Earth Etude for Elul 23 – On T’shuvah and Leapfrogging Through our Lives
by Moshe Givental
I have had the privilege of spending a lot of time outside this summer at the sacred grounds of Pickard’s Mountain Eco Institute. In my deep yearning to reconnect this one Adam (Earth-ling) with Adamah (Earth) I have tried to listen a bit more deeply than usual, and take R. Hiyya’s advice in the Talmud (Eruvin 100b) to learn something about how to live from our animal friends. The frogs greeted me with quite a croak the first night here, so I took that as a cue to pay extra attention to them.
I don’t know about other people’s natural associations with frogs, but mine are not easily positive. I generally think they’re slimy and cold and ehhh! However, as I sat, listened, meditated, and watched, day after day, I began to notice some things. Frogs have this incredible capacity both to sit and to leap! They share this with grasshoppers as well as deer and many others. They are also incredibly patient. They can sit and sit, and watch and watch, long time. We humans can be quite impatient. We get bored easily. On the other hand, when we do act, many of us want to be methodical, intentional, and maybe even cautious. I know I err on this side. Frogs, on the other hand, have an amazing capacity to outdo us (and certainly me) on both fronts. They can both wait longer and leap further, every time.
The central reference to frogs in our tradition happens during Passover (one of our other New Years). The sages comment on the fact that frogs filled every house, bed, AND oven (Ex. 3:28). They wonder about the frogs willingness to die, to jump even into the oven, to sacrifice themselves to get us out of slavery. The Yalkut Shemoni adds that it was the frogs who taught King David his greatest Psalms (Psalms 150, section 889). The frogs have Chutzpah. Can you imagine teaching David to sing? Have you ever heard frogs sing? They’re loud, but hardly beautiful, at least in that ordinary sense!!
So what does any of this have to do with Teshuvah? I’m trying to take a cue from the frogs this year. I want to suggest that a frog’s ability to sing and leap, and to sacrifice itself have something to teach us about change. I’m not recommending anyone go jump into an oven, literally or metaphorically, but I want to nudge us to leap much more than we’re usually inclined to. Don’t do it blindly, sit, listen, reflect, maybe even longer than you’re comfortable (like the frog), but also be willing to leap, leap and maybe even sing! What might doing that look like in your life? Please join me, and let me know how it goes!
Earth Etudes for Elul are a project of Ma’yan Tikvah – A Wellspring of Hope.
Moshe Givental was born in the Soviet Union and immigrated to the US in 1990. He dashed his parents’ hopes of becoming an engineer like his older brother and father, and instead pursued a career as a psychotherapist before enrolling in Seminary to become a Rabbi. These have been natural expansions of his circles of care, from the one-on-one work of a therapist, to the communal work of a Rabbi, to the necessary global work of an Eco-Activist. Moshe is fascinated by the tiniest of wonders, falling in love with all creation, struggling, singing, playing, and learning to leap.