Va'era

Why & How to Bless the Breath of Life

 Please feel free to share this and discuss it with your friends and congregants . I’d be delighted to hear what responses, criticisms, and insights  you and they have. Write me at Awaskow@theshalomcenter.org Shabbat shalom, Arthur  

 

This week’s Torah portion begins (Exodus 6: 1): “I am YHWH. I was seen by Abraham, by Isaac, and by Jacob as  El Shaddai [God Many-Breasted], but by my name YHWH I was not known to them.” The Voice says this in Egypt, adding this historical note to the God-Name that had come to Moses at the Burning Bush. It came just after Pharaoh had sneered at being told YHWH demanded Time Off for a Holy Gathering for the Israelites, and had made their forced labor much harder – “bricks without straw.” The enslaved Israelites had blamed Moses for their worsened plight.

 Why this historical footnote? It teaches us that a name of God is a way of thinking about the nature of the universe. “God Many-Breasted” meant that the job of the universe is to nourish Humanity. YHWH mean something more complicated. Those letters can only be “pronounced” by breathing. That means the universe is an intertwining of breath. 

 What human beings breathe out into the universe deeply affects what the universe breathes back. If Pharaoh pours cruelty into the world, the world will respond with cruelty – the Plagues. If Humanity pours more CO2 into planet Earth than all its vegetation can transmute to oxygen, the CO2 builds up and the world overheats into fire, floods, and famine. The Plagues that were about to come upon Egypt could not be explained by seeing the world as simply a nourishing breast.

 For about two thousand years, many of our religious communities have used the God-Names “King” and “Lord” to speak our sense of the world.  That legitimates Domination, Subjugation as the way the world is organized. But long ago farmers and shepherds knew that was not really true, and ecologists know it now. When we learn that trillions of microscopic creatures live in our guts and have a deep effect upon our brains, even though we cannot even see them, we must recognize that the world is not top down. The “Breath of life”” is far truer as a way of understanding the world.

One more learning from this verse. It comes just after the nascent “Brickmakers Union Local 1,”as A.J. Muste called the barely organized Israelite workers, had collapsed under the burden of Boss Pharaoh’s wrathful fury. Why just then, not at the Burning Bush when the YHWH Name first came to Moses?

 I think to tell him that his own soft-heartedness had led him to waffle about the new Name. That he had listened overmuch to Israelites who said they were comfortable with the Name they had learned as children, that surely it did not matter what Name they used. And Moses had shrugged: Perhaps it did not matter. But it did. We cannot transform the world, we will   be unable to press our case with vigorous determination, if we slip and slide into an older understanding of the world, no longer true. 

The warning is as true today as it was in the story of 3,000 years ago. To Name our world as built on Domination, Subjugation, is to collapse in the helplessness of “I Can’t Breathe” in the face of racist brutality, “We Can’t Breathe” in the face of a pandemic virus and its complicit rulers, “Earth Can’t Breathe” in the face of giant corporations that insist on making hyperwealth by pouring CO2 into our planet’s air.

It is time for us, NOW, to change our way of understanding. To Name God more truthfully than  “King” or “Lord”: “Breath of Life,  Interbreathing Spirit of the universe.”  Thus:

 Baruch attah YAHHH, elohenu ruach ha’olam asher kidshanu b’mitzvot, vitzvanu  la’asok b’divrei Torah. [Could also be in feminine, “Bruchah aht,” “kidshatnu,” and “vitzivatnu.”]

Blessed are you, Breath of Life, our creative energy, Interbreathing Spirit of the universe, who makes us holy through acts of connection and connects us through using the Breath we share with  all life to speak words with each other that aim toward wisdom, becoming our own words of Torah. 

Living Still lnside the Book of Exodus? What Now?

 Torah Still Coming

Last week our would-be Pharaoh Trump reached the crucial point of his reign: Should he mobilize the red-hat chariots and drown in the Reed Sea, or grumpily relinquish power? We know what he chose. But the danger of Pharaoh does not end with him. We ourselves have not yet crossed the Sea, chosen a new way of understanding World, affirmed a new Name of God. A Name that intertwines us, interbreathes us, not a Name of Domination, Subjugation.

In the old Egyptian culture, Pharaoh was already seen as a god. His power went to his head. Stiffened his heart. He began to believe his own propaganda about the dangerous Israelites, the Ivrim. They speak a different tongue, worship a different God. They come from somewhere else – globalists, cosmopolitans.

He decided it would be a guarantee of his own power to erase them as a separate community. He issued the order to separate new-born babies from their mothers.  Then murder them. Best to start there. Soon he can kill the grown-ups too.

