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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.]

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:

https://theshalomcenter.org/content/trees-earth-justice-tu-bshvat-seder-if-all-3-really-matter

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 –

https://theshalomcenter.org/content/trees-earth-justice-tu-bshvat-seder-if-all-3-really-matter

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

"Elijah's Covenant" --New Rabbinic Statement on the Climate Crisis

For other materials on how to draw on Jewish and other spiritual/ religious wisdom to deal with the climate crisis of global scorching, see

https://theshalomcenter.org/treasury/43

Elijah’s Covenant Between the Generations

to Heal Our Endangered Earth:

A New Rabbinic Call to Action

On the Climate Crisis

 We Rabbis, Cantors, and other Jewish leaders and teachers,

see ourselves as the heirs of the ancient Hebrew Prophets,

including the last, whose words echo through the ages:

 “I [YHWH] will send you the Prophet Elijah to turn the hearts of

parents to children and the hearts of children to parents,

lest I come and utterly destroy the Earth.”

(Malachi 3: 2324)

 For the first time in the history of Humanity, we are actually moving toward the burning and devastation of the web of life on Earth by human action --  the unremitting use of fossil fuels. Our children and grandchildren face deep misery and death unless we act. They have turned their hearts toward us. Our hearts, our minds, our arms and legs, are not yet fully turned toward them.

Can we more fully turn our hearts to these our children?  It will mean:

1) Studying Jewish wisdom and today’s truest science of Earth-Human relationships;

2) Lifting up old prayers and new, old rituals and new, that celebrate Earth;

3) Welcoming refugees who have fled the storms, floods, and famines that beset their homes because of global scorching;

4) Urging our banks and our politicians to Move Our Money, Protect Our Planet (MOM/POP):  Move away from investments in and subsidies of Carbon Corporations and Protect by investing in renewable wind and solar energy;

5) Persuading ourselves and our congregations and communities to move our own money, create solar-energy coops, establish car pools to lessen reliance on gas, and adopt additional modes of kashrut to include foods and energy sources that heal, not harm, our planet;

6) Joining our young people in urging our governments to legislate a swift and massive program that intertwines ecological sanity and social justice, as they were intertwined in the biblical practice of the Shemittah/ Sabbatical/ Seventh Year. (Lev. 25 and Deut. 15)

7) Shaping all these efforts as expressions of joyful community, not fearful drudgery.

The nearest analog to that ancient Shemittah practice to have brought together the hearts and minds of Youth and Elders today is the “Green New Deal.” Among its urgent demands:

1) Swiftly end the burning of fossil fuels;

2) Provide millions of wellpaid new jobs to install the necessary network of renewable energy for an economy freed from the tyranny of carbon;

3) Sustain those workers whose jobs disappear as we move from the old economy to the new one;

4) Empower neighborhoods of color and of entrenched poverty, indigenous peoples, and other marginalized communities that have already been suffering the worst impacts of fossil-fuel harm and dead-end economic despair;

5) Reforest Earth and defend our natural wildlife refuges;

6) Take careful steps to restore a climate as lifegiving to our grandchildren as it was to our grandparents.

This social transformation is the fruit that can grow only from the roots of spiritual wisdom. We come back to the Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit, the Interbreath. In planetary terms, that Interbreath is the interchange of Oxygen and CO2 that keeps animals and plants alive. It is precisely that Interbreath that is now in crisis, as the overmanufacture of CO2 by burning fossil fuels overwhelms the ability of plants to transmute the CO2 to oxygen – and thus heats, scorches, burns our common home.

Our sacred task requires affirming not only the biological ecosystem but also a cultural/ social ecosystem   the modern word for how the diverse Images of God become ECHAD. Jews, Indigenous Nations, Christians, Muslims, Unitarians, Buddhists, Hindus, and many others –each community must bring their own unique wisdom to join, in the Name of the ONE Who is the Interbreathing Spirit of all life. Whose universal Breathing is the “nameless name,” the “still small voice” that supports and suffuses all the many diverse Names of God in many cultures and communities. That Interbreathing Spirit supports and suffuses all life on Planet Earth.

