Tu B’ Shevat Saplings

Dear Friends,

Our cliffhanger (see part 1 here ) left us with the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge firmly planted not within Tu B’Shevat, but within the middle of Mi Chamocha our blessing-song for redemption. Mi Chamocha is invoked in every prayer service directly after the Shema. We’ll begin by trying to make sense of this very old word, redemption, and then offer some ideas why Reb Elimelech of Grodzisk (d. 1892) might have placed his wisdom of the two trees there.  Ready to wade in the water?

As we get our toes wet, let’s first explore redemption- our personal, communal and cosmic invocation of trust in a bright future.  Let’s start with a surprisingly fun analogy from Rabbi Marcia Prager.  She compares redemption with the old collectible green stamps.  Back in the 1960’s, collecting them built grocery store fidelity- you would get a few with each purchase and could trade in books for new small appliances.  Individually each stamp was near worthless, but she saw her mom filled with zeal- (you know, trust, commitment, enthusiasm and yearning), as she licked her stamps and filled out the books.  She wasn’t just licking stamps- she was visualizing her new toaster!  And when her zeal would flag, and doubt would creep in to her mind, and she wanted to say, “why bother!” she’d just look over to the counter and see that electric can-opener and know that it happened before and it can happen again!

Reb Marcia is playfully teaching us, like the Kabbalists before her, that redemptive power can be accessed in our small daily steps.  Guided by the brightest future our imagination can view up ahead on the horizon- we keep our eyes on the prize as we place our steps each day and each moment.  Planting trees, tending gardens, raising children, helping others…  And yet, sometimes the goal can feel impossibly far away, our zeal begins to flag and we think- why bother?  Then let’s remember crossing the Sea, the song celebrated in our Mi Chamocha prayer.  Whether it is crossing the Sea or a new electric can-opener sitting on the counter- there are many personal, national and cosmic miracles that bring us to this day.  Our tradition is teaching that to remember and celebrate is the path of renewed trust.

So now let’s take a breath and re-connect the wisdom of the two trees with this redemption contained within Mi Chamocha.  Can you sense how Reb Elimelech is kind of like a great systems thinker?  Holding with confidence that the world is non-linear, that tomorrow might be radically different than today; confident that surprises, even as big as the parting of the sea, can happen for us.  In this context, perhaps the wisdom of the two trees is his reminder to balance each placed step to the best of our ability- because after all, as every hiker knows, our steps take us into the future.  Reb Elimelech goes even further by implying that with this wisdom we can even help build the path as we are walking.

I’d like to swim a little deeper before we enter into the match of the century.  As you can imagine, it turns out that the kabbalists have explored these images for quite some time.  Reb Elimelech was not the first.

The kabbalists didn’t sculpt, paint with oil or create stained glass- their medium of choice, was image and story!  (you gotta love’em)  Their creative imaginations were set to the project of imagining God- before, during and after the existence of our world.  In their imaginations, they connected the unimaginable cosmic Nothingness that pervades all with the Tree of Life.  It doesn’t have to make sense- just flow with it.  Our world flows from the Nothingness creating the Somethingness that is this world.  This Somethingness is connected with the Tree of Knowledge.  The important point for us is that early on, the kabbalists paired the Tree of Life and Tree of Knowledge together, teaching that only together can they make up our world.  After all, they are both mentioned in the Garden of Eden= they must have to be connected.  A paradox is formed if you choose ‘either/or’.  By the mystics definition, no forms are possible in the sea of Nothingness from which all creation flows.  Alternately, the forms by themselves are merely outer coverings, like the bandages that create the presence of the invisible man.

In the 1700’s, a new community of mystics began to create new meanings.  Hasidism combined these ideas from the medieval Zohar with their characteristic psychological insight and creativity and created something new.  They connected the pathos of selfless humility with the cosmic Nothingness of the Tree of Life and the pathos of self assertion with the Somethingness that is also the Tree of Knowledge.  These personally intimate layers also generate paradox if you mistakenly try and imagine only one pole of this pair.

For instance, humility alone can devolve and collapse into meekness.  Imagine here Peretz’ long suffering Bontsha the Silent.  When Bontsha is given an opportunity to ask for anything from the heavenly hosts, including redemption for the entire cosmos, he can only ask for a warm roll with butter. In response, a sustained groan spills from the heavenly realms.  Self assertion can also prove problematic by easily turning into hubris and arrogance when we forget the mysterious gift of life that manifests our actions.  Growing up in America we don’t have to go far to understand this.

For those that know Hasidic stories, we can sum up by saying, ‘Number 27’.  You know, the one where Reb Simcha Bunam talks about the two notes we should always carry in our pockets- in one pocket we carry the note that says ‘we are dust and ashes, going back to dust and ashes’.  In the other pocket we carry the note ‘for my sake the world was created’.  Is this not the wisdom of the two trees?  In this way, we can remember that all acts of our self assertion are buoyed by the mysterious source of life.  The same wisdom that sustains the prophets as they confront injustice can also sustain us in our everyday life.  Reb Elimelech is reminding us that all of this is planted inside our humble Mi Chamocha prayer.

