Learning from the Lulav

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:

Sheh’hekhianu v’kimanu

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









Will Texas, California, or Yom Kippur be the American and Planetary Future?

Tonight we will enter Yom Kippur. With Kol Nidre we will confess to each other that we all are "transgressors” – in Hebrew “avaryonim,” from the same root as “the cross-over people, Ivrim, Hebrews.” – And we will give each other permission to pray with transgressors, to reach to become  a more holy community. Not utterly pure – for next year we will need to say and do it all again.

For months I  have kept writing that we – Americans and all Humanity – are standing at the edge of the Red  Sea, with Pharaoh’s horse-chariots behind us and the Unknown before us. No one can know whether the Sea will split, and there are plenty of us who are willing to be safe slaves to Pharaoh, with occasional perks of onions and garlic. But there seem to be more of us ready to move forward.

The Texas Path: if you fear the power of the young, the black, the Latinx, then try to stop them from voting. If you fear the independence of women, subject them to Taliban-like vigilantes and Stasi informers. If you are shaken by storms that freeze your people and shatter the energy-system built on burning fossil fuels, deny they have anything to do with climate crisis and global scorching and reward the failed  utility system with more money in time of emergency and double down on gas and oil.

California stumbles its way forward. imto the Sea. More people who find economic and structural barriers to voting? Than mail out ballots to every registered votes, provide them drop-off boxes,  register more to be able to vote. The State starts to burn? Redouble efforts to address climate crisis. Stumbling, yes. Not yet really facing homelessness, for example. But stumbling toward Transformation.

Would it be like to make Yom Kippur our vision –- the reverse of Texas, beyond California?

It would mean to carry into streets and voting booths and schools and police stations and vaccination centers and banks, into Reality, the words we are taught to read on Yom Kipput, from the Prophet Isaiah:

I dwell on high, in holiness,

And therefore with the lowly and humiliated,
To breathe new breath into the humble,
To give new heart to the broken-hearted.

For your sin of greed
Through My Hurricane of Breath YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh
I smashed you.
Worse: I hid My face, withheld My Breath.

Yet I will not do battle against you forever,
I will not be angry with you forever.
From Me comes the breath that floats out to make all worlds.
I breathe the breath of life, I am the Breath of Life.

When you wander off the path as your own heart,
wayward, takes you.
I see the path you need —— and I will heal you.
I will guide and comfort you
With words of courage and of consolation
For those who mourn among you.
Peace, peace … shalom, shalom!… to those who are far and near,
Says the Breath-of-Life —-
And I will heal you.

But the wicked who make the choice

Of doing evil

are like a troubled sea
Which cannot rest,
Whose waters toss up mire and mud.
There is no peace, said my God,
For the wicked.

Cry out aloud, don’t hold back,
Lift up your voice like the shofar!
Tell My people what they are doing wrong,
Tell those who call themselves the “House of Jacob” their misdeeds.
For day after day they go out searching for Me,
They take some kind of pleasure in getting to know My ways —-
As if they were a people that actually did righteous deeds
And never ignored the just rulings of their God.

They keep asking Me for the rules of justice
As if they would take delight in being close to God.

They say: “Why is it that we have fasted, and You don’t see our suffering?
We press down our egos —- but You don’t pay attention!”

Look! On the very day you fast, you keep scrabbling for wealth;
On the very day you fast, you keep oppressing all your workers.

Look! You fast in strife and contention.
You strike with a wicked fist.

You are not fasting today in such a way
As to make your voices heard on high.
Is that the kind of fast that I desire?
Is that really a day for people to “press down their egos”?

Am I commanding you to droop your heads like bulrushes
And lie around in sackcloth and ashes?

Is that what you call a fast day,
The kind of day that the God of the Burning Bush would wish?


This is the kind of fast that I desire:

Unlock the hand-cuffs put on by wicked power!
Untie the ropes of the yoke!
Let the oppressed go free,
And break off every yoke!

Share your bread with the hungry.
Bring the poor, the outcasts, to your homes.
When you see them naked, clothe them;
They are your flesh and blood;
Don’t hide yourself from them!

Then your light will burst through like the dawn;
Then when you need healing it will spring up quickly;
Then your own righteousness will march ahead to guard you.
And a radiance from YHWH will reach out behind to guard you.
Then, when you cry out,

YHWH/ the InterBreath of Life will answer;
Then, when you call, God will say: “Here I am!”

