In the deepest origins of Jewish life, the most sacred relationship was the relationship with the earth. Ancient Jews got in touch with God by bringing food to the Holy Temple. We use a most abstract term to describe this, the "sacrificial system," but it all was food - all the foods of the Land of Israel. And so we affirmed, not in words but with our bodies, "Hey, we didn't invent this food; it came from a Unity of which we are a part. The earth, the rain, the sun, the seed, and our work -- together, adam and adamah, the earth and human earthlings, grew this food. It came from the Unity of Life; so we give back some of it to that great Unity."
That was the way biblical Jews got in touch with God, not with words. And in turn there was a whole way of relating to the earth which was not only working the earth or making the earth work, but resting with the earth. The tradition affirmed the earth's restfulness and the restfulness of human beings in relation to the earth. Not only the seventh-day Shabbat, but the shmitah year, the sabbatical year. Every seventh year, for an entire year, the earth was entitled to rest and the human community that worked the earth was obligated to rest as well.
Shabbat -- the day and the year -- was one of the most powerful ways in which the community affirmed the Unity of all. So it's that rhythm of work and rest, and that affirmation of what connects adam and adamah, the humans and the humus, the earth and the earthlings, which affirmed that we live in a world of All, a world of joyfulness, spiritually together. There really was a down-to-earth Judaism.
The question is, what does it mean to us? Us, who have lived through the Diaspora experience. It is not that we have lived only in cities, there were even Jewish farmers, but we have had a limited share of the responsibility of dealing with the earth because we were usually not in a position of power to shape the economic or environmental policy of the communities we lived in.
What does it mean for us living in the Diaspora now? We live in a modernity defined by the fact that the human race has created technology and a work system that is the most brilliant act of work in all of human history -- new forms of controlling the earth, dominating the earth, making, doing, inventing. All that has been extraordinary, all of it has come in one great leap over the past two hundred to five hundred years of human history, far beyond anything human beings have ever done before.
So, we now, the human race now, have already affected the planet in ways no human beings - indeed, no species living on the planet - ever have before. We have changed the biology and chemistry of the planet. The only previous commensurate level of change came from outside, from the great meteor strike, 65 million years ago. Now one of the earth's own species, one that evolved with the technological ability, the intellectual ability and the consciousness to review and improve its own work ability, has begun to affect the entire planet.
In two senses, we must strive to understand what this means for us. In one sense, we must open ourselves to the larger meaning of this event: Why is this happening to us? And we must also seek to re-open the wisdom of the shepherds, farmers, and tree-keepers that we were a couple of thousand years ago.
First, my own thoughts on how to think Jewishly about why this is happening to us. Some Kabbalists have taught that an Infinite and Utterly unfettered God, One Who encompassed all that was and wasn't, is and isn't, contracted inward in order to leave space for a universe to emerge. But in that empty space, what was the seed of the world? It was the "left-overs" of God, the thin film, as it were, of olive oil that is left within a vessel when one pours the oil out. It was this thin film of God that grew and grew, appearing as the universe - itself indeed the universe, God disguised by folds of God into seeming something other than God. And this aspect of God grows toward revealing Itself, toward mirroring the Infinite Beyond.
This growth, this process of self-revelation and self-mirroring of the God Whose Name is Ehyeh asher Ehyeh, "I Will Be Who I Will Be," makes up all that we may see of evolution and history. This growth appears to us as a double spiral: one spiral of increasing power intertwined with another spiral of increasing love, one spiral of rising I-It intertwined with another of broadening I-Thou, one spiral of more Doing intertwined with one of deeper Being. Each of these comes into the world as a step in the journey of the world to become more and more a Mirror for God, more and more a fully aware being, ever more fully aware of its own Unity.
The emergence of Life was one enormous leap forward in the ability of aspects of the universe to understand and control, and then of these same aspects to pause, reflect, love, and be self-aware.