(There are three lists of signers below. The first is the list of Initiating Signers. After that is a much longer list of additional signers and then a list of very recent signers whom we have not yet had time to integrate into the alphabetic list of Additional Signers. Below that third list is a link for new signers. If you are looking for a specific signer, please check all three lists. In all three lists, institutions are noted for identification only. In keeping with that understanding, officerships in those institutions are not noted.) 

Two Days Left!

If you care about a planet that is burning, choking and strangling the Holy Interbreathing, the Ruach HaKodesh, the interchange of oxygen and CO2 that keeps all life alive, two days left.

If you care about the ancient wisdom of an earth-based people that was encoded in the Hebrew Bible and can help us learn how to heal our wounded world today, two days left.

Green Menorah Covenant: Planning for Day 8 of #Hanukkah8Days4Climate

 

Gather in community to devise a Green Menorah Covenant, binding the community together in continued climate justice action in the coming year. Write us what you are planning, at GMCovenant@theshalomcenter.org

[By Faryn Borella, the Ira Silverman Memorial Intern for The Shalom Center, and Rabbi Arthur Waskow]

Hanukkah begins tonight. Jews and their friends and allies will light one candle to serve as the kindling-candle shamash for the first candle of the first night. It is an important time to look ahead to the last night of Hanukkah, next Sunday night, when the shamash will light eight candles. What do we want the mood, the action, the commitment of our community to be, by that last night?

We urge that it be the creation of the Green Menorah Covenant  -- a local group in your own community that will grow connections with Jews around the nation and the world. Green Menorah Covenanters will celebrate the Tree of Light that was the Menorah in the Temple, for the sake of protecting the Tree of Life and the Interbreathing of Life everywhere.  Healing our wounded Mother Earth and ourselves from the climate crisis.  

First of all, the original Temple Menorah was shaped like a tree -- branches, buds, flowers. At the heart of Hanukkah is this Tree of Light, connecting Earth with the handiwork of human earthlings. This medieval portrayal makes the point, as does our generation's symbol for the Green Menorah Covenant:

Each year for the Shabbat of Hanukkah, we read a breathtaking passage from the Prophet Zechariah that goes even deeper to connect Earth with Humanity:  Zechariah imagines two olive trees beside the Menorah in a yet-to-be-rebuilt Temple – already a radical departure from the Torah’s original ground-plan of the Holy House. The Haftarah explains the meaning of this prophetic vision: “Not by might and not by power but by My Breathing Spirit/Wind of Change, says YHWH [Yahhh/ the Breath of life].” Let us remember this wisdom at the heart of Hanukkah, as we face the power and the might that are condemning Earth to fiery death.

Then, in a passage just a few lines later, Zechariah asks for a further explanation:

‘And what,’ I asked him, ‘are those two olive trees, one on the right and one on the left of the light-bearing Menorah?’ And I further asked him, ‘What are the two outgrowths of the olive trees that feed their gold through those two golden tubes?’ He asked me, ‘Don’t you know what they are?’ And I replied, ‘No, my lord.’ Then he explained, ‘They are the two aspects of the shining/pure oil-of-anointment, who take their stance for the lordly connective-link of all the Earth.’” (Zechariah 4:11-14)


So from the Prophet Zechariah, we learn of the self-renewing miniature ecosystem that sustains the eternal burning of the Temple Menorah: two olive trees--one to its right and one to its left--that feed their oil directly into the Menorah. The Temple Menorah, keeper of the Eternal Flame, is to never be extinguished. And what allows for it to be eternally alight with sacred fire? Trees that, springing directly forth from Earth, directly provide the resource necessary for the Menorah’s functioning. Trees, who spring from the Eternal Breath of Life and interweave their breath with all Earth’s animals and so sustain the human beings who fashion the Gold Menorah. And so the Eternal loop of Light and Life and Love that lights our way in the gusts of Winds of change.