There is a saying---
Tzom kal -- May your fast be easy.

I bless us all, rather: 

May our fast be profound,

deep in our awareness.

-----  Arthur 

Share Sukkot: Green & Grow the Vote, 2021

Spread over ALL of us the sukkah of Shalom!

(Photo of Rabbis Berman and Waskow at "Occupy Sukkot" near Philadelphia City Hall in 2011)

 “ALL of us” means all the interbreathing life-forms of Planet Earth. The sukkah -- that leafy, leaky hut, open to Earth -- comes to us on the full moon of the lunar “moonth” of Tishri, two weeks after Rosh Hashanah (evening of  Monday, September 20 to the evening of September 27).

It is the earthiest of all the Jewish festivals. That means a lot – since all the festivals are the offspring of a love affair between Earth and the subculture of Humanity called the Jewish People.

This year Sukkot comes as part of the Sabbatical Year when we are called to release all Earth from overwork and all human beings from economic oppression. In Hebrew the year is called Shmita “Release”) and Shabbat Shabbaton (“Sabbath to the exponential power of Sabbath”).

The Shalom Center has embarked on a journey we call “Share Sukkot: Green and Grow the Vote.”  Though synagogues, churches, mosques and religious organizations of all kinds Including us) are prevented from endorsing or opposing specific  electoral candidates or political parties, we are encourages to discuss and educate on major issues and to help eligible Americans register to vote, and then help them actually vote. To “Green and Grow the Vote” unites those two visions of what a tax-exempt organ of the body politick should do.

In the Washington DC area, an ad hoc multireligious group initiated by The Shalom Center and the Am Kolel Congregation  with co-sponsors of Greater Washington Interfaith Power and Light and Jews for Clean Energy are with Rabbi David Shneyer, Mirele Greenberg, and others organizing a Sukkot Climate Caravan aimed at the US Senate in the midst of Sukkot on September 23, with a portable sukkah and people waving the traditional Four Species of palm, myrtle, willow, and lemony etrog in the seven directions of the world.

We urge other communities to take on similar actions. We recommend either aiming at local district offices of US Senators, or a local branch of Chase Bank, the #1 investor in businesses that are burning, boiling, and flooding Earth, or at your local Jewish Federation to urge them to lend or grant money to solarize Jewish buildings. .

What are the ancient values  embodied in Sukkot that speak to our generation?

  1. It is the fall harvest festival. To us that means pursuing a regenerative agriculture that can feed people while replenishing Earth, not wounding it.
  2. When the ancient Temple stood, there were offerings of seventy rams. The rabbis discerned that this meant we were invoking and celebrating a prosperous harvest for all the “70 nations” of the wo
  3. It is no accident that Sukkot in every other year in America comes just before an election. For when American election dates were  timed to follow the harvest, so that millions of farmers could turn their attention to voting. It is appropriate to use the festival now to turn the attention of the disenfranchised to the election.
  4. The sukkah was the simplest home that the earliest human beings could make to live in. According to Torah, it became the simplest home for the band of runaway slaves who fled Mitzrayyim – the  Tight aNarrow Land of Egypt. So it points toward housing the poor, the homeless, and refugees.
  5. Each evening, a traditional prayer seeks peace in the shelter of a sukkah.  Why not in a fortress, a castle, a tower? Because recognizing the fragility, the vulnerability, of each other is a surer way to shalom than rigidity and walls.
  6. Further exploration of all these can be found at--


What do these values mean in terms of the issues today? Our suggestions:

1. Support for the $3.5 Trillion advanced “social infrastructure” bill, including provisions of the 30 Million Solar Homes Act and the Environmental Justice for All Act, with a special concern for eco/ social justice through two new Congressional bills: solar co-ops in rural, small-town, and low-income urban neighborhoods. Encouraging such co-ops can make them not only ways to save  money as in “get  it for you wholesale” but also to protect marginalized neighborhoods from asthma and cancer epidemics and insist on climate justice; to sponsor CSA urban and rural farms; to become sparks of resilience if a neighborhood is struck with a climate emergency like floods or fire; and to work for change in public and corporate policy, to heal the planet. To grow an “Earth of Neighborhoods.”

