on the fact that this word can also mean “cold” to say that the tribe of Amalek, by attacking the Israelites right after they had come out of Egypt, when the whole surrounding world was in awe of the miraculous workings of God on their behalf, “threw cold water” as it were, on the Israelites and caused that sense of awe and wonder to dissipate and seem naive.

”See, these Israelites are nothing special after all.  Don’t believe that New Age woo-woo fluff about ten plagues and a sea splitting! They’re just regular people like the rest of us.”

Now, I’m not accusing the political right of being Amalek, but in this case, they seem to be following their example.  Of course people have mixed motivations whenever they do any action! Jewish law recognizes, for example, that people might be motivated to give tzedakkah (charity) by seeing their names prominently displayed on plaques in the synagogue. It’s not the highest motivation, but it is absolutely allowed to give out those honors because we understand that it will result in more giving. 

The problem with the accusation of “virtue signaling” is that it attempts to enshrine a cynical “realism” as the only truth. It pours cold water on any idealism by pointing out the imperfections in that idealism. Since we’re human, those imperfections are probably there, to one degree or another, but so what? If we get more idealistic actions in the world that is good, even if someone is getting some social points out of it along the way. 

As Rashi’s comment indicates, this problem of cynicism goes way back. I think it goes back to the very nature of who we are as humans. The environmental philosopher David Abrams, in his classic book The Spell of the Sensuous emphasizes that all of human concepts, language, and especially our religious language and concepts originally come from our experience of living on the earth. We experience solidity and the promise of practical sustenance in the form of food from the earth. We experience expansiveness and openness from the sky, and dynamic movement and the power of the invisible from the wind, which also enters us and becomes breath.  As Genesis makes clear, we are both: adam from the adamah (humans from the earth) but not fully alive until God breathes the spirit/wind/breath into our nostrils. 

One of the ancient Jewish rituals that I find myself using to counter the downward pull of cynicism is the mitzvah of tzitzit. I happen to have a tallit that has the blue thread, the techelet, which I love to look at when I come to that paragraph in the Sh’ma which talks about the tzitzit: “. . . and they shall put a cord of blue on the tzitzit of each corner, and they will be tzitzit; and you will see it and you will remember all the commandments of God and do them.”  

The sages say that the blue of the techelet will remind you of the ocean, which itself reflects the blue of the sky, which reminds you of heaven, and of the commandments.  The medieval sages Rashi and Maimonides disagree on the exact shade of blue, but they both consider it to be like the sky in one form or another. 

When I look at my tzitzit and hold the blue thread in my hand, I think of the sky and I’m reminded of the possibilities of expansive, idealistic action. We need to be earthly (Latin: mundane): practical and realistic. But we also need to breathe the air, and look at the sky and feel the expansive possibilities of life.  We need to remember that we are nourished by the unlimited and upward reaching sky and its message of ideals and aspirations. Especially now, as we approach the High Holidays, the time when we return to our highest selves, let us not let cynicism and a soul denying “realism” destroy ability to soar with the wind and strive to make our ideals reality. 

Natan Margalit was raised in Honolulu, Hawaii. He received rabbinic ordination at The Jerusalem Seminary in 1990 and earned a Ph.D. in Talmud from U.C. Berkeley in 2001. He has taught at Bard College, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, and the Rabbinical School of Hebrew College. Natan is Rabbi of The Greater Washington Coalition for Jewish Life, in Connecticut. He is Founder and President of Organic Torah Institute, a non-profit organization which fosters holistic thinking about Judaism, environment and society ( He is a member of the Va’ad (steering committee and core faculty) of the Aleph Ordination Program. He lives in Newton, MA with his wife Ilana and their two sons.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Earth Etude for Elul 5 - Where Are We Going

by Thea Iberall, PhD.