But some people are horrified. Women -- two midwives and then his own daughter – begin creating a Resistance movement. They start saving children’s lives, including one Moses. Fearing the Pharaoh’s racist police, Moses disappears.

Years later he reappears, possessed of a burning new vision, announcing that the very Name of God must change. A new “Name of God” meant understanding the world in a new way, and then changing the world to embody the new vision. The old Name, “El Shaddai, God of many Breasts,” was about a human society always fed by the nourishing Nile. But now the people must learn that they are part of Earth, not separate from it, not the boss of it.

Every breath they took was interwoven with all other interbreathing life. If they acted cruel, Earth would act cruel toward them. Not a punishment, simply a consequence. The only way to prevent a plague was to breathe into Earth and let Earth breathe into them.  The new Name, just Breathing, YHWH, intertwined all people and all life-forms.

But Pharaoh sneers. “Breathing? That’s a God-Name? Can’t even hear it, it’s so weak. The Nile, Osiris, ME –- I am a God you can hear, you must obey!”

Bragging, he treats Nile and Earth and Sky like tools of his own power, bringing on disaster. Some of his advisers warn him. But by this time he has become addicted to his own power; he fires the advisers and hires sycophants. At each disaster, Moses, Aaron, Miriam, and a growing number of critics warm him that he is fighting against the whole process of universal Consequence. At each disaster he first recoils and then returns to his own hubris: The disaster? “Stuff happens!” 

But then his arrogant treatment of Earth brings a devastating disease to afflict his own citizens, his wife, himself. At first he tries to dismiss it. But it grows so terrible that his own Egyptian supporters start denouncing him. He tells the “wetback” foreigners not only that they are free to Go, but they Must Depart. He tells his people to offer them gifts of gold and silver as reparations for hundreds of years of subjugation. 

The cosmopolitan Ivrim smear blood on their doorways as a symbol of going forth from blood-encircled wombs of rebirth, and leave. Many Egyptians sign petitions that he resign and allow his compassionate half-immigrant daughter to become Pharaoh.

And now comes the moment of fateful decision. Pharaoh wakes up the next morning. Should he accept his fall from power, or mobilize a new variety of brown-shirted, armed Egyptians to catch the Israelites at the edge of the Reed Sea, and force them back into slavery? Remind them that back in Egypt forced labor always came with the onions and garlic that they loved, whilst they will have only “God-knows-what?” = Mahn-hu” = “manna”” to eat if they cross the Sea into a wilderness. 

 

So he sends his brown-shirt bullies, legitimated by his own speeches anointing them as the real patriots but only if they will fight in wild melee against the corrupt old leadership. What will the people do? 

Choose the normalcy of slavery with garlic? Or make themselves a civil-disobedient Sea of Reeds, bending and swaying but always returning thick and bristly to block the path of Subjugation?

Announcing we will no longer obey this Pharaoh and his bully-boy brown-shirts? Reaching out to his frightened, despairing followers with new tools, windmills and solar collectors, to make peace with wounded Earth?  Choosing to hear our own ”still small Voice of Breath,” pointing our way toward a Loving and Beloved Community?

It’s up to us. It always has been.

At about 4 pm on Infamous Insurrection Wednesday, we were one of the very first  groups  to urge our members to call Congress and demand Trump be impeached. Done! Now, if you want to end the power of our would-be Pharaoh and prevent a future effort, call 1202-224-3121. Ask for your own Senators or Sen. McConnell, who says he is undecided. insist on removing  Trump and disqualifying him from future office. 

My small personal crisis and the Great American Social Crisis


Dear friends,

This past Wednesday afternoon, I found all my leg muscles very weak and my speech slurred. Seemed like it might be a stroke, so Phyllis with the help of wonderful friends hurried me into an ambulance to a hospital. The hospital found there was nothing at all wrong with my brain, but something was wacky with my liver. During the next 24 hours my liver calmed down. The medical hunch was that there had been a stone interrupting the internal processes of the liver, the stone passed,  the processes worked right, and I felt fine. On Friday afternoon they sent me home.

It was a powerful lesson: In the Hierarchical picture of the world, my Brain is in charge. The liver is deeply subordinate. But that is just not so. In an Ecological picture of the world, the liver, kidneys, lungs, heart, belly – – including even the million microscopic creatures living in my belly that are not even me – – as well as my brain work together to keep me alive and making sense. If I were to act as if my liver were unimportant, a mere appendage, disaster. Domination, subjugation can kill me.