       Websites to consult:  and

2. “Move Our Money, Protect Our Planet” ---  the MOM-POP demand at all levels of spending and investing. All banks should move their investment money out of fossil-0fuel businesses, into renewable energy businesses; the US should move billions of subsidies (“our” tax money) out of fossil-fuel company into renewable energy; synagogues and Jewish Federation should shift their money the same way; Federations should offer loans or grants to solarize and conserve energy to all Jewish institutions that own buildings in their communities; synagogues should switch where their checking, saving, and credit-card accounts are held to community banks and credit unions; individuals should do the same thing.

3. For the “Grow the Vote” part of this effort, support for the “For the People Act,” the John Lewis Act to restore and improve the Voting Rights Act of 1965 for which John Lewis as a young nonviolent demonstrator suffered a skull broken by a violent policeman, the bill to make the District of Columbia into a new state, “Douglass Commonwealth,” and abolition or basic reform of the filibuster so that the right to vote can be protected.


Please write us what you decide to do in your own community. May the Breath of Life, the Wind of change, the ruach ha’olam, bring you new vigor and new wisdom to the healing of our Earth and human earthlings --   Arthur

The Afghanistan INSIDE Us

There are lessons both for US foreign policy and for our internal domestic life from the 20-year failure of the US invasion of Afghanistan. Most of the media response is blinding us to what we could learn.

Most media coverage and most conversations have assumed that "Afghanistan is a foreign policy problem." But there are uncomfortable aspects of the 20-year "forever war" that point right here at home. I will sketch them  close to the end of this essay.

To sum up the "foreign policy" part: The US intervention began legitimately as a defensive anti-terrorist action after 9/11. The American Empire turned that into a "forever war" against Afghanistaa. This past week, the American Empire lost that war. That doesn't mean the Afghans who won are democratic or magnanimous, and it doesn't mean that all the frightened Afghans are bad guys. . But American democracy and the American Republic won a small but important victory against the Empire, if we have the good sense to claim it.

 I notice that most of the media are describing the fall of the Kabul government as the Taliban versus Afghanistan. But the Taliban are Afghans. They have deep roots in Afghan society.  They were and perhaps still are the ultra right-wing version of Islam. (There are similar energies among some jews, Christians, Hindus, even Buddhists.)  Their public proclamations in the last few weeks have promised an open-hearted relationship with civilians throughout Afghanistan.

They have already shown that their fighters have more commitment to their vision of their country than the “official” army bought by two trillion American dollars. That “army” faded away into less than smoke as soon as American power was withdrawn.

Perhaps the Taliban promises  will turn out to be fake, or turn out impossible to fulfill if civil servants and police officers who are panicked by the political earthquake flee or refuse  to work, and are coerced.. We may learn that the Taliban are still as oppressive as they once were.Or we may learn that they have learned. Either way, it will have to be Afghans who organize to change their own country.

If I were an Afghan, with the Americans gone I would be opposing the Taliban with all my might. Inside the United States, I oppose their equivalent – the ultra-right-wing  militias that were part of the mob that attacked the Capitol on January 6.

I am not an Afghan, and I know that I and my government have no ethical legitimacy in trying to jam my money and my Army down the throats of Afghans. No ethical legitimacy and no practical effectiveness. It only wounds my own America as well as Afghanistan when my government tries to do that.

The ethically legitimate act of the US in Afghanistan was with approval by the UN Security Council, as international law and US treaty law provide, to break up Al Qaeda after its attack on the Twin Towers. That was accomplished in six months, not 20 years.

Even that could have been done more ethically, without using torture on those arrested, without endless prison in Guantanamo but with trials in US courts under US law.

Instead, the “forever war.”  The result of US governmental hubris, and the result of that hubris was an insurgent movement with high morale and clever strategy.

Why was most of the US government and media so stunned by the swift collapse of the puppet government in Kabul?  Because most of the US military and foreign-policy Establishment had blinded themselves to how weak was their effort to impose an American system on Afghanistan. They were not even consciously lying;  they could not believe in the strength of the ragtag uprising and the weakness of an imperial imposition.

The swift and total collapse of the Kabul government and its army was not evidence that President Biden made a mistake.  It was, rather, evidence that his assesssment of the Afghan reality was much closer to correct than that of the stay-onners..

America had plenty of evidence, if we had paid attention. Not just the failures of the British Empire twice in the 19th century and the Soviet Empire once in the twentieth, when they tried to occupy Afghanistan. But also the failures of the US government when it invaded, occupied, and tried to control Vietnam and Iraq. 

