Mourning Temple Earth:

A Universal Tisha B’Av

Tisha B'Av (the midsummer day of Jewish mourning for the ancient Temples in Jerusalem, and the day of hope for a transformed future) will be observed this year from sundown on July 30 to sundown August 1. We urge that this year it be focused on the endangered Earth as the Temple of all humanity and all life-forms that live upon our planet.

This notion that Tisha B'Av encodes a universal truth is not an invention of the Modern Age. Long ago, the Rabbis of the Talmud assigned as the Prophetic reading of the Fast of Av the book that begins "Eicha!" -- the howling outcry of the Book of Lamentations, "HOW lonely sits the city." 

And then the Rabbis ask the question: Where and when was this wailing "Eicha" first heard? And they answer that it was when God first called out "Ayekka" (the same consonants with only different vowels), "Where are you??!!" to the human race after their mis-doing in Eden, the Garden of Delight. 

This is not an answer out of narrowly Jewish pain for the sake of a narrowly Jewish history. It is an answer that brings our own Jewish life-experience of the Temple's burning into every individual human heart, and all the human race. 

The first and deepest exile is spiritual. To say it is "spiritual" is not to cut it off from earthiness. Indeed, this first misdoing in the Garden of Delight was precisely that we tried to gobble up all Earth’s abundance, refusing to restrain ourselves as the Holy Breath of Life had taught us.

 The result was that the abundance vanished. We were cut off from our Mother Earth and found ourselves at war with her. The spiritual exile involves an ethical/ political / ecological alienation, and every political and ecological exile is rooted in a spiritual failure.

In the same vein, the Rabbis and Kabbalists teach that the Mishkan (the Sanctuary in the Wilderness, for which the Holy Temples became a replication and renewal) was/ is a microcosm of the world. Its building was a human emulation of the Creation, and its destruction a warning to us all.

The ancient rabbis also taught that on this very day of desolation, the Messiah was born, and hidden away till the world was ready for the Great Turning.  From the seed of despair can grow the tree of life, determination to make healing happen.

This warning that human failing may bring about the  destruction of Temple Earth and this beckoning to heal her wounds and our own has at last become not a philosophical theory but a practical fact. So we suggest that observance of Tisha B’Av  this year look more broadly at this danger.

And we invite not only Jews but the members of other religious, spiritual, and ethical communities to undertake their own observance of a universal Tisha B’Av, using whatever date may best express their love of Mother Earth, their grief at her wounding, and their commitment to heal her.

Such observances, by Jews and others,  might follow this pattern:


1. JOY AND GRATITUDE FOR EARTH: Recite Together (Song of Songs 2:11-13, trans by Marcia Falk)

Come with me, my love, come away,
For the long chill months are past,
The rains have fed the earth
and left it bright with blossoms.
Birds wing in the low sky,
dove and songbird singing in the open air above.
Earth nourishing tree and vine,
green fig and tender grape,
green and tender fragrance.
Come with me my love, come away!

CHANT (by Rabbi Shefa Gold from Song of Songs) :
“Kamti ani, liftoakh l'dodi; Kamti ani, liftoakh l'dodi;
I will open to you my beloved; Will you open, open to me?”

2. Eichah / Lament for the Earth (By Rabbi Tamara Cohen)

Eicha: Alas, she sits in danger.
Earth, home to multitudes,
like a beloved, deep in distress.

Blue ocean, source of life --
Endangered and imprisoned.

Bitterly she weeps in the night
Her shorelines wet with tears.
Of all her friends, none to comfort her;
All her allies have betrayed her.

Checkerspot butterflies
flee their homes;
Polar bears
can find no rest.
Because our greed has heated Earth.

Whole communities destroyed
To pursue off-shore oil.
Lives and dreams have been narrowed.

Coastlines mourn for families,
lost homes and livelihoods.
Barrier islands lament, desolate.

Wetlands sigh without their song birds.
Estuaries grieve; the sea is embittered.