A while ago, I started writing a book that contained everything I had learned about love, life, Jewish ethics, and about making peace with the past. And I made up a science fiction world of bad things happening. And one day, my sister Norrie said, “You don’t have to make it up. There’s bad things happening already.” I asked what she meant. She sat me down in front of her computer screen and showed me some charts. How the carbon dioxide is rising and with it the temperature in the air and in the oceans. She showed me how the waters are rising and how droughts are getting worse. I reached my finger up to the screen and traced the rising numbers. And realized, as my teshuvah, I had to rewrite the book. Not only include everything I had learned about love, life, Jewish ethics, and making peace with the past. But to include this story, this story of us. Of our world that we are trashing. In the past, we could afford to be distracted. But no more. I cannot be distracted. In 2080 and beyond, they’ll look back at our generations and judge us by our deeds. Whether we were the heroes that fought to save the environment so that they could live or whether we became part of the problem and marched us down the path to a living hell. The Talmud teaches the principle of bal tashchit – do not destroy. What will be your teshuvah,your turning away from environmental destruction, so that future generations can live? 

My sister Dr. Norrie Robbins, USGS, retired, teaching native Kumeyaay children

Thea Iberall is on the leadership team of the Jewish Climate Action Network. As head of the JCAN interfaith group, she works with other organizations such as the Green Sanctuary Committee of the First Parish UU Church Medfield, Massachusetts Interfaith Power & Light, and Dr. Iberall is the author of The Swallow and the Nightingale. In this visionary fiction novel, she uses today’s world of climate change as a backdrop to help awaken people, reminding us that the visions of Gandhi, religious mysticism, and Native Americans are a more sustainable solution than the patriarchal system under which we live. Learn more at

Friday, August 25, 2017

Earth Etude for Elul 4 - Saying Farewell with Each Breath, Starting Anew

by Rabbi Judy Kummer

Towards end of the day, towards summer's end, 
body and soul prepare for farewells. 

Through piney woods I run, 
gauntleted by trees whose dark limbs
reach up to breathe in fresh blue sky. 
Dim path; the light can't reach down here. 
Ahead, the river winks at me. 

I thread my way out the wooded tunnel's end 
and can feel the sky lift -- and 
my mind lifts too. 
Before me lies
still water
meandering between wooded banks. 

Turning, I race the river. Feet pound 
on hard sand paths,
Pulse quickens in my ears,
breath pushes blood through my veins. 
Crickets chirp their pulses in the long grass. 
Feeling especially fleet of foot, 
I dart between notes of birdsong. 
My worries lag behind, can't run as fast. 

And then,
pleasure-filled, I pause at river's bend
to glimpse reflected glory. 

At golden hour
stillness in the air
almost a hush,
a waiting for day to end night to come. 

Time feels burnished, 
and the light -- oh, the light is still golden,

Gild the clouds, light, 
gild them colors of half the rainbow.  
Mirror the light, river, 
mirror the 
awe-tinged clouds. 

What a vision of beauty --
glory reflected in thinly silvered water. 
I am filled up, full. 

Brimming over 
I turn back towards the start,
saying farewell with each breath,

ready to start anew. 

Rabbi Judith Kummer is the Executive Director of the Jewish Chaplaincy Council of Massachusetts.  A Boston native, she earned a BA from Barnard College in Environmental Studies and Urban Planning and was ordained at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Philadelphia. Rabbi Kummer is an avid organic gardener, potter, hiker and social activist.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Earth Etude for Elul 3 - One Natural World

by Rabbi Robin Damsky

While I do a great deal of writing for In the Gardens – our nonprofit that brings organic edible gardens to greater Chicagoland, donates 80% of our produce to the hungry and teaches mindfulness practice – when thinking about Elul, I had to dig in, no pun intended, for what to say.

Because it’s not just about sharing the love of gardening or teaching about sustainable and healthy food. It’s about creation and our future. It’s about living on the earth as an interconnected whole. For me, this is the main message of the High Holy Days.

