Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Tri-State Trail and Framingham Community Farm

by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen


Have you ever heard of the Mid-State Trail

I've known about this trail for many years. It runs 92 miles from the Rhode Island border to New Hampshire, through Worcester County. I've always wanted to hike it. 

Now, at the age of 70, with a nagging back and a body weakened by numerous very annoying but not life-threatening health issues, I've decided to walk this trail. It's now or never. And Gabi, closing in on 79, has decided to come with me.

To make our project more interesting and more meaningful, we are turning our effort into a fundraiser for the Framingham Community Farm, a volunteer farm on the campuses of Edwards Church and First Parish of Framingham. This small farm donates all its fresh, organic produce to A Place to Turn food pantry in Natick, providing delicious fresh vegetables to hungry families in the Metrowest area throughout the summer.

Our goal is to raise $3000 for the Framingham Community Farm, to be used to add five more beds to the gardens at Edwards Church / Open Spirit, set up a drip irrigation system for the beds at First Parish, and enrich the farm by adding raspberries and blueberries.

This project feels like a totally crazy thing for us to do, and also exactly the right thing. We invite you to join us on our adventure through a donation here, either as a lump sum or a per-mile amount, to spur us on. 

We also invite you to join us on the trail for a day or two or more. We have no set schedule, but hope to walk a section of the trail at least one day a week. Just keep in mind that if you walk with us, you have to be willing to meander at our tortoise pace and listen to us wondering why we ever entered into this unexpected endeavor. And if you live near the trail and would like to host us overnight to make it easier for us to hike two days in a row, we'd love to spend time with you!

We promise nothing whatsoever except that we will start and we will try. Once significant snow flies we plan to pause until better conditions arrive. Life may get in the way and slow us down or stop us. Or we may walk all of those 92 miles during the coming months.

We'll post updates and photos on Facebook and Instagram. Please share our journey and spread the word. Thank you for your interest and participation. Hope to see you on the trail or volunteering at Framingham Community Farm!

Katy and Gabi

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Hidden Treasures

by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen

I've had a delicious crop of raspberries this fall. 

It's obvious, of course, that growing your own fruit means you need to take the time to harvest it. So, every morning since late August, I've been picking raspberries. I eat them with my breakfast granola. What a tasty treat I enjoy!

This year as I've been picking raspberries, I've noticed something I never paid attention to before, though surely it was also true in the past. I've noticed that I need to look carefully. When I first approach the raspberry patch, plump red berries hanging over the wire beckon me, and I eagerly pull the first bright beacons of scarlet I see off the canes.

Yum! I think to myself as I pop them into my container. 

And I go on to the next berries, also readily visible.

I'm about to move on down the row when I tilt my head a bit and another flash of crimson catches my eye.

Then I move my head again, and again, looking from above, from below, and from the side. Each time I change my position, I find more ripe berries to take home for breakfast.

What a delight!

As the days of picking go by, I begin to acknowledge that a message is coming to me from the raspberries: It isn't enough to look just once, from one angle. In order to achieve the full potential of joy and yumminess from my raspberry patch, I need to look from every direction. I need to seek. I need to regularly change my perspective.

Over time, I realize there are actually two messages in the raspberries. 

One message is the reminder that different perspectives view the same thing in different ways. People looking at the world differently than I do see something different, and it is just as real and just as "delicious and pick-able". Sometimes this reality is very hard to live with.

The other message is that there is always more than initially meets the eye. That it's important to expend energy, to "turn it and turn it, for all is in it, and through it you shall see" (Pirkei Avot 5:22). Sometimes this one is hard and sometimes it is easy.

There is wisdom in the raspberries. Letting the spiritual fruits of my picking enter my heart takes time and effort, just as does picking fresh fruit for my morning meal. 

May I, and you,  always find time for both.

Enjoy your fruits!

Rabbi Katy Allen is the founder and rabbi of Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope, which holds services outdoors all year long and has a growing children’s outdoor learning program, Y’ladim BaTeva. She is the founder of the Jewish Climate Action Network-MA, a board certified chaplain, and 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, with her spouse, Gabi Mezger, who leads the.singing at Ma'yan Tikvah.