What can we learn from the Green Menorah of the Temple Courtyard -- one that is sustained indefinitely by cooperative relationship with the ecology of its surroundings? That we are reliant on the resources of our Earth around us and within us, and that we need to create social systems that not only sustain us, but allow for us and the Earth we’re harvesting  to mutually sustain one another. From the Green Menorah, we learn of the importance of Longevity. Eternity.

Therefore, as Hanukkah comes to a close, we invite you to open from thinking immediate to thinking long-term. What continued action can you commit to over the coming year? What covenant will you enter into with your community to ensure that Hanukkah’s lessons on resource conservation last all year?

Below, we provide four potential options for your Green Menorah Covenant to support you and your community in continued climate justice action throughout the next year to enter into covenantal relationship with each other and with Earth, which cradles all of us each day. And will continue to nurture us – IF we act to make sure our own mechanical out-breath of CO2 does not poison and burn the planet.  

And just as the interwoven Breath of Life nurtures us into the future, we need to keep the Green Menorah Covenant alive into the future. Not just for the eight nights of Hanukkah.

One more thought about timing: Some who read this may feel that the notion of gathering to create a Green Menorah Covenant makes sense, but there is not enough time in the next week to organize the meeting. Fine. Start planning now to meet the Sunday of Martin Luther King weekend, on January 20. Or on Sunday, February 9, in honor of Tu B’Shvat, ReBirthDay of the Trees, which begins that Sunday evening.

What then could we promise to each other on the eighth night of Hanukkah? We offer four possibilities. Your community could adopt just one or two. Your community could create your own.  

  1. Organize a campaign against the energy powers-that-be in your community. Is the local oil refinery poisoning the air in your city? Demand that it be shut down and reparations be made for its negative health impact. Does one energy corporation have a monopoly over energy access and distribution in your city, region or state? Demand the monopoly be broken up and local, renewable energy companies be created in their stead. Is there a bank in your community complicit in propping up the fossil fuel industry? Demand that they instead invest in renewable energy -- Move Our Money to Protect Our Planet. 

2. Convene a neighborhood council to plan the formation of neighborhood emergency preparedness plans, resource pooling and solar energy cooperatives. Climate collapse is global, but manifests locally. And it is the coerced individualism of consumerism that has caused this catastrophe, so the only appropriate response is to push back together. How can your local community both collectively prepare for the worst while taking immediate action to reduce? The pressure on the planet?  And how can this site of resistance and resilience also be a site of community building and mutual support?

3. Collectively commit to a beef-free home and community. It is widely known that the beef industry is responsible for greenhouse gas emissions beyond what is normal for an agricultural industry. Between both the methane that the cows produce and the inefficient land usage that raising cattle requires, the costs of the beef industry outweigh its benefits. However, the beef industry does not seem to be going anywhere any time soon, because demand for beef is too high. Often, creating a more just and sustainable world for all requires that those with power, privilege, and resources give something up. Immediate and constant access to beef produced by unethical agribusiness practices is something that those of us with access and resource can choose to give up for our earth and for future generations.

 4. Campaign to ensure that the Green New Deal is a primary agenda item in the upcoming Presidential Election, as well as on the legislative agenda. In the form of the Sabbatical/ Shmita year, where in times of old the Israelites allowed for both rest for the land and access to the resources of the land for those historically without access, ancient Judaism inextricably linked justice for humans with justice for the earth. So too does the Green New Deal today.

 The Green New Deal understands that racial and economic justice are interwoven with ecological justice, for those most directly and immediately impacted by climate change are often those also targeted in systems of poverty and white supremacy. Therefore, mitigating the impact of climate change necessarily creates a safer and more just world for all. This is why we so desperately need a Green New Deal at all levels: locally, regionally and nationally. How can your community ensure the success of the Green New Deal and a safer future for the next generation?

