Elul is the month before Rosh Hashanah, a time when we review our lives and think about how we will live the coming year. Many of these earth etudes actually connect our earth with the spirit of Judaism–Tikkun Olam, repairing the world.
We would like to thank Rabbi Katy Z. Allen for bringing together these awe-inspiring contributors, whose essays, poems and thoughts help us understand the meaning of our lives and how we can repair our world.
And our Earth Etudes can be helpful throughout the year. So you can read them here:
Earth Etude for Elul 1: Rabbi ...
by Rabbi David Jaffe
~ My guess is that many readers of the Elul Etudes are fully awakened to the climate crisis and read these blogs with the hope of gaining perspective and spiritual resilience to keep facing the crisis without panicking and burning out. This blog post is for a difference audience – those, like me, who intellectually understand the crisis but don’t feel the urgency. Despite reading articles and watching videos about the famines, flooding and other impacts of rising temperatures on people in the Global South and here in parts of the United ...
by Rabbi Judy Kummer
~ Every August I participate in a 1-mile breast cancer fundraising swim at a pond on Cape Cod. I have done this swim every year since 2007, training each summer day to swim further and faster.
I especially delight in swimming outdoors. Sometimes my practice
swims are in daytime, sometimes at “golden hour” as the sun is setting,
and sometimes at dusk, when I can watch the moon rising, cycling
inexorably through its phases towards the High Holidays.
What a feast for the senses: I find myself savoring the sunlight ...
by Susan Levine
~ When I think about Elul, I think about things I have done over my lifetime and the most important thing I’ve tried to do is to become a vegetarian.
But let me start at the beginning: Both my parents grew up in kosher homes and when they got married, they had a kosher home. But it wasn’t kosher enough for my father’s mother who would visit my parents but wouldn’t touch the food. My mom didn’t see the point of being kosher if her mother-in-law still wouldn’t eat in her home. Instead she went full treif. As a child I pretty much ate ...
by Rabbi David Seidenberg
~ That’s too broad a question by many degrees, but the difference between asking “who are they?” and “what are they?” is the gulf between civilizations, between epochs, between a world in which humans dominate and destroy, and a world in which humans collaborate with other species in the great project of the universe--Life.
Since Descartes, the idea that the other animals (besides human beings) are not subjects has reigned in science. It became forbidden to say that animals have feelings, consciousness, thinking, despite the fact ...
by Sarah Chandler
~ Do you count your days in footsteps? In strollers? In sunlight?
Cement and concrete
Below my feet
I take a peek at the patterns
And the places
Where tiny rocks gather
Solid, safe, secure
What was it was like
To move your entire being
From a quarry of friends
To this square of sidewalk?
Bricks, brownstone, marble
Are your family now
The eyes of
My shabbat walk
Sometimes the trees
Insist that their roots
Decorate your patterns
And Your cracks keep my steps whole Each journey down the ...
According to Hasidic traditions, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, from the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, worked in a deeper way than we usually think about it.
It’s not just that after the eating of the fruit we humans could
distinguish between good and evil. The test of “to eat or not to eat”
kind of assumed that we had that ability already. What kind of a test
would it have been if we couldn’t distinguish between good and bad? No,
the real problem that came from eating from the Tree of Knowledge of
Good and Evil was that we might ...
by Maggid David Arfa ~
For Reb Bob in honor of his ordination
Hillel says, "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when? If not here, where?" Ethics of the Fathers, 1:14+
The High Ledges Audubon Sanctuary, Shelburne, MA
Ok, he didn’t say that last part. He didn’t have to. Back in the ancient world it was not so easy to get lost in the global view. Today it is different. The daily news causes international heartache on every page. We witness environmental degradation, rise of authoritarian ...
by Rabbi Louis Polisson
~The Hebrew month of Elul is well-known as the month of preparation for the Jewish holidays Rosh Ha-Shanah (the New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). In Jewish literature, it is often called a month of teshuvah (repentance, self-improvement, and returning to the good parts of ourselves). However, one might also view Elul as a time to prepare for the fall harvest festival of Sukkot (which literally means Booths or Huts), when we eat all of our meals in a temporary dwelling, symbolizing our fragile yet joyous and sacred ...
by Rabbi Suri Levow Krieger
Hut in Alaska surrounded by flowers.
I expected to be awed by the Glaciers. I was not disappointed.
I anticipated being enLightened by 22 consecutive hours of sunlight. It was outstanding.
What I did not expect, was day after day of 80 degree weather. And the following week… Anchorage registered 90 degrees as a massive ‘heat dome’ hovered over the city. This topped the previous record set at Anchorage International Airport of 85 degrees on June 14, 1969.
It is good news for the Flora and Fauna! ...
by Rabbi Margaret Frisch Klein
~ I live on the prairie. In the Prairie State of Illinois. On a summer’s day with large clouds towering over the cornfields, it is spectacular. Awe-inspiring. I remember to be grateful.
