Earth Etude for Elul 1 – A Pilgrimage to Honor the Earth

by Rabbi Moshe Givental~

Over a decade ago now, I was sitting in a Parshah HaShavua (weekly Torah Portion) class and my teacher asked the following question: Why are human beings called ADAM in our holy Torah? ADAMAH, after all, is our Hebrew word for the Earth. So ADAM would mean something like Earth-ling. However, human beings are no more from the earth than any other life on our majestic planet. When we name something, we pick a name to highlight some unique quality of that being before us. Names are not chosen at random. Rabbi Yehoshua Karsh then paused for a  moment. Then he continued, perhaps we were named thus, because we are the only beings on this blue ball in the sky, who have the capacity to forget that we are, of the earth, depend on the Earth, part of and partners with the Earth.

Indeed, it seems, that humanity has long ago forgotten that we are ADAM – part the Earth/ADAMAH, of her eco-systems, or her aliveness, and of the habitat as a whole which makes our lives and civilization possible. How else do we explain undermining our very own habitat by putting poisons in the earth, water, and air, hunting species to extinction, and displacing entire eco-systems? Perhaps the ways in which we use and abuse our Earth, and all of her aliveness, is even similar to the way in which we use and abuse each other, and anyone we think of as “other.”

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote a book entitled, God in Search of Man, where he pleaded that even more than humanity searches for God, God yearns and waits for humanity to find God. So too, perhaps, ADAMAH is yearning and waiting for us to return to a sane and healthy relationship with her, and all the life which depends upon her. This is a yearning for us to remember that all creation is sacred, that everything and everyone needs to be treated with the care and dignity that is appropriate for them. This is a need for humanity to understand the consequences of our environmental destruction and climate disruption, and correct our course.

The issue before us is not environmentalism or animal rights, in the sense of ethical demands to take care of animals or the Earth. The issue is those things AND self-preservation, because the extent to which we have disrupted Earth’s eco-systems are coming back as a clear and present danger to us humans along with all life. To begin to integrate this reality requires a paradigm shift of Copernican scale. While the might of humanity is powerful, we are neither at the center of the universe, nor at the center of nature. We are a part of the Universe and nature, and the consequences of our destructive actions are “coming home to roost.”

Rabbi Moshe Givental is a graduate of Hebrew College Rabbinical School. He’s walking a Pilgrimage to Honor the Earth as this being published, walking from Boston to Detroit. You can learn more about him and his work at and

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