Now we are able to come back around to the “match of the century’.  What might Rabbi Heschel have meant when he said: “…I am not ready to accept the ancient concept of prayer as dialogue.  Who are we to enter a dialogue with God?”   He then declares that he is only an “it” immersed within the all that is God and can not be an ‘I’.   Why might Rabbi Heschel be attacking dialogue, which just happens to be the backbone of Martin Buber’s work?  Perhaps Rabbi Heschel is reminding us of the wisdom of the two trees and balancing Martin Buber’s vision of God that is found in our relationships, by focusing on the Tree of Life, the cosmic Nothingness, an aspect of God in which we are totally subsumed.  Reminding us not to forget the wisdom of both trees, of balance, of active God work in creating an “I and Thou” field, as well as the totally subsumed, “All is the immensity of God no matter what we do”, view as well.

I wonder if perhaps Rabbi Heschel is playing the trickster by specifically attacking dialogue in his comments.  It seems that Rabbi Heschel was particularly good at rebuking the traditional community for not being liberal enough and rebuking the liberal community for not being traditional enough. Perhaps, Rabbi Heschel is reminding us to remember that this word “God” whatever it might mean to us, means way more than we can ever hold in our words and in our being.

Whew, Deep breath.  One last question.  In what additional ways might we understand this image of the two trees?  What polarities might be smoothed when we open our hearts and imagination to Reb Elimelech’s wisdom.  Are we becoming out of balance by focusing too much effort on personal change and minimizing civic engagement?  Are we bringing our attention only to the human community around us and forgetting our neighbors that are birds, animals, trees, rocks and water?  Are we pouring our energy into words of utility and forgetting words of prayer?  Are we spending too much time with words and forgetting color, music, dance, forest and stream?  As we imagine the biggest and brightest sustainable and peaceful earth we can imagine, here’s to the wisdom of the two trees helping us move there, step by step.

Please share where Reb Elimelech leads your imaginings.  After all, as the divine voice from the heavenly realms was recorded to say in the Talmud, “These and these are the words of the living God”*.

PS  This blog is based on a beautiful teaching that I’ve learned from Elimelech of Grodzisk (d. 1892).  He was the father of Rabbi Kalonymous Kalman Shapira who became known as the Rebbe of the Warsaw Ghetto.  I found it in a book about the Shema, a volume of Lawrence Hoffman’s (editor) amazingly vast, multi-volume, contemporary commentary on the prayerbook called My People’s Prayerbook.   Nehemiah Polen and Lawrence Kushner bring the mystical and Hasidic perpectives to this book and the teaching grows from Reb Elimelech’s perspective on the daily blessing Mi Chamocha, our celebration song for trust in a bright future- trust because after all, we have just crossed the sea to safety.

The teaching from Rabbi Marcia Prager was a small bit from her teaching on the Shema and blessings, heard in person at the Davenning Leadership Training Institute.  For further information on this transformative two year prayer leadership program, please visit, http://www.davvenenleadership.com/

Maggid David, www.maggiddavid.net

*The full text is found in this wonderful collections of texts on civility can be found on the Jewish Council for Public Affairs site here:

Rabbi Abba said in the name of Sh’mu’el: For three years the House of Shammai and the House of Hillel debated [a matter of ritual purity]. These said, “The law is according to our position,” and these said, “The law is according to our position.” A divine voice came and said, “These and these are the words of the living God, and the law is according to the House of Hillel.” But if these and these are both the words of the living God, why was the law set according to the House of Hillel? Because they (the House of Hillel) were gentle and humble and they taught both their own words and the words of the House of Shammai. And not only this, but they taught the words of the House of Shammai before their own.(Talmud Eruvin 13b)

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Tu B’Shevat Seeds

Dear friends,

The origins of this post began over a year ago when I came across a quote that looked to me like Rabbi Heschel challenging Martin Buber’s masterpiece, I and Thou.  Unbelievable, right? Like two superheroes fighting.  I was compelled to explore deeper.

 Here’s what Rabbi Heschel said: “…I am not ready to accept the ancient concept of prayer as dialogue.  Who are we to enter a dialogue with God?”   He then declares that he is only an “it” immersed within the all that is God and can not be an ‘I’.   How could this be?  After sitting with this question for over a year, I think I’ve found the key.  Surprisingly, it takes us into the heart of Tu B’Shevat. 

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It’s as simple as this- both trees from the Garden of Eden- the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge- are the ways of God.  I know it doesn’t seem like much, however, it turns out this image from Elimelech of Grodzisk (d.1892) is mythic shorthand and is jam-packed with wisdom about life.  To open these words in our hearts, we need to journey through worlds of the imagination that will take us to Tu B’Shevat and beyond.

