Unlike most plant and bacterial life, we human beings cannot process our own food from the sun, soil, water, and air. And so, as with the other kingdoms of life on Earth, we are dependent on vegetation to live, either directly by consuming plants, or indirectly by predating on other creatures that consume vegetation. Being nourished and seeking nourishment is so basic to us, that our practical desperation for survival undergirds most of our ethics relating to non-human life. But Judaism demands that our human propensity towards predation be circumscribed. Indeed, it is my understanding that the ultimate goal of Torah is to circumscribe and temper our our predatory appetites, and to limit and discipline our predatory behavior. In this way, our predatory instinct may be redeemed as a force for goodness in the world, and we might become a living example to others in how to live in peace and with kindness towards the other lifeforms we share this planet with. In 2010, while working with Nili Simhai and the other Jewish environmental educators at the Teva Learning Center, I began working on a Birkon containing a translation of the birkat hamazon that emphasized the deep ecological wisdom contained within the Rabbinic Jewish tradition. I continued working on it over the next several years adding two additional sections of source texts to illuminate the concept of ḥesronan (lit. absence or lacking) and the mitzvah of lo tashḥit (bal tashḥit). I invite you to include these works into your birkon along with other work that I’ve helped to share through the Open Siddur — especially Perek Shirah and other prayers that express delight in the created world and our role in it, l’ovdah u’lshomrah — to cultivate and preserve this living and magnificent Earth. . . .
The Talmud (Brakhot 35a-b) teaches that eating food without saying a brakhah (a blessing) beforehand is like stealing. A lot of people know that teaching, and it’s pretty deep. But here’s an even deeper part: the Talmud doesn’t call it “stealing”, but מעילה ׁ(“me’ilah“), which means taking from sacred property that belongs to the Temple. So that means that everything in the world is sacred and this Creation is like a HOLY TEMPLE. . . .
A supplemental Hoshanot liturgy for Sukkot confessing a selection of humanity’s crimes against creation. . . .
An ecumenical prayer by Pope Francis from his encyclical, Laudato Si (praise be to you) from May 24th, 2015. Here’s my draft of a Hebrew translation of Pope Francis’ prayer for our earth. It turns out no one had translated it yet. The translation includes sparks from the High Holiday liturgy. I thought we should have it available for Rosh Hashanah, even though I’m sure the translation could use more work and more feedback. . . .
Here’s a first draft of a brief liturgy for last night, for solstice plus Ḥanukah. Note that this is a kind of eco-liturgy, but it also stands on its own without imposing an ecological overlay. Since it’s still solstice all day, you may want to use this prayer now, or at dusk tonight. . . .
I call you to make from fire not an all-consuming blaze But the light in which all beings see each other fully. All different, All bearing One Spark. I call you to light a flame to see more clearly That the earth and all who live as part of it Are not for burning: A flame to see The rainbow in the many-colored faces of all life. . . .
This Haraḥaman (prayer to the merciful or compassionate One) for the Shmitah or sabbatical year can be added to Birkat Hamazon (blessing after meals) during the whole Shmitah year, in order to remember and open our hearts to the sanctity of the land. Say it right before the Harachaman for Shabbat, since Shmitah is the grand shabbat, and right after the paragraph beginning with Bamarom (a/k/a, Mimarom). . . .
ראש השנה לבעלי־החיים – על מה ולמה? מקורו של ראש השנה לבעלי־חיים הוא באותה משנה שבה המקור לט”ו בשבט: “ארבעה ראשי שנים הם: באחד בניסן ראש השנה למלכים ולרגלים. באחד באלול ראש השנה למעשר בהמה; רבי אלעזר ורבי שמעון אומרין, באחד בתשרי. באחד בתשרי ראש השנה לשנים לשמיטים וליובלות, ולנטיעה ולירקות. באחד בשבט ראש השנה לאילן, כדברי בית שמאי; בית הלל אומרין בחמישה עשר בו”. (משנה ראש השנה א, א). . . .
Tisha b’Av, the ninth day of the month of Av, has historically been a day to mourn the Destruction of the First and Second Temples, centers of Israelite practice before the rise of Rabbinic Judaism (First Temple 975 BCE – 586 BCE; Second Temple 515 BCE – 70 CE) and the exiles that followed those destructions. Over the course of Jewish history this day of mourning and fasting has also come to commemorate many other tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people throughout history. This year we are beginning a new tradition. We are suggesting that in addition to, or instead of (depending on the norms of your community and personal practice) the traditional observance of Tisha b’Av, the time has come to use this powerful day to mourn the ongoing destruction of the “temple” that is our Earth, a tragedy for all peoples, creatures and living things, but one that is not complete and thus, with sufficient will and action, is in part, reversible. . . .