There was another powerful lesson. The official ethic of the hospital was honesty and transparency with patients. But over and over during those 40 hours, particular medical professionals withheld vital information from me. Their refrain: "We didn't want to scare you." My refrain: "I'm a grown-up. I want to know the truth." It was only because I pushed and challenged that I found out what was going on.

"Easier" for them to control the information, even if that meant I didn't get fed dinner and didn't get medicine pills I needed. It was only because I pushed and challenged -- made them uneasy -- that I found out what was going on.

In the great American social crisis we are living through, the official ethic of America is democracy and honesty in government. But the White House has chosen Domination, Subjugation, and a flood of lies to support them as the mode by which to lead America. It has viewed with contempt and oppressive behavior the liver and the kidneys and the lungs of American society. It has done that literally in the face of a virus that is saying, “Pay attention to all the organs!” And so Americans are dying by unnecessary tens of thousands.

More metaphorically, the Black community which has always been treated like an unimportant liver in the American social system has wakened not only itself but many other organs of the system who understand the Ecological rather than the Hierarchical way of keeping America healthy. So there has perhaps for the first time, or perhaps for the first time since the Civil War, been a multiracial uprising against racism.

The White House, in its obsessive commitment to Dominate and Subjugate, is trying to deal with at uprising by making an American police state. That may create chaos, but it will not create health and prosperity.

That obsession with Subjugation is the politics of Pharaoh. It ended up drowning Pharaoh himself in the Sea of Reeds, but it took tens of thousands of Egyptians with him. First in ecological upheavals we call the Plagues, finally in the death of the firstborns.

What can we do? Nonviolent action both inside and outside the system are necessary. The House of Representatives should be refusing to appropriate any money at all for the Department of Homeland Security without a physical withdrawal of all its police forces from American cities, and with legislative provisions to prevent what has happened in Portland and now in Seattle. Senators committed to democracy with a small “d” should be filibustering every so-called “must-pass” bill until no American city is under Pharaoh’s occupation. The ACLU should be going to court everywhere to restore and renew the right to vote freely and to demonstrate freely.

And I do not think that this kind of action will happen, or will matter without nonviolent direct action by the people. I emphasize nonviolent. Even where a particular building is itself a repository of Subjugative violence, it will make more sense in this situation to avoid attacking that building. We should be enforcing a nonviolent discipline in order to gather against Pharaoh’s violence.  Closing the roads around such a building, closing the highways, creating a campaign for “denial of service” to computers in Department of Homeland Security and the White House – – all those will be necessary to protect us in our myriad vital organs of society from Pharaoh and from the Plagues that Pharaoh has brought upon us.

I want to come back to my own personal crisis of life and death. In October I will be 87 years old, and as one of those who is most vulnerable to terrible torment or death by the Coronavirus, I have been extraordinarily careful to protect myself and my immediate family.

In early October, what I think may be the most important work I’ve done since the Freedom Seder in 1969 will be published. It’s a book entitled Dancing in God's Earthquake: The Coming Transformation of Religion. It’s an effort to reimagine Judaism, Christianity, and other religious communities as committed to an Ecological rather than Hierarchical vision of the world. I very much hope to be here, able to speak and to write and to teach what that book is saying.

Yet if between now and January 20, 2021, it is necessary to bring all my organs, all my body, into the struggle to prevent a police state under Pharaoh, then I will.

With blessings for each and all of us – – each human being and all life forms, free and unique organs to give life to the Loving and Beloved Community, the ONE –
 Arthur

Is Coronavirus a Biblical "Plague"?

In the ancient biblical tradition, what is a "plague"? Where does it come from? Is it anything like coronavirus? Is it anything like the wildfires that have so damaged California and Australia? Can these ancient stories teach us anything today?

Some of the great plagues of the Exodus are what we would call diseases, but not all. There is a cattle affliction that sounds something like mad cow disease. There is an affliction of all water in the land of Egypt, not only the Nile but even water in pots and pans. There is the death of all firstborns.

But there are also the invasions of frogs, of locusts, of lice or mosquitoes. These are ordinary animals in extraordinary numbers and places. But so are diseases. The Coronavirus is perfectly normal until it leaps a species. Carbon dioxide is perfectly normal – – even necessary – – until human corporations create so much of it by burning fossil fuels that it becomes extraordinary, planet-destroying. The Exodus move to a freely wandering, struggling, learning, growing journey in a Wilderness, seeking to become a loving and beloved community.

The Exodus is empowered by a series of Ten Plagues. In some understandings, they were brought on by a God Who is a sort of Super-Pharaoh in the sky, proving he is even more powerful and more cruel than the Pharaoh on the Egyptian throne, who claims to be a god. Pharaoh enslaves Israelites; God kills Egyptians.