We begin before the beginning began. All is without end, without boundary, Infinitely One that is Zero.  Can you imagine?  No crown, no head, no fingers, no toes, no body.  The All is Nothing.  Desire grew, spurred on by great loneliness and love, until a small space of emptiness was created to receive an outpouring of Nothingness.  As Nothing was congealing into the Something that is our world, tragedy struck.  A cosmic wound, a shattering crack, the mythic “breaking of the vessels” occurred during the very act of creation.

Yes, our world is created from wounds, with great needs, giving us much work to do.  However, let’s not collapse into despair.  After all- our world was created.  Our world was created!  We could dance and dance with this one marvelous idea all night long, but Reb Elimelech is beckoning. He’s bringing us into the Garden.  Not just any garden, but the Garden of Eden, the place where the first humans had the opportunity to repair the breach of creation.  Not just a short fix either, a patch that might fall off after a few generations, but a forever-long guaranteed fix until the end of time!  The entire future of the cosmos was waiting for the action of those first humans.  Alas, we all know how that turned out- ouch!

Or do we?  Every story is affected by the storyteller- and our tradition loves storytellers!  Reb Elimelech takes a creative turn sharing from the Zohar, our mythic proto-novel of sacred fantasy (this really is how scholars describe the Zohar).  Reb Elimelech teaches that the problem was NOT eating the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge.  No, the problem was our first representatives on planet earth ONLY ate the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge- they did not ALSO partake of the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Life as well!

What is this?  The problem is that they did not partake in a balanced meal?  This is still a problem- but a very different kind of problem.  We are gifted with an image, like a dream from another generation, speaking of a world out of balance.  Two trees with potent powers and yet only one is activated; over activated; colonizing the landscape with the power of house sparrow and dandelion.  How might this ring mythically true and sound for you?   Living in a world overgrown with energies from the Tree of Knowledge?  For me, I experience plenty that is out of balance: How about, ‘Better living through chemistry’ and all the rest of the plastic-crazed, preservative-enhanced, speed-induced, data overloaded, super-sized, sprawling challenges of our world?  Not to exclude the various off-kilter wobblings in my personal life and neighborhood organizations.  Might the overbearing Tree of Knowledge share mythic blame?

If so, what is the counterbalance?  What might it mean for us to tend to the Tree of Life?  Like all good dreams, artwork, poems, the image is not a recipe in a cookbook.  Many more questions are present than answers.  It is here that I jump to Tu B’Shevat.  After all, the Kabbalists transformed the Mishnah’s minor event of a new years’ tax day for the trees, to the mythically rich Rosh Hashanah for the Tree of Life itself!

Mythically, our seders are reviving participation in the cosmic repair of the world, in tikkun olam- Right?   Every piece of fruit we eat, if we can expand our imagination enough, focused with blessing and intention, helps complete the sacred circuit, allowing for the flowing energy of Eden to enter and nourish our world.  We are taking a bite out of the fruit from the Tree of Life itself!  Rebalancing, nay, fructifying our world!  Surely this is tending to the Tree of Life.

But is our Tree of Life ceremony enough?  Reb Elimelech is sharing that the Tree of Knowledge remains a co-star in the story of our world.  To remember that if two trees are growing next to each other, we can expect their roots to be intertwined.  If facts out of context make the Tree of Knowledge overgrown and off kilter (in a scary tower of Babel kind of way), how might we positively stimulate the healing energies of the Tree of Knowledge on Tu B’Shevat?  If our sensual pleasure of the meal; chewing fruit, drinking wine, and saying blessings stimulates the Tree of Life- what is it that would positively stimulate the Tree of Knowledge?

Wait a minute- the answer is right here, already inside our ceremony.  How about knowledge in service of earth, community and life!  Couldn’t this be the positive stimulation of the Tree of Knowledge.  The best part of this story is that our seders are already filled with teachings that connect people with trees, the life history of our food, environmental issues, systems thinking, the natural world, the history of Jewish environmentalism, our totally awesome and cool traditions, inspiring source texts…?  We are already positively stimulating the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life- check and double check!

So let’s review and see where Reb Elimelech’s teaching of the two trees has taken us.  Basically, it seems like Tu B’Shvat is the perfect holiday- part educational teach-in, part mystical repair of the cosmos!  Able to activate both trees in a single bound, er, ceremony.

I am so ready to break out in congratulatory pats on the back and enjoy extra helpings of smugness seeing Tu B’Shevat celebrated throughout the Jewish landscape.  However, Reb Elimelech is here with us, and the thing is, he is not talking about Tu B’Shevat at all-  His teaching of the two trees is placed inside our daily song-blessing of deep hope, Mi Chamocha.  Curious, eh?

Let’s listen in as Reb Elimelech re-imagines the meaning of our daily celebration song for trust in a bright future.  In a swift daring move, he shifts the question of Mi Chamocha B’Eylim– ‘who is like you among the Gods’ to a declaration: the Mi– ‘Who’ is a traditional mystic name for God (from the Zohar) and B’Eylim– ‘among the gods’ is converted to B(et)’ Ilan– ‘two trees’.  Mi Chamocha becomes: God- the two trees.