Friday, October 1, 2021

Two Stories in One

by Rabbi Katy Allen

Note: This post was written for the project Midrash HaZak, Torah Wisdom by 70 Over 70, created by Rabbi Susan Elkodsi.

I remember when I was turning 60 thinking that this was going to be a productive decade for me. I had a good feeling about it. I remembered that for my own mother, her 60s had been a decade overflowing with creative output. I hoped that I might be able to match her. I think I did pretty well. Those were rich years for me. Overall, they played out well.

Not so long ago, I turned 70. I find myself looking toward this next decade with a different perspective. During my 60s, I did a lot of creative work that involved working with other people, building organizations, making things happen. Now, I find myself much more interested in doing internal creative work, bringing forth from within me what needs to be shared from my learnings during life’s journey, allowing my wisdom and understanding a home in the world.

Which brings me to the question, “How can I live until I die, and how can Torah help me to do that?” I’m thinking about my response to this question in relation to Parashat Bereshit, and the beginning of the Torah. Which feels like a perfect match for me. After all, the first few chapters of Genesis are all about creativity! The super-important beginning we read in the Torah is all about bringing into fruition the yearnings of the heart, in this case, G!d’s heart. But we humans, I think to myself, are meant to follow in G!d’s footsteps, to be partners with G!d in the ongoing task of creation, so it’s really about us, too.

I imagine in my mind the first Creation story, each section ending so poetically, “And there was evening, and there was morning, Day 1 (2, 3, 4, etc.).” This whole first narrative feels like a story meant to be told aloud, or a lyrical poem. It has never felt to me to be a scientific statement of how the world came to be. It is a dream, a soft and inviting watercolor painting, a multi-colored quilt, a grand dance. It is a beautiful myth.

The second Creation story, about Adam and Eve, for all its mythological content, feels more real to me, perhaps because it contains actual people and conversation, and an edge of fear. There are limits. We can’t do whatever we want. There are consequences to our actions.

And then, before we know it, Adam and Eve’s offspring are killing each other. The pain of the world outside my door has intruded into the lyricism with which the Torah began.

Taken together, these two stories provide the warp and weft of all that is woven into my life. To dream, I must. To experience poetry, lyricism, grand dance, and the soft blending of hues in the watercolor painting of life are crucial to my survival. This is the message from Elohim, G!d, in the first story. But to ignore all that is outside my door, to ignore the reality of limits - including the length of my days - is to bury my head in the sand and not be fully human. To try to pretend that I can live in Eden is to deny my own humanity and prevent my growth and development as one created b’tzlem elohim, in the image of the Mystery, as one member of the species homo sapiens. This is the message from Adonai, the Ineffable Yod-Hey-Vav-Hey, G!d, in the second story.

The Biblical historian can explain the origins of two separate creation stories. The scientist can give me facts and figures. But only my heart, working together with my mind and my soul, can bring together an understanding of both Elohim and Adonai in my life. Only my heart, working together with my mind and my soul, can decide that it is worth living until my body says it is time to die.

Ken y’hi ratzon, may it be so.

Rabbi Katy Allen is the founder and rabbi of Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope, which holds services outdoors all year long and has a growing children’s outdoor learning program, Y’ladim BaTeva. She is the founder and founder of the Jewish Climate Action Network-MA, a board certified chaplain, and 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, with her spouse, Gabi Mezger, who leads the.singing at Ma'yan Tikvah.


Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Shanah Tovah - Reflections

by Rabbi Dorit Edut

Sun-speckled lakes
Gaze upwards at stone titans
Jagged profiles
Reflections of eternity.

Pine-scented paths
Through emerald thickets
Where life cycles

Breathe in - breathe out
We align with transcendent rhythms 
Azure heavens
Pondering partnerships with Creation.

Shanah tovah!

Rabbi Dorit Edut grew up in the city of Detroit and has a deep commitment to its revitalization. Eleven years ago, she brought together a diverse group of clergy and civic leaders in Detroit to find ways to help revitalize the city of Detroit with a focus on its youth. This resulted in the creation of the Detroit Interfaith Outreach Network (DION) where religious and civic groups share their projects and gain support from this network. DION has also holds a series of interfaith services and social/educational programs every few months to spiritually uplift Detroit and bring people from city and suburbs together. The group has also created programs for career exploration, conflict resolution, literacy, and arts and cultural awareness, and monthly supplies food, hygiene items, and clothing for youth and families in Detroit, working with several Detroit schools. She is also an executive board member of the Interfaith Leadership Council of Metro Detroit.