The emergence of the human race was another such great step. For the universe to continue on this journey toward self-awareness, there needs to be a species capable of self-awareness - made up of individuals who can reflect upon their own selves, and also able as a species to reflect upon itself and to see itself as part of the Unity of the universe - on which it is also capable of reflecting. That is what it means to live in the Image of God - to reflect upon the Unity, and thus to mirror God's Own Self. Among the species on this planet, the human race therefore bears the Image of God - the self-awareness of Unity - most fully.
And within human history, the pastoral and agricultural revolutions were further leaps forward in accessing the Divine attributes of power. Each meant that human beings were able to hold and use powers that previously had been held only by Divine "outsiders" - gods, spirits, God. Each meant that some aspect of Divine power became more available to human hands. And so the thin film of God that became the universe revealed Itself more and more fully, as the universe grew toward mirroring the Infinite.
And on each of these occasions, a leap forward in power and control had to be followed by a broadening of love and a deepening of self-aware reflection. Otherwise the new intensity of power would have swallowed up the world. And each growth of broader community gave the context and the impetus for another leap forward in Doing, Making, I-It. Thus the double spiral continued.
The last great turn on the Doing, I-It spiral came when Hellenism brought a more powerful form of economics, science, politics, and war to the Mediterranean basin. This leap shattered Biblical Judaism as well as other traditional cultural and religious forms. The "I-Thou" response was the creation of Rabbinic Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
In the last several hundred years, we have been living through another such leap forward in the I-It powers of the human race. This leap is what we call modernity. It is by far the greatest of these leaps, for it brings the human race into the arena in which it is transforming the web of life from which it sprang.
That we would reach this point was probably inevitable. For to be capable of "self-awaring" life inevitably also means to be capable of creating the technology that can wreck the planet. That gives the human race a need and a mandate unique among all species: to act as it were a steward for the planet. But if we fail in this task, the planet's ruination will take us with it. In that sense, we are embedded in the earth, though not fully.
What is the alternative to ruination? It is another curve forward on the spiral of Being, Loving, I-Thouing. It is the renewal and transformation of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, the spiritual traditions of all indigenous peoples - a renewal and transformation that can deepen each tradition in its own uniqueness while broadening the circle of love it can encompass. It is the bringing of restfulness and reflectiveness to a deeper level just as work has been brought by modernity to a higher level. It is extending our love to the whole of the earth of which we are a part, without denying our uniqueness in its web of life.
Now that we live in the era of high-tech industrialism, now that we are not shepherds or farmers or foresters in the ordinary sense, we must learn to be shepherds, farmers, tree-keepers again in a different sense.
For shepherds, farmers, and orchard-keepers knew you cannot exhaust the world you live on. If you're a shepherd and you let the sheep eat all the grass in one year, maybe the sheep are fatter and the wool is thicker, but then - you're finished off. Done in. And farmers, vintners, and orchard-keepers learn the same thing.
What does this mean for us who have forgotten it -- in the wild rush of energy of making, doing, inventing, producing over the last couple hundred years? What does it mean for us to renew that shepherds' wisdom? What does it mean for us to renew the wisdom that knows: Consuming what comes from the earth is a central sacred act. It is a way of being in touch with God. What would it mean for us to renew that?
I want to imagine a new version of the Jewish people -- a new way of understanding and shaping ourselves. Imagine that we were to decide to see ourselves as having a mission, a purpose on the earth. A purpose to heal the earth -- a purpose that is not, in fact, brand new but is described in the Torah as one of the great purposes of the Jewish people. What does it mean that Shabbat is a symbol, a sign between the God of the universe and "His" once whole people? That Shabbat, the moment of resting, the moment of getting in touch with the cosmic resting that imbues all of creation, and the Shabbat that is also the liberation of human beings and of the earth, what does it mean for us to renew that sense, that deep in our very being is the call to be healers of the earth?
Imagine yourself re-imagining the Jewish people as a kind of transgenerational body, where for seven generations, from one generation to the next and beyond, we transmit the wisdom and the practice that can heal the earth -- a people that can reach out to others and that can encourage others, work with others, to do that.
So, I want to suggest four dimensions of a Jewish people through which we could be pursuing that mission to heal the earth. Four dimensions, corresponding to the Four Worlds through which our Kabbalists, our mystics, saw Creation.