Wow- I love the fresh power of this teaching!  And yet…what might it mean?  I love how our amazing tradition supports such bold and daring creativity.  Though, what might Reb Elimelech be trying to tell us by connecting this cryptic image of the two trees identified as God with our blessing-song of deep hope and redemption?

Stay tuned tree friends- I’ll be back same tree time, and same tree channel with part two exploring this dance with Reb Elimelech.  Could it be as simple as Tu B’Shevat Kol Yom (transl:  Earthday is everyday)?  Guaranteed ring side seats for the match of the century: Martin Buber vs. Abraham Joshua Heschel, for all who come back.  Please write with comments, questions and reflections.  david@maggiddavid.net.

This blog is based on teaching from Elimelech of Grodzisk (d. 1892).  He was the father of Rabbi Kalonymous Kalman Shapiro who became known as the Rebbe of the Warsaw Ghetto.  I found this teaching in  Lawrence Hoffman’s (editor) amazingly vast, multi-volume, contemporary commentary on the prayerbook called My People’s Prayerbook, volume Shema.   Nehemiah Polen and Lawrence Kushner bring the mystical and Hasidic perspectives to this book.

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No Free Lunch- Not Even a Data Snack

Exactly thirty years ago, a small quiz appeared in Co-Evolution Quarterly, with the hip sounding, slang trumps grammar name of “Where You At”.  Check out these quiz questions: “How many days until the full moon? Can you name five resident and five migratory bird species in your area?  Can you name the soil series you are standing upon?  Can you trace your water from source to tap?  Where does your garbage go?”  This quiz captured a sea change in modern environmentalism; the sea change that declares that single issues and single actions are never enough, the sea change that inspires many of us to live our lives with fuller ecological integrity, spiritual depth and with increased attention to our local neighborhoods.

In 1981, the personal computer was still just a babe, with no Microsoft software or internet yet available.  Today, in the spirit of “Where You At” I’d like to add a new question to the quiz: “Do you know where your data goes once you hit the enter button?”  Is there a life cycle to trace?  What kind of materials and how much energy is used that allows for all of our searches, emails, tweets, facebook updates, video watching, music listening, document sharing and online banking?  Hold on to your chairs- this short tour might be a white knuckle experience if this is your first close up look at this new kind of factory called datacenters.

Where should I begin?  Once, in a galaxy far, far away, giant computers called mainframes, as big as an entire room, handled the computing needs for the largest and busiest of universities.  Er, maybe I won’t go back that far.  How about we begin with a tour of a data center?  Imagine entering a warehouse (some as large as a football field) and the first thing you will notice are aisles with rows and rows of servers stacked in racks.   Bring layers of clothing, because to control the climate, the aisles where the fronts of the servers are to the right and left can be 55-65 degrees cool and the aisles where the backs of the servers are to the right and left can be heat sinks of 85-95 degrees.  An Emerson Network Power (ENP) survey estimates the world is populated with 509,147 of these newish datacenters taking up the space of 5,955 football fields.  Estimate is the key word because many companies do not disclose the number of datacenters they use.  For instance the largest of users, Google, Amazon, Microsoft and many others do not share this information.

The electric company’s dream customer is a datacenter.  Every datacenter is not just the servers, but all of the climate control equipment, power supply regulators, backup machines, smoke and fire detection sensors, security apparatus and ordinary overhead lights also need electricity 24/7.  The EPA estimates that half of all the energy a datacenter uses is for the servers and the other half is for all the air conditioners and other support equipment.

The EPA reports that data center energy consumption doubled from 2000-2007 (3.5 gw to 7 gw).  The potential for rapid doubling growth in this sector is causing attention to be paid.  During this time, datacenters have jumped to consume 1.5 % of all energy use worldwide and 2% of energy use in the United States.

Emerson Network Power aggregated amazing statistics about our data use.  Ready?  2011 will see 1.2 trillion gigabytes of data consumed, or 7 million DVD’s every hour.  The years worth of data could fill 75 billion (16gb) IPods, enough for 10 IPods for every person on earth.  1,157 people start a YouTube video every second which equals 100,000,000 videos shown each day.  In Feb 2011, 140 million tweets were tweeted each day- which is almost 3x’s the 2010 daily tweet average.

