The Menorah as a Tree in a Tiny Forest: Torah This Week

This week’s Torah reading describes how Moses lit the light-bearing Menorah in the portable Mishkan, the Shrine of God’s Presence in the wilderness. And the Haftarah is Zechariah’s imagination of the Menorah in the Second Temple, when it was to be built after the end of the Babylonian Exile. His vision is amazing -- a deeply mystical vision of the future.

The Rabbis designated it also as the Haftarah for Shabbat Hanukkah – hinting at depths of Hanukkah that go far deeper than the Maccabees or even the legend of the one-day bottle of oil that lasted eight days.

Let’s start at the beginning. The Menorah that stood in the Mishkan and then in the Temple in Jerusalem was clearly meant to resemble a tree:

“You shall make a menorah of pure gold; the menorah shall be made of hammered work; its base and its shaft, its cups, calyxes [tight bunches of green leaves that hold the blossom], and petals shall be of one piece. Six branches shall issue from its sides; three branches from one side of the menorah and three branches from the other side of the menorah.

"On one branch there shall be three cups shaped like almond-blossoms, each with calyx and petals, and on the next branch there shall be three cups shaped like almond-blossoms, each with calyx and petals; so for all six branches issuing from the menorah.

"And on the menorah itself there shall be four cups shaped like almond-blossoms, each with calyx and petals: a calyx, of one piece with it, under a pair of branches; and a calyx, of one piece with it, under the second pair of branches, and a calyx, of one piece with it, under the last pair of branches; so for all six branches issuing from the menorah.

"Their calyxes and their stems shall be of one piece with it, the whole of it a single hammered piece of pure gold.” Shemot/Exodus 25:31-40.  

In other words, the ancient Temple Menorah was literally a Tree of Light. It was, in fact, a green menorah. We need to reclaim this powerful symbol of the unity of the natural world with the light that we bring to it.

The Menorah is Fed its Oil Directly from Live Olive Trees

On the Shabbat during Hanukkah, we read the vision of the Prophet Zechariah again -– as if to say, this linking of Light and Tree is extraordinarily important.


[The angel] said to me, “What do you see?” And I answered, “I see a menorah all of gold, with a bowl above it. The lamps on it are seven in number, and the lamps above it have seven pipes, and the lamps above it have seven pipes; and next to it are two olive trees, one on the right of the bowl and one on its left.” (Zechariah 4:2-3)

“And what,” I asked him, “are those two olive trees, one on the right and one on the left of the menorah?” And I further asked him, “What are the two tops of the olive trees that feed their golden oil through those two golden tubes?” (Zechariah 4: 11-13)

This first Q and A is astonishing: Never in the Mishkan or the Temple have there been trees. Indeed, many of the Prophets are deeply concerned to make sure there are no trees that might be mistaken for pagan presences.

So Zechariah is already “breaking the rules.”  Then he goes one step even further, and the rabbis stop short of including his second amazing assertion in the Haftarah. Not only does the menorah have two living olive trees that are actually interwoven with the “golden tree” made by human beings.

The trees are directly hooked up to the menorah, feeding olive oil directly into the lamps. The light of the menorah is actually fed and sustained by a continuous natural source of oil. The menorah, then, is part of a tiny eco-system, an intertwining of trees that grow from the earth (adamah) and a tree (the Menorah) made by human beings (adam), shaped by them both into an interwoven whole.

What a powerful image, the menorah becoming the embodiment of the same relationship that we see between human beings and the rest of nature, as symbolized by the Creation story. In Bereishit/Genesis, adam (human earthlings) are made out of adamah (earth). This is the same as saying, in English, that earthlings were made out of earth.

The shared linguistic root implies an entire unity, an inter-relatedness of human beings with all the rest of creation. That Creation is not “us” vs. “it,” but rather one continuous whole, within which we have a crucial creative and destructive potential, a relationship and a responsibility.