This understanding that the Exodus is a contest between a king and a Super-King is underlined by the false biblical translation of YHWH as “LORD.” (The rabbinic tradition substituted “Adonai/ Lord” for “YHWH” but the Hebrew Bible does not.) It is more likely that YHWH with no vowels is simply a breath – Yyyyyhhhhhwwwwwhhhh: the Breath of life, sometimes the Wind of change, sometimes the Hurricane of destruction. 

This Ruach (Hebrew for “breath, wind, spirit”) is what intertwines all life. We know now this is literally, physically, scientifically true: the Oxygen-CO2 interbreathing between animals and vegetation keeps all life alive. So YHWH is the bearer of consequence, not punishment or rewards. Try reading the whole Plague narrative substituting “Interbreath of life” instead of “LORD.”  For me and others who have tried this, it changes the whole story. 

From this vantage point, the concentrated power and the arrogance, cruelty, and stubbornness of a Pharaoh whose subjugation of human beings soon became subjugation of Earth. The cruelty that Pharaoh sows, all Egypt reaps.

Those plagues did not come from outside us. They came from our own society, from our own government, from our own way of living. "We" allowed a Pharaoh who turned Egyptian farmers into sharecroppers and an immigrant community into slaves.

And that's the case today. The coronavirus only becomes destructive and deadly because we don't leave space between ourselves and various other species. We don't leave space for bats who fly around perfectly well carrying that virus. We take up all the space there is, and we take up all the air there is with far too much CO2. We allow ourselves to become "sharecroppers" within the system that brings plagues upon us. And we become accustomed to the system of domination, so much that we think it is normal. It is not arrogance, it is not cruelty; it is normal.

Until Earth rebels, and what is normal becomes lethal. Some groups of us suffer more from the "diseases" than others, die more than others. More and more of us even begin to notice that the "overseers" who casually murdered Israelite slaves in the ancient story are not so different from the police today who use their legitimized authority to kill more Blacks. Then more and more of us realize that some of us are sharecroppers and some of us are enslaved.

Yet these plagues have an unexpected effect, in the ancient story and for us today. Though the ancient plagues were the horrifying results of Pharaoh’s cruelty, they became the instruments of liberation.

How could both truths be true? The Exodus story splits the targets of the plagues. For Egyptians, they were utterly destructive. For Israelites, who according to the story were physically and ecologically separated in their own region of Goshen, the plagues were liberating. Zoom becomes our Goshen. And if we stop to think, we know that Zoom is a class and racial privilege. The deeply poor do not get to live in Zoom.

Whether the separation was factually accurate or a part of a larger parable, it was a way of celebrating the emergence of a new kind of community  -- committed to a new birth of freedom yet welcoming, as the story of Pharaoh’s daughter indicates, to “renegade refugees” even from the palace of privilege and power.

We, living in the midst of the Coronavirus Plague and the varied plagues of global scorching, do not have the luxury of regional separation.  Our own “Goshen” is retreat into our own homes, scattered everywhere. Our own new plagues imposed by modern pharaohs are again horrifying and might-be liberating: Undrinkable water.  Intrusive “forever plastics,” even inside human bodies. Droughts. Famines. Floods. Fires. Human beings becoming unable to see each other through the darkness of fear. Ultimately, the dangerously impending death of the next generation of the human species -- our own first- and second- and tenth-borns.

Our new Plagues might be sounding the death-knell of an old world order of Domination and Hierarchy. Or they might by making uprising for freedom so difficult to do in public and by destroying jobs and workplaces, reinforce the power of our pharaohs until all of us are conscripted into the chariot army that drowns in the Sea of misery, despair, and death.

Which future is our future depends on us. Can we suffer from the plagues and yet --  and therefore! -- act on them as birth-cries of a new worldview of ecological interwovenness: seeing our communities of life as conscious interconnected ecosystems of biology, culture, and society--rooted in love and flowering in life-affirming justice? 

In the ancient story, on the very night when they must choose Exodus or Death, the Israelites must encircle the doorways of their houses with blood. To leave the Tight and Narrow Land, they must leave a household rimmed with blood. There is one bloody house that every human being exits: the womb, in every birth.  Here a whole people is reborn.

 And then, those Israelites who made that choice – not every descendant of Abraham and Sarah did, and some Egyptian-born, like Pharaoh’s daughter, joined that choice to be reborn –- met another birth-choice on the seventh day.

On that day they found themselves at the shores of the Sea of Reeds, a roaring, roiling ocean. Behind them they heard the drumming hoof-beats of Pharaoh’s horse-chariot army. It was coming to insist they turn back to familiar life: slavery, yes, and accustomed onions, garlic, chewy meat.