Can I keep going?  Here is a group of surreal numbers generated by Google.  Just let them waft over you- whether you get chills like from the cool aisle of a datacenter, or the sweats like when you are in the hot aisle of a datacenter, unavoidably, the devilish details live in the numbers.  Google reports that they used 2,259,998 Megawatt hours in 2010.  (I checked this number several times).  They also estimate the Co2 emitted from each search.  Any guesses on the carbon footprint of your search journey through a dozen servers (or so) and back again?  They know that one search is equivalent to two minutes of a YouTube video which is equivalent to 0.2g Co2 being emitted.  In other words, for every 100 searches is equivalent to 20 grams Co2 emitted which is equivalent to using our laptops for 60 minutes which is equivalent to watching YouTube for 3 hours and 20 minutes.  As invisible and effortless as my Star Trekkian computer searches seem to me, Google is confirming that a very real impact is being made in the world.  There is no free lunch- not even a free data snack.

Let’s take a quick break for a primer to compare a kilowatt versus a megawatt versus a gigawatt.  Remember that 1 thousand seconds (kilosecond) = 16.7 minutes; 1 million seconds (megaseconds) = 11.6 days; and 1billion seconds (gigasecond) = 31.7 years (from my workshop 15 Billion Years and Six Days http://www.maggiddavid.net/environmental-education/outdoor-education/ )

We are now coming towards the home stretch.  Where is all of this leading?  For the near future, there is the need for biggering, biggering and more biggering.  Even with the reducing impact of the recession, energy efficiency, and computing capacity increases (ENP details a server grew 45x in computing power from 2001 through 2011).  Listen to these surveys. Computer world reports that 36% of all datacenters say they will run out of data center space in the coming year.  Of these, 40% plan on building new, 29% plan on leasing and 20% said they will rent from a “cloud” provider (meaning renting from another company that is managing a very real datacenter for them).  Another survey of 300 IT decision makers with budgets of 1 billion dollars or 5000 employees, reports that 85% of these companies will definitely or probably expand their datacenters in this coming year.

These very real challenges are also leading to new levels of creativity to reduce electricity costs.  Aggressive efficiency measures are being tested and encouraged.  These include: New generation of computer designs reduce the need for electricity (for instance, newest generation central processing units (chips use 30% of all server energy), mother boards, etc. continue to reduce the need for electricity);  Appropriately sized redundancy capabilities and power management tools- including power down technology and motion sensors for overhead lights (hardly rocket science); and new climate control systems that cool with fresh outdoor air instead of air conditioners.  In addition, new cooling regulations will soon be coming out, updating and increasing the temperature range that servers can survive in.   As these factories put their attention to saving energy and lessening their impact- much gain can be made.  It is hard to remember that datacenters are so new, best practices are still being written.  All the more so for green best practices.  LEED, the national Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program just began the process of drafting LEED for datacenters in 2009.

This is just the beginning of a response to the question “where does our data go?”  I hope this abbreviated “geek tour” through the land of data brings close what previously might have been far.  My hope is that this column might expand our mindfulness and appreciation for our ever present computer use.  In addition, I dedicate this for all of us who are teachers, helping to expand the story we tell about our many and diverse connections to our home planet.

Select Sources to follow.


Select Sources:
Original “Where You At” quiz
Greening datacenters- overview
Overview 2-6 steps to a greener datacenter

The EPA Report that first assessed the scope and size of datacenters from 2007
A Greenpeace report detailing the environmental impacts of datacenters: 
The datacenter innovators:
The Green Grid- a consortium of major companies setting up new datacenter practices.  http://www.thegreengrid.org/
LEED; Leadership for Energy and Environmental Design for datacenters  http://www.datacenterknowledge.com/leed-platinum-data-centers/
Basic primer on power and energy
Google’s Green Statistics:
http://www.google.com/green/index.html
http://www.google.com/green/the-big-picture/references.html
http://www.google.com/green/the-big-picture.html#/intro/infographics-3
Emerson Network Power summary report with summary infographic:
http://www.datacenterknowledge.com/archives/2011/12/14/how-many-data-centers-emerson-says-500000/
http://www.emersonnetworkpower.com/en-US/About/NewsRoom/Pages/2011DataCenterState.aspx
Background articles:
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/01/technology/data-centers-using-less-power-than-forecast-report-says.html?_r=2
New York Times update on datacenter growth.  Includes the fallacy that modeling scenarios equals fortune telling predictions.  The original EPA report included 5 scenarios for datacenter electricity use growth- which is not reported in this article.
http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9216841/Data_centers_under_strain_expand_at_furious_pace_
Computerworld surveys of datacenter growth
http://www.datacenterknowledge.com/archives/2009/05/14/whos-got-the-most-web-servers/
An attempt to chart datacenters- though as mentioned, many big companies are not yet reporting.  Check out the comments to get a sense of how big this landscape of datacenter owners is.

 

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The Greening of Teshuvah

Dear Friends,

I’d like to open a kettle of worms. To reveal the concealed. Though quite honestly, I’m feeling a little guilty about sharing it. I’d like to dig into the anguish and sometimes near crushing feelings that writing about tremendous mountains of electronic waste stir up (see my past blog here).

