Earth Etude for Elul 21

Turbulence Within and Without

by Rabbi David Seidenberg

Rabbi Nachman of Breslow taught:

The divine name “YOU” (in Hebrew “Atah“) is propitious over the sea to calm the waves. This is the inner meaning of the verse “YOU (Atah) rule over the magnificence/swelling (gay-ut) of the sea; in lifting its waves, YOU (Atah) will make them still.” (Likutei Moharan 1:256 on Psalm 89:10)

Waves of feeling can stir us up and arouse our passion, and they can arouse confusion. Amid turbulence can we see magnificence? Is there splendor to match the chaos and confusion of these times, amid political strife, division, and turbulent torrents from a disrupted climate? How can we make ourselves more present, more centered, and able to take on the challenges brought on by wild hurricanes and mega-fires, by glaciers melting and seas rising, by the human destruction of the Earth’s ecosystems?

In the midst of turbulence, one can take a moment to look toward the divine “You” and say “You are” — that is, one can both recognize the divine and also address it. In the moment one says “You are”, one also says “I am”. There is a center-point within that addresses the divine. Knowing that point is the beginning of moving calmly forward.

During this time leading up to Rosh Hashanah, however, the direction in which we seek to move forward is the direction of t’shuvah, which means returning. There is a tension there — how does turning back help us move forward? The obvious answer is that if we are moving in the wrong direction we must turn backwards to move in the right direction. But the less obvious answer is that returning means calming the waves and returning to stillness. 

May we harness all the emotions we feel about the planet so that we can bring all our energy to bear as we enter upon the renewal of Creation in the New Year.

David is the creator of and the author of Kabbalah and Ecology: God’s Image in the More-Than-Human World. He has ordination from JTS and Reb Zalman, and is an avid dancer and composer.

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