Which should they choose? The unknown? The Sea of drowning? A wilderness beckoning on the other shore -- still more unknown?

They chose another birth – the breaking of the waters.

Today the whole human species is standing between the Unknown Sea and the world of Customary Order – garlic, onions, and slavery.

Time to choose.

3 Eco-Responsive Inserts for your Seder

Between the Fires:
A Kavanah for Kindling Candles of Commitment

We are the generations

Who stand between the fires.

Behind us the fire and smoke
That rose from Auschwitz and from Hiroshima, 

Not yet behind us the burning forests of the Amazon,
torched for the sake of fast hamburger.

Not yet behind us the hottest years of human history
that bring upon us -- 
Melted ice fields. Flooded cities.
Scorching droughts. Murderous wildfires.
 
Before us we among all life-forms
face the nightmare of a Flood of Fire,
The heat and smoke that could consume all Earth.

To douse that outer all-consuming fire

We must light again in our own hearts 

the inner fire of love and liberation 

that burned in the Burning Bush --

The fire that did not destroy the Bush it burned in, 

For love is strong as death --

Love’s Fire must never be extinguished:

The fire in the heart of all Creation.  

 It is our task to make from inner fire
Not an all-consuming blaze

But the loving light in which we see more clearly
The Rainbow Covenant glowing

in the many-colored faces of all life.

       (By Rabbi Arthur Waskow)

 ### ### ###

Biblical Plagues

Contemporary Plague: Earthly Manifestation

Contemporary “Counter-Plague”: Liberatory Potential 

Water into Blood

Polluted, Undrinkable Waters and Mass Droughts, Super-Monsoons

Rainwater Catchments, Grey-Water Systems, Black-water systems. Reversing global scorching

Frogs

Invasive Species and “Forever Plastics”

Treat “Forever Plastics” as invasive species. Stop making them. Isolate them from oceans and other vulnerable milieu.

Lice

Opioid Epidemic

Trauma Healing on Individual, Collective, Intergenerational and Ancestral Levels

Wild beasts

Species Extinction

Major expansion of Species Preservation Act & Reforestation

Pestilence of livestock

Factory Farming Industry

Reducing Beef Consumption, Buying Local, Forbidding Antibiotic Suffusion of Livestock

Boils

Exacerbated Spread of Disease; Coronavirus Pandemic

Free Healthcare  for All

 

 

Thunderstorm of hail and fire

Superstorms and Wildfires

Local Disaster Preparedness Networks and dissolution of energy monopolies.

Locusts

Crop Failures.

Local, Organic Farms.


Darkness

Failure to see and empathize with other humans & other life-forms; Mass Blackouts, Reliance on mass fossil fuel monopolies

Creation of empathic communities

Congregation-based & neighborhood- based Solar Cooperatives; Renewable energy grids

 

 

 

 (By Faryn Borella, Ira Silverman Memorial Intern for The Shalom Center)

### ### ### 

[On opening the door for Elijah to enter:] Here!  I [YHWH,  Yahhhh, InterBreath of life, Wind of change], will send the prophet Elijah to you before the coming of the great and awesome day of Yahhhh, the InterBreath of Life. He shall turn the hearts of parents to children and the hearts of children to parents, so that, when I [YHWH, Yahhhh] come, I do not come as a Hurricane of destruction to strike the whole Earth with utter desolation. 

(Malachi 3: 23-24)

[Everyone says, in unison:]We welcome Elijah in our own midst, covenanting together that we ourrselves will joyfully take on the obligation to heal our wounded Earth and give new life to the future of the Human species by doing this one act: [wait for people to say out loud, one by one, what each will do).

The Plagues of Exodus & Today

Facing Our Plagues

In an Earth-Healing Activist Passover

By Rabbi Arthur Waskow and Faryn Borella *

During most of Jewish history, Passover has been seen as a tale of Jewish oppression and Jewish liberation. Since the Freedom Seder in 1969, many Jews have treated it as an opportunity to face social injustice and liberation more broadly, in other contexts including and going beyond the Jewish people:  racism, oppression of immigrants, or workers, or women, or GLBTQIA communities, or unjust wars. 

From that perspective, the Ten Plagues and their disturbance of the rhythms of Earth as well as of society have rarely been the focus of the Passover story – though they were the focus of the biblical story of the Exodus. But in our generation, haunted by the fear and the reality of deep disturbances in planetary climate and local weather patterns, the Plagues may claim new attention.

