Earth Etude for Elul 27 – Who Will Live and Who Will Die?

by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen
I have been visiting hospice patients and their families, and at each visit, I speak aloud the fact that Rosh HaShanah is only a few days away. From the secular to the more observant, the impending juxtaposition of the holiday to the loss of their loved one strikes a painful chord in their hearts. The day has powerful meaning.
I think of the words of the traditional liturgy, “Who will live and who will die?” In reality, this question is before us every day. When we wake up in the morning each day, we could be asking, “Who will live and who will die on this day?” Mostly, we don’t ask. We get up and go about our business. We don’t want to question to present itself in our lives. It carries too much potential pain.
On the other side of the planet, refugees are fleeing Syria, where death is so much more likely, putting the question of who will live and who will die front and center. People are fleeing other countries, too, many in search of a livelihood beyond poverty.
People are fleeing their homelands in numbers not seen since World War II, since the flight of the Jews and all others in fear of their lives at that time.
Today, one in seven people on the planet is on the move. It is as though the surface of the earth was alive, like moving tectonic plates, like shifting sands of the desert, like mountains upon mountains besieged by avalanches, like flood waters overflowing riverbanks and covering neighboring fields and plains. The world is alive with movement, human beings in search of safety, security, and survival.
From outer space, in daylight, the Earth looks the same as always. Inside its molten core, it looks the same. Only on the outer surface and in the thin layer of atmosphere above it, are the changes apparent.


 earth from space

The moon is waning. Rosh HaShanah is near. We begin to wonder, who will live and who will die. Who is on the front lines of war and climate change? Who is safe in places of peace and away from rising seas? Who will live and who will die? We do not want to ask the question. But our liturgy asks it, and we read it, and – perhaps – we wish the question were not there, we wish it would go away. We want that we all will live, in good health and well being.
Life is difficult and the end will come, for each of us human beings, and for all living beings.
Is the Earth a living being? Will it, too, die one day?
It is too soon to know, but nevertheless, our liturgy, and at times our hearts, will ask the question.


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. She received her ordination from the Academy for Jewish Religion


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