In Kabbalistic tradition, the new moon is sanctified seven days after its appearance, under a clear sky, standing facing east. It may be said as early as three days after the new moon, and as late as a day before the full moon (the moon should still be visibly waxing). It is the custom in the month of Av to wait to sanctify the moon until after Tisha b’Av, and in Tishrei to wait until after Yom Kippur. In a minyan, the Aleinu prayer and kaddish are traditionally added at the end. . . .
Forty years after the first Freedom Seder, new Pharaohs have arisen. The institutional Pharaohs of our day are pressing down not just one people, one community, or another, but all the peoples on our planet and the web of life itself. In this Freedom Seder, we address Dr. Martin Luther King’s warning about “the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism,” which have threatened the very earth that sustains us all. For the Passover story reminds us: not only do new Pharaohs arise in every generation; so also do new grass-roots movement to free ourselves from these new pharaohs. Forty years after the first Freedom Seder, America today stands also on the brink of hope, “mixing memory with desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain.” . . .
This Tu BiShvat haggadah focuses on healing the wounded Earth today, with passages on major policy questions facing the human race in the midst of a great climate crisis and massive extinctions of species. In each of the Four Worlds in this Haggadah (Earth, Water, Air, Fire) there are traditional, mystical, and poetical passages, and in each there are also contemporary passages on aspects of public policy (Earth: food and forest; Water: fracking; Air: climate; Fire: alternative and renewable energy sources.) These policy-oriented passages help make this a distinctive Haggadah. After these passages, this Haggadah encourages Seder participants to take time for discussion. They may also decide to omit some passages and/or add others. The desire for such a Haggadah grew from discussions of the Green Hevra, a network of Jewish environmental organizations. Thanks to Judith Belasco, Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, Sybil Sanchez, Rabbi David Seidenberg, Richard Schwartz, Rabbi David Shneyer, and Yoni Stadlin for comments on an earlier draft of this Haggadah. . . .
May the next Thanksgivukkah be a time of health and abundance for all of you who will receive the world from our hands. May we together find away to make sure that there is health and wealth and beauty not just for our family, not just for the Jewish people and humanity, but for all living creatures who share this planet with us. May the One bless us with the power and wisdom to birth a society that shows love to the world around us, that lives with love towards all beings. . . .
Domesticated animals (beheimot) are halakhically distinguished from ḥayot, wild animals in having been bred to rely upon human beings for their welfare. As the livelihood and continued existence of wild animals increasingly depends on the energy, food, and land use decisions of human beings, the responsibility for their care is coming into the purview of our religious responsibilities as Jews under the mitzvah of tsa’ar baalei ḥayyim — mindfullness of the suffering of all living creatures in our decisions and behavior. Rosh Hashanah LeBeheimot is the festival where we are reminded of this important mitzvah at the onset of the month in which we imagine ourselves to be the flock of a god upon whose welfare we rely. The Council of All Beings is an activity that can help us understand and reflect upon the needs of the flock of creatures that already rely upon us for their welfare. . . .
Opportunities to express gratitude on secular, nationalist days of thanksgiving demand acknowledgement of an almost unfathomably deep history of trauma — not only the suffering and striving of my immigrant ancestors, but the sacrifice of all those who endured suffering dealt by their struggle to survive, and often failure to survive, the oppressions dealt by colonization, conquest, hegemony, natural disaster. Only the Earth (from which we, earthlings were born, Bnei Adam from Adamah) has witnessed the constancy of the violent deprivations we inflict upon each other. The privilege I’ve inherited from these sacrifices has come at a cost, and it must be honestly acknowledged, especially on secular/national days of thanksgiving, independence, and freedom. I insert this prayer after Al Hanissim in the Amidah and in the Birkat Hamazon on national days of independence and thanksgiving. . . .
Each day between the beginning of Passover and Shavuot gets counted, 49 days in all, 7 weeks of seven days. That makes the omer period a miniature version of the Shmitta and Yovel (Jubilee) cycle of 7 cycles of seven years. Just as that cycle is one of resetting society’s clock to align ourselves with freedom and with the needs of the land, this cycle too is a chance to align ourselves with the rhythms of spring and the spiritual freedom represented by the Torah. . . .
Here’s a kavannah for tonight’s search for ḥametz or for burning ḥametz tomorrow (with added words), from neohasid.org. It would be great if you could share it with your networks. Ḥag sameaḥ! . . .