There were even two lessons in our dealings with Iran. First, success in the difficult negotiations that led to an Iran with no nuclear-weapons program without a ruinous war. Second, the Trumpist stupidity and cruelty that threw away that great success, imposed murderous sanctions even in the midst of pandemic,  and convinced Iran that the US could not be trusted.

All this left behind destruction and death. Even in Vietnam, almost 50 years later, with a reasonably decent society at home and at peace with the US, people were still dying from US Agent Orange and US land mines and cluster bombs.  And in the US, what could two trillion dollars have accomplished to avert climate crisis, create jobs in the Rust Belt, reduce racial inequality?

Finally, I promised to look at the Afghanistan at home. I wrote that the Taliban were the much stronger Afghan equivalent of the comparatively weak mob on January 6.There is already a blurry Afghanistan growing INSIDE us. How do we grow ourselves in a different direction ?

How do we keep that mob from growing into an American Taliban? The answer depends on us – you, me, millions of us.

  • Is the growing power of huge corporations becoming a kind of "Kabul government" -- with few roots in American neighborhoods and democratic American life? Is that the origin of a "forever war"? Is it the root of violent disaffection?
  • Can we turn America from its imperial hubris – which was here from the beginning, in the form of slavery and genocide and the destruction of much of our land -- passenger pigeons, bison, forests, the prairie?

  • Can we turn America once again to regrowing its democratic roots and hopes – which were also there from the beginning?
  • Can we find in ourselves a vigorously nonviolent version of committed citizenship and high morale  -- more commited to imaginative and effective soul-force than the American would-be Taliban are to violence?
  • Can we free ourselves of the “occupying force” of huge corporation  – and thereby also outwork and outlive and out-ethic and out-morale our own Taliban?

Can we make an America that is

not an oppressive empire at home and abroad,

laying waste an exhausted Earth,

but a democratic republic replenishing Earth?

Tales of the Spirit Rising

Told by Rabbi Arthur Waskow

My friends have persuaded me that stories I have thought of as a book would be wonderful to share with you as –- stories!

I have been collecting from my life and the lives of my friends what I call Tales of the Spirit Rising: tales of spiritual growth in ourselves, our communities, our countries.

Moments to give us new hope –- real hope out of real life -- in an age that is ragged with fear, anger, even despair.

I have been thinking of these as a book. But when I have gotten a chance to tell the stories, people have kept telling me – “You’re a great story-teller! These are stories to tell around a modern campfire like Zoom, stories where the listeners will want to join and comment and explore.”

So I began to imagine and enjoy what that would feel like -- To listen to each other– an even better word, to hearken -- with the real organ of hearing – our hearts, not just our ears – and then to join in the telling.

What better time to do this than a summer when we are venturing out once more to a restaurant, a friend’s house, a beach, a park, even a sidewalk filled with faces?

So I am going to begin with five weekly gatherings. In each one, I will tell two or three stories around a specific theme, and then invite a conversation: a story of your own life that my story sparks, a question, a laugh, some tears.

You can register for taking part by clicking: 

These “campfires” will happen on the Wednesday evenings of August 4, 11, 18, and 25, and September 1, from 7:30 to 9 pm EASTERN Time (4:40 pm Pacific, etc.).

There will be a contribution to meet the costs of doing this and to help support The Shalom Center ‘s work: $90 for the series, $25 for those who can’t afford the regular fee, and $120 for those who can afford more, so as to help make the lower fee possible.

The sessions will be recorded, so if a participant has to miss a session, it will still be available. The number of people will be limited, so that we can have a real conversation.  So register now! The  link again:

May our spirits rise together! --  Arthur

Jealous Sister, Jealous God -- and Healing Love

The deepest Rabbinic teaching for Tisha B’Av is in Midrash Eicha, calling for an act of love – not merely love as emotion, but love as action – as what is necessary for redemption.  The story of that empowering midrash is below.

In that wisdom, The Shalom Center and Coalition for the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL) are sponsoring a Webinar tonight, to teach and encourage loving action to help heal our deeply wounded Temple Earth as well as wounded, dying, human earthlings. To register, please click to:

WEbinar from 7:30 to 9 pm EASTERN TIME this evening --Sunday, July 18.

The Webinar will be recorded. If you can't make that time, register anyway and you can watch later.