One dimension is the explicit celebration of the Spirit through the rituals, the ceremonies, the symbols of celebration that we use to get in touch with the One. I will just toss out a couple of possible avenues of celebration, because the tradition is rich with possibilities.
For example, look at the second paragraph of the Sh'ma, the one that says, "And if you act on Torah then the rain will fall, the rivers will run, and the earth will be fruitful and you will live well. And if you don't act on Torah, if you reject it, if you cut yourself off from this great harmony of earth, then the great harmony will cease to be harmony and will cut itself off from you, and the rains won't fall [or, I would say, they will turn to acid], and the rivers won't run [or they and the oceans will flood], and the sky itself will become your enemy [as in the shattering of the ozone layer or the 'CO2-ing' of the atmosphere] and you will perish from all this good adamah that you grew up with."
Today we can see this as a searing truth. Yet in many of our synagogues and havurot this passage is said in an undertone or even not at all. What would it mean for us to elevate it to a central place in our liturgy, and perhaps every four weeks or so, perhaps on the Shabbat before the new moon or the Shabbat before the full moon, to read it with a fanfare: to remind ourselves that we are part of the web of life, its most conscious part, the part most aware of the Wholeness of which we and all the rest are part - but still a part of the web, endangered whenever we bring danger on the web?
For what we need to do is focus on the second paragraph of the Sh'ma. By racing through it, we race through a central place of our celebration and a central place in our lives, over and over again as it appears over and over again. By racing through it we blind ourselves to the world around us, as if we were racing through a wonderful ecosystem without pausing to see its rich intertwining. ("As if"? No "as if" about it. That is exactly what we are doing.) We need to pause, absorb it, learn it, thank it, and above all to embody it.
Let me take another example. I wrote a piece that appeared in several American Jewish newspapers in the early 1990s. It began with a fantasy. One day in the fall, all over North America, tens of thousands of Native Americans show up at the edge of rivers everywhere. They are carrying a sacred object of their own tradition, and they are also carrying willow branches. They dance seven times around their sacred symbol; they beat the willow branches on the earth; and they invoke the Holy Spirit and ask for help to heal the planet from plague and disaster and drought.
It would be on the front pages of every American newspaper and on the evening news of every television network. Everywhere students on college campuses would be demanding courses on Native American spirituality. And members of Congress and presidents of corporations would be bombarded by letters, "You mean something's wrong with the rivers, what are you doing about it?"
So, now imagine a different fantasy . Now imagine that it wasn't tens of thousands of Native Americans, it was tens of thousands of American Jews who showed up on this day in the fall. Their sacred object was the Torah, and they danced around it and they beat willow branches on the earth, and they prayed in English and Hebrew for the energy heal the earth. They too appeared on television, and they too led demands that Congress and the corporations heal the earth.
What would many of our present leaders say? - No doubt, "This is primitive, this is pagan, this is radical, this is revolutionary, this is un-Jewish!"
Yet what I have just described is at the end of most traditional Jewish prayer books, because it's a description of the seventh day of Sukkot, Hoshanah Rabbah. But we don't do it anymore, we certainly don't do it that way. A few people in some traditional synagogues will gather in a small chapel and beat willow branches on the rug. Nobody ever hears about it. And they themselves say the words of prayer to heal the earth, but they don't connect the words with any act that might be done.
But look at the prayerbooks, look up Hoshanah Rabbah, the seventh day of the festival of Sukkot, and look at the words of "Hosha na." "Hosha na" means "Please save us." Right there: "Save the earth, save us!" And read the words of these prayers, for almost all of them name the dangers that face the earth and plead with the Breath of all life to save the earth from plague and drought.
What would it mean for us, us Jews, to become these tens of thousands of "Native Americans," and what conceivably might happen in American society if that event were to happen?