Earth’s children – now her enemies;
Despite destruction, we sleep at ease.
The Breath of Life grieves
our abundant transgressions.
Infants of every species,
captive to our conceit.

>> Hashivenu Yahh elecha v’nashuva, hadesh yameinu kekedem.
>> Let us return, help us repent,
>> You Who Breathe all Life;
>> Breathe us, Breathe us,
>> Breathe us into a new path--
>> Help us, Help us, ,
>> Help us Turn to a new way of living
>> Make–new, Make -new,
>> Our world of life intertwining –
>> Splendor, beauty, joy in our love for each life-form.

Gone from Appalachia -
her mountaintop glory;
mined by Massey Energy
without compassion.
Children sick from air and water,
stumble weak before King Coal.

All that was precious in the days of our youth,
Earth recalls in woe and sorrow.

Her creatures die with none to help them,
at the hands of Exxon, now BP.
World leaders shrug
and look on helpless.

We have sinned greatly,
and so are ailing.
Our people who respected life,
have come to defile it.
We have stripped Earth naked,
she shrinks back.

Oily waves slap the sand like a soiled hem;
we were heedless of the cost of our appetite.
We have sunk appallingly, there is no comfort.
See, Breath of Life, this misery; how our avarice jeers!

Greed has laid hands on all dear to us.
Your sanctuary plundered by multinationals
full of contempt for Your holy community.

The Earth’s poor cry out as they search for nourishment;
indigenous communities trade resources for food,
to keep themselves alive.

>>> Hashivenu Yahh elecha v’nashuva, hadesh yameinu kekedem.
>>> Let us return, help us repent,
>>> You Who Breathe all Life;
>>> Breathe us, Breathe us,
>>> Breathe us into a new path--
>>> Help us, Help us, ,
>>> Help us Turn to a new way of living
>>> Make–new, Make -new,
>>> Our world of life intertwining –
>>> Splendor, beauty, joy in our love for each life-form.

Look, O Breath of Life, and behold,
what gluttons we have become.
Will we heed this warning, we who live as if unscathed –
Will we truly look and know this agony as ours own?

We are afflicted by angry consequence,
The elements push back against their abuse.

Forest fires reach down and spread like fury,
Sprawl and refuse trap our spirits.
Great storms hurl lives backwards, upside down
survivors are left forlorn, in constant misery.

For these things do we weep
Our eyes flow with tears.
How far from us is any comfort,
the possibility of change that might revive our Earth?
The children are forlorn for their future is bleak
unless we act with speed and wisdom.

Alas, humanity in our reckless living
have brought shame over all.
Can we remember the holiness of your creation,
Your footstool, green and fertile?

We have razed woodlands to the ground,
profaned the Kingdom of Earth and all its creatures.
In arrogance we slashed the mighty Redwoods,
will we cease hiding our power from ourselves and befriend our Earth?

How can we wrestle with God and bring justice to others
If we don’t quench the flaming fires,
and turn back from endless consumption?

Egrets and brown pelicans languish in salt marshes
From the depths, corals cry out.
“Where are the fish? Where are the clean waters?”
Languishing battle-wounded in the wetlands,
life runs out in ocean’s bosom.

>> Hashivenu Yahh elecha v’nashuva, hadesh yameinu kekedem.
>> Let us return, help us repent,
>> You Who Breathe all Life;
>> Breathe us, Breathe us,
>> Breathe us into a new path--
>> Help us, Help us, ,
>> Help us Turn to a new way of living
>> Make–new, Make -new,
>> Our world of life intertwining –
>> Splendor, beauty, joy in our love for each life-form.

Lead us, lead us, on a new path to Eden,
Teach us self-restraint in the very midst of abundance.
To "Ayeka/Where are you?"
We will answer Hineni.
We are here to honor boundaries, not to devour all.

Open, open --
Our eyes to see in each creature,
Tree, Ocean , Mountain --
the Presence of the One.

