Earth Etude for Elul 11: Planting Hope
by Rabbi Judy Kummer
Hope is planting a tree, knowing that we will be feeding the worms under the tree’s ground before the tree yields fruit….
Hope sees the rays of light in the depth of the dark night.
Hope is an active act of faith, refusing to surrender.
Early in the lockdown — that odd, isolating and scary time filled with unknowns and fears about survival, filled with daily tallies of diagnoses and deaths, filled with terrifying questions about one’s own survival and the survival of everyone one holds dear — I found myself making lists. Now, making lists is a fairly consistent thing I do, and it has helped carry me through some challenging times in my life. If only I can keep on top of the myriad thoughts and tasks running through my mind, says this trope, I can keep a semblance of order and can see my way forward, out of wherever I am.
Usually my lists are composed of the many, many tasks I have to do — items for work, calls I need to make, errands to take care of, groups to plan for, things to set up or to buy or to get rid of.
But during the pandemic, my lists were different. Oh, I still had my seemingly-endless lists of things I had to get done, both for work and in my personal life, but during the many weeks of the lockdown I found myself engaged in an entirely parallel effort, an effort that came out of a deep place in my soul.
Now, my list-making had changed. Now I was noting consciously what was helping me get through that strange and scary time:
—Tending to gossamer-thin video connections with my loved ones;
—Furry, warm moments of engaging with my pets;
—the luck of having purposeful work, and the connections that came along with it;
—Daily exercise to feel the life-affirming pulsing knocking in my throat;
—the pleasure of favorite books and TV shows and movies, and the spill of laughter from Covid-silliness circulating on the internet;
—Making art, on a daily basis, and savoring beautiful images and soulful poetry; and in some ways most important in sustaining my soul: planting seeds and watching them grow.
For years now, I have had a practice of saving the Indian corn from my Sukkot decorations and planting it indoors during Passover, with the hope of transplanting it into my garden in warmer weather to grow my own s’chach for the following Sukkot. I also have a practice of purchasing vegetable and flower seeds and starting them indoors in the spring— even knowing that their survival is not guaranteed.
This year, I was intent on seeing those seedlings thrive and make it successfully into my garden. I made late-night trips to Home Depot and Lowes, when I thought there would be less chance of Covid exposure, and I purchased grow lights and set up a much more careful planting system than in previous years— and the result was a veritable indoor Eden.
I watched with daily anticipation as the seeds I had planted sprouted and pushed their little noses up through the earth and then grew at a pace that was almost visible to the naked eye. Each day I marveled that my little seedlings had seemingly grown another inch or two since the day before, and they gave me the gift of having something to tend to, closely, lovingly, in that odd time of isolation. Daily, that corner of my dining room grew more lush and green, stems lengthening and vines spilling over to launch themselves into friendly thin air. From the simple actions of basking in warm light and soaking up moisture, my little plants were heading toward being planted in the garden.
It seems that with filling planting cells with soil and tucking seeds into them and then placing them under grow lights, I was doing more for myself than just growing shoots to fill my vegetable garden. I was, in reality, planting hope. I was planting a vision of a time and a place that would remind me of summers past and would bring me back to a sense of greater normalcy. And in planting those seeds, I was making a declaration: I believe in the power of life and nature and generativity. I was choosing to believe in a future lush with promise, with optimism, with growth, with hope.
I am glad to be able to report that most of those seedlings made it successfully into my garden and have been rewarding my care with abundant fresh food to nourish the body and also with beauty to nourish the soul.
It seems that while I was the one planting and tending and watering those seedlings, they were providing me with so much more. While I staked their sprawling limbs, they supported me in my faith that good things might lie ahead.
May we all be blessed with hope for a good future awaiting us.
Rabbi Judy Kummer is a board-certified chaplain working as Program Leader for the Community Chaplaincy Initiative at Hebrew SeniorLife. She is a contemporary liturgist, composer, hiker, artist and organic gardener. She gardens outside of Boston, MA.