Those are just two examples; the tradition is absolutely rich with possibilities. Our whole festival cycle, after all, is attuned to the rhythms of the earth. At Tu B'Shvat we can plant the trees that together make up the Tree of Life. At Pesach we can eliminate the swollen chametz that makes our lives swell up, and live instead a week of simple living. And at Pesach we can identify the pharaonic institutions that are bringing upon us the plagues that turn our seas and rivers to "red tide," that fill our cattle with disease, that infest one or another ecosystem of the earth with swarms of invasive species that destroy a habitat, We can call on these "pharaohs" to open their hearts instead of hardening them, and thus to save the land they are destroying. And we can face not only the dark side of Pesach, the chameytz and the plagues, but also we can as the tradition teaches read together the Song of Songs, that lovely evocation of a spring in which humanity at last learns how to live in loving, playful peace with all of earth as well as with each other.
But for us to celebrate in such ways our ancient festivals, to pray such "Hosha nas,"we would have to be convinced of their wisdom and their truth, of our own authenticity in so invoking them. We would have to believe that our prayerful pleas do not fall into emptiness but into a Place that hears and can respond.
In short, we would have to understand God in such a way that such prayers have meaning not only to a distant disembodied Mystery, but also to an embodiment of holiness on earth. We would have to believe, really believe, that the great Unity includes the processes of the earth.
One of the great Hassidic Rebbes, the Rebbe of Chernobyl, about two hundred years ago said, "What is the world? The world is God, wrapped in robes of God so as to appear to be material. And who are we? We are God wrapped in robes of God and our task is to unwrap the robes and to dis-cover, uncover, that we are God."
So, think of the earth as one aspect of God, and think what it would mean for us to pray those prayers with that Hassidic understanding. We pray them, can we act on them? As Rabbenu Heschel, our teacher Abraham Joshua Heschel, said when he came back from the civil rights march in Selma, Alabama - "My feet were praying."
What would it mean for us to pray not only with our mouths but also with our feet?
Or to put it another way: If earth is Spirit, then politics may be the deepest prayer, and prayer the deepest politics. We may realize that we are always choosing between a politics that may be prayers to idols, mere carved-out pieces of the Whole, things of partial value that we elevate to ultimates, and a politics that we may shape with such deep caring that it becomes prayer to the One.
But on the great ladder of the Four Worlds, I am perhaps getting ahead of myself, jumping down too many rungs at once.
Just below Atzilut, "Being," on the next rung of the Divine ladder, is another World of the Four Worlds, another dimension of what it would mean to shape from Jewish peoplehood a transgenerational movement to heal the earth. This second World is Intellect, Knowing. Learning.
Learning Torah, and learning science, and learning public policy, and especially learning how all these intertwine.
Suppose we learn Torah simply because it was written down once upon a time, a matter of "religion" that teaches only about prayer and ceremonial. And suppose we learn science by going to a university department, politics and public policy from yet another university department or from the mass media. Then what do these three have to do with each other? Nothing, or very little.
But that's not in fact what Torah was. It was a celebration of the great unity, and therefore it was politics, and therefore it was science, the best science that was available to every generation of Jews who were encoded into the process. So, when the Jubilee chapter of Leviticus (Lev 25) says, "Hey, some guy with a master's degree in Business Administration is going to say to you, "If you let the fields lie fallow on the seventh year what do you think we are going to eat?" the Torah says, "Hang on! You will have more to eat, I promise you, if you let the earth rest every seventh year than if you try to work it to death." Of course this is religion. And of course it is also science, the science that knows that the fields are more fruitful if they have a chance to lie fallow. It is not something separate from science. It affirms what is holy in the world, and what is holy includes knowledgeable science.
And this process did not stop with the Torah, or the biblical period. The Rabbis of the Talmud proclaimed that no one should herd "small cattle" - that is, goats and sheep - in the Land of Israel. Why? because they destroy trees and grass. The Rabbis say this even though they know perfectly well that our forebears were shepherds and goat-herds. Why do they make such an amazing departure from tradition? Because their experience, and their science, have taught them something new. Their deep sense that our relationship with the earth is sacred causes them to oppose what was normal for the early Torah period. The basic values continue; how to affirm them changes in accord with new scientific information.
Today, we might imagine saying to ourselves: "Our Torah forbids us to cut down fruit trees, even in time of war. Today we know that every tree gives oxygen to the web of life, and great forests are crucial to the life of the entire planet. Does that mean that we may cut down any tree only if it is possible to replace its fruitful supply of oxygen? That we may not cut down great forests at all? That this is now Torah because we understand the science of trees in ways our forebears did not, and we uphold the values that they held?"
