Responding to the Nation-Wide Uprising


The overnight news means there is a nation-wide uprising going on, 

 Trump is so far teasing people, partly because he can’t help himself from threatening even more violence – that’s what his ego lives on --   and partly because he may think he can fire up his base and enough other whites out of fear of the “out-of-control” Blacks to win the election without needing to send the Army.  Or he is biding his time and will send the Army in a week. I think we need to make clear five things:

• Our experience in myriad movements of the mid-20th-century and later shows that “nonviolence” worked, and now needs a fuller expression in  the “culture of love and eco-systems" where everybody counts precisely because of their differences, instead of the "culture of hierarchy, domination, subjugation, and violence.”  
• We built empowerment of some of the powerless through the vote. Supreme Court decisions that encourage huge amounts of money from the Hyper-wealthy to buy elections and that cut the heart out of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 have weakened but not eliminated that success. But it needs to be enormously expanded beyond 1965 anyway, We must do what we can to create a massive vote, and if after the election Trump has lost but tries a coup to hold power we need to be ready with a national strike with local neighborly resilience. 
• Our experience was built on a mostly friendly national government,  not an utterly hostile one.  In the present moment, we need to be opposing use of the Army or federalization of the National Guard, calling on mayors and governors to turn to teachers, public employee unions, activists, etc to create peacekeeping networks in the cities, not police and not the Natl Guard, to point toward a NEW kind of order, not the old one.  
• There is increasing evidence,  some eyewitness and some by journalists, that much of the arson and looting is being done by RIGHT WING neo-fascists hoping to bring about a race war. Some of those reports will be posted tomorrow morning in the Shalom Reporton June 1. If you don't get it already,  click on "Sign Up for Weekly Emails"  banner on left margin this page, Note that Trump has mentioned outside intervention in  Minneapolis, probably based on FBI reports he has seen, but carefully refrained from saying it’s by right-wing whites – leaving the implication it is Black radicals. This is important for the public to know.
• We ought also to urge the creation soon of a series of linked national conferences that brings together the Black community in one, immigrant/ Spanish-speaking and other communities of color in another, Earth-oriented groups in another, women, faith communities,  GLBTQIA communities, etc with links between and among them, to energize voters immediately and a new culture/ Constitution soon.

Deeper: From #Shavuot2Sukkot: Green & Grow the Vote

[This fall, Americans will hold an extraordinary election –- addressing profound questions of health and life in the midst of a pandemic plague, democracy in the midst of Hyperwealthy pharaohs, and survival of a million species (including our own) in the midst of global scorching.

[At 8 pm Eastern Time on Thursday, May 28, the eve of Shavuot, there will be a Zoom conversation among a range of rabbis, youth activists, cantors and other singers, poets, and organizers about “greening and growing the vote” during the period beginning with Shavuot.

[The Zoom conversation is co-sponsored by The Shalom Center, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and Dayenu: A Jewish Call for Climate Action. Faryn Borella is a student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and the Ira Silverman Memorial Intern at The Shalom Center. Her essay here draws on the Torah roots of “Grow the Vote.” You can register to join the conversation, including breakout groups for your own conversation, by clicking here:  https://tinyurl.com/Shavuot2Sukkot   -- AW, ed.]

Shavuot as Eco/ Social Contract: Grow the Vote!

By Faryn Borella

Shavuot began as an agricultural festival. A pilgrimage festival. A festival of the first fruits.

Shavuot became a revelation festival. A Torah festival. A covenant festival.

In some ways, these two frameworks can feel like opposite poles. Shavuot as agricultural festival is about earth, land, harvest, offering. Shavuot as revelation festival is about book, mind, intellect, law.

Yet in both instances, Shavuot is about opting into a social contract, a political system, and an ultimate sovereign in Hashem Eloheynu--the divine that is our divine.