Monday, September 6, 2021

Shanah Tovah!

by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen

Such we are commanded each week.

Stop taking from the land!
Such we are commanded each seventh year.

Why bother stopping?

Perhaps to see.
Perhaps to notice.
Perhaps to discover if we care.

Stopping draws us in.

Opens us to new life.

Deepens us to death.

Reveals to us G!dness.

Brings us home.

Shanah tovah!
May you have a year rich with wonders.

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 founder and President pro-tem of the Jewish Climate Action Network-MA. She is a board certified chaplain and 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 with her spouse, Gabi Mezger, who leads the.singing at Ma'yan Tikvah.


Sunday, September 5, 2021

Earth Etude for Elul 29 - At the Hoh

by Thea Iberall

The Amazon Rainforest is the most biodiverse region on Earth and provides shelter to three million species of plants and animals. Billions of trees absorb tons of carbon dioxide every year and produce 20% of earth’s oxygen. It’s been called the Lungs of the Earth.

But I read something most disturbing. The Amazon rainforest is now emitting about a billion tons of carbon dioxide a year. From its role as a carbon sink, the lungs of the Earth have become a carbon source. Deforestation by fire of thousands of square miles a year is killing off trees. On average, 137 species of life forms die out every day in the rainforest. 137 species.

I remember visiting the Hoh Rainforest on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state. Though smaller than the Amazon Rainforest and with different kinds of trees, it’s an eerie sensation to stand in such a rich wet environment. 

Heart of the Ancient Rainforest, by Linda Lundell

I followed a trail deep into the Hoh and looked up. A Western redcedar pulsed upward in front of me. The forest floor was carpeted by epiphytic moss and Pacific oak ferns. An old Sitka spruce lay on the ground—now a nurse log birthing new trees and insects. A stand of western hemlocks and coast Douglas fir guarded like shomrim, reaching to the sky. I could hear the chirp of chipmunks running to my right. The whistle of a golden-crowned kinglet songbird broke the air as the rising sun layered the copse in purple and yellow light.

Plants and animals don’t grow in a vacuum. It’s all connected. Without forests, the birds can’t survive. Birds disperse seeds so that forests grow. They pollinate flowers. Many eat beetles that would otherwise decimate the forest. It’s their job. This is their office. We all have our jobs to do. It’s a delicate balance. 

When a species dies out, no one does its job. It’s like what happened in New York City in 1968. I had just started college. The city was exciting, alive. And then, there was a garbage strike. The sanitation workers wanted more money and for nine days, garbage began lining the streets. Egg shells, coffee grounds, milk cartons, orange rinds, and empty beer cans littered the sidewalks. 100,000 tons of trash in huge smelly piles reaching to the level of my chest. The smell was sharply disgusting and unavoidable. The city was grinding incoherently to a stop. It was like the municipal cycle was stuck on an inbreath with a needed clothespin on its nose waiting in idle for relief.

It’s all connected.

What we are doing to the rainforests, to me, is a sin. We’re destroying the birds’ office—the very thing they built in the first place, the very thing that’s providing us with oxygen to breathe. I am grateful for JCAN’s voice which helps educate people about the problems caused by unthinking use of resources. In this time of Elul, we reflect on returning to spirit. We must all change and let go of beliefs that support an unsustainable lifestyle. A little thing is to not drink sun-grown coffee which kills trees and birds. A bigger thing is to stop eating red meat. Even bigger is making your own environment sustainable. Even bigger is to educate and advocate. This change in the Amazon rainforest is a tipping point. It is time to return to a true compass and work together. This is the heartbeat of life; this is the heartbeat of a planet.