Living in America in the new millennium, I’m aware that even the most “virtuous” of green paths cannot escape deep impacts and repercussions. After all, the problems are so large, and my everyday life is intimately wrapped inside the causes. Rabbi Heschel has a famous declaration, spoken to express his concern about America bringing war to Vietnam “In a democracy, only some are guilty, but all are responsible”. I can’t help but amend this to say, “In the Ecological Age, all are guilty and all are responsible.” Not ONLY individuals- I’m not giving a free pass to corporate decisions, government policies and our many workplace decisions, though here I wish to focus on our experience as individuals.

I suppose I should just say it. I’d like to speak for guilt. I know guilt is not in fashion. Even on attack in some quarters. Does that mean it disappears from our life? I wonder how much therapy and how many contemporary crusades have been fueled by our repressed guilt and anxiety? Guilt is part of the anguish I feel as I comprehend the ecological impacts of my daily actions. Living in a society of such affluence, convenience and its wasteful consequences tempt us at every turn and in every sector of life; with every vehicle ride, meal prepared and home improvement project, and yes, even with every cup of coffee. None of us can ever be immune or “perfect”.

I’m motivated to give voice to this private feeling in this public forum because of the repeated and palpable groaning I’ve been hearing in classes lately. When groups hear Rabbi Heschel’s view that endless tension and obligation stem from our experiences of awe and wonder, people groan. Or “the greatness of humans can be judged by the troubles we carry… life is a challenge not a satisfaction” and,“all that we own, we owe” Groan, groan. Or this from Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, from an essay by Rabbi Larry Kushner in the new book, Jewish Mysticism and the Spiritual Life, “Jewish thought pays little attention to inner tranquility and peace of mind….The Jewish approach to life considers the man who has stopped going on- who has a feeling of completion, of peace… to be someone who has lost his way.” Groan, groan, groan.

To me, this feels like an authentic consequence of receiving an ecological education, a real part of my inner landscape. I wonder, does this also ring true for you? I feel my eyes are ever on the horizon and yet do I ever come to the horizon? Never. All we have are our steps- and when we realize the implications of our actions along with our own imperfections, I am motivated to tread lightly. Sometimes, I can even become overwhelmed, guilt activated, when I realize how often I choose convenience when I could have chosen differently.

I used to be surprised by the groans. After all, Jewish tradition has long explored this landscape since the earliest of strata- Leviticus 19:2 “You must be Holy for I the Lord am Holy.” We are called to the highest level, and yet perfection has always been unattainable. Thanksfully, atonement, tikkun hanefesh, self healing, is built deeply into our tradition- first with animal sacrifices, and then, after destruction of the Temple, the Rabbi’s taught that our deeds of loving-kindness will act as our atonement. Perhaps today we can add street protests, letters to congress, consciousness raising workshops, and donations (to Jewcology for instance) as further actions on the path of atonement.

Dr. Louis E. Newman, in Repentance: The Meaning and Practice of Teshuvah, a profound text written from decades of study and life experiences, states directly the importance of our guilt. He teaches that guilt can help wake us up to the consequences of our actions and lead us to making amends and most importantly, finalize the work of Teshuvah by not repeating the action when it comes around again, as it undoubtedly will. In this way we can touch the true and radical freedom our life has to offer. In this way, we can tap into true and radical hope that the world of tomorrow does not have to be the world of yesterday or today.

I don’t want to end this blog here, even if it were Yom Kippur, our Day of Atonement. The danger of dancing with guilt, is that we can so easily become mugged by this dance partner. We can lose perspective and slip into a dark pit of guilt and despair, a place of not being good enough- when we focus our attention on how vast is the need, and how puny are our efforts. Chaim Grade, the modern Yiddish novelist, points to this kind of dark landscape with some of the characters in his novels, The Yeshivah and The Agunah. Perhaps some of us recognize this as well?

Unsurprisingly, Judaism’s collection of ancient wisdom has also foreseen the dangers of this for us. In fact, our commonest wisdom considers this landscape. We probably know this from Rabbi Hillel: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?” (PA,1:14) or this from Rabbi Tarfon, “It is not your responsibility to finish the work [of perfecting the world], but you are not free to desist from it either” (PA 2:16). Are not these teachings addressing very serious and overwhelming questions? Let us also add, “if not here, where?”

Rabbi Arthur Green encourages us to remember (riffing off the Sfat Emet and other Hasidic masters) that future generations will also like to share in “redeeming the world”. Yes, it is good to remember that none of us ever need to work alone. We are all part of a grand team, colleagues we share the same time with, and also we have colleagues in our future descendants, and we also are supported by our colleague ancestors from the past.

Similarly, Rabbi Kushner’s essay that contains the above Steinsaltz quote, addressed this topic, by citing Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev’s teaching that Moses was picked just because he did not feel worthy! The Berditchever is raising up this experience of unworthiness, presumably because of how common the darker feelings of inadequacy were in his day. This wisdom is solid, however, I wonder where is the wisdom stream that lies beyond the landscape of obligation and inadequacy?