Jealous Sister, Jealous God -- and an Act of Love

By Rabbi Phyllis Ocean Berman & Rabbi Arthur Ocean Waskow

[This story about jealousy and compassion, exile and redemption appears in our book TALES OF TIKKUN: NEW JEWISH STORIES TO HEAL THE WOUNDED WORLD (1995; new edition, Ben Yehuda Press, 2021). It draws on Midrash Rabbah for the Book of Lamentations, known as Eicha Rabbah (XXIV, pp. 44-49 in the Soncino edition).

[It ends with a midrash on the biblical story of the sisters Rachel and Leah and their marriage to Jacob (Gen. 29: 15-30).

[We have put the story in the mouth of a Jew living in exile in the Roman Empire because it emerges from a rabbinic midrashic commentary written about 200 CE, during the Exile after the Second Destruction of the Temple in 70 CE and the decimation of the Jewish community in the Land of Israel, after the Bar Kokhba Revolt in 135 CE. We view it as one pf the great midrashim, the “post-Holocaust theology" of the Rabbis.

[It makes clear how useless in such a moment of despair is any appeal to law or covenant. It makes clear the only healing response is love. Not love as only an emotion, but love encoded into action. For Mother Rachel’s healing example is an act of love. Only that can change the world. — Comment by POB & AOW. ]

It was a night of heat: dry, scorching, heat, the parching winds that dry their way across the Roman Sea. No rain, no water, no cooling breeze of life. In this village outside the Imperial City, a circle of people was squatting on the floor, already thirsting but tonight they could not drink. The oldest spoke:

Two hundred years ago tonight, on the Ninth of Av, our Holy Temple was in flames, and Roman soldiers were driving my own family into slavery.

Here we are, two hundred years in exile. We should have celebrated a Jubilee four times by now the year that comes each fifty years, when every family should have returned to the land-holding of its forebears, the year when all slaves should have been freed. But I no longer have any hope of Jubilee; I see no sign of our return to the land of our forebears. Though we are no longer slaves, we are not free. I have no hope that in my lifetime we will see Judea free or the Holy Temple restored.

What can we do, what else but sit each year in mourning and wail the Prophet Jeremiah's words of lamentation?

 Last night, I dreamed a dream. It is a day like this one: No rain, no water, no cooling breeze of life. Only heat: dry, scorching heat, the parching winds. The flames of the Temple, still visible behind us; before us, the world itself is burning. All I can see is shimmering waves of air, every breath a step into a furnace. Around me my friends are staggering, falling, dying. I try to speak, but my tongue is swollen; only a whisper comes forth. Yet the words burn like a fever in my bones. What my mouth cannot utter, my whole body, my whole being, shouts toward Heaven:

“Our father Abraham, awake! I, Jeremiah, I call you to awake! Cast but one glance upon your dying people, and speak to save us!”

And I realize that I am living in a body that has just seen the first Destruction, a body that is walking, limping, its path toward Babylon. So long ago that I could not until this moment have imagined it outside the pages of a book.

 Above us I feel a stirring. The clouds of smoke and dust thicken and darken on the desert. The clouds become a shape; the flickering thunder, voices.

“My God!” says Abraham: “What are you doing? You sent me on a journey; You and I, we made a covenant. You promised that my seed would be as numerous as the sand; I see them trampled as the sand is trampled, I see them thirsty as the sand is thirsty, but on this journey there is only death. You have broken the covenant; restore them to their land, just as you promised!”

I heard the thunder roar: “I am a jealous God, and they were whoring after other gods. I will not tolerate this! Shout no more wails of lamentation in my ears.”

I heard a silence. And then another voice, thinner, more plaintive: “Awesome God, I faced You with no fear, ready to give my own life to honor you. Even when my father’s knife descended toward my heart, even when the angels tear scalded my eyes, I did not blink. You laughed with joy to see my faith and courage, and you promised that my people would not suffer this ordeal. You made a covenant with me; but now the knife Your knife descends on tens of thousands, and you strike each heart. You have broken the covenant!”

Again I heard the thunder roar: “I am a jealous God, and they were whoring after other gods. I will not tolerate this! Shout no more wails of lamentation in my ears.”

Silence, and then another voice: “My God! I wrestled You, and won Your blessing and the covenant of an endless future. For Your sake I walked limping all my life, but here! Your people have no strength to limp, they are falling dead. The name You gave us you have hollowed out. You have broken Your covenant!”

And the thunder rolled, the desert shook: “I am a jealous God, and they were whoring after other gods. I will not tolerate this! Shout no more wails of lamentation in my ears.”

