Endurance in Compassion: Rabbi Simon Jacobson asks: “Is my compassion enduring and consistent?”
by Rabbi Robin Damsky
When we sit down to a meal, do we think about where the food has come from? Judaism teaches us to say a brachah – a blessing – for that food. We may or may not take the time to do that, and even if we do, do we stop for a minute and think about the origin of that salad or how that bread came to our table? Barbara Kingsolver focuses on this idea in her book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I was struck by a conversation she relays to a friend, telling her that the potato plants were coming up. Her friend hadn’t seen a potato grow. She said, “What part of a potato comes up?”
Kingsolver’s response was, “Um… the plant part… Stems and leaves.”
To which her friend replied: “Wow… I never knew potatoes had a plant part.”
How much of what we eat do we take for granted? Whether we don’t know what the plant looks like, or where it grows, who grows it, how it gets to our table… This goes beyond vegetables and fruits as well. Even the boxed food we eat, the dairy, eggs, meat and poultry we purchase, have their roots in the plants that are harvested to make the cereals and cookies, or those that feed the animals that then become part of our breakfast, lunch and dinner. Whether we are aware of it or not, the earth keeps on producing all that we eat. God, in God’s enduring compassion, continues to provide for us.
The second paragraph of the Shema, while a difficult text, says is that if we love God and serve God with all our heart, soul and might: “I [God] will favor your land with rain at the proper season, in autumn and in spring, and you will have an ample harvest of grain and wine and oil. I will assure abundance in the fields for your cattle. You will eat to contentment.” (Deuteronomy 11:14-15)
Just like that. All God asks is that we love God and follow God’s commandments. God’s compassion endures, as we learn in Psalm 100: “God’s compassion and loyalty are eternal; God’s faithfulness is for all generations.”
Do we love God? Do we follow God’s commandments? God commands us to care for the earth. One way we are asked to do that is through observance of the sabbatical year, in which the land gets a rest and during which all may eat of it, regardless of ownership or economic strata. Observing a rest for the land, however, assumes that we have a relationship with that land. Have we forgotten that the potato has a plant part?
In Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:13, God is having a conversation with Adam and Eve. The midrash goes like this:
When the Holy One created the first human beings, God led them around the Garden of Eden and said: “Look at my works! See how beautiful they are, how excellent! For your sake I created them all. See to it that you do not spoil or destroy My world – for if you do, there will be no one to repair it after you.” (Midrash Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:13)
God’s commitment to our abundance is enduring, yet God needs and demands our partnership. Is our compassion for God’s earth enduring? Are we keeping our part of the covenant?
Action: Make an enduring commitment to the enduring abundance that God provides. Here are some choices as to how you might accomplish that: Say a prayer before your meals in which you trace your food back to the earth that grew it and the people who tended it and helped to get it to your table. Nourish the soil through composting. Rest a piece of your land, or help work to keep natural lands protected. Begin an urban garden or urban forest. Or create your own action and share it with us.
Robin Damsky is the rabbi of West Suburban Temple Har Zion in River Forest, IL,B www.wsthz.org. She is the proud mother of Sarah. In her spare time she promotes social justice and tikkun olam – repair of the world -B through the garden.