Please let us at The Shalom Center know what you are doing, how and when, about the Green Menorah Covenant. You can write us at GMCovenant@theshalomcenter.org

-- We have provided resources for you to shape Hanukkah into a way of healing Earth and saving many lives. Please help us keep doing this kind of work by giving The Shalom Center a life-saving (and tax-deductible) Hanukkah gift  --  by clicking on the “Contribute” button in the left-hand margin.

Thanks and blessings of Light for Clarity and Dark for Mystery at this sacred time of turning for our planet. – Faryn and Arthur 

Day 7 of #Hanukkah8Days4Climate

Day 7: Hold the Havdalah cerremony ending Shabbat and then a Hanukkah candle-lighting in public space, calling for making a distinction between these times of climate apathy and the coming times of transformative climate healing.

[For other resources by Faryn Borella and Rabbi Arthur Waskow on celebrating Hanukkah that can help us all to heal our wounded Earth, please see the Home Page of The Shalom Center at Faryn Borella is a student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and the Ira Silverman Memorial Intern at The Shalom Center. – AW, editor]

“The Sages taught: It is a mitzvah [life-connecting action] to place the Hanukkah lamp at the entrance to one’s house on the outside, so that all can see it. If he lives upstairs, he places it at the window adjacent to the public domain.” Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 21b

It is common practice today to kindle our Hanukkah candles within our homes or places of worship. However, the rabbis of old instructed us that our hannukiot were to be lit and placed outside one’s home in order that they public may see it. And why is this? Rashi explains that the purpose of the Hanukkah lights is to “publicize the miracle,” and there is no publicizing without a public.

Therefore, we invite you for this seventh day of Hanukkah to communally renew the practice of public candle-lighting in order to publicize the miracle: publicize the miracle that resource conservation was possible, is possible, and will be possible. And we call upon you to do this at the close of Shabbat, when we choose to optimize the liminal space of twilight-into-night to separate between what is given us as sacred and what we must choose to make sacred, this time calling for a new separation--a separation between our existing time of climate apathy and the reign of fossil fuels into the coming times of transformative climate healing and a renewable future.

Below are kavanot (intentions) for each of the four blessings of the havdalah ritual that we offer you, to use as an offering at your Public Havdalah and Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony.

Wine:

Kavanah: Why in Judaism are we so often called upon to bless wine, especially in moments of sanctity and transition? Because wine serves as an instrument to change our consciousness. Wine itself is a product of change. It begins as grape juice with a simple sweetness. Then it ferments, turning sour. And then it changes again, achieving a higher form of sweetness – the one that changes us. (Some among us refrain from wine and change their consciousness without its help.) Therefore, we are invited by wine to trust and to act so that transformation is possible; that  sometimes it can be sour, but can and will bend toward the good if we support it in doing so.

So too the collective consciousness can and will be transformed if we are willing to believe that it is possible and act to make it so. So let this wine serve as a reminder in seemingly dark times that the dark itself is not bad, but a part of the process of transformation--a transformation that we have the opportunity to midwife toward the good. 

Hebrew Blessing: Baruch Atah YHWH [Yahhh / HaShem], Eloheynu Ruach Ha’Olam, Borei P’ri Hagafen.

English Blessing: Blessed are you, Interbreathing Spirit of the universe, who creates the fruits of the vine.

Set aside the wine or grape juice to be drunk at the end of Havdalah.

Spices:

Kavanah: Why, in Judaism, do we often smell spices at moments of transition? To remind us to breathe, for what is smelling but a form of deep breathe? And what is it that we are breathing? We are breathing out images and understandings of God that are hierarchical -- God as Lord, King, Judge -- and breathing in the true essence of the divine name YHWH--the one that is Breath (as you will sense if you try to pronounce it with no vowels -- YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh. As you smell the spices, breathe out a god that rewards and punishes and breathe in a God that understands the interrelatedness of all being--a God that has a preferential option for its continued sustenance. Breathe out a God of Domination and breathe in the God of the Ecological.

Hebrew Blessing: Baruch Atah YHWH [Yahhh / HaShem] Eloheynu Ruach Ha’olam, Borei m’nai b’samim.

English Blessing: Blessed are you, Breathing spirit of the universe, who creates various forms of spices.

Pass around the spices to be sniffed

Fire:

Kavanah:

We are the generations

That 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 consume the Bush it burned in,

The Fire that must never be extinguished.

The fire in the heart of every community and all Creation. 

It is our task to make from inner fire

Not an all-consuming blaze

But the light in which we see more clearly

The Rainbow Covenant glowing

in the many-colored faces of all life.

Hebrew Blessing: Baruch Atah YHWH [Yahhh / HaShem] Eloheynu Ruach Ha’olam, Borei M’orei Ha’esh.

English Blessing: Blessed are you, breathing spirit of the universe, creator of the fire’s light.

Light the Havdalah candle. Lift your fingers to see in your own fingernails the inner sparks of holiness, sparks of the Burning Bush we carry within us. And turn to look at each other's eyes to see the holy light within our neighbors.

Distinction-making:

Kavanah: Why do we distinguish between what is holy (kodesh) and hollow -- waiting to be filled (chol), rather than considering everything of God’s creation as holy? For there are some things that God instills with holiness, while other things for which God asks of us to do that instilling. Though we are often told that chol means “profane,”  to be chol is actually to be like the chalil -- the flute.   To be hollow.

It is not that chol is inherently unholy, but rather that which is chol contains the potential to be holy, but requires of us to make it so. We distinguish between kodesh and chol to remind ourselves of our role as co-creators with the divine -- that the whole world can only emerge as holy if we participate in making it so. To remind us that we are accountable to Earth and responsible for its emergent holiness. And that it is incumbent upon us to fill the hollow with the holy.

Hebrew Blessing: Baruch Atah YHWH [Yahhh / HaShem],  Eloheynu Ruach Ha’olam, hamavdil bayn kodesh lechol bayn or lechoshech bayn yom hashevi’i leshayshet yemay hama’aseh. Baruch Atah YHWH [Yahhh / HaShem, hamavdil bayn kodesh lechol. 

English Blessing: Blessed are you, Breathing spirit of the universe, who makes a distinction between what is given us as holy and what comes to us as hollow open space, waiting for us to choose to fill it with holiness; between the light and dark; between the seventh day and the six days of doing/making. Blessed are You, Breathing One, who distinguishes between the holy and the hollow.

Drink the wine or grape juice and then douse the Havdalah candle in it. Why? Because we thus unite what seem to be opposites – Eysh or Fire and Mayim or Liquid into Shamayyim, that ultimate heavenly state in which opposites can live together in peace.

 
After doing the ceremony of Havdalah, lift up a communal Hanukkia or welcome the varied Hanniokot brought by members of the community. Light the shamash or initiator-candle and from it light seven candles of the Hanukkia. Invite people to give names or qualities of blessing to each of the seven candles of this evening.

Flu Shots & Loving Songs NOW for Kids in Cages

Holy-Day Love Songs for Children in "Detention" Cages

[Dear friends of all communities of love and Spirit, Hanukkah and Christmas are approaching.  Both holy times beckon us to Light and Love.  In "detention centers" that are really becoming concentration camps of illness and trauma, refugee and immigrant children are suffering -- especially now, when in addition to cold and crowding the US Government is adding refusals to inoculate kids against flu. Already some have died, and more will as winter and crowding produce epidemics.

[In Philadelphia this week, Elder Witness and Friends are singing songs of new words to melodies of these holy times, at City Hall Park from noon till 1 pm on Thursday, December 19. You are welcome to join them! The Shalom Center is sharing with you two songs written in this mode by Rabbi Phyllis Berman.

