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Earth Etude for Elul 12: Repentence for Earthlings

by Rabbi Mike Moscowitz

The story is told about two people who are disputing ownership over a piece of land, each claiming that it belongs to them. A rabbi is consulted to offer a ruling in Jewish Law to decide the case. After carefully listening to the arguments of both sides he says “Ok, now I need to hear what the land has to say about it.”  With quite a bit of hesitation, both parties finally agree to accompany the Rabbi to the parcel of land in question. The Rabbi kneels down, gently placing his ear to the ground. After a few moments, the Rabbi stands up and relates to the two concerned litigants: “The land says that you are both wrong. In the end you each will belong to it.”

We are in relationship with the Earth, and the Torah expects us to ensure that it is a healthy one. King Solomon reminds us, in Ecclesiastes 3:20, “All go to the same place; all originate from dust and all return to dust.” However, each of us must take ownership over our actions, and inactions, for the time in between.

Adam, the original person whose name means “Earthling” and now includes all of humanity, is told “It is not good to be alone” and therefore God “made a helper against them” Genesis 2:18. The commentaries explain that this partnership is necessary lest a person make a mistake to think that they are completely self-sufficient and can live independent of the world around them.

It is perhaps for this reason that the phrase “ki tov – it was good,” which is used to describe all other creations, is missing from Adam’s formation. Humans alone cannot be good – we must always honor the dynamic with our environment. This principle is reinforced with the odd language at the end of the verse “a helper against them.” It is understood that if we respect our role in relationships they can be supportive and helpful to us in becoming the best versions of ourselves. If however we are not acting appropriately, the natural consequence will be an opposition.

Our Rabbis understand that this pushback is also beneficial feedback that is a healthy part of the goodness of coexistence. Constructive responses provide an opportunity to readjust and make informed course corrections, but only if we are ready to receive them. 

God spoke this world into existence through soft and gentle speech. Because of the harm we have caused it, the earth is now screaming out in rageful protest. If we continue to act as if we control the Earth, we will soon be reminded that it actually owns us.

Rabbi Mike Moskowitz is the Scholar-in-Residence for Trans and Queer Jewish Studies at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, the world’s largest LGBT synagogue. He is a deeply traditional and radically progressive advocate for trans rights and a vocal ally for LGBTQ inclusivity. Rabbi Moskowitz received three Ultra-Orthodox ordinations while learning in the Mir in Jerusalem and BMG in Lakewood, NJ. He is a David Hartman Center Fellow and the author of Textual Activism and Graceful Masculinity. His newest book “Seasonal Resistance” will be available this Winter. Rabbi Moskowitz’s writings can be found at www.rabbimikemoskowitz.com

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