Today our most dangerous addictive substances are not heroin, not even nicotine, not even alcohol. They are plutonium and petroleum. These are social addictions, not individual ones. I do not mainline oil or gasoline into my own body's veins, but America mainlines gasoline into our society's veins.
What is addiction? It is feeling unable to control or limit a behavior, especially using a substance -- even one that in some limited uses may be beneficial -- and therefore to keep using it in such a way as to give immediate pleasure at the high risk of long-run disease and death. And that describes America's relationship to gasoline.
Addictions are to a great extent a spiritual problem -- what in ancient Jewish language was called idolatry. Carving out a small part of the great Flow of Life and worshipping that small part. Letting it take over our lives. So today a serious Jewish community must see these social addictions as idolatries, and we must work out ways of infusing our use of oil, coal, paper, and all the rest with holiness. We must eat them in an eco-kosher way.
Is it eco-kosher to eat vegetables and fruit that have been grown by drenching the soil with insecticides?
Is it eco-kosher to drink the wine of Shabbat kiddush from throw-away non-bio-degradable plastic cups? Or would it be eco-kosher to share ceramic cups; to begin each kiddush with the kavvanah, the intentional focus, that we are using these cups to heal the earth; and to end each meal with the sacred act of washing these cups so as to heal the earth?
Is it eco-kosher to use electricity generated by nuclear power plants that create waste products that will remain poisonous for 50,000 years? Is it eco-kosher to ignore the insulation or lack of it in our homes, our synagogues and JCC's and nursing homes, so that we burn far more fuel than necessary and drunkenly pour carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, there to accelerate the heating of our globe?
Is it eco-kosher to use 100% unrecycled office paper and newsprint in our homes, our synagogues, our community newspapers? Might it be eco-kosher to insist on 10% recycled paper this year, and 30% in two years, and 80% in five years?
Indeed, I want to suggest that what makes a life-practice eco-kosher may not be a single standard, an on-off, black-white barricade like "Pork is treyf" -- but rather a constantly moving standard in which the test is: Are we constantly doing what is more respectful, less damaging to the earth than what we did last year?
By using the word "eco-kosher" I am suggesting that we adopt as a Jewish commitment, a Jewish covenant, a Jewish way of affirming the sacred relationship we have with earth, that this will be our life-path.
What would it mean to evolve a code of daily Jewish practice for how we consume, how we eat all these things that come from adamah? What would it mean for each Hillel, each congregation, each Jewish Community Center and nursing home, to review what kind of paper, what kind of energy it uses? Does it invest its money in industries that destroy the earth, or industries that heal the earth?
Most of the Jewish community is not asking those questions yet. What must we do, then, to begin the creation of Eco-Kashrut?
Let us turn back to the third dimension, the third of the Four Worlds, the world of Relationship. For indeed the Jewish community, acting on its own, cannot heal the world. Jewish households can't and even Jewish communities as a whole can't. I could say to myself all day and all night, "Hey, every time you drive the car you are polluting the planet and bringing on global warming" -- and yet if my society is set up so that the only way I can get from where I live to where I work is to drive, and there are no bike paths so that if I tried taking a bike I would probably get killed, and mass transit is disgusting, rare, run down, expensive, a mess -- then I am going to feel guilty but I am going to drive the car.
It does not much help the planet that I am feeling guilty.
At that point I have to take a deep breath and say that I have to act with other peoples and other communities, to shape a society where we can walk from where we work to where we sleep, or we can bike, or at worst we can take mass-transit that is far more efficient and less wasteful, and less likely to damage the atmosphere.
So we have to act in the larger way. And we have to draw on the energy, the clout, of the Jewish people, our new ability in the Diaspora to make a difference in the societies we are a part of.
I want to say a little bit more about that, as we face it now in our society. One of the notions that has arisen in American society in the last twenty years, is the idea that acting to heal the earth means acting to damage the people, that there is a war between owls and timber workers, and any law advancing the owls hurts the timber workers.