In the last two years I have put extensive energy into separating my growing food from the local critters. An 8’ high deer fence last year. Coyote urine this year. Chicken wire inside the chicken wire. Deer, rabbits, skunks, and others have found their way to our permaculture garden site. I think they are handing out flyers. Sure, I expect some sharing with the birds and squirrels, and more than half my property is open to the critters. Only a small area is fenced. But if it weren’t, there’d be no food for the hungry in the food pantry.

In a conversation with a friend, we spoke about the increasing problem of deer and  other wildlife in our backyards. It’s a paradox. Driving through the forest preserve I see a fawn cross the street on wobbly legs. I am honored. I look through the rear view mirror as I pass, and see a sibling crossing behind. Wow, I think, two of them! Where’s mama? I wonder. The same deer that delight me on my travels plague me in the garden. Then there are all those natives we planted, the pollinators for the bees and butterflies. I have so many varieties of bees, wasps, moths and butterflies, birds previously unseen here. I seek them out. I plant for them. Their future is my future. Again, that paradox.

So I think: something is amiss.I don’t mind an occasional peach gobbled or some blackberries munched, but I want to have our farm’s goodies picked by our own hands. Yet I also have to acknowledge that my neighborhood, my home and the homes around me, encroach more and more fully on the homes of our wildlife neighbors. Their space and food sources dwindle, so they come after ours.

What’s the answer? I have written before on Thoreau’s planting an extra row of beans for the deer. They need more than one row, however. Do we invest in expanding and replanting our wild spaces so the critters have more of their natural diet available? As we plant more prairies and native gardens, are we recreating habitat for our wild friends? And if so, is it enough? How about how we live? Do we redesign our towns and cities so that nature and homes are more fluid? There are many who set their homes in or bordering on wild places. They know that they are the outsiders, expecting all kinds of wildlife. But cities and suburbs don’t plan for this, at least as of yet.

What would a town look like that has been designed for wildlife and humanity to live together? Do we plant hedges, or whole gardens, for the deer and skunks, raccoons and opossums? What about the coyotes, bears and snakes? It could get complicated.

But I think that if we are serious about a healthy, balanced planet helping the brilliant, diverse ecosystem that God created to flourish, we have to start thinking about ways to live with our wild friends that sustain them and allow us to sustain us. We must remember that we are one natural world.

This is the question I pose this Elul. How can we make sure the deer and their buddies (and predators) are taken care of while we take care of ourselves? There are many ecological organizations devoted to preserving species and natural lands, thank God. Yet it is more basic than that. It is right here in our own backyards, literally. I don’t know the answer. But it is a question of tikkun I am choosing to engage. I invite you to engage it with me.

© Rabbi Robin Damsky

Robin Damsky is the founder and executive director of In the Gardens, She is also the rabbi of Temple Israel Miller in Gary Indiana,

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Earth Etude for Elul 2 - From the Perspective of the 9th of Av, 5777

by Hazzan Shoshana Brown

Writing on the mourning day of Tisha b’Av, I am inclined to think of this “etude” as rather more of a kinah (lament) for the magnificent temple of our Earth, third planet in our solar system. Not to say that Earth is a churban, a ruin like our ancient Temple in Jerusalem, but to say that like that once beating spiritual heart and ritual nerve-center of the nation of Israel, our planet is both magnificent and utterly vulnerable to the predations of human greed, violence, and recklessness.

And yet I have got the analogy turned inside-out – for it was the Temple that was built to mirror the grandeur of Creation, with its seven-branched menorah symbolizing creation’s seven days and shaped like almond branches, its cedar wall-carvings of palm trees and flowers, its two great bronze pillars ornamented with pomegranate patterns (perhaps symbolizing the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life), its bronze basin in the courtyard called Yam (“Sea”), and bronze altar for burnt offerings, which may have been experienced as a kind of micro-“sun.” Humans could not be perfect stewards of Eden and its surroundings, and so a system of rituals in a “micro-Eden” was established, a place where humans could come and seek atonement, ask forgiveness for their failings, and experience the immanence of God that the first man and woman experienced in Eden where they could hear “the sound of God” walking amongst them in the cool of the day.