In biblical times, during Shavuot, devotees of Hashem from all over the land would make pilgrimage to Jerusalem, carrying their first fruits to offer up to their one true sovereign at the Temple. 

“Early in the morning the officer would say: “Let us arise and go up to Zion, into the house of Hashem our God” (Jeremiah 31:5). Those who lived near [Jerusalem] would bring fresh figs and grapes, while those who lived far away would bring dried figs and raisins. An ox would go in front of them, his horns bedecked with gold and with an olive-crown on its head. The flute would play before them until they would draw close to Jerusalem.

"When they drew close to Jerusalem they would send messengers in advance, and they would adorn their bikkurim. The governors and chiefs and treasurers [of the Temple] would go out to greet them, and according to the rank of the entrants they would go forth. All the skilled artisans of Jerusalem would stand up before them and greet them saying, “Our brothers, men of such and such a place, we welcome you in peace.” The flute would play before them, until they reached the Temple Mount.

"When they reached the Temple Mount even King Agrippas would take the basket and place it on his shoulder and walk as far as the Temple Court. When he got to the Temple Court, the Levites would sing the song: 'I will extol You, O YHWH, for You have raised me up, and You have not let my enemies rejoice over me.' (Psalms 30:2).” Mishnah Bikkurim 3:3-5

In bringing these first fruits to the Temple, the devotees of YHWH were reaffirming, each year, their commitment to the covenant and their trust in the king and the priests to serve their best interests as the appointed officials of Hashem’s order. With their bodies, their movement, their journey, their offering, they reenacted Sinai in their own way each and every year, consenting to covenant and consenting to God over and over again. For, at its root, shevuot means “vows.”  

Their “eco/ social contract” included not only human beings but all the other life-forms that created the harvest and made human community possible: pollinators, earthworms, seed, streams, dew, sun, air, wind.

Rabbis remade Shavuot in their image. Or perhaps they simply unearthed something about the holiday that was always already there. They tugged at the thread of consent, covenant and divine-human relationship and spun it on a new wheel. They spun it into a covenant of klaf. Of black fire on white fire. Of the entirety of unfolding tradition in one moment and every moment.

For “All the people answered as one saying, ‘All that YHWH has spoken we will do.’" (Exodus 19:8). A moment at which we were all there, are all there, and will continue to all be there. And in that moment, we are all saying yes. Yes to Hashem. Yes to rule of law. Yes to the social contract.

Biblical Israel was an aristocracy. Rabbinic Israel was a meritocracy. In neither case do we find democracy. And yet, as our civilizations change, so does our rule of law. So does the way we opt into social contract. In the shift from Biblical to Rabbinic Judaism, you see the way one entered into covenant shifting from bringing offering to the Temple Cult to engaging in the study of Torah, God’s divine revelation. So what is our equivalent in contemporary times. How do we opt into social contract?

Today, social contracts are formed through the process of voting. Through an electoral, representative democracy. Whether that be at a local level within our very own synagogues, or at a national level where we try to change the course of an entire country of mixed multitude, our system is set up so that to vote is to make change. And now more than ever, we need to embrace Shavuot as a time calling us into active engagement in the formation of and consent to our covenant.

But not everyone has equal access to their civic duty, despite what the powers-that-be might try and convince us to believe. In biblical times, only those who owned lands, produced agricultural product and who had the means to make pilgrimage could do so. In rabbinic times, only men of a certain level of literacy could opt into social contract through the act of studying Torah and deriving its law. And now, our electoral system is set up to disenfranchise voters and potential voters whose collective being might actually alter the status quo. Through gerrymandering. Through a racist and classist voter registration process. Through polling hours and the fight against mail-in ballots. And in our own moment, by minimizing the import of free and fair election in a moment of global pandemic.

So on Shavuot, we are not only called to do our civic duty. We are called to ensure that the entirety of klal America can too.