And Moses spoke: “O God of freedom, You have broken Your covenant!” And Aaron: “O God of peace, You have broken Your covenant!”

And the Torah Herself, Oh Lover of Torah, I am Your covenant, it is me you destroy!

And the Holy Letters themselves, the Aleph and Bet, the Gimel and Dalet, spoke in the sounds of themselves: “With us You shaped worlds that now You destroy; You have broken Your covenant!”

But the desert shook as the Voice came again and again: “I am a jealous God, and they were whoring after other gods. I will not tolerate this! Shout no more wails of lamentation in my ears.”

Now there was silence, except for the quiet sounds of suffering around me: coughs of the dying, gasps of children, muffled sobs, murmured words of comfort. Out of these whispers rose another voice from Heaven, at last a woman's vpice, calm and assured:

 “You are a jealous God? I know, I understand; I was a jealous woman. When my beloved Jacob and I began to plan our marriage, I was afraid my father would play a trick on us. I knew that he would think my older sister Leah should be married before me; I was afraid that he would substitute Leah for me. I was frightened, crazed with jealousy and so I taught Jacob some secret signals so that he could know whether it was his beloved Rachel or someone else who came to the wedding bed.

“And then just moments before the wedding itself, when my father told me that it was Leah who would go to be with Jacob, my heart broke open. I realized how shamed my sister would be, discovered and exposed so cruelly when Jacob tested her. How shattering! So I taught her the signals. My love for my sister overflowed, and my jealousy was washed away.

 “Yes, I was a jealous woman and You, You are a jealous God? Jealous of what? — Dead sticks and stones and empty idols? For this you will destroy Your people? I was jealous of my living, breathing sister, and yet I could not bear to hurt and shame her.

"How dare You!

Once more there was a silence. And then the wind shifted. I felt a cooling breeze. Some drops of gentle rain began to fall, and I saw some of the sick around me turn their mouths upward, lick their lips to suck the water in.

And the Voice came gentle, sad: “Mother Rachel, for the sake of Your act of love I will redeem them. Where they are going, I will watch over them. I will help them to turn their lives once more toward Me. And in seventy years, I will return them to their homes.”

 The old man looked around the circle, quirked an eyebrow: “We — what can we learn from Mother Rachel? Does she teach us how to make redemption happen? Why does God respond to her, rather than the others who challenge God? If we ourselves act like her, is redemption already present — no matter where we live? What acts of love must we and those who follow us take, to change the world and make new every holy Temple, even the Temple we share with all of life, our Temple Earth?”

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To register for the Webinar on loving action to heal Earth and Humanity, 7:30-9 pm this evening, Eastern Time, please click to:

Webinar From Grief to Healing Action: Tisha B'Av for Temple Earth

When we learn that a beloved friend has been diagnosed with a dangerous illness, first we grieve. And then – quickly – we move to pursue a healing. 

 Earth can’t breathe. Pock marks of dread danger are bursting out all over. Wildfires. Heat domes. Glaciers vanishing that gave drinking water to whole countries. Droughts and famines.  Flooded subways. Melted power lines. Dead coral reefs, acidified oceans. Roads washed away by huge rainstorms.

Time to act, time to start the healing. Time to demand behavior befitting a planetary emergency.

 From a grieving Tisha B’Av to a time of healing action.

What to do? 

A Webinar to learn effective action. To register, please click to  --

From 7:30 to 9 pm on Sunday, July 18, a Webinar on “what to do.” A moment of wailing a new Lament by Rabbi Sue Morningstar. Rabbi Dan Swartz of COEJL on the deep meaning of Tisha B'Av and a vision of the healing process, Immediate next steps to convince Congress, explained by Rev. Mitchell C. Hescox, president of the Evangelical Environmental Network, and by Dahlia Rockowitz, Washington rep for Dayenu, the new Jewish climate-crisis organization. Time to ask questions.

A report by Mirele Goldsmith of a Jewish expedition to join Native Americans in stopping Line 3, the newest Poison Pipeline. Rabbi  Arthur Waskow on why the Jewish festivals matter, to heal Earth.A song of communaal commitment . 

This summer will be crucial on Capitol Hill. Will major action to move from burning fossil fuels to renewable energy be included in the “infrastructure” bill, or will we just build highways for tourism to see a dying planet – highways that melt and buckle in the heat?