What were the Ten Plagues of Exodus, and what caused them? How might we think about them in the light of our own generation’s ecological disasters, and how might we think and act about our “climate crisis” in the light of the Exodus plagues?

There are two quite different theologies for explaining the plagues.

First is that a kind of Super-pharaoh in the sky brings on the Plagues in order to demonstrate His superior power to the human Pharaoh on the throne of Egypt and to the Egyptian and Israelite peoples, and coerce Pharaoh into letting the Israelites leave slavery and Egypt.

Second is that Pharaoh addicts himself to his own power and cruelty so that what begins as his hardening his own heart ends by God – that is, Reality – hardening Pharaoh’s heart as his addiction  rigidifies.  The Plagues are ecological disasters brought on by Pharaoh’s own addiction to subjugating humans, which results in his attempts to subjugate all Earth. Earth responds in agony, with the plagues.

The first way of understanding is easier to accept if the community of experience and memory follows a worldview built on Hierarchy: a God Who is Adonai and Melekh, Lord and King triumphs over a Pharaoh, who is beneath Him on the scale of lordship and kingship.

The second way of understanding is easier to accept if the community of experience and memory follows an ecological worldview in which human interactions with Earth bring on changes in great patterns because all life is interwoven. This would follow if YHWH is not “Adonai/ Lord” or “Melekh/ King” but YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh and Ruakh: the interbreathing of all life.

If all life is interwoven, then actions aimed at one sphere of life will have consequences in another sphere.  Attempts to pile up enormous wealth and power by insisting on the hyper-lucrative use of coal and oil and unnatural gas will have consequences on global temperatures --  heating and burning – and thus on forests,  fires, melting ice, torrential  floods, disease spread, etc.

From this perspective, there is no such thing as a “natural disaster” – a plague brought on by “Nature.” If there is one thing we learned from Hurricane Katrina, it is this: There is no such thing as a natural disaster. The natural world is capable of tremendous feats, but what makes them disastrous has everything to do with humanity. Where we live. The infrastructure we have in place. The tools we have at our disposal to respond. Repair. Heal. And all of these things are determined by sociological factors--race and class, nationalism and imperialism. What often renders the natural disastrous is the systems we humans put in place to create hierarchies and stratification.

But we, as humans, not only turn great upheavals into great disasters. In our own generation, we also now have great impact in the first place on what is natural. It is becoming increasingly clear that human action is taking what are natural occurrences and intensifying them to the point of calamity. There is nothing inherently wrong with an earthquake. A hurricane. A wildfire. This is Earth’s method of self-regulation from long before humanity was even a thought in its imagination.

But what happens when a component of that very Earth--the human race--usurps such power as to dysregulate the entire earth’s balance--inverts Earth’s entire operating system, weaponizing its own tools for healing against its self? We end up with superstorms. Mass species extinction. Crop Failure. Mass disease. Undrinkable water. Mass death. In short, planetary versions of the Plagues of the biblical Exodus.

 Earth--whether it be the Creator’s creation or the InterBreathing One Themself--will probably find a means to re-regulate, but this re-regulation may not include us. The human race. Only we have the power to ensure a future with us in it. And this requires first that we take notice.

One way that the Plagues are described in the Book of Exodus is as “signs and wonders.” The intention of the Plagues is to indicate that business as usual is no longer an option. They offer a disruption to daily life. They force us to take notice of what is already happening but what we have, thus far, been able to choose to ignore. They are both the direct consequence of corrupt abuse of power and the tool of resistance against it. They serve as a point of rupture out of which a new world order can be born.

The Plagues appear as natural disasters. But we know nothing about them is “natural.” They are by humans. To remind us of our collective power to make change. For humans. To awaken us to change our behavior. Through humans. So that we know our potential to serve as conduits for divine power.

Thus the natural disasters of our times serve too as plagues. They place us panim-el-panim, face-to-face with ourselves, forced to stare at ourselves in the mirror and confront what it is that we have done to ourselves. That we have done to Earth. And yet they also serve as a point of rupture out of which a new world of loving order can be born. They are both calamity and possibility. End and Beginning.

The biblical plagues needed to occur in order that Exodus be possible. So too it might be our unfortunate truth that these natural disasters must occur in order that a sustainable future be born. For when we as humans put the systems into place that are now destroying Earth, “we” did not do so with that intention in mind. It was an unforeseen consequence of what could only be understood at the time as progress toward the greater good.

 It is only in retrospect that we now more and more fully understand the consequences of these actions. And these consequences create openings--openings through which we can envision new ways of being. What do these calamities allow us to see that we might not have been able to see before? Once we realize the consequences, once we realize that some powerful corporations and governments keep upholding their habitual behavior despite knowing their disastrous consequences, how do we respond?  How might these “plagues” offer not only the problem but also the solution?