It seems to me, this is the very heart of environmental education and what inspires me about this work. This stream is nothing less than the “aboriginal abyss of radical amazement” in Rabbi Heschel’s words. The everyday sense of wonder we might feel with a certain forest breeze or the wondrous birth of a child. Here Rabbi Heschel gives this experience ultimate significance. Speaking with the authority of 4000 years of Jewish tradition, Rabbi Heschel reminds us of mysterious blessing at the center of all life- not a mystery to solve, rather an unsolvable mystery for us to revere. Let’s listen in as he shares his wisdom about being human, “Where man meets the world, not with the tools he has made but with the soul in which he was born; not like a hunter who seeks his prey, but like a lover to reciprocate; not an object, a thing given to his sense, but a state of fellowship that embraces him and all things; not a particular fact, but the startling situation that there are facts at all; being; the presence of a universe; the unfolding of time.”

Perhaps in one pocket we need to hold the truth that life is endless obligation, the work is long, and we are puny, mere dust soon going back to dust. Our part is to work at what is given to us, wherever we find ourselves. In the other pocket, we remember the radical amazement that is present in every moment, we are awed by the infinite significance of our individual actions, we hold the realization that the world was created for us and we carry the voice of the earth inside our throats.

A new day is dawning. Tell me, how will you respond to the gift of these waking hours?

I’ll leave you with a clip from Rabbi Heschel, who inspires me with his fierce urgency for prophetic activism along with his deep understanding of the quiet power of prayer.

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The Little That Holds A Lot

How do I share about the hidden dangers of electronic waste? I find it hard to stare directly at this information. I’d like to start with a meditation from Reb Nachman of Breslov- his images from a hunchback beggar that depict a little that holds a lot. First, silence- the little that holds a lot. Next, let’s remember the life giving land- filled with fruit trees that become dwarfed by the bounty of fruit- the little that holds a lot. And only now do I turn to Reb Nachman’s nightmarish image of the mountain of excrement and waste- produced by one small man and his refuse- the little that holds a lot.

The mountain of electronic excrement we are producing is incomprehensible to me. Aldo Leopold’s words from his mid-century classic A Sand County Almanac ring in my ears- the price of an ecological education is to live in a world filled with wounds. Why is it so hard to remember that all is interconnected? That our right hand and left hand are connected in one system. We all know that our material waste, be it electronic or other, does not magically disappear because we take it to the curbside, drop it off at the dump or faithfully bring it to the recycling center. And yet I forget this simple ecological fact over and over again.

I type and share and connect- utilizing the benefits of the web, and at the same time, my computer is filled with toxins including mercury, lead (4-8 lbs if you have a large CRT monitor), hexavalent chromium, beryllium, cadmium, brominated fire retardants, PVC, plus assorted rare and common metals. Multiply this by every computer in the world, by every cell phone, digital camera, game boy, every gadget with a circuit board that’s been sold anywhere- ever. It is amazing how fast a little can become a lot.

Consider our little mobile phone and computer. When you add the 1.2 billion cell phones and 255 million pc’s sold in 2007, according to The United Nations Environmental Program E-report, “From E-waste to Recycling”, we mined 3% of the world’s silver, 3% of the world’s gold, and 13% of the worlds Palladium to meet this need. In addition, electronics make up for almost 80% of the world’s demand of indium (transparent conductive layers in LCD glass), over 80% of ruthenium (magnetic properties in hard disks, and 50% of the world’s supply of antimony (flame retardants).

Effective recycling of these metals is crucial not only because they are finite, and the energy use and greenhouse gas emissions are magnitudes higher in mining these metals versus reclaiming them for reuse, but also because some of these same metals are used in other industries- for instance, currently solar panels are also made with indium, and fuel cells are made with ruthenium.

So how much of our electronics are recycled? The Electronic Take Back Coalition reports just under 20% world wide. Most electronics are still destined for landfills and incinerators. I wish I could say AT LEAST one out of five are recycled. However, our electronics recycling infrastructure is not yet developed enough to handle even this much flow. As a consequence, ewaste overflow is shipped to cities in China, Pakistan, India, and Ghana.

It is in these places where children and adults, men and women heat circuit boards over small flames, and stir them in buckets of acid to reclaim what they can. They tend large fires of electrical wires to burn the plastic coating and collect the copper. All the rest is burned outside the city- the ash snowing down on their farm fields and homes. The acid is dumped into the local streams. Investigative reporters have been documenting the work life in these “recycling” operations for over a decade. See video below.

I write this to expand our imaginations- mine included. I find this larger life cycle of our electronic products is so easily denied. Whether you are an entrepreneur, educator or activist; a politician, lawyer or scientist, there is work to do all along the cycle from production to resurrection of the assumed dead appliances. Like Reb Nachman’s hunchback beggar, whose little shoulders could actually shoulder and bear great good in the world, may our small actions today grow into great impacts in the coming years.

I’ll leave you today with news from the European Union, and a collection of links for organizations working on these issues. Next blog we’ll explore new green electronics products (and the green chemistry movement that supports it).