Thea Iberall, PhD, is on the leadership team of the Jewish Climate Action Network-MA. Iberall is the author of The Swallow and the Nightingale, a visionary fiction novel about a 4,000-year-old secret brought through time by the birds. In this fable, she addresses thereal moral issue of today: not whom you love, but what we are doing to the planet. Iberall is also the playwright of We Did It For You! Women’s Journey Through History – a musical about how women got their rights in America, told by the women who were there. Along with her family, she was inducted into the International Educators Hall of Fame for creative teaching methods. In her work, she bridges between heart and mind and teaches through performance, the written word, poetry, sermons, workshops, and storytelling.  www.theaiberall.com.

Saturday, September 4, 2021

Earth Etude for Elul 28 - The Waterfall and the Pebbles

by Rabbi Michael Birnhotz

It's not novel or unique. Judaism is built on riding the energy of oscillations between values and experiences. From every day to holiness or transcendence/ein sof to shechinah/immanence or sadness/tsuris to joy/simcha, we flow from one state of being or perspective, generating energy as we move. One of these oscillations takes us from the big picture to the small detail and back again. 

We each have illustrations of this very motion, experiencing it in different times and places. In this Elul, in this time of reflection, I will carry a recent trip to Yosemite National Park in my heart and mind. On one afternoon, my family and I hiked to the base of the Lower Yosemite Falls. As we walked up, we could see the incredible thousands of feet of the full falls pouring down from the cliffs above.  Taking in this magnificent, expansive sight, we could sense the age of this place, as the water cut into the granite, and the scale, as we could feel the height of the walls of the canyon and the power of the water rushing down into the river before us. Shortly after taking in the view of the falls, we followed the trail past a cluster of boulders and went down to the river bank. We delighted to take off our shoes and rest our feet in the cold glacial water. As the water rushed past, I reached down and scooped a handful of pebbles from the bottom of the river.  I turned them in my hand, seeing the colors and shapes of these tiny pieces of rock, shaped over time by so many forces. From the immense size and power of the falls, here I was looking at these individual fragments of the mountains surrounding me. 

For me, during this season of reflection, this experience of the falls and the pebbles embodies the work I need to do. Take in the big picture, whether looking back at the past year or ahead to the approaching year of 5782. Then, narrow my focus. From that wide view, finding one detail or component that needs my awareness or attention. I must remember that it is not just seeing the two perspectives, its also gathering energy from the act of shifting back and forth. I can't settle on one but need both the dilation and contraction to make my way from one year into the next.

Rabbi Michael Birnholz arrived at Temple Beth Shalom in Vero Beach in 2002 following his ordination from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. Over the almost 20 years that Rabbi Birnholz has been in Indian River County, he and his family have had a chance to grow in body, mind and spirit right along with Temple Beth Shalom. Rabbi Birnholz enthusiastically shares his ruach and koach -spirit and strength - with the many diverse generations and facets of the Jewish community. From the biblical garden to tot Shabbat, from Men's club breakfast to adult learning while making challah, Rabbi Birnholz is proud to be part of vibrant and meaningful life of his congregation. Rabbi Birnholz has also enjoyed his wide variety of community opportunities to teach and preach Jewish values and wisdom. His hope is to build Temple Beth Shalom into a House of wholeness, harmony and peace and see these efforts spread caring, compassion and justice to the whole Treasure Coast and beyond.  

Friday, September 3, 2021

Earth Etude for Elul 27 - At the Edge of the Sea - על שפת הים

by Rabbi Louis Pollison

At the edge of the sea
On the sand, on the stones, on the shells
I stand
In prayer
But where should I look
What am I supposed to see

I want to contemplate
The sea
The reflections of the sun in her waves
Illuminate and entice my eyes

But the obligation of the East
Onward, eastward
Arises in my mind
And draws me
To turn away from the sea
To turn around
Facing the sun

I long 
To believe and to witness
The day when the sun and the sea
Human and nature
Will be as one
On the same side
Without directions
No East or West
Unified in the bond of life
In God's image

On that day
Heaven and earth
The supernal above and the mundane below
Shall be one
In experience
In Divine Being

And as for me, in my prayer
I simply seek to fulfill my obligation
But slowly, suddenly
I know
That I am standing in prayer
On the beach
At the edge of the sea
At the edge of truth

