This past Tuesday (July 8, 2014), I wrote about the coming three weeks of Jewish time and the present month of Muslim time from the perspective of the Israel-Palestine crisis. You can read or reread that letter, with some additional comments in the fiery light of war that is no longer “looming” but burning, at https://theshalomcenter.org/content/war-looming-make-fasts-tammuz-ramada... . Be sure also to read my “comment” at the end.
Today, as I promised, I want to write from the perspective of the planetary climate crisis, the scorching of our Mother Earth, the choking of what was the balanced Breath of Life, our atmosphere whose Name is YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh. Simply breathing.
Our ability to pay attention to the climate crisis seems always to be drowned out by the blood of war; but the scorching of our planet is already causing far more deaths and is threatening the lives and homes of millions more.
How can we draw on the ancient wisdom of Biblical Israel as an indigenous people in sacred relationship with the Earth? How can we use this storehouse of wisdom toward helping heal all Humanity and Mother Earth today, from a crucial planetary crisis threatening the very life and health of all of us?
There are three weeks from 17 Tammuz (when the Babylonian Army broke through the walls of Jerusalem) to Tisha B’Av (when they destroyed the Temple). (In the Western calendar, these three weeks run from July 15 to August 4-5.)
Traditionally, these three weeks were about danger to the Temple and then its destruction. It was through the Temple that ancient Israel made contact with God.
The contact came not by words of prayer or words of Torah study, but by offering on the Altar a portion of the foods that YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh, the Interbreathing Spirit of all life, had brought forth from adamah, the Earth.
So adam, the human community, praised YHWH and celebrated the sharing of life through the food that came from adamah.
According to the records of Jeremiah the Prophet (Jeremiah 34), as the Babylonian Army approached the city, he had called on the Israelites to free all their slaves and make real the Jubilee.
In that Homebringing, the Earth was released from human exploitation and the poor were released from exploitation by the rich — for each family received an equal share of land. The rich would release themselves from greedy domination, the poor would release themselves from fear and rage.
So the people heeded Jeremiah and freed their slaves. The Babylonians pulled back. Perhaps they were impressed by this demonstration of the people’s unity and commitment.
But — seeing the besieging army withdraw, the slaveholders changed their minds and took back their slaves.
Then Jeremiah prophesied their doom: “Says YHWH, Breath of Life: ‘You would not hear My Voice and proclaim a release, each to his kinsman and countryman. Here! I proclaim your release — declares YHWH — to the sword, to pestilence, and to famine.”
If you will not let the Land rest, you will be exiled and it will rest in your absence. If you will not free your slaves, you will all become slaves. If you will not hear and listen to the still small Voice of the Breathing that connects all life, your own breath will be taken from you.
And he was right. The Imperial Army realized that the people were no longer united, but divided by the greed of the rich and the rage of the poor. The Army returned, conquered the city, and destroyed the Temple.
Much later, the Rabbis named the ancient sin as idolatry. And indeed, as the slave-holders made idols of their own domineering power, they rejected the Interbreathing Spirit.
They themselves had already destroyed their real connection with God, and the Destruction was simply an affirmation of their rejection.
The three weeks between 17th of Tammuz and the 9th day of the Jewish moonth of Av were weeks of uncertainty — of choice.
Choice for the Israelites and for the Babylonians. Which side were they on — their own power to lord it over other people and Mother Earth herself, or the Breath of Life that intertwines us all?
Shall we choose the God Who calls for freedom, for release, for a turning-away from our own arrogance?
When the walls between us have fallen, can both sides reach out to release themselves and each other from being enemies? Or shall we resort to subjugating others, and pay the price of being ourselves subjugated?
In 586 BCE, both peoples failed. And for the Jews, the day of the final Destruction became a day of deep mourning, a 25-hour Fast from food and water, luxurious clothes and perfumes, even sex.
Jewish tradition also saw this day of despair, Tisha B’Av, as the day when the Messiah was born — and hidden away for a time of transformation. From hitting rock bottom comes the courage and commitment to arise. In short, a day of grief and hope and action.
In our generation, we can turn from grief for the destruction of one community’s ancient sacred place to grief, hope, and above all action focused on the future of endangered Earth. For Earth is our Temple, the sacred Temple of all human cultures and all living beings.
Now we know that we human beings through our own corporate “armies” of Big Carbon have broken down the walls that protected thousands of species and the climate that gave life to us all.
What shall we do now that these walls are shattered? Despoil and destroy our Mother Earth still more? Or pause to realize we can choose the path of reconnection, of repairing our interwoven threads of deep connection?
You can see several ways of addressing Tisha B’Av as a day of mourning, hope, and action for the Earth at https://theshalomcenter.org/treasury/116