Therefore, we invite you in the Ten Days leading up to Passover to contemplate the Plagues of our times--both their destructive properties and the opening they give us to envision something better. To be with the pain of being confronted in order that the liberating possibility be laid bare before you. And to begin to dance with that liberating possibility, ever so slowly at first. More swiftly as we learn to understand. More swiftly still as we learn how swiftly the consequences come.

The devastation of the plagues was not linear nor progressive  --- a small one followed by a big one. What could be “bigger” than the first biblical plague --  all the water of a society becoming undrinkable?  They were cumulative. Each was devastating individually; cumulatively, they wre earth-shattering. So too are our plagues. Cumulatively, they are Collapse.

So we have assigned each plague a day to capture the linearity of the Exodus narrative, and to explore the ways in which each plague may be said o have its own its own contemporary analogue. We must attend to the double impact of each Plague  -- to damage us and to awaken us, to horrify us and to liberate us.  We grapple with the astounding parallels between the biblical story and our travail today. (Not so astounding if we realize that the biblical story of Exodus is a superlatively accurate tale of Power-Run-Amok, applicable in every generation and in any society.)

The non-linearity of the biblical plagues and their different numbering and ordering in different parts of the Tanakh demonstrate that this order is arbitrary. Therefore, we ask you to enter these ten days leading up to Pesach as a meditation upon the plagues of our time, and to engage with their non-linearity.

Perhaps the first way to do this is to treat the meaning of the Plagues, ancient and contemporary, as a spur for deep Torah-study. Then, perhaps, we can turn to activist plans for

Choose a plague. Or plagues. And take action aligned with their liberatory possibility. Choose to engage where you can. For you cannot address Collapse. But you can address one of the pillars that seem to make Collapse inevitable. Break one or more of these pillars, and you – we – make Collapse far less likely.

 

    Biblical Plagues

Contemporary Plague: Earthly Manifestation

 

Contemporary “Counter-Plagues with Liberating Potential

  Water into Blood

 

   Polluted, Undrinkable    Waters and Mass Droughts

Rainwater Catchments, Grey-Water Systems, Black-water systems

Frogs

 

Invasive Species and “Forever Plastics”

Treat “Forever Plastics” as invasive species. Stop making them. Isolate them from oceans and other vulnerable milieu.

 

Lice

Opioid Epidemic

Trauma Healing on Individual, Collective, Intergenerational and Ancestral Levels

Wild beasts

Species Extinction

 

Major expansion of Species Preservation Act & Reforestation

Pestilence of livestock

  Factory   Farming   Industry

 

Reducing Beef Consumption, Buying Local, Forbidding Antibiotic Suffusion of Livestock

Boils

Exacerbated Spread of Disease

 

Free Healthcare  for All

 

Thunderstorm of hail and fire

  Superstorms      and Wildfires

 

Local Disaster Preparedness Networks and destruction of energy monopolies.

Locusts

Crop Failures.

 

Local, Organic Farms.

 

 

Darkness

Mass Blackouts, reliance on mass fossil fuel monopolies

Congregation-based & neighborhood-based Solar Cooperatives; Renewable energy grids

 

 

Death of the firstborn

Climate Collapse and its destruction of the next generation

The Sunrise Movement and other youth movements demanding holistic action like the Green New Deal

        

 All the ancient Plagues were brought on by Pharaoh’s cruelty and stubbornness, by his addiction to his own power, and by his insistence on being treated as a god. Today the plagues are brought upon us by the addiction of major corporations and governments to their own power and by the public acceptance that their wealth is a marker of “the way things are and must be” – a quasi-Divine approval of the social system they dominate  -- the social system built on domination.

In the ancient Exodus, the power of the Interbreathing Spirit of all life undermined public acceptance of the Pharaoh’s authority. Today, a new paradigm -- an ecological, not hierarchical worldview -- must gain strength to undermine our modern pharaohs.

 Today, the Jewish people and all communities of Spirit face first of all whether we can transform our own worldviews from “Hierarchy” to “Ecology.” Whether we can renew our understanding of ourselves as “Godwrestlers.” The ancient enslaved Godwrestlers needed to end their deep attachment to the God of Nurture, El Shaddai, in order to connect with a new way of thinking about the world if they were to embark on their Freedom Journey. Just so must we  move from the God of Kingly Lordship to the God of Eco-Interbreathing if we are to join a living, a loving Earth. Only if we do this can we also turn to action, to “Exodus” not geographic but social, from Tight and Narrow Space (“Mitzrayim = Egypt”) to the Beloved Community, the Earth of Promise?  -- An Exodus that transforms society and makes all Earth a conscious, loving eco-system?