על שפת הים

על החול, על האבנים, על הצדפים

אני עומד


אבל לאן עלי להביט

מה אמור לראות

אני רוצה להתבונן

על הים

בָּבואות החמה בגליו

מאירות ומפתות את עיני

אבל חיוב המזרח

קדימה, מזרחה

עולה בדעתי

ומושך אותי

לסור מן הים


פני השמש

אני נכסף

להאמין ולצפות

יום כשהשמש והים

האדם והטבע

 יהיו כאחד

באותו צד

בלי כיוון

אין מזרח או מערב

מאוחד בצרור החיים

בצלם א–לוהים

ביום ההוא

יהיו השמים והארץ

העליון והתחתון




ואני בתפילתי

מחפש פשוט לצאת ידי חובה

אבל לאט, פתאום

אני יודע

שאני עומד בעמידה

על חוף הים

על שפת הים

על שפת אמת

Rabbi Louis Polisson serves as rabbi of Congregation Or Atid of Wayland, MA. He received rabbinic ordination and an M.A. in Jewish Thought with a concentration on Kabbalah and Ḥasidut from the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in May 2018. Rabbi Polisson is also a musician and a composer. In 2017, he was awarded a grant from the Hadar Institute to record and produce an album of original Jewish and spiritual songs with his wife, Gabriella Feingold, released in November 2018, available at https://louisandgabriella.bandcamp.com/releases. Rabbi Polisson also studies and teaches Jewish meditation and spiritual practices and is passionate about connecting people to Judaism, Jewish community, and the Divine.

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Earth Etude for Elul 26 -- The Teshuvah I Seek

by Maggid David Arfa

Averot - Transgressions committed under duress, with the awareness that the act is a transgression. Distinguished from those transgressions committed without awareness (chayt) or those committed in willful rebellion (p’sha’eem). --Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi1

Moral Injury- In the complex social arenas of daily living, we make constant trade-offs between what we think is best and what we actually do. The gap that arises in this territory is a form of moral injury that over time can coagulate into hardening of our moral arteries, so to speak, and diminish vital and robust living. --Larry Kent Graham2

I want to speak about sin. Not the finger-wagging, chest-pounding, moralizing, holier-than-thou approach to sin that so often sounds like a harsh “bad dog!” rebuke. Nor the progressive counter approach that dodges shame altogether by teaching that sin is merely ‘missing the mark’; an oopsy-daisy moment where we gently rub our hearts and lull ourselves into believing that next year we will do better. 

We have developed a whole new category of sins, sins against the Earth. I’d like to explore why they fall flat for me. They often sound like this: “For the sin of not buying local food when in season; for the sin of unnecessary travel; for the sin of using disposable products; for the sin of too much screen time (except for the really good shows)...Please forgive us”. Sound familiar?

While personal responsibility is critically important, it is also woefully inadequate for the existential crisis we are facing. How do we remember that just as there is structural racism where laws and policies perpetuate white supremacy, so too there is also structural environmental degradation where our fixation on individual rights, private property and growth at all costs perpetuates the damage. These structural ‘sins’ inflict pain and anguish on us all.

In addition, alert citizens also feel the pain of living in a world where the world’s scientists are ignored; where there is brazen, fantasy-inspired economic growth, where our political leaders spew vitriol and sow hatred for their political and financial gain. Where our ordinary shopping and travel choices carry high impacts and remind us that we also are perpetrators. Just as alert white people grapple with the painful guilt that white privilege brings, so too we all grapple with the pain and guilt our resource privilege brings. The mid-century conservationist, Aldo Leopold, named this when he said, “The price of an ecological education is to live in a world filled with wounds”. How do we address these soul injuries, these moral wounds?

This is the atonement, ‘at-one-ment’, I seek to address. I find this wounding can erode my hope, my action and spiral me into paralysis. My hopelessness can infect me and those around me. I’m wondering how Teshuvah might support us back into wholeness with renewed resilience and a strengthened moral center. Ready us to tackle the challenges of the day with renewed zeal, zest and fortitude. After all, our birthright as children of the prophets is to strive for not only moral courage (dayenu!) but moral grandeur and spiritual audacity!3 Praying for forgiveness for 50 simple sins won’t save the earth or ourselves. Saying ‘I’ll try harder next year’, while important for raising awareness, just doesn’t cut it. 