For several decades, I have followed
the practice of Rabbi Everett Gendler of planting winter wheat, rye or barley at Sukkot and
harvesting it during the counting of the Omer, the 50 days between Passover and
Shavuot. I have done this with generations of Hebrew School students and their
parents. It roots the Jewish year in the agricultural cycle. ...
by Rabbi Katy Allen
~ What if...the feelings we have when we pass through...zones of destruction are actually arising from the land itself? What if it is the grief of the forest registering in our bodies and psyches—the sorrow of the redwoods, voles, sorrel, ferns, owls, and deer, all those who lost their homes and lives as a result of this plunder of living beings? What if we are not separate from the world at all? It is our spiritual responsibility to acknowledge these losses. What if this is the anima mundi, the soul of the world, weeping through us? We know ...
by Rabbi Mike Comins
~ In order to acquire wisdom and Torah, one must make oneself hefker, open and abandoned, like this desert. (BaMidbar Rabbah 1)
Of the many
reasons our tradition offers for why the Torah was given at Sinai, one is
particularly relevant for Elul. The desert is an optimal environment to do Teshuvah. More than that. To reach our
full potential, we are advised to become like the desert.
Why does the
desert have the power to change us?
foremost, the desert is a dangerous place. Like Hagar1 or Elijah2,
you can easily lose the way, ...
by Joan Rachlin
~The temperatures, sun, moon, breezes, trees, grasses, plants, and flowers all signal that change is in the air. We’re moving into a new season and a new month, Elul, with its promise of transformation and its possibility of renewal.
Elul is when we can hit the reset button and
begin again. Sounds easy, but we cannot appeal to the “better angels of our
nature” without engaging in Teshuvah, or “return.” There are many
interpretations of what “return” means in this context but, in the end, each of
us must choose our own ...
by Nyanna S. Tobin ~
Slow food folding like a snail over her slime.
I remember my Dad in his slow down days.
Even his deep lined smile crept slowly over his face.
A thought made Jack Benny sound like a whirled-gig.
Perhaps my Dad was waiting for his angel,
While she was waiting for him to scream her name.
And he never did.
He seemed to be a life-long prisoner of Fear.
But my escape from that realm,
Invited me to gaze around the corner
To play hide-and-seek at ...
by Rabbi Robin Damsky
A local toad finds a home in the pot of a rooting African violet (yes, the leaf got displaced).
~It’s been a year of change. Not just a move, but a move to a new climate zone and a very new culture. I moved from outside Chicago to Durham, NC, the South. The trees here are glorious – pines everywhere, wisteria in April blooming in the wild, crepe myrtle in vivid fuchsia and pale pastels just now. It’s hot. Average days are in the 90s and one can almost swim in the humidity. A long growing season brought daffodils in February, while I just ...
by Daniel Kieval
To listen or join in prayer:
This is the time for us to finally come home
This is the time to know that we are not alone
To find our selves in a deep ancient web
This is the time to be embraced by the land
Kissed by oceans, taken by the hand
Rooted down into this deep ancient web
Receive us now
Retrieve us now
Redeem us now
This is the way that we awake from a dream
Wander out into life's ever-flowing stream
Listen now to the deep ancient web
This is the place that gave birth to us in love We are the children that Earth is dreaming ...
by Andy Oram
~ At High Holidays we speak intently and repeatedly of T’shuvah (תשובה), by which we mean repentance or returning to God. T'shuvah does mean "return", but it also means "answer." We have to answer both God's and a world that is dying before our eyes.
How can we answer? How can we approach the
High Holidays with the urgency demanded us of from the modern world? In these
times of imminent destruction, we also seek an answer to our plea for
deliverance. And when seeking answers, Jews turn back to the riches of Torah.
The word t'shuvah derives ...
by Rabbi Dorit Edut
“Ma rabu ma’asecha, Adonai; kulam b’hochma aseeta; malu ha-aretz kinyanecha-- How numerous are Your works, O Lord; with wisdom You fashioned them all; the earth abounds with Your creations!”
from the weekday morning blessings before the Shema prayer, were on my lips
constantly as I traveled through “God’s Art Museum” in Zion National Park and
Bryce Canyon this summer. At every turn was another gasp at an amazing sight –
truly photographers’ and artists’ paradise! Using only wind, water, red
sandstone, white ...
by Judith Felsen, Ph.D.
~ Urban garden tiny patch of heaven nestled amidst brick and stone; kales and chards salute the sky bok choy sentry elegant, celery, parsleys hold court while lettuce species dance, each offering a breath of life oxygen of garden’s greens infuses air lungs spared inhale
may urban gardens grace this world,
edible planted prayers of green
reviving life and city air;
blessing ground and all
tiny patch of heaven
nestled amidst brick and stone;
kales and chards salute the sky
bok choy sentry elegant...