There are two crises in the world today that call especially for Jewish responses:
One because it involves the future of a state that calls itself “Jewish,” and of its supporters in America — their spiritual, intellectual, ethical, and physical futures – at a moment when the relationship between Jews and our Abrahamic cousins of Palestine is filled with violence that threatens to kill more people, breed more hatred, and poison the bloodstream of Judaism and Jewish culture;
The other because it calls on Judaism as –- probably uniquely — a world religion that still can draw on having once been an indigenous people of shepherds and farmers with a Torah, offerings, festivals, and many other practices centered on the sacred relationship with the Earth.
Can these roots regrow new flowering at a moment when all the wisdom of all human cultures is needed to cope with a planetary crisis that originates in human mistreatment of the Earth?
We are living in the midst of the planetary climate crisis, the scorching of our Mother Earth, the choking of what was the balanced Breath of Life, our atmosphere, Whose sacred Name is YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh.
If we pronounce those letters, that “Name,” without vowels, we can hear the “still small Voice” Elijah heard, the sound not of silence but of breathing; the sound that susses between trees and human beings as we breathe in what the trees breathe out and the trees breathe in what we breathe out; the balance of CO2 and Oxygen that through our atmosphere breathes life throughout our planet.
We call the radical disturbance in that balanced breathing the “climate crisis”; it is a crisis in the Name of God.
Our ability to pay attention to the climate crisis seems always to be drowned out by the blood of war or the tears of the poor; but the scorching of our planet is already causing far more deaths and is threatening the lives and foods and homes of millions more.
How can we draw on the ancient wisdom of Biblical Israel as an indigenous people in sacred relationship with the Earth? How can we use this storehouse of wisdom toward helping heal all Humanity and Mother Earth today, from a crucial planetary crisis threatening the very life and health of all of us?
There are three weeks from 17 Tammuz (when the Babylonian Army broke through the walls of Jerusalem) to Tisha B’Av (when they destroyed the Temple). (In the Western calendar in 2014, these three weeks run from July 15 to August 4-5.)
Traditionally, these three weeks were about danger to the Temple and then its destruction.
It was through the Temple that ancient Israel made contact with God.
The contact came not by words of prayer or words of Torah study, but by offering on the Altar a portion of the foods that YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh, the Interbreathing Spirit of all life, had brought forth from adamah, the Earth.
So adam, the human community, praisedYHWH and celebrated the sharing of life through the food that came from adamah.
According to the records of the Prophet Jeremiah (chapter 34), as the Babylonian Army approached the city, he had called on the Israelites to free all their slaves and make real the Jubilee.
In that Homebringing, the Earth was released from human exploitation and the poor were released from exploitation by the rich — for each family received an equal share of land. The rich would release themselves from greedy domination, the poor would release themselves from fear and rage.
So the people heeded Jeremiah and freed their slaves. The Babylonians pulled back. Perhaps they were impressed by this demonstration of the people's unity and commitment.
But — seeing the besieging army withdraw, the slaveholders changed their minds and took back their slaves.
Then Jeremiah prophesied their doom: "Says YHWH, Breath of Life: 'You would not hear My Voice and proclaim a release, each to his kinsman and countryman. Here! I proclaim your release — declares YHWH — to the sword, to pestilence, and to famine."
Paraphrasing: If you will not let the Land rest, you will be exiled and it will rest in your absence. If you will not free your slaves, you will all become slaves. If you will not hear and listen to the still small Voice of the Breathing that connects all life, your own breath will be taken from you.
And he was right. The Imperial Army realized that the people were no longer united, but divided by the greed of the rich and the rage of the poor. The Army returned, conquered the city, and destroyed the Temple.
Much later, the Rabbis named the ancient sin as idolatry. And indeed, as the slave-holders made idols of their own domineering power, they rejected the Interbreathing Spirit.
They themselves had already destroyed their real connection with God, and the Destruction was simply an affirmation of their rejection.
The three weeks between 17th of Tammuz and the 9th day of the Jewish “moonth” of Av were weeks of uncertainty — of choice.
Choice for the Israelites and for the Babylonians. Which side were they on — their own power to lord it over other people and Mother Earth herself, or the Breath of Life that intertwines us all?
Shall we choose the God Who calls for freedom, for release, for a turning-away from our own arrogance?
When the walls between us have fallen, can both sides reach out to release themselves and each other from being enemies? Or shall we resort to subjugating others, and pay the price of being ourselves subjugated?
In 586 BCE, both peoples failed. And for the Jews, the day of the final Destruction became a day of deep mourning, a 25-hour Fast from food and water, luxurious clothes and perfumes, even sex.
Jewish tradition also saw this day of despair, Tisha B'Av, as the day when the Messiah was born — and hidden away for a time of transformation. From hitting rock bottom comes the courage and commitment to arise. In short, a day of grief and hope and action.
In our generation, we can turn from grief for the destruction of one community's ancient sacred place to grief, hope, and above all action focused on the future of endangered Earth. For Earth is our Temple, the sacred Temple of all human cultures and all living beings.
Now we know that we human beings through our own corporate "armies" of Big Carbon have broken down the walls that protected thousands of species and the climate that gave life to us all.
What shall we do now that these walls are shattered?
We can continue with business as usual, despoiling our Mother Earth still more.
Or we can begin to change direction:
At the level of action to change public policy on climate, we can use this period to mobilize support for the People's Climate March in New York City on September 21, just a few days before the Rosh Hashanah that begins a Sabbatical or Shmita Year of restfulness for the Earth.
At the level of prayer and spiritual practice, we can draw on several ways of addressing Tisha B’Av as a day of mourning, hope, and action for the Earth at https://theshalomcenter.org/treasury/116.
In these ways we can pause to choose the path of conscious interbreathing, repairing our interwoven threads of deep connection, renewing our covenant with YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh.