All the Jewish festivals have their roots in the natural spiral of the seasons, but Sukkot -- the fall harvest festival – is the earthiest of all. There are two central rituals of Sukkot:
- Building a sukkah, a hut with a leafy, leaky roof, vulnerable to all weather, all life-forms;
- Uniting and waving Four Species of plant life: three branches (one of them a palm branch, in Hebrew the lulav) and one fruit, the lemony etrog or citron, in the seven directions of the universe.
Seven? Not six? --- We’ll get to that. First I want to explain how this “ritual” waving can become a powerful consciousness-raiser for connection to Earth and the commitment to act to heal our planet from climate chaos. Two teachings that we can carry within us into public space to teach why we must act to heal our deeply wounded Earth.
Lesson One of the lulav::
The traditional three branches are myrtle, palm, and willow held in the right hand, etrog in the left, bringing them together while blessing the Breath of Life that calls on us to do this -- then waving them to the right, left, front, behind, up, down, each time bringing them back to the heart. That heart-ward swipe is the seventh direction – inward. (If you can’t find or can’t afford the traditional Four Species, choose a lemon and two curvy and one stiff branch from native trees.)
“Blessing the lulav,” as this ritual is called, lets us become a tree. We feel our own branches waving in the wind, we smell the lemony scent of our own fruit.
We become a Tree -- and as our newer science of forestry teaches us, trees communicate, feed each other in times of scarcity, cooperate rather than compete.
“Are the trees of the field human?” says the Torah. The sentence seems to be ironic, expecting the answer “No,” but our new understanding might call forth as answer “Hmmm. Good question!”
We do know this:
We breathe in what Trees breathe out;
Trees breathe in what we breathe out.
Animals and plants breathe each other into Life, exchanging oxygen and CO2. That deep truth of Interbreathing was encoded by our forebears in the Name of God that can be “pronounced” only by breathing -- YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh.
That Name frees us to celebrate the Interbreathing Spirit of the world, ruach ha’olam. Frees us from “King” and “Lord” in politics and in our understanding of God and universe -- while reminding us to take seriously our interwovenness with all the forms of life, all Creation. If we ignore or lord it over the Breath of Life, the Wind of Change, it can become a Hurricane of Destruction.
All life is crucial to human life, and how human beings behave is crucial to all other life-forms.
In our generation, the Interbreathing has been disrupted by huge human institutions – government and corporations – pouring so much CO2 and methane into the air that all the plants on Earth cannot transmute these gases back to Oxygen. That imbalance heats, it scorches, Earth. Earth is choking. Earth can’t breathe. The climate crisis is both a physical and a spiritual crisis -- a crisis in God’s Name.
What must we learn? Stop burning fossil fuels. No coal, no oil, no gas. No oil and gas pipelines. No coal-based warmth or electric power. Sun, wind, tides instead. Fewer gadgets, more delight. More story-telling, art, song, prayer together. Becoming trees together.
Lesson Two of the lulav:
We learn from the seven directions of the universe: Up, Down; Right, Left; Front, Back; Inward, the seventh direction, the Shabbat direction.
Seventh direction in space, seventh year in time. This Bible passage (Lev 25-26) teaches us to pause from organized agriculture every seventh year. Pause from making Earth work so that Earth can rest and breathe. And end all personal debt so the poor, the overworked, can rest and breathe.
This very year, the year that began this just-past Rosh Hashanah, is the 7th year. The Bible calls it Shabbat shabbaton – Shabbat to the exponential power of Shabbat. The year of rest and restoration for Earth and Humanity. Earth is not crushed by overwork, Humanity is not crushed by debt.
Our lesson: Eco/ Social Justice. They are intertwined. Make sure that marginalized Americans, whether pockets of poverty in great cities or depths of despair where the factories are shut and there are no jobs, have democratic access to sun and wind. No only co-ops where families join to own their own solar and wind arrays, but learn the work and have the jobs that revitalize the marginalized.
We are here to demand that Congress act to heal Earth and save human earthlings from despair and death
How? By passing with great strength the Reconciliation Act that will make for a true reconciliation between Adamah & adam, Mother Earth and her human children.
Before we unite and wave the Four Species, we unite the Four Worlds of politics, emotion, intellect, and Spirit by affirming two blessings:
Blessed are You, our Creative Energy, Breath of life, Interbreathing Spirit of the world, Who makes us holy by connecting us with all beings in One Being, and teaches us to connect by lifting the lulav.
Baruch attah Yahh
elohenu ruach ha’olam.
Asher kidshanau b’mitzvot
Vitzivanu n’tilat lulav
And then the blessing Sheh’hekhianu, since we are doing this for the first time in at least a year, a year we have survived in life when that was risky:
You, O Breath of Life,
O Wind of Change
Who blows the Breath of Life into us
Carries us in the Wind of Change,
And brings us to this moment.
Or as Rabbi Shefa Gold translates and chants it:
V’higi’anu lazman hazeh
O Mystery, Grace Unfolding,
O Miracle, It’s You Alone.
O Mystery, Grace Unfolding,
O Miracle, Who brings us home.
Since we live in a society that brandishes Splitness as a sword, we will learn better how to unite political change with spiritual insight through a Webinar:
From 7:30 to 9 pm this Wednesday evening, September 22, The Shalom Center and COEJ:L -– the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life – are holding a Webinar to ”Share Sukkot – Green and Grow the Vote.” Among speakers and singers will be Rabbi Dan Swartz of COEJL, Mirele Goldsmith of Jewish Earth Alliance,, Rabbi David Shneyer of Am Kolrrl, me, and more.
The Webinar is free. To take part, please register so we know how many people to expect.
We look forward to meeting with you there.
Sukkot shalom! -- Arthur