What are the implications of this perception for action?

There can be no Judaism and no Jewish People worthy of the future without this teaching and the action that grows from it.

That means reshaping our prayers (including dance, meditation, music, and pictorial art as well as words). It means including olive trees, squirrels, azaleas, mushrooms in our prayer minyanim – and inventing what that means.

It requires reshaping the kashrut of growing and eating food and creating a kashrut of collecting and using energy.

It means reshaping our festvals, which are the offspring of a love affair between the Jewish People and Earth, into celebrations capable of healing our wounded parents -- Earth as well as human Earthlinds.

It means reshaping our synagogues and havurot into “clusters of resilience,” whose members are able to survive and help each other and other engangered folk in a time of inevitable “natural” and “unnatural” disasters, local and regional.

It means --- that this is a time to dance in God's earthhquake.

Shalom, salaam, paz, peace, namaste! -- Arthur


[Dear friends, In response to a recent Shalom Report of mine, "The Roots of Turmoil in Jerusalem," Daisy Khan, executive secretary of  Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality (WISE), asked me to join her and Adem Carroll, am active Muslim member of several interfaith organizations, in working out a shared statement by Muslims and Jews about the worsening violence that began in Jerusalem and has now spead to all parts of Israel and Palestine. We did, we invited some leaders of both communities  to sign it, and the link is below. We invite you to join in it, and to share it with your friends.  To sign it, please click to --

 Since the Call was designed for signature by Muslims and Jews, we have provided another link for signatures by allies and supporters from other spiritual, religious, and ethical communities:

 [Dear friends, I am adding this note the morning  of May 20. Here is the Call with about 500 signers in four groups: the initiators, the early signers, the Jewish or Muslim signers, and the "Allies/ Witnesses" from other spiritual, religious, or ethical communities.

[This Call was written in the first few days after the exchange of rocket/ bomb fire, and its language is much gentler than it would have been had we written it even several days later. We would have taken into account ---

[The escalation of the Israeli attack on Gaza, including destruction of the only university library in Gaza and destruction of a journalists' center, as well as the killing of dozens more children and women who were in no way Hamas fighters; 

[the continuation of Hamas rocket attacks against civilian areas; 

[attempts by police and settlers to break up a general strike by Israeli citizens of Palestinian identity and Palestinians on the West Bank

[the formation of Whatsapp groups of Israeli "Jewish" violent bands planning and carrying out attacks on Israeli citizens of Arab/ Palestinian identity and culture; the failure of Israeli police to protect some Israeli citizens even when warned in advance of such planned attacks;

[the unwillingness of the President of the United States to not merely request of the Israeli government a cease-fire and the end of using US-supplied weapons for attacks on Gaza but when the Trumpian Prime Minister of Israel refused, the President's unwillingness to inform him there would be no more weapons sales, in accord with US law  --

[All this would have brought stronger condemnation in our call.

[But  we could not go back and ask signers to commit to stronger language without long delays, so we send you the Call as the signers signed it. Many might well have wanted more; but this is what it was. All our signers hope that the joining of American Muslims and Jews at such a moment will speak to the future and in the present. We welcome additional signers -- please share this Shalom Report with your friends, colleagues, and congregants.  --  Rabbi Arthur Waskow, editor]




May 14, 2021; 3 Sivan, 5781; 2 Shawwal, 1442

 On the occasion of the Islamic Holy Day of Eid and as we approach the Jewish Holy Day of Shavuot,  the Muslim and Jewish communities must both deplore the violence between Israel and Palestine and note the disproportionate response of the state of Israel, beginning with the attack on the Al Aqsa mosque on Laylat al Qadr, one of the holiest nights of the year.

 Some Israeli extremists continue to advocate for Israeli seizure and destruction of this holy site. Though their numbers are small, it is as if small numbers of people were known to be planning for destruction on Easter Sunday of St. Peter’s  in Vatican City, or on Yom Kippur of the Western Wall so sacred to Jews, or on July 4  of  the US Capitol together with the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, even if no one were to be killed – most unlikely in all four cases. 