Yet reaffirming covenant doesn’t end in Shavuot, and neither does our election cycle. On the contrary, it is just the beginning. In biblical times, Shavuot served as the beginning of the period of time in which one could bring first fruits as a gesture of reaffirmation of the covenant. The beginning of a time that ended on Sukkot.

Sukkot this year falls shortly before the 2020 Presidential Election. How can we, in contemporary times, use the extended period of first fruits as a time where we too can be in a continuous and iterative process of active participation in covenant-building? How does a season of growth, harvest and offering call us to be more engaged, active and committed to our own democratic process?

In biblical times, every 7th year, during the intermediary days of Sukkot, the entirety of Klal Yisrael was called to gather in Jerusalem before the King, who would recite before them excerpts of Torah that related to covenant with community, covenant with leader, and covenant with Supreme Sovereign, an iterative, systematized process of reaffirmation of the Covenant. This always directly followed the year where the land was called to be left fallow and unharvested.

In this moment of global pandemic, we find ourselves too in a time of being left fallow. Of waiting. Of surrender to forces beyond our understanding. But may we soon gather, in whatever form gathering may become, to be reminded that no covenant can exist without our continuous and willing consent. And that means all of us, not just those of us to which the system is willing to give some power. May we use this time of global pandemic, of first fruits, from Shavuot to Sukkot to ensure that we all can and will give consent, come November, to our form of governance and our leadership. May we ensure that that to which we are consenting is good, just and fair.

From Shavuot to Sukkot, grow the vote!

You can register to join the conversation, including breakout groups for your own conversation, by clicking here: 



"Stunningly beautiful and inspiring" - 7th Night Seder Conversation

Dear friends, Sara Schley writes --

Beloved holy friends,

 Wanted you to know how the experience of 7th night Seder is. Wow. Our entire local community is reveling in it.

 Thank you for that

 I am following your lead to "listen deeply" for the new Reality that is emerging. 

 ###  ###  ###  ###  ###  ### 

Dear friends,  What is the 7th night Seder Conversation? The videotaping of 16 people –- rabbis, teachers, cantors, singers, chanters –- who gathered by Zoom on the 7th Night of Passover to explore the meaning of that night.


 What is special about the Seventh Day? According to tradition, that was the day the Children of Israel, fleeing slavery, reached the Red Sea.  Behind them was Pharaoh’s Army, racing to force them to return to their accustomed slavery, with its perks of onions and garlic. Before them was the unknown. The Sea that might be New Birth, if the birthing waters broke. Or the Sea of Drowning, if they didn’t. The Sea of Freedom-Maybe. The Sea of Active Hope. The Sea of sharing life with all life-forms, not imposing slavery and forcing plagues on Earth as well as Humankind.

The entire human race stands now, today, at that moment. Will we go back to “normal” life, a life of plagues and hierarchy, or step into the Sea, reaching toward the Beloved Community?

I invite you to watch that conversation, “stunningly beautiful and inspiring” as Sara Schley describes it. Feel free to share the link with all your friends. Feel free to pause the video to discuss it with your housemates, to call your community and watch it together in your separate places. Click this link!


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


Will We Cross the Red Sea?

In years past The Shalom Center honored the Seventh Day of Passover by being closed. But today we choose to honor the Seventh Day by sharing with you the video of a “Seder conversation” we sponsored last night on the question: What does the Seventh Day mean this year, so different from all other years? Mah nishtana?

I invite you -- I encourage you --  to watch and listen to that conversation. Feel free to share the link with all your friends. Feel free to pause the video to discuss it with your housemates, to call your community and watch it together in your separate places. Click this link!


What is special about the Seventh Day? According to tradition, that was the day the Children of Israel, fleeing slavery, reached the Red Sea.  Behind them was Pharaoh’s Army, racing to force them to return to their accustomed slavery, with its perks of onions and garlic. Before them was the unknown. The Sea that might be New Birth, if the birthing waters broke. Or the Sea of Drowning, if they didn’t. The Sea of Freedom-Maybe. The Sea of Active Hope. The Sea of sharing life with all life-forms, not imposing slavery and forcing plagues on Earth as well as Humankind.