[We encourage you to visit or call your Senators and Congressperson to demand that they force the Trump Administration to inoculate all these prisoners, children and adults alike,  against flu, NOW. If you can, bring your friends and sing them these songs on the phone or in their offices--  AW, editor]

[Tune to "Silent Night," words by Rabbi Phyllis Berman:]

Unquiet night, nothing is bright --
Children crying, children dying.
No flu shots in a too-crowded space
Frigid cold in a prison-like place
How can grown-ups still ignore
Human needs at their core?

Unquiet night, nothing is bright
Not enough blankets, not enough beds
No toothbrushes or showers with soap
Dismal conditions to cause loss of hope
How can our government still ignore
Human needs at their core?

Unquiet night, nothing is bright
Future dreams have no light.
Immigrants come here for safety,
In common with all humanity
These are children much like yours --
Greet them with wide open doors!

[Tune to the Hanukkah song "Maoz Tzur" and "Rock of Ages"; words by Rabbi Phyllis Berman:]

All our children need vaccines
Without flu shots they suffer
Diseases spread like wildfire
Contaminating each other.

CHORUS: We who once were strangers
                  Must welcome those in danger
                  With medicine, clean clothes, and food
                  And loving care to brighten their mood.
                  Medicine, clean clothes, and food
                  And loving care to brighten their mood.

Separating parents from kids
Is cruel and traumatic for them all
Leaving home is hard enough;
Why would we want to build a wall?

CHORUS (same as above)

Detention is no place for kids
Withholding books and toys and care;
Frightened with or without their folks --
Harsh responses cause despair.

CHORUS (same as above)

[In addition, The Shalom Center has been providing day-by-day resources for the Eight Days of Hanukkah, to draw on the spirit of conserving energy as in the remarkable story of how one day's sacred oil met eight days' sacred needs. Our suggestions move from transforming our households to our communities to our country   -- at each level, how to turn away from destructive addiction to Carbon and fossil fuels, turning instead to the energy of sun and wind. See articles on our Home Page at https://theshalomcenter.org] --  AW,  ed.]

Days 2, 3, & 4 of #Hanukkah8Days4Climate

[The Shalom Center has been developing resources for making Hanukkah -- the festival of learning from the Clarity of Light in the midst of the Mystery of Dark and the festival of celebrating the conservation of energy, into a framework for addressing the climate crisis and strengthening joyful communities rooted in the Spirit. These suggestions for the first half of Hanukkah were brought together by Faryn Borella, a rabbinical student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and the Ira Silverman Memorial Intern for The Shalom Center. See also other articles on Hanukkah on our home page. --  AW, editor]

 Day 2 - Switch your utility provider from coal or oil to renewable

One must distancea tannery… fifty cubits from the city. One may establish a tannery only on the east side of the city, because winds usually blow from the west and the foul smells would therefore be blown away from the residential area. Rabbi Akiva says: One may establish a tannery on any side of a city except for the west, as the winds blowing from that direction will bring the odors into the city, and one must distance it fifty cubits from the city.” Bava Batra 25a

In this Mishna, the rabbis set a precedent that polluting industries must not be established within cities, but rather well outside of cities, and not placed in any such way that the pollution produced therein could have negative impact on the inhabitants of the city.

However, in our day and age, not only do we find agents of pollution right within our cities, but even polluting industries located outside of cities to provide the electricity for our cities are having a negative impact, on both urban and rural populations, for the pollution they are producing not only has dire health impact on those directly exposed, but secondary impact on the entire human population, for these polluting industries are largely to blame for global climate collapse. The Shalom Center has been developing resources and suggestions for making Hanukkah, the festival that celebrates conservation of energy and deep learning from the Clarity of Light and the Mystery of Dark, into a framework for addressing the climate crisis.

