Earth Etude for Elul 21: Of Fences, Barriers, and Trees

by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen

לְדָוִ֨ד ׀ יְה ׀ אוֹרִ֣י וְ֭יִשְׁעִי מִמִּ֣י אִירָ֑א יְה מָֽעוֹז־חַ֝יַּ֗י מִמִּ֥י אֶפְחָֽד׃

Of David. Adonai is my light and my help; whom should I fear? Adonai is the stronghold of my life, whom should I dread? (v.1)

Of David, God is my life-force and my wholeness: whom would I fear? God is my fortress of strength for my life, whom would I dread?  (per Rabbi Ora Weiss)

In Elul, we begin reading Psalm 27, and continue through Yom Kippur and to Shmini Atzeret.

During Elul, I am thinking about fences and trees. Fences being put up, and trees being taken down.

I’m feeling fences and trees. Wondering why it isn’t fences being taken down and trees being planted.

Fences and barriers of all kinds, the rejection of connection, out of fear or anger or hatred. 

Mostly fear, I’d say.

Trees, the embodiment of connection. Under the ground, out of sight, connecting to every other tree in their neighborhood, supporting them, building true community.

Sometimes we humans do need fences. We can’t handle the connections. 

Introvert, loner-self that I am, more often than I sometimes like to admit.

Yet, like trees, we can’t live without each other. 

But we want to limit “each other,” rather than including everyone. 

Denying the reality is that we are as connected as the trees.

We are part of something larger than ourselves, and literally dependent on all of it.

We are all in this together, barriers or no, people we like or not, agree with or not. 

That ALL is really hard to admit to. No matter where we stand.

We all breathe the same air. 

Though for those less privileged the air is less clean.

We all need to breathe to survive. 

No matter our color.

Trees know this better than we.

In this time of fences and barriers – visible and invisible – 

in this time of teshuvah,

what does it mean for me to return to G!d? 

What does it mean to seek forgiveness for my need to be alone?
For my fears?

For my desire – my need – for fences and barriers?

How do I forgive the fences and barriers of others?

The felled trees? 

The suffocated people?

Should I? Must I?

קַוֵּ֗ה אֶל־יְה֫וָ֥ה חֲ֭זַק וְיַאֲמֵ֣ץ לִבֶּ֑ךָ וְ֝קַוֵּ֗ה אֶל־יְהוָֽה׃ 

Look to the LORD; be strong and of good courage! O look to the LORD! (v. 14)

Wait for God, be strong and strengthen your heart and wait for God. (per Rabbi Ora Weiss)

O G!d, I am looking to You. Please help me find the strength and courage to figure out the fences and the barriers, both mine and others’. Help me figure out felled trees. Please help me, today, and again, as I wait, tomorrow and tomorrow and every day.

Rabbi Katy Allen is the founder and rabbi of Ma’yan Tikvah – A Wellspring of Hope , which holds services outdoors all year long, and the co-founder and President pro-tem of the Jewish Climate Action Network-MA. She is a board certified chaplain and a former hospital and hospice chaplain and now considers herself an eco-chaplain. She received her ordination from the Academy for Jewish Religion in  Yonkers, NY in 2005 and lives in Wayland, MA with her spouse, Gabi Mezger, who leads the singing at Ma’yan Tikvah.

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