 The entire human race stands now, today, at that moment.

BIG CHANGE in Plans for 7th Night of Passover

Dear friends,

I have bad news which I think will turn into good news.

The bad news: I had a difficult week. Then it became a week of soul-searching. What did it really mean to stand at the edge of the Sea – not as a playful reenactment but in our real lives, the entire human species in a real crisis?  Was a formal Seder by Webinar  the best way to do it, especially when almost all the participants would have to be silent all the time? Wasn’t that the opposite of a real Seder anyway?

So the upshot has been that – at first very sadly and then cautiously more pleased -- I decided to cancel the major Webinar Seventh-night-of-Pesach  Seder.

The good news: I worked with Rabbi Shawn Zevit (lead rabbi of Mishkan Shalom, a strongly progressive Reconstructionist congregation in Philadelphia) to plan out a way to provide you with the rich song, poetry, wisdom that would have been part of the Seder with far less strain on me and our staff and a good deal more opportunity for many of you to  explore your own journey to freedom.

Just to explain my own experience: The intense work needed in a short time to get the Webinar prepared left me exhausted.  The Webinar framework and the plan for an actual Seder was what felt like intense pressure. The system required  getting the mass Webinar site up and running, actually writing an Haggadah, repeating several outreach mailings and even more pressing, arranging a kind of symphony orchestra of poets, singers, wisdom-teachers, meditators to come in on cue for the Seder itself  --  all in less than a working week remaining. 

And – even worse – this system required everybody except a few designated leaders to be silent.

 BUT –we have figured out a new way of celebrating the seventh night of Pesach without exhausting us AND offering you more opportunity for discussion. I think it may actually fit better the new world we are in.

 What we came up with was this: 

 We will work with the people I had asked to embody some special role in the Seder. We will set up a Zoom session of just that group, and a few more, that evening (Tuesday, April 14) as just a small virtual community. We will share our songs, chants, poetry, teaching with each other. That won’t be a “Seder”:  it will be a way for us to think and feel  emotionally and spiritually connected, though physically distant. It won’t need detailed planning and cue-ing; it will be an informal conversation.

  The event will be recorded, for distribution subsequently.  It might take a few days to post it, but this year of all years we will be standing at the Seventh Night for weeks more – at the edge of the Sea with Pharaoh’s army behind us, insisting that we go back into our accustomed habits of servitude with onions and garlic – and the unknown ahead of us, the free and Beloved Community that we can choose to create. 

The Webinar framework would have kept practically everybody muted anyway, and we were imagining only brief minutes between presenters for conversations at your homes. This new format will mean you get to listen to the whole informal conversation, pause it wherever you like, and have your own conversation at home as long as you like. If you are living alone, you can phone or Skype or Zoom a friend and share. We will welcome your comments by email.

Meanwhile, I invite you to draw on

 https://theshalomcenter.org/3-eco-responsive-inserts-your-seder-if-you-wish  That link takes you to three eco-responsive inserts for your own Seder in this Year of the Plague: A kavvanah (focus) for lighting the holy-day candles; a review of the biblical plagues, the plagues of today, and the “counter-plagues” that we could create; and a new biblically rooted climate-conscious way of greeting the Prophet Elijah as we invite him to our Seders, based on an old prophetic vision with a very present meaning.

We will be back to you very soon.

Blessings for a profound Passover and a real Wilderness journey in all our lives. May we learn the painfully transformative lesson of the Coronavirus Pandemic:  Nostalgia cannot heal us: Only a new world, the Beloved Community, can. --  Arthur.

Prophet Greta and Prophet Malachi: Haftarah for Shabbat HaGadol

File Attachment: 

 Shabbat HaGadol is swift upon us, when we read God’s Call for an  intergenerational heart-felt  alliance to save Earth from utter destruction. The very last message from the very last of the classical Hebrew Prophets. 

Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

A Prayer for the Health and Healing of Healers

[Rabbi  Sharon Kleinbaum of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in  New York City circulated this beautiful prayer for health care workers by her colleague Rabbi Ayelet Cohen. Rabbi Kleinbaum added that CBST had just suffered their first death from this virus. "Sending blessings to all," she added.--  AW, ed.]

May the One who blessed our ancestors
Bless all those who put themselves at risk to care for the sick
Physicians and nurses and orderlies
Technicians and home health aides
EMTs and pharmacists
And bless especially / an individual or other categories of health workers/
Who navigate the unfolding dangers of the world each day,
To tend to those they have sworn to help.

Bless them in their coming home and bless them in their going out.
Ease their fear. Sustain them.
Source of all breath, healer of all beings,
Protect them and restore their hope.
Strengthen them, that they may bring strength;
Keep them in health, that they may bring healing.
Help them know again a time when they can breathe without fear.
Bless the sacred work of their hands.
May this plague pass from among us, speedily and in our days.

--- Rabbi Ayelet S. Cohen, March 2020

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



Invasive Species and “Forever Plastics”

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



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


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.


Crop Failures.


Local, Organic Farms.




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.]

Tu B’Shvat Seder: Planet, Poetry, and Power

Next Sunday evening, February 9, on the Full Moon of midwinter, we are taught to gather for the Seder of Tu B’Shvat, the ReBirthDay of trees and of the One Great Tree of Life. We eat four kinds of fruits and nuts, and drink four varicolored cups of wine (or grape juice).

[This graphic is “The Tree of Life Afire,”  by the Prophet Leonard Cohen.  Is this fiery Tree a Burning Bush, calling us to free ourselves and Earth from tyranny? Can the burning of our common home awaken us?]

One of the most wise, most powerful, most poetic, and most activist of all these Seders I have seen was created by students in a class at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. I invite, I urge, I implore you to read it and if you feel as drawn as I do, to use it, with whatever reshapings you desire, for your own Seder this coming Full Moon. Click here to access it:


Of the four sorts of fruit, only three sorts are touchable. The four start tough outside, like walnuts; increase in vulnerability to fruit like olives, soft outside but inwardly protected; then to fruit like figs, soft all the way through; and finally to the fourth sort, so ethereal that the fruit is not touchable,  not visible, at all.   Here are four brief teachings that I suggest you might introduce into the Four Worlds of the Seder, with time for conversation about each. And two brief teachings about the Four Cups of wine or grape juice that we drink in honor of the Four Worlds.

Asiyah (Physicality): This is the only sacred Jewish meal that does not require the death of any living creature. (In fact, one might understand the pattern of this meal as a command that for this meal, celebrating the ReBirth of the Divine Tree of Life, not only is killing not required, but NOT killing IS required.) Even eating the Pesach bitter herb requires uprooting a radish, killing it.  But nuts and fruit come in such profusion that eating them does not threaten the lives or continuity of trees. 

Yetzirah (Interconnection, relationship): This holy day was rooted in Temple times for tithing fruit: that is, bringing a tenth of one’s own fruit harvest to make sure the poor who don’t own fruit trees get nuts and fruit to eat The Kabbalists chose this day partly because, just as they said eating without a brocha --  a blessing  -- was robbery from YHWH [Yahhh, the Holy Interbreath of life], so eating without sharing through tzedakah —socially responsible sharing for the sake of justice -- is robbery from the poor and from YHWH.

 Briyyah (Intellect, Creativity): The custom has grown up to refer to this day, the 15th of Shvat,  as Tu B’Shvat – using the numbers “Tav + Vav, 9+6” rather than “Yod+Hei, 10+5.”  This custom grew up to avoid using “Yod-Hei” as the name for the day because it is one of the Names of God, as in “Hallelu-Yah.” But: A teaching from Rabbi Phyllis Berman:  -- We should on the Full Moon of each month, and especially on the full moons of Shvat and Av, fully welcome the Divine Presence inscribed on the fullness of the moon: Yah B’Av and Yah B’Shvat.