3. “Between the Fires,” by Rabbi Arthur Waskow)

We are the generation that stands
between the fires:
Behind us the flame and smoke
that rose from Auschwitz and from Hiroshima
And from the burning of the Amazon forest;
Before us the nightmare of a Flood of Fire,
The flame and smoke that could consume all earth.

It is our task to make from fire not an all-consuming blaze
But the light in which we see each other fully.
All of us different, All of us bearing
One Spark.

We light these fires to see more clearly
That the Earth and all who live as part of it
Are not for burning.
We light these fires to see more clearly
The Rainbow in the many-colored faces of all life.
Blessed is the One within the many.
Blessed are the many who make One.

[Light a yohrzeit candle of grief and commitment, or a torch, or clump of sage]

4. ACTION / PROCLAMATION (This part of the observance may include vigils, visits to official or business offices, letter-writing, etc):

We call on the peoples and the governments of the United States and of the world:

a. To forbid, now and forever, the drilling of new oil wells into the depths of Mother Ocean, the destruction of mountains for the sake of the coal within them, the torture of rocks to give forth unnatural gas, and the leveling of great forests that breathe their majesty throughout our planet.

b. To end all subsidies to producers of fossil fuels, and to provide as first priority throughout the world the support of the public in money and attention for conservation of energy and swift emplacement of responsible and sustainable energy sources: sun, wind, and earth-based geothermal.

c. To honor and affirm the Breath of Life by swiftly and strongly ending the emission of carbon dioxide, methane, and other heat-trapping gases.

d. To take action that can withdraw a trillion tons of carbon dioxide from Earth’s atmosphere, so that our children and grandchildren can take joy and sustenance from a climate as life-giving as that which sustained our parents and grandparents, with a level of eco-social justice that many of pur forebears did not experience.

e. To share the wealth of the world so that nations and regions, domestic and world-wide, that are trapped in poverty gain help from the rich in lessening the devastation of climate crisis already under way and in achieving economic development through a non-fossil-fuel path.

5. CELEBRATION: End by chanting together Psalm 148 or a more recent poem of celebration of the Earth and by chanting a verse from the Song of Songs (or skip diectly to the chant from Song of Songs).

Psalm 148: Hallelu-YAH! (trans by Rabbi Arthur Waskow; sung to the melody of “Michael Row the Boat Ashore,” as suggested by Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi)

Praise God, sun and moon, Hallelu-Yah.

Praise Yah, you stars of light, Hallelu-Yah.

Praise God, you high heavens, Hallelu-Yah.

All that flows in all the world, Hallelu-Yah.

Let them all praise God's Name, Hallelu-Yah.

For the Name breathes all of life, Hallelu-Yah.

With God they take their stand, Hallelu-Yah.

God's rhythm none must break, Hallelu-Yah.

Praise Yah from the Earth, Hallelu-Yah.

You sea-monsters and all deeps, Hallelu-Yah.

Fire, hail, snow, and steam, Hallelu-Yah.

Stormy wind to do God's word, Hallelu-Yah.

Mountains high and tiny hills, Hallelu-Yah.

Trees of fruit and evergreens, Hallelu-Yah.

Wild beasts and quiet flocks, Hallelu-Yah.

Creeping bugs and winged birds, Hallelu-Yah.

Men and women, young and old, Hallelu-Yah!

Leaders high; officials low, Hallelu-Yah.

Whole societies and peoples, Hallelu-Yah.

Kol ha’neshama t’hallel Yahh, Hallelu=Yah!

CHANT: Verse from Isaiah 51:3, from one of the Haftarot of Consolation after Tisha B'Av (Chant melody for Hebrew by Rabbi Shefa Gold; same melody for English. For the melody, click to -- <>))

Vayasem midbarah k'eden (3x),

v'arvatah k'gan Yahh;

Turn the barren place to Eden (3x);

And the desert to a garden breathing Life.


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