Earth Etude for Elul 10: Re-remembering Who We Are
by Rabbi David Jaffe
~ Born at home on a Shabbat morning, my son spent his first few hours on this planet snuggling against his mother’s warm chest. One of the most striking visual images of that first day was the moment our midwife cut the umbilical cord that physically connected mother and child. Until that moment I knew abstractly that we were all connected and even, at rare times of spiritual reverie, sensed this connection. But here I saw it – as humans we were at one point actually physically connected to another human being, our life interdependent with their life! The loss of this raw, visceral sense of interconnection with all creation may be the key psychic contributor to our human penchant for environmental destruction.
Mussar master Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe writes in his Essays on Elul (Elul 1958: “Forces of Amity”)
“The entire creation is unified and clings together, for “We all have one ancestor,” and all creation draws close to one another, one great family.
We humans are close to the inanimate world, for it is written, “We are dust.”
We are close to plant life for we also have the life force in us.
Our closeness to animals is even more pronounced.
We don’t even need to say how much closeness there is between different nations and races….”
For Rav Wolbe connection comes from shared properties. We are made of minerals and water so we are intrinsically connected to the physical universe, we grow so we are connected to all that grows. Why then would we act in such destructive ways towards the planet, animals and other humans? Rav Wolbe points out that the root of the Hebrew word for cruel (akhzar) means estrangement. Only when we make other people or the earth as a strangers can we be cruel. This estrangement comes from our confusion about who we really are what we are doing on this planet. Elul is the season for correcting this mistaken sense of distance and alienation. It is the time to literally re-member who we are and how we started. Just like my son with his umbilical cord intact, we are deeply connected in a real way with the people around us, with the earth under us, the sky above us, and the divine soul within us. May knowing this end our destruction of this planet and all its inhabitants.
Rabbi David Jaffe is the founder of the Kirva Institute and author of Changing the World from the Inside Out: A Jewish Approach to Personal and Social Change (Trumpeter: 2016). He lives with his family in Sharon, MA.