Well, recent American politics has shown that the enemy of the owls and the enemy of the timber workers is the same institution. And the enemy is the institutions that see it as their task to gobble up the planet. To gobble it up biologically, to gobble it up culturally by destroying small communities which just don't fit, and to gobble up local and regional economies that just don't fit into the global market economy. To gobble up the kinds of enterprises where owners and workers felt responsible to each other, where even in the midst of struggles between them, management and labor unions felt some kind of responsibility, a sense of limits of what profits could be, a sense of limits on whether you can fire tens of thousands of people in a prosperous, profitable company. The new corporations of Modernity Amok destroy such companies: their profits could be bigger. So regional and local economies are shattered along with local cultures and local bio-regions, eco-systems.
Gobbling the globe means chewing up living creatures, thousands of species. It means chewing up small, odd cultures: the Jews of Eastern Europe, the natives of the Amazon Valley, the Shoshone. It means chewing up the local factory neighborhoods in Philadelphia, even the IBM towns of upstate New York. It means chewing up the family in all its forms.
The institution of Global Gobble is the global corporation, and its mentality, its Torah, is that producing is what human life is all about. Producing and of course consuming, which is not the opposite of producing, it is only the other side of the coin (and I do mean coin). In the Torah of the global corporation, resting, celebrating, reflecting, loving, being there, are all a waste of time, literally. Shabbat, a waste of time!! Think what you could be making if you were not resting!
That attitude toward the earth becomes also an attitude towards human beings. So we have created a technology which pushes people in two directions: either being disemployed because the technology is better, more efficient, so who needs those workers, or -- O.K., Keep the job, but match your life to the speed of the machine. Overwork.
So people who keep their jobs don't work eight-hour days, but 10, 12 or even 14-hour days. And people who lose their jobs scrabble together two, three, even four jobs in order barely to hold on by their finger tips.
So we've got community dying. The community is divided between the disemployed and the overworked. The overworked have no time for family or neighborhood or religious life or grass-roots politics. Some of the disemployed -- those who end up on the streets with no work at all or in prison because they get desperate, crazy, drugged, alcoholic, -- these folks get a perverse form of leisure, but they also cannot use it for family, neighborhood, religious life, or politics.
Neither the overworked nor the disemployed can bring their beings together for the shaping of a decent society. In their families, neither the desperate disemployed nor the exhausted overworked can shape a loving family. Nor in their neighborhoods, where the only thing you have the energy to do after a twelve hour day is to sit in front of the television set, which takes your depressed and exhausted self and re-awakens it with jolts of your own adrenaline: A fire! A murder! That will wake you up!
And then since you are feeling jangled from being awakened that way, the way it calms you down is "Hey, here's something wonderful to buy." That's the rhythm of the TV, so if you're exhausted or desperate you don't create PTA's, neighborhoods, synagogues, churches, political parties.
There is a wonderful and now famous study by Robert Putnam called "Bowling Alone." The bowling leagues are disappearing; people still bowl but they bowl alone, because they don't have the energy anymore even to organize a bowling league. And if this seems so unimportant as to be ridiculous even to mention, the point is that the seedbed of democracy, as De Tocqueville taught, is all those networks of local organizations.
So I think we need to be serious about addressing both the issues of what we call the economy and what we call the environment. They are deeply intertwined. An economy is the way in which earthlings and the earth fit together. Economy and ecology: it is no accident that they both begin with the Greek word for household, they are both about the same processes of the human relationship with the earth. And at this moment in American history and especially for Jews who want to act to heal the earth, they have to also understand the institutional structure that is damaging the earth and that is also damaging our society. To act on either, we must act on both.
I have suggested four dimensions: First, the Spirit: what we call ritual, ceremony, prayer, celebration, the direct ways of getting in touch with that sense of unity, of mystery of allness in the world. Second, Knowledge: the kind of education that intertwines our ancient tradition with the constantly growing edges of tradition, intertwined with knowledge in all the spheres of relationship between human beings and the earth. Third, Relationship: reaching out to other communities and societies everywhere to join with us to heal the wounded earth. And fourth, Doing: the daily eco-kosher practice of our own self, of our own households and our own community organizations.