Therefore, in the spirit of the rabbis of old, we call upon you to cease to support these polluting industries. While electricity is a seeming necessity in our day and age, where it comes from is increasingly a choice. You now have a say in whether your power from the grid is from coal, oil, natural gas, or renewable energy. We are calling upon you to take advantage of this choice and opt into renewables. Sources such as Arcadia Power help you to locate ways to switch to renewable energy without opting out of the main power grid, and they help you to do so at the least financial cost. So on this third day of Hanukkah, we encourage you to research the options in your area, and make the change today.

Day 3: Go 100% LED light bulbs at home & Jewish & other religious or communal gathering-spaces.

The third night of Hanukkah this year happens to fall on Christmas Eve, a day in American society where the public sphere takes a Shabbat. Take advantage of this day of familial and communal rest to gather your community for a new form of Hanukkah ritual.

In the Talmud, there was debate as to how we should light the Hanukkah candles. Some said one candle should be lit per household, some said one per person per household. However, Rabbi Hillel said you should light one candle on the first night, and with each night add a candle, for holiness can only increase.

Lighting one candle on the first night indicates a tendency toward resource conservation, and a trust that if we preserve and conserve, God -- the Ruach HaKodesh, Holy InterBreathing that unifies all life -- will provide fuller abundance in the future, but if we use all of our resource at once, far less will be available for our children and our children’s children in the future.

Therefore, we call upon you to enact a new ritual on the first night of Hanukkah. After you light your Hanukkah candles, go room-to-room in your house or Jewish communal home, changing all your bulbs to LED, and as you begin the process with the first bulb, recite the bracha:

Baruch atah YHWH [Yahh, HaShem, Breath of Life] Eloheynu ruach haolam asher kidshanu b’mitzvot vitzivanu lo tash'chit.

Blessed are You,  Breathing Spirit of the world, our God, for making us holy with ways of affirming our connections with all life  -- among them the connection of consciously refusing to waste and destroy.

When you have finished, affirm this joyful "first" in your life by reciting:

Baruch atah YHWH [Yahh, HaShem, Breath of Life] Eloheynu ruach haolam  -- sheh-hechianu v'kimanu v'higianu lazman hazeh!

Blessed are You,  Breathing Spirit of the world, our God, Who fills us with life, lifts us up, and carries us to this moment!

[Read further for additional suggestions on how to draw on Hanukkah traditions to heal Earth and Humanity from the cclimate crisis.] 

 

Hanukkah & Climate, Day 1: Torah Study on Energy & Earth

#Hanukkah8Days4Climate -- Day 1, Torah Study

A Prefatory Note by Rabbi Arthur Waskow, 

director of The Shalom Center and 

Member, Visioning Team, Earth-Based Judaism track 

Of the ALEPH Ordination Program

Followed by a Torah Resource Page woven by 

Rabbinical Student (RRC) Faryn Borella,

The Ira Silverman Memorial Intern of The Shalom Center 

[In the Shalom Report we have suggested a Hanukkah Trajectory related to the climate crisis for the eight days of the festival. We suggest beginning on the first night (Sunday evening, December 22) with communal gatherings to light the first candle, share Hanukkah foods, and share participatory study of Torah passages that bear on the meanings of Hanukkah – especially its connection with Earth and with conservation of energy.

[Our bare-bones chart suggesting observances connected with the rhythms of the Moon for Days 2 through 8 appears in an article on the Home Page of our website at https://theshalomcenter.org/hanukkah8days4climate   In the next few weeks we will be sending Shalom Reports with more detailed suggestions for Days 2 through 8. --  AW] 

We begin below with a prefatory note that briefly outlines the history and relationship of some major Hanukkah-related texts, followed by the texts themselves.

We begin with the Talmud, which tells us that Hanukkah is a holiday created to commemorate the miracle of conservation of energy when one day’s oil to relight the sacred light-bearing Menorah, necessary in order to rededicate the Temple after its time under occupation by the imperial army of Hellenistic Syria, was enough to keep the Menorah lit for eight days.