Given the intense devotion to this place,  one of the most important sites in the Muslim world, and given the constant anxiety caused by the known threats to it, the actual attack was extremely provocative. We must question the motivation, the timing, and the necessity.

And we mourn the loss of lives, all sacred. We plead with our co-religionists in Israel and Palestine, and world-wide, to return to the shared vision of Jerusalem as a Holy City, one that reflects vision, light, hope, compassion and peace, and reflects the profound dignity and value of all humans as Images of the Holy One.

We ask both governmental leaders and private citizens, those with power and those in the street, to do everything in their power to de-escalate the conflict and further calm, to protect life and limb, restore the safety of all,  and prevent any damage to the sacred sites of all.

Injustices and inequalities feed this conflict. Though we deplore the rockets from Gaza as we deplore the Israeli bombing, the most immediate crisis in Jerusalem has its roots in the continuing military occupation and siege of lands that comprise the necessary aspirations of the Palestinian people  --  East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza – and the constant forcible pressure to replace Palestinian residents of these lands with settlers who often act oppressively, with  military and police protection.There may be several different ways to end this unjust occupation and to protect the safety of all who live in the region. So long as it continues, crisis after crisis, bloodshed after bloodshed, will be its consequences. 

For there can be no true security without justice. Nor will there be peace without justice, only  pacification based on force. Though many feel that the US has not maintained its neutrality as an honest broker in this ongoing conflict, President Biden should far more energetically promote a peace process both in Israel and Palestine, meanwhile responding to the concerns of the international community. The US Government has  so far seemed unable or unwilling to confront the settlement movement that has played such a destabilizing role in Israel as well as Palestine.

Our own spiritual and religious communities throughout the world are deeply affected by what our communities in Israel and Palestine do. The vision of the ancient Hebrew Prophets and of the Prophet Muhammed, peace be upon them all, of a world of peace and justice – and the shape of a Jewish People and Islam struggling to carry out those visions today – will be deeply compromised by injustice and violence committed in their names.

Blessed be the peacemakers. On this occasion, we affirm that our shared religious and moral values require an embrace of peace and justice, especially when our views and perspectives differ. The other alternative is oppression and conflict without end. 


To sign, please click to --

Signed (Institutions cited for identification only):

Initiators: Daisy Khan, Executive Director, Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality (WISE);  Adem Carroll, Flushing Interfaith Council, Faith Coalition Against Genocide:  Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Ph.D., Executive Director, The Shalom Center

Early Signers:

Imam Shamsi Ali,  Director, Jamaica Muslim Center, NY, and President, Nusantara Foundation USA 

Sheikh Fadel Al Sahlani, Al Khoei Foundation

Emad Al Turk,  Chairman/Co-founder, International Museum of Muslim Cultures

Rabbi Phyllis Berman, Mashpia in the ALEPH Hashpa'ah Program

Abdul Aziz Bhuiyan, Chairman, Hillside Islamic Center 

Adem Carroll, Flushing Interfaith Council, Faith Coalition Against Genocide

Robert J. De Sena, Council for Unity

Rabbi Amy Eilberg

Rabbi Michael Feinberg, Executive Directorl Greater New York Labor-Religion Coalition

Rabbi Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer, Founding Director, Multifaith Studies and Initiatives,  Reconstructionist Rabbinical College

Rabbi Jonah Geffen

Sahar Hussain, Interfaith Institute of Long Island

S. Ayse Kadayifci-Orellana Ph.D., School of International Service, American University

Imam Faizul Khan, Islamic Society of Greater Washington Area

Amin Khwaja, President, Islamic Center of Long Island 

Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, Congregation Beth Simchat Torah

Khalid S. Lateef, Author, Member of the Long Island Multi-Faith Forum. 

Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor, Tikkun

Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, President Emeritus, The Shalom Center

Rabbi Ellen Lippmann

Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid, Founder, Soundvision, Muslim Network TV and Justice for All 

Ibrahim Negm, Senior advisor to the Grand Mufti of Egypt and Secretary General, Fatwa Authorities Worldwide 

Rabbi Jeffrey Roth, Executive Director, The Awakened Heart Project for Contemplative Judaism

Dr. Muzammil H. Siddiqi, Imam and Religious Director, The Islamic Society of Orange County, Garden Grove, California 

Dr. Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons, Ph.D. National Council of Elders

Rabbi David Teutsch, Professor Emeritus, Reconstructionist Rabbbinical College

Rabbi Burt Visotsky (Jewish Theological Seminaryy)

Rabbi Elyse Wechterman, Executive Director,  Reconstructionist Rabbbinical Assn

Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg

Okolo Rashid, President/Co-founder, International Museum of Muslim Cultures

Hafiz Rehman, Trustee Masjid Darul Quran, Bayshore. LI 

Rabbi Simkha Weintraub, LCSW, Co-Founder, Truah: Rabbinic Call for Human Rights

Rabbi Shawn Zevit, Congregation Mishkan Shalom

Ani Zonneveld, Muslims for Progressive Value

To add your name, please click to --

 Since the Call was designed for signature by Muslims and Jews, we have provided another link for signatures by allies and supporters from other spiritual, religious, and ethical communities:

For the hundreds of additional signers as of May 20, see below


Should the Genocide of the Midianites be Kept in Torah?

In Numbers 31, in Parashat Mattot, we read what I consider probably the most horrifying and disgusting chapter of Torah: the genocide of the Midianites. If you can read it without puking, wash out your mouth and your brain. YHWH allegedly demands, Moshe allegedly orders, and the Israelite people allegedly carries out, the murder of every Midianite except girls too young to have had sex with a man, and they are taken as slaves.

For years, I wondered why we still read it. Burn it already, cleanse the Torah!!  Then a few years ago I realized a reason to keep it.  It says to us, NO people is immune from committing genocide. Not us the Jews, not us the Americans, not whatever "us" we are. If we read it with that kavanah and ONLY with that kavanah, then it is valuable to read. Our disgust is the crucial midrash. 

It warns us: Be careful. If someone accuses you of genocide, look into the situation. Do not answer, "That's absurd! How could we, victims of gemocide, do sucha  thing. You are lying!"

Look again. The Torah says we did do such a thing. We, the victims of Pharaoh's attempt at genocide, heard the God we celebrate, the Breath of Life, tell us to murder an entire people.  And the Torah says our Maximum Hero, Moses, did not protest. And we did it.  

So this means, If someone accuses you of genocide,  instead of dismissing the charge out of hand, investigate. Listen to the evidence. If you are even on the edge, not in the hellish stew, step back. Take steps to make sure you are not even close. 

And read the Torah again with gladness that the story is there. If the ancient story were not there, the present/ future action would be more likely.

"Another Side of Sinai" -- R's Hammer, Seidenberg, & Waskow

On the second night of Shavuot, from 7 pm to 9:45 pm Eastern time on Monday May 17, with a 15-minute break in the middle for free song, movement, and breathing, Rabbis Jill Hammer, David Seidenberg, and I will share conversations with you about two texts from “Another Side of Sinai."

You can register at 

Please note: We have added contribution amounts to accommodate both low-income folks and those who wish to contribute more.

For the first adventure,  Rabbi Hammer – who co-founded Kohenet, the Institute for Hebrew Priestesses – and I will lead a participatory journey into a remarkable text called “The Thunder: Perfect Mind.” (For any of you who are just getting to know me, I’m one of the pioneers in creating “Eco-Judaism,” and the author most recently of Dancing in God's Earthquake : The Coming Transformation of Religion.) 

