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A selection of etudes for the month of Elul highlighting the the call to personal and community changes in preparation for the High Holidays.


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Our 2017 (5777) Collection of Earth Etudes for Elul

Introduction by Susan Levine~ Elul is the month before Rosh Hashanah, a time when we review our lives and think about how we will live the coming year. And during Elul this year, we have seen three category 4 hurricanes (Harvey, Irma, and Maria) wreak havoc in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and several other Caribbean islands. The scientists have blamed increased ocean temperatures for the high winds and rising floodwaters. What other evidence do we need to believe that climate change is real? Our earth etudes actually connect our earth with the spirit of Judaism--Tikkun ...

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Shana Tova — May You Have a Good Year

by Rabbi Katy Allen • photos by Gabi Mezger ~As you journey through these the Yamim Noraim, Days of Awe, may you find yourself more able to remain present in the moment, may you find meaning in unexpected places, and my your heart open ever wider. May you search among the needles for the gifts of seeds.   May you find beauty among that which at first glance seems no longer needed, but which in fact is vital. May your gaze turn upward toward vistas without end. May you notice gifts that pop up quickly in unexpected places. ...

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The Importance of Teshuva during the High Holidays

The Jewish high holidays are around the corner... During the 10 days of repentance, our prayers and forgiveness carry significantly more weight than any other time during the year. Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz (the Shelah Hakadosh) said that our behavior during each day of the 7 days between Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur has the potential to correct our sins made during each of those days in the past year, and can affect the rest of the same days next year (Sunday corrects Sundays, Monday corrects Mondays etc). So how do we make the most out of those days and make sure ...

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Earth Etude for Elul 29 – Farmers of Our Souls

by Molly Bajgot~ something that the earth knows well is our attempts to conquer, manipulate, and control her. in this High Holy season, in the return to oneself, we are asked to abstain from the conquering, manipulating and controlling — that it may lead to understanding our impulses for doing so: to each other, the earth, other beings, and our own soul. we have a task, this Holy season, to do teshuvah — to relinquish, however micro or macro we can - the impulses and ways we farm our subconscious and conscious minds with seeds ...

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Elul: A Time to Start Shifting Our Imperiled Planet Onto a Sustainable Path

by Richard Schwartz~ Elul is here. It represents an opportunity for heightened introspection, a chance to consider teshuva, changes in our lives, before the “Days of Awe,” the days of judgment, the “High holidays" of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The shofar is blown every morning (except on Shabbat) in synagogues during the month of Elul to awaken us from slumber, to remind us to consider where we are in our lives and to urge us to consider positive changes. How should we respond to Elul today? How should we respond when we hear reports almost daily of severe, ...

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Earth Etude for Elul 28 – Another Blue Day

by Thea Iberall, Ph.D. ~I have a picture of my mother Helene with Heidi Klum, the blonde supermodel and TV star. We were in Heidi’s trailer on the Warner Bros lot in Burbank watching her prep for a commercial shoot. Heidi and her makeup entourage gathered around my mother who was wearing her “Kiss Me I’m 100” T-shirt. They wanted to know her secret to aging well. My mom laughed and told Heidi about the gin-soaked raisins she eats every morning to ward off arthritis. Then she talked about the raw apple cider vinegar she takes before every meal to overcome gas. ...

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Earth Etude for Elul 27 – Re-Connecting to the Land

by Rabbi Lawrence Troster ~On a recent vacation to my home town of Toronto, as I drove around the countryside and saw the many places I knew so well from my childhood, I reflected again on how the landscape in which I lived affected who I am and how I see the world. I was born in Toronto which is in an area that was covered by glaciers over 10,000 years ago and the land still is shaped by that ancient event: spoon shaped hills called drumlins, ridges called eskers which are the remains of the river beds that flowed from the retreating ice. And lakes: I spent many of ...

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Earth Etude for Elul 26 – Three Levels of Holiness

by Rabbi David Seidenberg~ In the Torah, three things are called "shabbat shabbaton" – the seventh day, Yom Kippur, and Shmitah (the Sabbatical year). Agnon, in his book The Days of Awe, shares a teaching from Rabbi Tzvi Hakohen of Rymanov about this. The rabbi was asked, if both Yom Kippur and the Sabbath itself are called "shabbat shabbaton", how is Yom Kippur more special? And he answered, the seventh day is called "shabbat shabbaton l’adonai" – a sabbath of sabbaths for God. Yom Kippur is called "shabbat shabbaton lakhem" – a sabbath of sabbaths for all of ...

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Earth Etude for Elul 25 – Practicing Teshuvah

by Maxine Lyons~ I lost a lot of azalea bushes this past winter. The space looks stark and bare, and I am deciding what to place there to fill that void that a harsh Boston winter destroyed in my garden. The weight of the snowfall broke branches. I was at first very upset looking at the spot where azaleas once flourished in the springtime, and angry that the snow’s destructive force did this when I was not home for two months (to brush them off and relieve the pressure of the snow’s weight). I used a combination of practices from Mussar (using the soul-trait ...

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Earth Etude for Elul 24 – Water Down the Wall

by Carol Reiman~ from www.thinkcds.org/category/policy/ Borne on the water that etches the rock (of tablets and of temples), the breath of life glistens as it falls down and down and down the wall, pooling below, in blue green deep, a balm for bathers, to wash away the ash of grief and tired day; turning on, the waters pass slowly here, clotted by the blood of battle, iron arms lapped in reeds-- land of dust and stone sealed off to some-- left in pieces, separated parts. Eicha...

