Earth Etude for Elul 7 – Covenant and Community

by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen 

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about community and covenant. 

Rabbi Avi Olitzky defines community as “a circle to which you feel you belong that will miss your presence; it reaches out to you when you’re absent, and you long for it when you’re not there.” 

Covenant, berit, is a promise, generally bilateral, requiring the participation of both parties that are bound by the covenant. 

In the Torah, G!d enacts three covenants. First is G!d’s promise to all humanity after the Flood, never again to wreak such destruction. The sign of this covenant – actually a one-way agreement, because G!d promises, but humanity is not obligated – is the rainbow. 

The second is G!’d’s covenant with Abraham, promising to make numerous his descendants and to give them the Land of Israel for their possession. (Gen. 17) Circumcision, brit milah, is the sign of Abraham’s acceptance of and loyalty to G!d. 

The enactment of the third covenant takes place at Mt. Sinai, when G!d gives the Torah to the Israelites and outlines the terms of the covenant. Shabbat is the sign of this covenant. 

The three covenants provide intimations about three kinds of community. 

The rainbow is of the more-than-human world, outside of us, a reminder that community extends beyond humanity to the Universe and all it contains. 

Circumcision is a reminder that our relationship with G!d is personal, that we must look inward in order to fully maintain our relationship with the Sacred. 

Shabbat is a reminder to connect with humanity, to interact, celebrate, rejoice, remember, and observe, and to do it with others. 

Community: a circle to which you feel you belong that will miss your presence; it reaches out to you when you’re absent, and you long for it when you’re not there. 

The more than human world – it calls out to us, but often we do not hear it. We are connected in our very DNA to all of life; we are connected through stardust beyond the living world to the nonliving world. If our hearts are open, we long for the more-than-human world when we stay away too long. 

Our hearts and our souls – if we ignore them, putting our shoulders to the grindstone of what must be done, our spirits will shrivel and die. 

Our human community – we all need each other, physically, spiritually, and emotionally. 

To become one, one with the Universe, one with ourselves, and one with all humanity, to the best of our ability, that is our holy task on this Earth. 

As we continue to journey through Elul and toward Rosh HaShanah, let us seek l’chadesh, to renew our covenant with the Universe, with our souls, and with humanity. Let us engage in teshuvah and return to the heart of the three covenants and the three communities upon which we depend.

Earth Etudes for Elul are a project of Ma’yan Tikvah – A Wellspring of Hope.

Rabbi Katy Allen is a board certified chaplain and serves as a Nature Chaplain and the Facilitator of One Earth Collaborative, a program of Open Spirit. She is the founder and rabbi of Ma’yan Tikvah – A Wellspring of Hope, which holds services outdoors all year long. She is the President pro-tem of the Boston-based Jewish Climate Action Network

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