“The Thunder” is often called a Gnostic text from the library discovered at Nag Hamadi. But I think it is a Jewish text, for in it the Voice of Reality speaks, as in the Ten Teachings of the biblical Sinai, as “Anokhi  --“I.” But where in Torah “Anokhi” appears once, in “The Thunder” it appears more than 20 times, almost all as the Sacred Feminine in many paradoxical masks. What do we make of this?

 Then, after a pause to breathe easy, Rabbi David Seidenberg and I will explore the teachings of the Shabbat Shabbaton, the sabbatical year and Jubilee when Earth and Human Earthlings get to rest, and society gets to catch its breath and breathe in Justice, the sharing of abundance. 

Those teachings begin with “B’Har Sinai, On Mount Sinai.”  Rabbi Seidenberg is the author of Kabbalah and Ecology: God's Image in the More-Than-Human World. What can we actually make of this, in the midst of a planetary crisis?

The regular contribution for this double immersion in what came to us from “Another Side of Sinai” is $36.  We have added contribution amounts to accommodate both low-income folks and those who wish to contribute more. Space in the Zoom  virtual frame is limited, so please sign up now. You can register at

We will record the sessions, so if you register you can watch and hear even if you can’t be present on Monday the 17th. But we do hope you’ll be involved, not only a spectator.

All three of us look forward to this journey with you.

 Shalom, salaam, paz, peace, namaste! --  Arthur

An Earth of Neighborhoods: Torah This Week

This week in the scheduled reading of the Torah we reach two chapters of Leviticus that are among my favorite passages of Torah: Chapters 25 and 26, called B’Har (“On the mountain” – that is, Sinai – and B’chukkotai – that is, “About My carved-out rules.”

Chapter 26 ends as Chapter 25 begins, with the assertion that the teaching comes from Sinai. The Torah thus lifts this chunk of itself to supernal significance, like the Ten Teachings that coime with an eruption of fire, smoke, and the sounding of an eerie shofar blast. Yet it is only beginning to be treated as a whole, and as centrally important.


  I have written so often about the whole passage* that I can summarize most of it quickly and then I want to explore one part that I have not previously paid much attention to. The summary: Every seventh year, Earth must be allowed to rest from organized agriculture. In Lev. 25 this called Shabbat Shabbaton --  Shabbat to the exponential power of Shabbat. Elsewhere in Torah it is called “Shmita – “Release”: and the human community is released from debts owed by the poor to the rich, releasing the one from degradation and resentment, releasing the other from pride and anxiety.

The fiftieth year – that is, 7 x 7+1, is a year of Yovel – “Jubilee” ( a westernized transliteration, not a translation) , or in Everett Fox’s brilliant translation, “Home-bringing.”  In that year, the land rests again and families are restored to their ancestral holding. The rich give up their surplus, the poor give up their misery. (This happens not on Rosh Hashanah when the year begins, but after days of healing and forgiveness on Yom Kippur – I think, to make sure the transformation happens not out of rage or fear but out of love.)

Why all this? Because no person or institution “owns” the land or Earth – only YHWH, the Interbreath of Life, Which/Who leases it for a limited time to landholders. Then Chapter 26 asks what happens if the community refuses to let the land rest for its Shabbats, and answers that the land takes its Shabbats by force – plagues of dearth and disaster, fire and famine, exile as refugees.

Both chapters speak powerfully to our generation: what we must do, to let Earth rest, and what will happen – is already happening – if we won’t. The Shmita year of Release begins next fall, according to the ancient count. But in our society the process is not limited to a single year. Its values should pervade our calendar, in every month of every year: Sharing. A pulsating economy, not one of endless ”growth” that sweeps us over a catastrophic cliff.  Love for Earth as a whole and of our beloved neighborhood, its land and people.

 And that’s the passage of Torah that I want to lift up. In Lev. 25: 13-45 – way more than half the chapter – Torah devotes itself to a person’s ability to redeem, recover, his/her/ their home in the original family neighborhood. That is precisely the opposite of the degrading practice of Pharaoh’s Mitzrayyim, the Tight and Narrow Land of Pharaoh’s Egypt, described in Genesis 47:21, of moving the newly enserfed Egyptians far from their homes.  Indeed, the land system of Leviticus is in very detail the black-and-white reversal of Pharaoh’s Egypt.

How do we respect Torah’s concern for Earth as a whole with its concern for local neighborliness?

One suggestion: The biblical focus is food. In our lives, energy is food. Neighborhood solar-energy co-ops would in the same breath help heal all Earth from the climate crisis and help strengthen neighborhood ties and the democratic control of energy at the neighborhood level, rather than corporate control of huge solar farms or ocean-based gigantic wind turbines.

Among the proposals for a Green Jobs New Deal is for for Federal grants to solarize 30 Million American homes. Add “co-op” to that formula, and we are will on the way to a modern version of the biblical vision.


*I first wrote about this in the original Godwrestling (Schocken, 1978) and most recently in Dancing in God's Earthquake : The Coming Transformation of Religion  (Orbis, 2020). For its reviews and ordering info click, It is my life-harvest, intended not only to draw on the past but to feed the future. Together with Rabbis Jill Hammer and David Seidenberg I'll be explorong these and "other sides of Mt. Sinai" in a Zoom conversation on May 17. See --


Torah Portion "Emor": Transforming & Preserving the Flow of Festivals

In this week’s Torah portion, called “Emor,” one of the main passages is a recitation (Leviticus 23) of the festivals and how to observe them  -- the biblical version of Seasons of Our Joy. It begins with Shabbat and then follows the seasons of the year, from Pesach (Passover) in “the first month of the year” until the day after the seven-day fall festival of Sukkot.

From our own  standpoint, there are several surprising aspects to the recitation. First of all, in the description of Pesach there is not a work about the great liberation from slavery to Pharaoh in Mitzrayyim, “Narrowdom.” 

In fact, we hear about two festivals – one on the fourteenth day of the first “renewing” of the year – that is, the spring new moon, what we might call the first lunar “moonth.” That is when there must be a “pesach” or Pass-over, Skip-over, skipping or stumbling offering to the Breath of Life.

The next day, the fifteenth  day, we celebrate a different festival, the Feast of Matzot or Unleavened Bread. Still no mention of the “fierce urgency of Now,” the reason we hear elsewhere for baking a bread for a band of runway slaves to carry into the wilderness as emergency food.

What is going on here?  In the beginning, “Pesach,” it seems, was the stumbling, staggering, skipping gait of a newborn lamb. The offering of a “pesach” newborn lamb, roasted in fire newly tamed, was a “pesach” offering to the Breath of Life. The offering of a spring lambing by the shepherds of the land. Some scholars think the shepherds may even have imitated the newborn lambs by doing a skipping, stumbling dance of joyful celebration of their own.

 And why matzot the next day, with a commitment to eat only matzot for seven days? A festival of farmers, when the early-fruitful barley was breaking ground and offering itself as the first food of the first farmers who could pound barley into a powder, add water but no spices and no yeast, and bake the flat bread with fire newly tamed.

Then where did the Pesach of liberation come from? There must have been some event of blazing heat in the life of the people to melt a shepherd’s festival of newborn lambs and a farmer’s festival of new-sprung barley into one, a festival of freedom. 

Transforming the stumbling pesach steps of a newborn lamb and the pesach skipping dance of shepherds into the Pesach of the Messenger of Death skipped over, passed over, the homes of Israelites. Only the homes where blood had rimmed the doorways to bring new birth as the bloody doorway of a womb brings a new birth.

Spring and new birth, when translated to a social system, means freedom –- the unexpected, a new shape of living.  It is no surprise that the whole lunar-solar Jewish calendar is based on the certainty that Pesach must come in the spring.