Apparently the Kohanim (priests), the Levi’im (Levites), and the monarchy (Solomon oversaw the building of the First Temple) imagined that they would be better guardians of this micro-Eden than they were of the macrocosm, but greed, lust for power, political intrigue – all the usual suspects – led to the end of the United Monarchy, and the dispersion of many of their priests, prophets, Levites, and members of the royal house to the North…events that would culminate in the destruction of both kingdoms and the burning of Solomon’s Temple by the Babylonians in 586 BCE.

So much for trying to perfect the world by theurgy! Meanwhile, Planet Earth continues her life, though battered by human exploitation and pollution of her air, soil and waters, which nevertheless in some places are healing, and in others becoming devastated beyond repair. We recite every morning in the blessing before the Shema: “You illumine the Earth and its inhabitants with compassion; in Your goodness You renew, day after day and continually, the works of creation. How varied are Your works, Adonai! With wisdom You created them all – the earth abounds with Your creations!”

God renews, day after day and continually; every day is a re-creation. And every day we must strive to attune ourselves to both Creator and Creation so that we do not become destroyers of Eden/the Temple/Creation again. Teshuvah requires an acknowledgement of our sins, a feeling of remorse, and some concrete plans to do better going forward. How might we do that? Let us turn to attune ourselves to the holiness of creation, let us re-turn to “Eden,” immersing ourselves regularly in nature where we can experience God more immanently than in our worlds of bricks and mortar, or of cyberspace, and let us seek out ways to become both guardians of creation and partners with God, renewing creation day after day.

Hazzan Shoshana Brown serves as cantor and co-spiritual leader (along with her husband, Rabbi Mark Elber) at Temple Beth El, in Fall River, MA. Shoshana grew up in Virginia, and once wanted to be a writer - but also a forest ranger! Now in Fall River, Shoshana combines her love of singing and spiritual leadership by serving as cantor, and her love of nature and writing by writing monthly hiking articles for the Fall River Herald News. Shoshana loves that her assignments for the newspaper have made her get out in nature through all the months of the year, and also led her to learn a great deal about the unique ecosystems of Southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Recently, Shoshana has added nature photography to her satchel, and that has increased her desire to get out even more!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Earth Etude for Elul 1 - Alarm Clock for Our Souls

by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen

Today marks the beginning of the month of Elul, a period of self-reflection and the search for forgiveness. Each day during this month, you will find here an Earth Etude for Elul, a short reflection on teshuvah and Earth by a member or friend of Ma’yan Tikvah. We hope these Etudes will help you along the way on your journey. 

It’s Elul.
Once again.

We’ll hear the shofar in the mornings,
trying to wake us up.
An alarm clock for our souls.

            For every morning, the Sun rises.

Sometimes I’d like to hit snooze,
but Ruach HaKodesh – the Holy Spirit –
won’t let me,
if S/He/It does,
the interval isn’t long
until the alarm clock rings once more.
I have no choice.
I must keep moving forward.

            For every evening, the Sun sets.

But there is, at times, joy in that, too,
in the moving forward--
unimaginable, overwhelming, excruciating joy.
For forward means letting go of pain,
sometimes slowly,
and sometimes in huge glorious leaps
that leave me feeling so peaceful
I wonder if life is real.

And it is.

            For every morning, the Sun rises.

Yes, hurt comes again,
and with it anger.
But growth keeps happening.
And when I do hit snooze,
the interval
until the next shofar blast 
is shorter
and wakes me up more 
than before,
to rediscover the joy
and the peace.

            For every evening, the Sun sets.

Rabbi Katy Allen is the founder and rabbi of Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope, which holds services outdoors all year long, and the co-founder and President pro-tem of the Boston-based Jewish Climate Action Network. She is a board certified chaplain and serves as an Eco-Chaplain and the Facilitator of One Earth Collaborative, a program of Open Spiritand is a former hospital and hospice chaplain. She received her ordination from the Academy for Jewish Religion in Yonkers, NY in 2005 and lives in Wayland, MA.