What ancient guidance might be available for us to address the hidden pain of moral wounding? Reb Zalman reminds us of the flavor and nuance found in the Hebrew word ‘Avera’. The small English word sin is a pale echo. ‘Avera’ means to transgress under duress (literally to cross over and has the same root letters as our name, Hebrews). Here seems to be a door opening. Traditionally, this referred to breaking mitzvot under forced conversion or enslavement Today, foundational values like reverence for fresh water and air, conserving biodiversity, welcoming the stranger, care for public health, and basic kindness are transgressed against our will. The impact, like poison, seeps into my soul, my being, and my hopelessness deepens. 

We know the remedy for an Avera. Teshuvah! We acknowledge what we are seeing and feeling and confess. We make the time and space to express fully our pain, anguish, remorse, guilt, grief and anger; wherever they lead. Sharing with people who can listen without judging helps us overcome our despair driven lethargy and begin anew. Repeat as necessary. 

The Rabbis encourage us to trust that sharing openly is healing. That afterwards we will remember our interconnectedness with each other and the Web of Life; the Source of Being. In this way, our moral centers become openly engaged and strengthened, our resilience deepens and new found fortitude helps us forge the road ahead. This is the Teshuvah I seek. 

1 From p29- Yom Kippur Kattan and the Cycles of Teshuvah, Aleph, 1999

2 From p78- Moral Injury: Restoring Wounded Souls. Abingdon Press, 2017


Maggid David Arfa is both a storyteller and a storylistener.  He has retrained as a Spiritual Care Counselor and has completed four units of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE).  Each unit of CPE provides 400 hours of professional education in a multi-faith setting and direct experience in providing spiritual care to people in crisis.  David is experienced providing spiritual care for end of life transitions, major physical challenges, mental health crisis and substance use issues.  He has developed specialties in trauma and the body, grief support and providing spiritual care for the non-religious.   He is currently working with Baystate Hospice.  David continues to tell stories and lead contemplative Shabbat hikes at the High Ledges Audubon Sanctuary in Shelburne, MA.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Earth Etude for Elul 25 - Navel of the Earth

by Rabbi Ariel Root Wolpe

Midrash Tanhuma teaches that when the Holy One began to create the world, the Holy One did so as a child grows within the mother. Just as an embryo begins as a small cell and then expands in all directions, so too the world was created from a single point—from even shtiya, the foundation or “drinking” stone. This stone is the naval of the earth, nourishing us and connecting us to Divine Mother.

According to Rabbi Eliezer, this occurred on the twenty-fifth of Elul. Rosh Hashannah is the birthday of humanity—Adam formed from dust—but Elul is when life first flowed from the even shtiya. During Elul we experience the earth for its beauty and power independent of humankind, remembering a time before we became its stewards. We imagine rivers flowing from the foundation rock throughout the earth, expanding and growing as a fetus, forming each unique species. A macrocosm of our own womb journeys. 

A part of this sacred body, we connect to the Holy One through a cord flowing with life.

Rabbi Ariel Root Wolpe is a mother, musician, and founder and director of Ma'alot, an emergent spiritual community in Atlanta, GA. She just released Ruach Neshama, a spiritual album through Hadar’s Rising Song Institute.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Earth Etude for Elul 24 - Harachaman for Shmita

by Rabbi David Seidenberg

As we approach Rosh Hashanah, we are also fast approaching the next Shmita year, when all the land in Israel was supposed to rest, all debts were supposed to be canceled, and all food was to be shared, even with the wild animals. Just like Elul through the High Holidays, the Shmita year itself was a long journey of t’shuvah, returning to God, during which our sense of business-as-usual could fall away, revealing what it means to be in community with each other and with the land. A human world that observed Shmita fully is a world that would never ruin Earth’s climate.

Before the last Shmita year (2014-2015), my friend Nili Simhai asked me to work up some Shmita year liturgy.  The word Shmita means "release" and liberation, and the Shmita year is about three kinds of liberation: liberation among the people themselves, liberation between the people and the land, and release or liberation for the land itself. I wrote a Harachaman blessing that references all three, using three different verbs that have the root letters Shin ש and Bet ב, the same letters that are in t’shuvah. 