And the transformation of Pesach should teach us a truth about other old symbols and practices: When we live through earthquakes, we can transform the old without forgetting it.


There is one more astonishing fact about Emor’s recitation of the seasonal festivals. In Lev. 23: 22, there is a sudden departure from explaining holy-day observance to explaining how to treat the poor in time of harvest:

         You are not to finish-off the edge of your field when you harvest (it),

             the full-gleaning of your harvest you are not to glean; for the afflicted and

             for the sojourner you are to leave them, I am YHWH

             [the Breath of Life, Interbreathing Spirit of the world] your God!

 Then the text goes on to the blowing of the Shofar for Renewing of the moon of the seventh moonth – what we know as Rosh Hashanah.

Why this interruption in the flow of holy days?

I can only tell you how it makes me feel: That after the  Spring wheat harvest at Shavuot, there is a kind of plug that blocks the flow of abundance from Earth – UNLESS we pull that plug open by sharing the flow with the poor, who don’t own land. We need to pull that plug if we want to keep moving to the fall harvest.  If we stopped sharing our harvest with the poor, the rhythm and flow of the harvest itself would stop.  Another reminder from the Torah that the meaning of YHWH, Interbreathing, is that social justice and Earth’s abundance can never be severed.

Without sharing Earth's abundance, we would never get to the seventh month, the sabbatical month of four different festivals. A microcosm of the year and of our lives: birth at the New Moon; encounter with another Identity on Yom Kippur; fulfillment at the full moon of harvest; inwardness, seeming death and underground rebirth as the full fruit of Sukkot becomes the invisible seed of Sh’mini Atzeret, waiting for Spring to sprout again.

Blessings as we count the Omer of the Spring wheat harvest, relieving our anxiety and permitting celebrations as on the 33d day the wheat has grown enough to make clear the harvest will be plentiful.

That’s the deep, the sensible understanding that Rabbi Phyllis Ocean Berman brings to what to many seem the puzzling moment of Lag B’Omer. This week, Thursday night and Friday.

 With that note of joy and comfort, blessings of shalom, salaam, peace, paz, namaste! --- Arthur

Shavuot Learning from Sinai to Heal Earth

Dear friends,

Let me begin with the point of this letter – then the explanation. I am writing to invite you to take part in two conversation about applying the year of Shmita --  the biblical seventh year, when Earth should be released from overwork – to our own generation’s urgent need to heal Earth from the climate crisis.  Details below, after background.

There are three weeks and a couple of days from Earth Day to Shavuot. Is there any connection between the 3,000-year=old festival and the 51-year-old one? Yes, two connections in fact – and we can do something about them 

When Jews today think about Shavuot, they think Sinai. And that means that they think either the Ten Utterances or the entire body of Torah being revealed to the whole Jewish people, present throughout time.

Aside from the Ten Utterances, there is a passage of Torah which says explicitly that it came from Mount Sinai. It is chapter 25 and 26 of Leviticus. Chapter 25 begins “B’Har Sinai, On Mount Sinai” and chapter 26 ends “These are the instructions that YHWH,  the Breath of Life,  gave between Godself and the children of Israel at Mount Sinai by the hand of Moses.”

 And what is contained in these two chapters? In the first, Torah explains that every seventh year must be Shabbat Shabbaton, Sabbath to the exponential power of Sabbath, in which Earth is allowed to rest. Then chapter 26 asks, what happens if you will not allow Earth to rest in that seventh year?  It answers, Earth rests anyway – – on your head. It rests through plague, famine, fire, exile.

So Shavuot, if we pay attention, is a time to remember the ancient wisdom of healing the relationship between Earth and Human earthlings by pausing to release Earth from organized agriculture.  The word “Release” – in Hebrew, Shmita – became the name of that seventh year.

According to the ancient count, Shmita begins this very fall. What better time to pay attention, as the US government gears up at long last, 40 years late, to address the climate crisis?

