Earth Etude for Elul 2
‘A Monument‘al Vacation
by Rabbi Steven J Rubenstein
During the late spring, my wife and I joined her son and daughter-in-law on a trip to Vancouver Island off the western coast of Canada, bordering Seattle, Washington. So many things reminded me of previous events in my journeys that are so life-affirming. First and foremost were the majestic mountains of the Canadian Rockies, holding on to the last vestiges of snow in late May at their peaks. They reminded me of my seven years in Denver and my view of the American Rockies on my way to work as I prayed the words:
“Mah rabu ma’asekha, Adonai…
How wonderful are your works, Adonai;
You fashioned them all…”
Contrast that with the trees climbing up the slope of the mountain creating a skirt of green ~ with patches of brown where deforestation has begun eroding the landscape. My heart sank at the sight, as if I were looking at an open wound upon the earth, wondering what type of band-aid might be effective in covering the pain at looking upon the barrenness. How can I offer teshuvah for the damage that has been done? A short walk into the old-growth forests introduced me to some trees dating to the time when Marco Polo began his explorations in the 1200s. Looking up at the tall cedars towering over the canopy of trees made me dizzy.
Rivers of melting snow provided us with another reason to stop and admire the torrents as they forced their way through a passage of rocks. I tried to compare them to my experience at Niagara Falls and all of its grandeur. My heart pounded with the fierceness of the water while I stood on a ledge with my camera, pretending I was not in the most vulnerable position of falling.
I took many photographs of the water spraying from the impact of hitting the rocks below me in the late afternoon sun. However, none of those photographs compare to the beauty in the stillness of some pools of water left behind on the rock face, where I captured the reflections of the trees in the “still waters.” Above the water on a telephone pole by the side of the road was a sign that read, “Live free!” Challenge accepted! I felt cleansed by the rushing water!
The waters of the Pacific Ocean were no less wild, or perhaps even more so, when I was caught flat-footed in the sand by a rogue wave. I thought that I could outrun the wash-off from the wave hitting the shore as it slid towards me. I was wrong and I paid the price of wearing wet shoes for the remainder of the day. What amazed me were the designs in the sand left by the receding waves. There was a message in their shapes. Clearly, the messages were different from the ones at the beach near my parents’ home on Cape Cod. Nature has a way to show its tears in the sand.
I share with you the carbon footprint that I left in two places where I stopped to ponder God’s creation. Just as our former ancestor, Jacob, took the stones from the place where he had stopped overnight, and declared with awe and wonder that God was in this place, how could he not know; I, too, gathered some stones for others to know the sacredness of what it meant to be in such a God-place ~ “Mah tovu ohalekha, Ya’a-ko; mishkinotekha, Yisrael”. I left a marker for others to stop and contemplate the holiness of this place and see for themselves through the eyes of a photographer how lines and shapes work together, with color and substance to create a greater picture that can delight all of the senses.
May my monument be a testimony to God for forgiveness.
Steven J Rubenstein is the Director of Spiritual Care at Jewish Senior Life, a continuum care facility in Rochester, New York.