Before sharing it, let me explain what a Harachaman blessing is. “Harachaman” means “the Merciful One,” a name for God, and it refers to a series of blessings and wishes for ourselves and the world, all of which begin with the word Harachaman, which we say at the end of the blessing after the meals, called in Hebrew Birkat Hamazon. So, for example, we pray “May the Merciful One let us inherit a world that is entirely filled with Shabbat” and “May the Merciful One renew for us a year that is good and sweet” for Shabbat and for Rosh Hashanah respectively. 

Here then is the Harachaman that I wrote for Shmita:

May the merciful One turn our hearts toward the land,

so that we may dwell together with her in her sabbath-rest, the whole year of Shmita.

Harachaman hu yashiv libeinu el ha’aretz
l’ma’an neisheiv yachad imah b’shovtah, kol sh’nat hash’mitah!

הָרַחֲמָן הוּא יָשִיב לִבֵּינוּ אֶל הָאָרֶץ לְמַעַן נֵשֵב יָחַד עִמָהּ בְּשָׁבְתהּכָּל שְׁנַת הַשְׁמִיטָה

What are the three verbs connected to t’shuvah that relate to the levels of liberation? The first verb is yashiv (“turn our hearts toward the land”), and it comes from the word "turn", lashuv, לשוב. It refers to our returning to a right relationship, on a heart level, with the Earth. Just as we ask God to turn us toward the divine intention in the verse Hashiveinu (“Turn us Hashem toward You”), here to we ask God to turn our hearts toward the land. 

The second verb, neishev (“that we may dwell together”), comes from "settle" or "dwell", lashevet, לשבת, as in shevet achim gam yachad – “how good it is for brothers and sisters to dwell together.” It refers to liberation between individuals in the year of release, when debts between people are canceled and food is shared with all, even with the wild animals. 

The third verb, b'shovtah (“with her in her sabbath-rest”), comes from lishbot, לשבות, to rest, just like Shabbat, and it refers to the shabbat that the land itself enjoys in the Shmita year, as it says, "the land will enjoy her sabbaths" (Lev 26:43). 

It is no accident that these three roots are connected to the same letters, since they are also connected on a soul-level with each other. They represent the true nature of tikkun olam. Tikkun, repair and restoration, must happen on all these levels together: turn back, settle down, rest. To fix the world, that must happen for the land, for the animals, and for the human beings, and that is what we are called to do in this Shmita year, as in every Shmita year to come. 

A world that can learn Shmita might yet save us and turn us in t’shuvah toward choosing Life. May the Merciful let our turning come in time to avert the worst of climate disaster and to restore the health of the planet, along with her magnificent species that together make up the web of Life.

You are invited to download the Harachaman, and learn the song from Jonah Adels, z”l, that we sing it to, here.

Rabbi David Seidenberg is the author of Kabbalah and Ecology: God's Image in the More-Than-Human World, and the creator of neohasid.org. He has ordination from JTS and Reb Zalman, teaches on ecology, human rights, and animal rights in Judaism, leads astronomy programs, and is an avid dancer and musician.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Earth Etude for Elul 23 - Teshuvah and Water

by Rabbi Steven Rubenstein

Teshuvah is reflected in the power to change

And the waters that cleanse our souls.

Rabbi Steven Rubenstein recently celebrated my 25th anniversary since my ordination from the Academy for Jewish Religion. In that time he served congregations in San Francisco, CA, El Paso, TX, and Beverly, MA.  In addition, he has served as Director of Spiritual Care at Shalom Park in Denver, CO and currently is performing a similar role at Jewish Senior Life in Rochester, NY.  He is equally as proud to be a member of NAJC, Neshama: Association of Jewish Chaplains where he received recognition as a Board Certified Chaplain.  His hobbies include collecting Israeli Stamps, baseball cards of Jewish ballplayers, and capturing the God moments in his photography that he shares with my residents on a weekly basis.