I wrote about Shmita and Jubilee in the original Godwrestling published in 1978 when no one paid attention, I write about it again in the book I’ve just published, Dancing in God's Earthquake  : The Coming Transformation of Religion and now people are paying attention.

In many synagogues and havurot, there is a tradition that on the first night of Shavuot (the night that begins the evening of Sunday, May 16), there is a gathering to study Torah. This year that probably means by Zoom. What I have ibn=n mind and plan is both exploring the ancient text for its obvious and hidden meanings, and exploring with you how we might apply this in a very different planetary arena.

One more thing.  In Christian tradition, a Shavuot gathering of followers of Jesus morphed into what became Pentecost, this year May 23. If you want to explore these ideas for Pentecost Sunday, sign up!

 There are two goals I have in mind: The first is simply exploring these ideas for you to apply in your own life. The second is preparing you,  if you wish,  to lead an hour-long discussion during the Shavuot Night of Learning and discussion.

If the second appeals to you, we suggest you ask whoever is organizing your Shavuot Night of Learning to assign you an hour to lead with this topic. Or if you are not in touch with any organized Shavuot plan, invite some of your friends for a pleasant evening of talk and song about this on May 16.

I look forward to meeting with you on May 5 and 12. If you can’t make one or both of those dates, register anyway and we will record the sessions.

The recipe for healing: Mix justice with joy.  Shalom, Arthur 

Who Can't Breathe? Three Outcries and a Prayer

In Memory of George Floyd

And Thousands More Since 1619 


I Can’t Breathe 

Again and again,

With gun or choke-hold.

Police have stolen the breath of Black Americans.

The police are not merely police

For they hold a national authority

To use violence on behalf of the nation:

To serve us all, protect us all.

When they subjugate the Black community

They implicate us all,

They make us all Subjugators

And they subjugate us all.

But their misdeeds have stirred

A great Uprising against racism.

We will let no ruler pretend

The protest is the danger.


We Can’t Breathe 

All humanity is choking

From a virus that invades our lungs

We have left no space for other species

And the virus leaps into our lives.

If our rulers minimize the danger

It becomes still worse

Choking our societies, our jobs, our businesses,

Our democracy. Our lives.


Earth Can’t Breathe

All life on Earth depends on Interbreathing.

We breathe in what the trees breathe out;

The trees breathe in what we breathe out.

Our Interbreathing is the Breath that keeps all Earth alive.

Our Interbreathing is the very Name we call You,

For YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh

Is the still small voice of simply breathing.

But the Flood of CO2

That we call the “climate crisis” 

Chokes our breathing.

Chokes Your Breathing,

All Earth is scorched by burning fossil fuels

And Carbon Pharaohs burn their way to faster wealth.

Earth can’t breathe and Your Name rattles in our throats.


A Prayer and a Response 

You Who are the Breath of Life,

At Sinai You taught us,

You shall not take My Name with an empty heart.

You shall not breathe My Name with empty Spirit.

Every breath we take

is Itself Your Name,

Part of that great Breath that is the Holy One.

You Who are the Breath of Life,

Heal us to breathe.


I Speak 

I Who free you from choking

In the Tight and Narrow Place:

I Who send you Broad Spaces

Where My breath,

My wind, blows free:

No one shall rob you of My Name,

My Breath, My Holy Spirit.

Embody Me!


Woven by Rabbi Arthur Waskow

The Shalom Cente

 Creative Commons Copyright 



Put Not Your Trust in Princes: Biden -- 2 Failures of Love, 2 Victories

Dear friends,

“Put not your trust in princes,” said an immigrant-rights activist this past week – one who had put his trust in President Biden.

For Mr. Biden could have, as he promised again and again during his presidential campaign, changed the abysmally low level the number of refugees Trump had set – 15,000 a year – to be allowed to enter the US. Could have raised to a decent humanitarian level the number of refugees admitted to the US.


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