To end the power of modern pharaohs to subjugate our communities and all Earth, we must reframe spiritual, religious, and ethical understanding to celebrate the Interbreathing Spirit, not domineering King or Lord.

Through that spiritual transformation, in its very midst,  can we turn to action?  Perhaps in the week before Pesach --  could Jewish communities or multireligious alliances confront Members of Congress  or major banks that invest in  Carbon Pharaoh corporations or those corporations themselves, demanding action to end the plagues of Climate Crisis? On the evening of April 9 (the 2d night of Pesach), or perhaps on Sunday evening April 12 (the 5th night of Pesach) can communities or families create Pesach Seders that point toward and embody the Beloved Community and the Earth of Promise?

 [*Waskow is the founder (1983) and director of The Shalom Center; Borella is a student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and the Ira Silverman Memorial Intern at The Shalom Center.]

Passover When Earth Really Matters

Avi Katz: Matzah / Globe

 An Interfaith Healing Seder for the Earth: Ten Plagues, Ten Healings

Today, April 4, 2016, we are presenting a revised version of this Seder, originally published in 2013. Today is the 48th anniversary of the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King in  1968. It is also the 49th anniversary of his most profound and troubling speech: “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence,” a speech he delivered in 1967 at Riverside Church in New York City to the assembled “Clergy and Laity Concerned About Vietnam.”  In it he called on all Americans to struggle against the “deadly triplets” that he said afflict our lives: racism, militarism, and materialism.

And today is the 47th anniversary of the original Freedom Seder, which in 1969 radically altered the Seder’s focus by weaving the liberation struggles of Black America together with the ancient story of the Israelite liberation struggle out of slavery to Pharaoh.

The original Freedom Seder addressed the most urgent crisis of that day, and drew together Jews and Christians, black and white.  And in the decades since, for many many thousands of people it liberated the Passover Seder itself to address other deep issues: liberating us from immoral and self-destructive wars, affirming the rights of immigrants and of  people trafficked into the slave trade and of exploited workers, liberating us from fear and hatred among Muslims, Jews, and Christians.

To honor the memory and wisdom of Dr. King and to renew the life-giving energy of the Freedom Seder, today we are sharing with you a new Passover Seder. It challenges the Corporate Carbon Pharaohs of today that are bringing a new Ten Plagues upon our planet. And it celebrates the Ten Healings of our wounded Mother Earth that we should undertake. 

The Seder begins with a journey into the streets to challenge today’s Pyramids of Power.  Some may want to organize such a journey; others may simply want to use the Haggadah, the Telling, that we present below, in their family or community Seder. 

This year, on Friday, April 22, the first Seder begins in the evening of Earth Day. As befits a Seder for the whole Earth, this Telling is rooted in the Jewish tradition and includes in its flowering passages from other traditions.

Let me call your special attention to new approaches to the meaning of charoset and the welcoming of Elijah,  to the Ten Plagues and Ten Healings,  to a whole new song and a new verse in “Go Down Moses,” to a new translation and a new melody of an old psalm.

With blessings of freedom and community, of shalom, salaam, peace, Earth! —  Rabbi Arthur Waskow

WISDOM FOR THE JOURNEY
“I felt as if my legs were praying.”

— Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, coming back home from the voting-rights March in Selma, Alabama, 1965
“Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive, unless it seeks to overthrow and to ruin the pyramids of callousness, hatred, opportunism, falsehoods.”  — Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, 1970

CHALLENGING THE PYRAMIDS OF POWER

The people gather at a central point, perhaps a synagogue.

The people move into the streets. Chanting and singing as they go, carrying a portable large-sized globe of Planet Earth,  they walk toward a Pyramid of Power of our own day: perhaps an office of Exxon or BP, or a coal-fired power station, or a bank that invests

Do We Need to ReName God?

The Name of God inscribed as the Image of God on a human body, courtesy of Rabbi Marcia Prager
 Early in the Book of "Exodus," God goes through a change of Name.  Indeed,  in Jewish tradition the Book is not known as “Exodus" but as “Sefer Shemot –- the Book of Names.”
 
For the Eternal Holy One Who suffuses all the universe to change The Name is seismic. Cosmic.
 
It happens twice -- first at the Burning Bush, then again in Egypt. And the difference is important.
The first time, as Moses faces the unquenchably fiery Voice Who is sending him on a mission to end slavery under Pharaoh, he warns the Voice that the people will challenge him: “Sez who?”

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