Earth Etude for Elul 2 – From the Perspective of the 9th of Av, 5777
by Hazzan Shoshana Brown~
Writing on the mourning day of Tisha b’Av, I am inclined to think of this “etude” as rather more of a kinah (lament) for the magnificent temple of our Earth, third planet in our solar system. Not to say that Earth is a churban, a ruin like our ancient Temple in Jerusalem, but to say that like that once beating spiritual heart and ritual nerve-center of the nation of Israel, our planet is both magnificent and utterly vulnerable to the predations of human greed, violence, and recklessness.
And yet I have got the analogy turned inside-out – for it was the Temple that was built to mirror the grandeur of Creation, with its seven-branched menorah symbolizing creation’s seven days and shaped like almond branches, its cedar wall-carvings of palm trees and flowers, its two great bronze pillars ornamented with pomegranate patterns (perhaps symbolizing the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life), its bronze basin in the courtyard called Yam (“Sea”), and bronze altar for burnt offerings, which may have been experienced as a kind of micro-“sun.” Humans could not be perfect stewards of Eden and its surroundings, and so a system of rituals in a “micro-Eden” was established, a place where humans could come and seek atonement, ask forgiveness for their failings, and experience the immanence of God that the first man and woman experienced in Eden where they could hear “the sound of God” walking amongst them in the cool of the day.
Apparently the Kohanim (priests), the Levi’im (Levites), and the monarchy (Solomon oversaw the building of the First Temple) imagined that they would be better guardians of this micro-Eden than they were of the macrocosm, but greed, lust for power, political intrigue – all the usual suspects – led to the end of the United Monarchy, and the dispersion of many of their priests, prophets, Levites, and members of the royal house to the North…events that would culminate in the destruction of both kingdoms and the burning of Solomon’s Temple by the Babylonians in 586 BCE.
So much for trying to perfect the world by theurgy! Meanwhile, Planet Earth continues her life, though battered by human exploitation and pollution of her air, soil and waters, which nevertheless in some places are healing, and in others becoming devastated beyond repair. We recite every morning in the blessing before the Shema: “You illumine the Earth and its inhabitants with compassion; in Your goodness You renew, day after day and continually, the works of creation. How varied are Your works, Adonai! With wisdom You created them all – the earth abounds with Your creations!”
God renews, day after day and continually; every day is a re-creation. And every day we must strive to attune ourselves to both Creator and Creation so that we do not become destroyers of Eden/the Temple/Creation again. Teshuvah requires an acknowledgement of our sins, a feeling of remorse, and some concrete plans to do better going forward. How might we do that? Let us turn to attune ourselves to the holiness of creation, let us re-turn to “Eden,” immersing ourselves regularly in nature where we can experience God more immanently than in our worlds of bricks and mortar, or of cyberspace, and let us seek out ways to become both guardians of creation and partners with God, renewing creation day after day.
Hazzan Shoshana Brown serves as cantor and co-spiritual leader (along with her husband, Rabbi Mark Elber) at Temple Beth El, in Fall River, MA. Shoshana grew up in Virginia, and once wanted to be a writer – but also a forest ranger! Now in Fall River, Shoshana combines her love of singing and spiritual leadership by serving as cantor, and her love of nature and writing by writing monthly hiking articles for the Fall River Herald News. Shoshana loves that her assignments for the newspaper have made her get out in nature through all the months of the year, and also led her to learn a great deal about the unique ecosystems of Southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Recently, Shoshana has added nature photography to her satchel, and that has increased her desire to get out even more!