 To register for the Webinar, please click to  --

“Shalom” must be a verb, not merely a goodbye – Arthur

From Pain to Purpose: Mourning for the Earth on Tishah B’Av

[Published July 6, 2021, in the blog of the Religious Action Center (RAC) of Reform Judaism, and reprinted by permission. By COURTNEY COOPERMAN. a 2020-2021 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. --  AW, ed.] 

Tishah B’Av, observed on the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, is considered the saddest day in the Jewish calendar. On Tishah B’Av, we mourn the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem, as well as other tragedies that the Jewish people have endured throughout our history. We traditionally read from Megillat Eicha, or the Book of Lamentations, which describes the horrific destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE.

Many congregations and communities mark Tishah B’Av by mourning present-day disasters, such as environmental degradation. As Rabbi Tamara Cohen explains in The Shalom Center’s “Eicha for the Earth,” the connection between Tishah B’Av and mourning for the planet is grounded in Jewish texts. In the symbolism of the Kabbalah, the Temple and the Earth both embody the Shechinah, or the indwelling presence of God. Some early rabbis considered the Temple to be the heart of the Earth. The destruction of this central, sacred organ imperils the entire planet.

Megillat Eicha offers a complex portrayal of the relationships between human agency and devastating tragedy. Today, these themes resonate with the crisis of climate change and our moral responsibility to address it. In some passages of Megillat Eicha, the people of Jerusalem express confusion and outrage at God’s vengeance. How could God allow for the Temple to be destroyed, subjecting innocent people to unimaginable bloodshed and devastation? We might feel that same sense of rage and injustice as we endure all-consuming wildfires, intensifying storms, record-shattering heat waves, and catastrophic floods—especially because the people least responsible for carbon emissions tend to suffer the worst effects of a warming world.

However, in other passages of Megillat Eicha, the people of Jerusalem maintain faith in God’s righteousness and accept that their suffering is justified. Rather than doubt God’s intentions, they proclaim that they have sinned and take responsibility for their own downfall. These ideas about God’s retribution may feel uncomfortable and poorly aligned with our worldview today—we certainly do not see climate change as a just punishment for human behavior. However, we can relate to the experience of acknowledging our own culpability. We can recognize the ways that our consumption and lifestyle choices contribute to an unsustainable status quo. Our participation in a society that fuels climate change does not mean that we deserve to suffer its consequences, but it does mean we have the responsibility to advocate for climate action. 

On Tishah B’Av, as we grieve for the Earth and the countless lives lost to climate change, we must also harness our power to limit the scale of future tragedy. Even as we feel the effects of climate change in our daily lives, we still have the chance to stave off worst-case scenarios. For example, if we were to quickly employ all existing technologies and cut methane emissions in half by 2030, we could slow the rate of global warming by as much as 30 percent.  Such progress could protect us from dangerous climate tipping points—like thawing permafrost—that unlock new carbon emissions, limit the Earth’s natural capacity to store carbon, and accelerate us towards even higher levels of warming. However, the window for action is narrow: according to U.N. research, the world could exceed the Paris Agreement’s target threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming as soon as 2024.

Fortunately, the Biden administration has taken some steps in the right direction. Within the past six months, the administration has rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement, hosted a Leaders Summit on Climate Change, and taken steps to undo the previous administration’s rollbacks of environmental regulations. Nevertheless, it will take more than executive action to achieve a clean energy economy, fulfill our promises to the global community, and prevent further climate-fueled disasters. Congress must enact robust climate policy that immediately puts the U.S. on track to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, if not sooner. Such legislation must recognize the intersections between environmental harm and systemic racism, prioritize environmental justice, and protect frontline communities from the disproportionate burdens of pollution and climate change.

This summer, Congress is working on recovery legislation that has the potential to advance environmental justice and catalyze the transition to a clean energy economy. Now is the moment to make our voices heard and emphasize the urgency of environmental protection. Learn more and tell your members of Congress to support comprehensive climate legislation.

We also encourage you to use The Shalom Center’s guide to holding an Earth-centered Tishah B’Av service that focuses on the endangered Earth as our temple. The guide includes an English-language “Eicha for the Earth” that can be chanted with the trope of Megillat Eicha. The rituals of Tishah B’Av offer a powerful opportunity to grapple with the moral urgency of climate change, to mourn for the Earth, and to channel that pain into purposeful action.


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