Atzilut (Spiritual Nearness to God, fusion with the Divine): Taught by Rabbi Naomi Mara Hyman: In 1997, dozens of rabbis and other Jews and people of other spiritual, religious, or ethical communities were gathered in a California redwood grove protected by the government. We were holding a Yah B’Shvat Seder, preparing to mount an act of civil-disobedience resistance to a corporation that was logging nearby ancient redwoods. Naomi – sitting at a table for the Seder – looked up at the redwoods all around us, hundreds of feet tall, the tallest living beings on Earth.

She said: “These trees, we call them ‘Eytzim,’ right?”--  “Right.” --  “The two poles that hold up each Sefer Torah, each Torah Scroll, we call them ‘Eytzim,’ right?” – “Right!” --  “If these eytzim (gesturing at the trees) were the eytzim of a Sefer Torah, how expansive, how ‘Torah d’gadlut,’ would that Sefer have to be  -- not only in physical size but in spiritual grandeur?”

(A pause. Then:) “And each of us would be the right size to be a Letter in that Torah!

[This painting is "The Tree of Life Weeping," by Rabbi Meirah Iliinsky. See her Website illuminatedverses.com  This artwork was originally done in grief for those murdered in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. It applies as well to the whole planetary Tree of Life that is now burning, choking, and weeping in pain. More specifically, see  http://www.versesilluminated.com/virtual-exhibit-ii/the-tree-of-life-is-weeping-giclee-art-print  There Rabbi Iliinsky. points out and explains the symbolism within the painting.]

Long pause.  “Right. And of course that is just what we are: letters in the great Torah of the planet, of the universe. We are the letters that can write a Torah that is filled with love and awe. And as is true in the parchment Scroll, no letter stands alone. Only together can we write a world of Torah.”

Four worlds, four Cups of Wine: the first all White; then White with a drop of Red; then half White, half Red; then Red with a drop of White. There are at least two ways to understand this progression. The first is that the colors hint at the dance of the seasons --  from White for winter through increasing redness as new vitality brings more color until the riot of colorful trees in autumn has within it a seed of white, about to go underground. A second understanding draws on the ancient Talmudic notion that fertility begins with mixtures of white semen and red blood, and that the whole process of the Seder evokes the birthing of new life. Both are about fruitfulness – the deepest desire of Tu B’Shvat.

And then there is the question, why wine altogether? Today many Jewish communities use grape juice as well or instead, but it is clear that for millennia, the tradition preferred wine. Why? The obvious answer is that unlike grape juice, wine has the power to change consciousness. Asking more deeply: Why is that?  Wine has fermented. That means it begins as sweet grape juice, turns sour, and then turns again – to a higher sweetness, capable of changing human consciousness.

The spiritual meaning -- rooted in the chemical reality but capable of teaching a truth beyond chemistry --  is that moving through sweetness to sourness offers the possibility of the next step – transformation into a more subtle, more entrancing, form of sweetness. Once we learn this, we can do it with grape juice, or water, or breathing. Once we know this, we may learn to treat neither sweetness nor sourness in our lives as a place to stop --  but as an invitation to transform ourselves.

To transform our selves to loving and healing each other and the mother of all fruitfulness, our Mother Earth and especially her trees. Acting, as Rabbi Langner wrote earlier this week, to feed our most poverty-stricken neighbors from the bounty of new-born trees, and to reforest Earth so that she and we can breathe again.

(See https://theshalomcenter.org/tu-bshvat-reforesting-earth-heal-both-poverty-climate.)

And once again, I encourage you to access, to modify, and to use the Seder at –


Blessings of seed, roots, trunk, foliage, fruit, seed  --  Arthur


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