The prayers for hurricane victims that have been circulated through the Open Siddur Project and elsewhere on the social web are poignant and heartfelt, but they don’t reach the higher standard of speaking the truth that we need to hear. What about our responsibility for climate disruption and for the harm caused by this storm? And what about the Deuteronomic promise that God brings us recompense for our actions davka through the weather? Here’s an attempt at a different kind of prayer. . . .
A midrashic translation/ interpretation of the second paragraph of the Sh’ma. . . .
May the words we are with Your help sharing today, Speak deeply –- with Your help — to our nation and the world. Help us all to know that the sharing of our breath with all of life Is the very proof, the very truth, that we are One. . . .
The time we are in now is a time to ask: are we so determined to undo God’s rainbow covenant? Will we truly burn the sea, chemically and literally, with the oil we unleash from inside the Earth? Will we flood the sea with death as the land was flooded according to the Noah story of so long ago? As the cleanup continues and the effects will continue for decades, what new floods will we unleash in the coming years? . . .
From [the Holy One’s] form/to’ar the constellations are shimmering, and God’s form projects the exalted ones. And Her crown blazes [with] the mighty, and His garment flows with the precious. And all the trees will rejoice in the word, and the plants will exult in His rejoicing, and His words shall drop as perfumes, flowing forth flames of fire, giving joy to those who search them, and quiet to those who fulfill them. . . .
“Peas on Earth (everybody now) / Peas on Earth — you’ve got to / Grab a fork and lettuce work / For Peas on Earth.” Lyrics and video of several of the 2010 Teva educators singing “Peas on Earth” in costume. . . .
Master of the Universe, grant me the ability to be alone; may it be my custom to go outdoors each day among the trees and grass — among all growing things and there may I be alone, and enter into התבודדות(hitbodedut) prayer, to talk with the One to whom I belong. . . .
Avi Dolgin shares his mindful practice for maintaining “tashlikh consciousness” in the days leading up to Rosh Hashanah. . . .
Once upon a time when the Temple still stood, the Rosh Hashanah La’behemot celebrated one means by which we elevated and esteemed the special creatures that helped us to live and to work. Just as rabbinic Judaism found new ways to realize our Temple offerings with tefillot — prayers — so too the Rosh Hashanah La’behemot challenges us to realize the holiness of the animals in our care in a time without tithes. The New Years Day for Animals is a challenge to remind and rediscover what our responsibilities are to the animals who depend on us for their welfare. Are we treating them correctly and in accord with the mitzvah of tza’ar baalei chayim — sensitivity to the suffering of living creatures? Have we studied and understood the depth of ḥesed — lovingkindness — expressed in the breadth of our ancestors teachings concerning the welfare of animals in Torah? Rosh Hashanah La’behemot is the day to reflect on our immediate or mediated relationships with domesticated animals, recognize our personal responsibilities to them, individually and as part of a distinct and holy people, and repair our relationships to the best of our ability. . . .
Tu B’Av, the fifteenth of the month of Av, comes in July or August, at a time when the air is sweltering, the sun is ever-present, and the green plant life is wilting. In Israel, Av is a month of extreme heat when nothing grows. It comes just six days after the 9th of Av, Tisha B’Av, the holiday of mourning, when the Temple is destroyed, when the Shekhinah grieves like a widow who has lost her mate. The first of Tammuz, when we recognize our exile and mortality, lingers in the heat of the air. Yet Tu B’Av is a holiday of dancing and choosing lovers, a holiday of life. It is a turning around of time. It is the moment when the fallen fruit breaks open to reveal the new seed. . . .
Since the Jewish calendar is not affixed to the sun, but corrected by a leap year to its seasons, Tu B’Av does not normally fall on the summer solstice. And yet, the relationship between Tu B’Av and the zenith of the summer is alluded to in Rav Menashya’s statement regarding Tu B’Av, “From this day onwards, he who increases [his knowledge through study as the nights grow longer] will have his life prolonged.” . . .
Sh’sh’sh’ma Yisra’el — Listen, You Godwrestlers! Pause from your wrestling and hush’sh’sh To hear — YHWH/ Yahh Hear in the stillness the still silent voice, The silent breathing that intertwines life; YHWH/ Yahh elohenu Breath of life is our God, What unites all the varied forces creating all worlds into one-ness, Each breath unique, And all unified; YHWH / Yahh echad! Yahh is One. Listen, You Godwrestlers! No one people alone owns this Unify-force; YHWH / Yahh is One. . . .
Image: ADAMAHniks on the truck – 3 by Batya Schuman, 2006 (License: CC-BY 2.0)
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Avodat HaLev Shaḥarit: Service of the Heart
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