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Earth Etude for Elul 23 – Collective Versus Personal Action in the Jewish Bible

by Andy Oram~ Environmental activists are constantly juggling between the personal and the political. Do we devote our efforts to using our cars less, substituting vegan meals for meat, and recycling? Or do we canvas our friends and neighbors to pressure governments and businesses to adopt more planet-friendly technologies? We know that we need to do both the personal and the political, but those of us who have taken the environment as our cause have found ourselves swinging between them in a way that is frustrating and distracting. And as we prepare for the High ...

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Earth Etude for Elul 22 – The Wonder of Life

by Maggid David Arfa~ If I had influence with the good fairy... I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life. --Rachel Carson, Women’s Home Companion Magazine 1956 Awareness of a mystery is shared by all..., yet, as we have seen they usually mistake what they sense as being apart from their own existence, as if there was only wonder in what they see, not in the very act of seeing, as if the mystery were merely an act of observation….The mystery is not apart from ourselves, not a far ...

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Earth Etude for Elul 21 – Eco-Kaddish

By Judith Felsen, Ph.D.~ Master of the Universe, Lord of All Worlds May I know You when I see a tree feel the wind gaze at stars touch the ground smile at flowers May I see You in all cycles of life through and around me May I sense You with every breath footstep, touch, thought and feeling knowing You are near and we are always One. This Elul may I join with You becoming One in nature’s presence never to leave. © Judith Felsen, Ph.D. Judith Felsen holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology, certificates in ...

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Earth Etude for Elul 20 – In the Hands of Billionaires

by Mirele B. Goldsmith, Ph.D.~ Recently I had the opportunity to hear a presentation about the UN Sustainable Development Goals by Jeffrey Sachs, the world’s best-known economist. Sachs emphasized that poverty and climate change are interrelated. He focused on the financial cost of a “just transition” to a world of decent livelihoods and renewable energy for all. Sachs explained that the cost of this transition could easily be financed if the world’s 2,043 billionaires contributed a mere 3% of their annual income. I find this analysis to be very encour...

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Earth Etude for Elul 19 – Keeping Agreements as a Spiritual Practice

by Rabbi David Jaffe~ I am a people pleaser. On the surface that may sound just fine. I get along well with people, care about people and want to give them what they want. But the motivations for my people pleasing reveal its dark underside. I don’t like conflict, so I will do whatever is necessary to make sure people like me. For example, I will say yes to things I know I will never do, sacrificing my integrity to avoid the momentary discomfort and hard feelings of saying no. I am not sharing this publicaly to self-flagellate. Rather, my own condition is ...

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Earth Etude for Elul 18 – Searching for the Tree of Heaven

by Rachel Aronson~ Despite its nickname, “the tree of heaven,” the ailanthus is not universally beloved. It is not planted in garden beds, on streets, or in parks. There are 22 types of permitted street trees in New York City, where I live, and the Tree of Heaven is not one of them. The Tree of Heaven is most famous for being the titular Tree that grows in Brooklyn: “There's a tree that grows in Brooklyn. Some people call it the Tree of Heaven. No matter where its seed falls, it makes a tree which struggles to reach the sky. It grows in boarded-up ...

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Earth Etude for Elul 17 – Spiritual Charity and the Tale of Two Seas

 by Rabbi Ziona Zelazo~ This post emerged during a summer stay in Israel. I heard the story from my friend Dalia, about her nephew, who got killed in a terrorist attack. In his death he donated his organs to save lives. And so he already enabled a man to regain his vision with the donated retina. I was thinking how amazing it is to be able to give to others. But in particular, I was thinking that there is no one way to give to others. People can choose to be givers in many shapes and forms. And here is another Israeli hint for the idea of giving: There are two ...

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Earth Etude for Elul 16 – Ram in the Bushes

by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen~ And it came to pass after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham;” and he said, “Hineni, here I am.” And he said, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell you.” (Gen. 22:1-2) We are being tested.  But not by G!d.  We are being tested by the world in which we live.  We are being tested by the actions of humans past and present.  We are being tested by the changing ...

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Earth Etude for Elul 15 – Wasting Food

by Scott Lewis, Ph.D. ~When you besiege a city for many days to wage war against it to capture it, you shall not destroy its trees by wielding an ax against them, for you may eat from them, but you shall not cut them down. (Deuteronomy 20:19) The mitzvah of Bal Taschit, do not waste, helps frame Jewish environmental concerns. While most Jewish environmental activists recognize the importance of Bal Taschit for prohibiting wasting energy and polluting the earth, we might easily overlook the commandment’s important connections to Food Waste. Our sages ...

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Earth Etude for Elul 14 – Time to Rest

by Tali Anisfeld~  Night summoned day again this morning, and the dawn told me to rest. This surprised me. Isn’t it the setting sun – rather than its rising companion – that usually coaxes us into rest?  But then again, maybe she was hinting at something about rest that comes with motion (the reach and stretch of the day), rather than with stillness (the hushed retreat of night). It is time to rest; it is time to be awoken in prayer and to laugh with the tickling grasses. To climb and jump and run and let the sweat of your body mix with the rain of the ...

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