Yet finally, these four need to be treated not as four separate parts but as aspects of the One. When they are split apart, very little happens. In most synagogues today, if issues of the earth are dealt with at all they are broken up in separate spheres. Issues of the earth and ritual are discussed within the ritual committee; issues of the earth and knowledge are discussed within the education committee; issues of the earth in everyday practice are dealt with in the house committee that decides what paper is bought or who comes in to check the insulation; issues of society are dealt with by the social action committee.
But on each of those committees, the issue of how to deal with the relationship to the earth, is probably third or fourth or fifth on the list of priorities. Perhaps on one committee the issue of the earth will come forward, but on the next front where the issue must be addressed, the specific committee is not interested, and the question molders.
We should not let this happen. The issue of the earth is such that in a unique way, all these in fact are intertwined. So I think perhaps the crucial strategic switch in any Jewish community, congregation or organization comes when that community decides to create an Adam-and-Adamah committee, whatever it may be called. Even if it has to be called the Committee on the Environment -- parenthetically, a word that constantly gives me the heebie-jeebies because it means "It's out there, round about us, in the "environs." Adam-and-adamah says, "Hey, we ain't identical but we sure are closely intertwined." You can't say adam without hearing adamah, you can't say adamah without hearing adam. The "environment" is -- something else, somewhere else. So, we may be stuck with the word in English, at least for a while, but let us always be conscious of what the truth underlying the word always is. That we are earthlings intertwined with earth.
But whatever we name the committee, I think the crucial change in any Jewish community or organization may be when the single adam-and-adamah body is created that has responsibility for all of those four dimensions, to report on them to the community as a whole.
From then on, judging from the places I know this has already happened, things are different. From then on the community can begin to imagine itself as a piece of a broader movement to heal the earth. Can begin to imagine that that is a major aspect of what Judaism is all about.
You who have gathered here show that re-framing Judaism in this way can evoke passionate commitment from the next generation of Jews, in ways that few other things can. That makes total sense to me. Much of what the human race is doing to the planet will have its worst effects on the planet thirty, forty, fifty years from now. It will be you and your children who will have to live in what we have created. So, it makes total sense to me that a Judaism which addresses the future of the earth will evoke passion, and energy and excitement, and intelligence, and commitment, and spirit from that generation of Jews. And that conversely a Judaism which says, "Hey, what's this earth stuff got to do with us?" won't fly.
The passionate engagement which comes from a sense of larger purpose, a sense that we fit into the great Unity, is itself at the most profound level necessary if the human race is to decide to stop gobbling up the earth. For those who are spiritually starving will need to fill their bellies with something - and they will try to fill themselves by gobbling the earth. Intense song, dance, Torah-study, drushodrama, the engagement of the whole body, the full involvement of both women and men in shaping spiritual practice - all this spiritual intensity is crucial to a recovering addict. Spiritual vitality is necessary if we are to heal the planet.
So, I encourage any of you people who talk with any of those people who talk of Jewish continuity to say, "Continuity? What is its content? Because if its content is a real, alive, down-to-earth Judaism then I'm ready to put my passion into this. And if not, I will put my passion elsewhere or perhaps I will cynically give up, and put my passion nowhere. For this is a question of life and death to me, a question of the life and death of my children who are not yet in this world. If you're not interested in my life or death, then I am not interested whether the empty Judaism you speak for lives or dies. Its continuity means nothing."
It does not have to be that way. Together we can create a Judaism that has a purpose for its continuity, a Judaism that answers the question, "What for?"
What for? For the Breath of Life Who fills the universe. For the web of life that is the universe. To renew that web of life, to bless that Breath of Life, can renew the Jewish people. And to renew the Jewish people can help to heal that web, can breathe new energy into that Breath.
Rabbi Waskow is a Pathfinder of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal; director of the Shalom Center; and author of Down-to-Earth Judaism, Godwrestling -- Round 2, and Seasons of Our Joy, and co-author of Tales of Tikkun: New Jewish Stories to Heal the Wounded World.
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