Earth Etude for Elul 4: A Letter to Mother Earth
by Rabbi Judy Schindler
Dear Mother Earth,
As we spiritually make our way through the month of Elul and approach the anniversary of your and our creation, you are in our prayers for healing.
An illness extends across the globe – COVID-19. We know that you can feel it. You wonder why people wear masks when the air should be so perfect to inhale.
You cringe that we have come to fear rains and their floods, winds and their consequent hurricanes, when instead we should stand in awe of the miraculous cycles of your natural world.
We have learned many lessons during the pandemic.
Mother Earth, we have learned how beautiful you are. As we have stopped during the year gone by, we have learned that our busyness – so much of our driving, our flying, our racing from place to place — was at your expense. We are called human beings but we have forgotten how to be – in relationship with ourselves, with our neighbors, and with you.
In Genesis, we were given simple instructions. Adam, the first human being, was created from adamah, the earth. He was placed in the garden, and he, and consequently we, were given a two-fold obligation, “to till it and to tend it.”
Boundaries were set so that as we labored over the land we would protect it. One day a week, the earth gets Shabbat. One year in seven, the earth gets shmita, a sabbatical year of lying fallow for rejuvenation.
Mother Earth, we have learned that we are all interconnected. What happens in China, what happens in India, what happens in Washington, impacts us all – whether COVID-19 or climate change.
In harming you, we have harmed our neighbors. Cities across our globe have been segregated by socioeconomic status where almost all outcomes are determined by the lot of land on which our children are born – educational outcomes, health outcomes, exposure to environmental harm.
Not only is humanity facing a pandemic, but you are sick, too. Your temperature is increasing. Your symptoms are getting worse. The longer we wait to act, the more you and consequently we are struggling with extreme weather.
We are so sorry for our neglect.
Mother Earth, Your treatment requires a change of behavior – our turning from our dependence on fossil fuels to green energy.
The time is now – to love God and love our neighbor through our love of you.
Hafiz, a 14th century Muslim writer, wrote a poem called A Love Like That.
all this time
the sun never
says to the earth,
“You owe Me.”
with a love like that.
It lights the
if the sun stopped
Mother Earth, may we, like the sun, kiss you and love you daily through our actions, tending to you and healing you. Mi shebeirach, may the one who blessed our ancestors, bless and heal you, O earth, and enable us to do the same. Amen.
Rabbi Judy Schindler is the Sklut Professor of Jewish Studies and the Director of the Center for Peace and Social Justice at Queens University of Charlotte, and Rabbi Emerita of Temple Beth El in Charlotte.