Monday, September 23, 2019

Earth Etude for Elul 24 - If Not Here, Where?

by Maggid David Arfa

For Reb Bob in honor of his ordination
Hillel says, "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when? If not here, where?" Ethics of the Fathers, 1:14+
Ok, he didn’t say that last part. He didn’t have to. Back in the ancient world it was not so easy to get lost in the global view. Today it is different. The daily news causes international heartache on every page. We witness environmental degradation, rise of authoritarian nationalism, propaganda 2.0 and communities struggling in every corner of the Earth.

We today, like they, understand that all is connected, all is ONE. We today, like they, know that we must resist the pull into our small and merely personal life. We today, like they, know the time to act continues to be NOW- the importance of acting and acting again is a continuous process. And yet…

Today, our scope of vision is so much greater. We do not have to be Adam Kadmon, that first primordial human to see from one end of the world to the other. We all can see every mountain top with melting glaciers or detonating explosives in search of coal; we all can see every river valley with precious topsoil laden waters rushing, drowning and drenching cities. We can see the end of birth for whole species. We can see into the atmosphere itself as carbon continues to pour in, and we can see into the ocean’s changing salt levels and know that those ocean currents are changing everything. We see far, wide and deep and we naturally respond with intense emotions to these visions.

I imagine even Hillel, if he were here, would become overwhelmed with our reality; the result of our collective craze; our non-stop, on-demand lives. Like us he would learn and study, find the best reports from the world’s scientists and see from one end of our world to the other. LIke us, he would be flooded with fear, anger, grief and loss as he realized the destruction that is happening and immensity of change we are facing. And then Shabbat will come. 

Being HIllel, I’m sure he would find forest paths to walk and rivers to swim as he took care to come back to himself. He would pray with community in synagogues and appreciate the quiet meditation services we now offer. He would gravitate towards contemplative, outdoor Shabbat services and wonder why they are not more common, feeling renewed after drinking from the Wellsprings of Hope, remembering Abundance and finding fresh vision at the High Ledges.

The High Ledges Audubon Sanctuary, Shelburne, MA

And then, after the Shabbat Queen leaves, he would do what he always did, roll up his sleeves and switch from ‘savoring the ocean’ back to ‘saving individual starfish’. As the new week begins and he learns to limit the news spigot, he now understands our need for speaking aloud and adding this ancient common-sense, down-to-earth, local wisdom. Here in our time, Hillel would continue to teach “if not now, when?” and with equal urgency would also add, “If not here, where?”

David Arfa, Maggid (Mah-geed/Storyteller) is dedicated to Judaism's storytelling heritage and ancient environmental wisdom. He has produced two CD's, 'the Birth of Love: Tales for the Days of Awe' and the Parents Choice award winner, 'The Life and Times of Herschel of Ostropol: The Greatest Prankster Who Ever Lived'. His full length storytelling performance, 'The Jar of Tears: A Memorial for the Warsaw Ghetto Rebbe' won the Cohen Center's Hildebrandt award for its "artistic quality, technical mastery and depth of vision." David works full time as the Chaplain at Providence Behavioral Health Hospital and has completed four units of Clinical Pastoral Education. In addition, David leads monthly contemplative Shabbat service/hikes at the High Ledges in Shelburne MA. His programs and performances can be found at

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