In historical factuality, the Book of Maccabees (which was written much closer to the events) says the reason was to celebrate the eight days of Sukkot, which they had not been able to celebrate while the Hellenistic army had control of the Temple.  In all anthropological likelihood, the eight-day celebration of light when the Moon and Sun are darkest goes back even further into the religious history of communities in the eastern Mediterranean. 

Many modern scholars believe that the ancient Rabbis deliberately directed future attention away from the Maccabees because they did not want to encourage violent uprisings against imperial powers. For in their consciousness, the Maccabee-like revolt of Bar Kochba in 135 CE ended in utter disaster for the Jewish people, as Rome smashed the Jewish population of the Land of Israel. 

The ancient Rabbis decided to use words from the Prophet Zechariah as the Haftarah (prophetic passage) to be read in synagogues on the Shabbat during Hanukkah. Like the legend of the eight-day bottle of one-day oil, it directed attention away from the Maccabeean guerrilla-band revolt, cresting with “Not by might and not by power…”

So after the Hanukkah-defining passage from the Talmud, we focus on Zechariah’s prophetic vision. He wrote or proclaimed it after the destruction of the first Temple by the Babylonian Empire, and is envisioning a new Temple with some important differences from the one that had been destroyed  -- especially a radical vision of olive trees next to the Menorah.

Zechariah’s focus on the Temple Menorah reinforces the Rabbis’ focus on its connection with the reason for Hanukkah. We include Rashi’s interpretation of the strangest part of Zechariah’s ecstatic vision.  Then – to deepen our understanding of the Menorah that has become so central -- we go back to the Torah’s earliest definition of the Menorah in the portable Shrine in the Wilderness, and therefore ultimately in the Temple in Jerusalem.

A special note on translating “YHWH.”  Like the great Bible translator Everett Fox, rather than substituting the false translation as “LORD” I transliterate the Name.  I also “translate” it as “Breath of Life, Interbreathing Spirit of the world” because I think “pronouncing” it with no vowels brings forth the sound of a breath  -- ruach. And I think in our era that is a far better, more truthful metaphor for God than “King, Lord.” It betokens an ecological rather than hierarchical understanding of the world.

*** *** 

Resources for Torah Study, 

1st night or day of Hanukkah

Woven by Faryn Borella

Shabbat 21b, Talmud Bavli

מאי חנוכה דתנו רבנן בכה בכסליו יומי דחנוכה תמניא אינון דלא למספד בהון ודלא להתענות בהון שכשנכנסו יוונים להיכל טמאו כל השמנים שבהיכל וכשגברה מלכות בית חשמונאי ונצחום בדקו ולא מצאו אלא פך אחד של שמן שהיה מונח בחותמו של כהן גדול ולא היה בו אלא להדליק יום אחד נעשה בו נס והדליקו ממנו שמונה ימים לשנה אחרת קבעום ועשאום ימים טובים בהלל והודאה

The Gemara asks: What is Hanukkah, and why are lights kindled on Hanukkah? The Gemara answers: The Sages taught in Megillat Taanit: On the twenty-fifth of Kislev, the days of Hanukkah are eight. One may not eulogize on them and one may not fast on them. What is the reason? When the Greeks  [Syrian Hellenistic imperial army] entered the Sanctuary they defiled all the oils that were in the Sanctuary by touching them. And when the Hasmonean monarchy overcame them and emerged victorious over them, they searched and found only one jar of oil that was placed with the seal of the High Priest, undisturbed by the Greeks. And there was sufficient oil there to light the Light-bearing Menorah for only one day. A miracle occurred and they lit the Light-bearing Menorah from it eight days. The next year the Sages instituted those days and made them holidays with recitation of hallel and special thanksgiving in prayer and blessings.

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