Sunday, August 29, 2021

Earth Etude for Elul 22 - Healing in Nature and Helping Nature Heal

by Joan Rachlin

It has been just over 17 months since my husband suffered a stroke. It wasn’t just our lives that changed that day, though, as March 11, 2020 was also the day that Boston went into lockdown in an effort to stem the spread of Covid. We therefore found ourselves living in a bubble within a bubble and rehab services were consequently hard to find. All of the outpatient clinics were closed and home care was limited. In this “timing is everything world,” my husband’s rehab was slowed down because the world had turned upside down.

We drove up to our cabin in New Hampshire on a mid-July weekend in hopes of having at least one dance with summer before the cool August breezes began to blow. I felt the tension begin to drain out of my body as soon as we arrived, especially upon seeing our neglected but forgiving garden with its welcome mat of lilys, daisies, and bleeding hearts. The peonies had gone by, but their faded, falling blossoms still evoked delicacy and beauty.

My husband and I were overjoyed to be there and felt as though his rehab journey had been instantly boosted by the healing power of nature. The peacefulness of our surroundings decreased our stress and increased our energy. It was thus easy to make the decision to move to NH for the foreseeable future.

Our NH home is in a planned community that was built by a trio of developers, among them the Society for the Preservation of New Hampshire Forests. The developers’ mission was to “develop the land so that the impact upon the natural environment is minimized and the surrounding landscape is conserved and enhanced.” They knew that preserving this small patch of paradise would take rules, e.g., trees larger than 4 inches in diameter could not be removed without compelling reasons, boats had to be washed and then checked for invasive species before being launched into the lake (where a 10 mph maximum is strictly enforced), trails, streams, and other watersheds are well maintained, wildlife is monitored and protected, Association buildings are LEED certified, there is an active conservation corps, and the list goes on.

Living here full time has given me a new appreciation for the long term commitment to sustainability exhibited by the developers. Their responsible stewardship stands in stark contrast to the developers in my hometown—Hollywood, Florida—where money was the only “prize” on which they kept their eyes and where environmental regulations were seen as so much red tape and therefore mostly ignored.

The foresight of the NH planners has planted within me a commitment to do my part to ensure that the woods, trails, lakes, streams, and wildlife will be preserved for future generations, as commanded in Genesis. I’ve been planting trees, shrubs, flowers, and pollinator friendly plants, nourishing the soil with organic supplements in hopes of helping it capture and store carbon, and collecting the abundant rainwater so as not to tax the water supply. Like Choni*, I won’t see the trees or shrubs reach maturity, but I am planting for future generations.

The work of repairing the Earth is holy and I’ve come to think of it in “I-thou,” versus “I-it,” terms. Buber maintained that “I/Thou encounters are possible with the other-than-human,” which I have interpreted to mean that I/we owe the Earth respect, attention, and time. I don’t want to enjoy and exploit its gifts without infusing some mutuality into the relationship. That concept is not new to me, as I’m one of those individuals who get irritated when I hear that only 10% of NPR listeners donate to NPR, i.e., THE OTHER 90% are “free riders.” I fear that even a smaller number of nature lovers actively work to repair the damage that we humans have done to the Earth and the creatures who inhabit it.

As the Days of Awe approach, I am trying to inject more mutuality into my relationship with nature. Our surroundings in NH have been healing for us, so I am strengthening my kavanah to help heal the healer. The Earth recognizes and cares for us, but do we adequately recognize and care for our fragile, burning, flooding, dying planet? We must try. Harder. Now. May it be our will to do God’s work here on earth. Amen.

*”The Talmud tells the story of the sage Choni, who was walking along a road when he saw a man planting a carob tree. Choni asked, "How long will it take for this tree to bear fruit?" "Seventy years," the man replied. Choni then asked, "Are you so healthy that you expect to live that length of time and eat its fruit?" The man answered, "I found a fruitful world because my ancestors planted it for me. Likewise, I am planting for my children." (Avot d'Rebbe Natan 31b)

Joan Rachlin is the Executive Director Emerita of PRIM&R (Public Responsibility in Medicine and Research) an international bioethics organization. In addition to her work with PRIM&R, she practiced law in the areas of women’s health, civil rights, and criminal and civil litigation. Joan was the founder and longtime chair of Temple Israel Boston’s Green Team and now works with other local and national environmental groups.