I look forward to the continuing conversation. Maggid David.

The European Union became the international leader in reducing e-waste impacts by passing (over a decade ago) the Restriction on Hazardous Substance (Rohs) directive and the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive. Rohs outlaws any products that use the most dangerous of materials including lead, mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, and the brominated fire retardants. (Yes, this means the electrical gadgets we produce here in the United States can not be sold in the EU).

WEEE mandates the manufacturers to pay for the full recycling of their products. Following the European Union’s lead, China, Norway, Turkey and a few other countries are implementing Rohs based laws. Here in the US, only CA has put in place a similar law to Rohs.

Organizations:
Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition: http://svtc.org/
Basel Action Network: http://www.ban.org/
CEH: Center for Environmental Health: http://www.ceh.org/what-we-do/greening-industries/greening-electronics
E-Stewards: The Globally Responsible way to recycle your electronics: http://www.ceh.org/what-we-do/greening-industries/greening-electronics
Electronic Take Back Coalition: http://www.electronicstakeback.com/home/

White Papers:
Electronics Take Back Coalition Fact Sheet: http://www.electronicstakeback.com/wp-content/uploads/Facts_and_Figures
United Nations Environment Program: Recycling- from Ewaste to Resources. http://www.unep.org/PDF/PressReleases/E-Waste_publication_screen_FINALVERSION-sml.pdf
Greenpeace Guide to Greener Electronics: http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/campaigns/climate-change/cool-it/Guide-to-Greener-Electronics/?id=

Other Ewaste Investigations:
60 minutes: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=4586903n
BBC News Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dJ8nL2RBF4E&feature=related

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The Tainted Grain: On Facebook and the Dark Side of Computing

Dear Friends,

I was in our local co-op yesterday and, as often happens, I ran into a friend.  My friend started by saying, “you know, I’ve started to sign up for facebook three or four times, and then I realize it wants me to give over all of my emails…  I’m just not going to do it.  It looks innocent- but it’s all of my emails!”  I said, “I know- I’ve been almost logging on to facebook too- and when I get to those emails- I’m out of there!”

We talked there in the aisle, me holding my cereal and freshly ground coffee, one thing led to another and soon we had a full purging crank session lasting 45 minutes.  Themes flowed through lack of privacy, crazy games with 60 MILLION players monthly (and there aren’t even space aliens involved like when I was a kid!), large security threats to nations, corporations and individuals, and the physical hazardous waste that all of our electronics are producing.  There in the grocery aisle, I knew enough not to even mention the belief in the coming of the singularity (and believe me, it’s not about the oneness of the Shema or the mythic coming of Mashiach.)

And yet, at the same time, I’m also an independent storyteller and educator.  I want to find ways to utilize the mighty power of the web to connect with others in ways that will potentially serve story and the earth.  How do I do this without forgetting, without totally capitulating to computer technology’s dark side- its shadow- its sitra acher and all of the dancing demon agents of gevurah that live there.

Entering this paradox (still there in the grocery aisle), this new blog series was born.  So buckle up and hold on tight.  What you are about to hear may shock you, overwhelm you, cause you to stay up late at night frozen in fear.  My hope is to create conversations, a place to share our stories and our links, exploring the full impact we are witnessing computers are having on our lives as we use them.  What impacts would you add to the above list?

I dedicate this new series to my small trio of companions, back at the Teva Seminar 5770, who encouraged similar ideas when Jewcology.com and her many blogs was still a dream.  And to Donella Meadows (may her memory be for a blessing), who reminds us again and again to think like a system.

Tonight I’ll leave you with a story (of course) adapted from Reb Nachman of Breslov, and a video introducing the electronics material production cycle from Annie Leonard:  The Electronic Story of Stuff.  I’ll write more next time, but for now, I have 33 new facebook friends to greet!

The Tainted Grain adapted from Reb Nachman of Breslov:

Once a King turned to his old friend and advisor and said, “I see in my mind’s eye that the wheat growing this year will cause those who eat of it to go crazy. What shall we do?”
“Let us prepare enough wheat from other sources so that we won’t have to eat of this tainted grain.”
“But then,” replied the King, “all the world will be crazy and only we will be sane. In this upside down situation we will become the crazy ones.  Instead, let us place a mark on our foreheads to remind us, so that when we look at each other we will see our marks and remember that we are acting crazy because we are living through crazy times.”

http://www.storyofstuff.org/movies-all/story-of-electronics/

Link to the story of stuff website and video here to find out about the story of stuff project along with a national ewaste campaign and a whole mess of background materials.  Next time, I’ll introduce RoHs and WEEE, the EU’s restriction on hazardous substance law and Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment take back law (in place since 2007).  Stay tuned.  Questions?  Comments?  Please write to me at david@maggiddavid.net

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Tower of Babel

I’ve been thinking lately how all stories are created in the image of their tellers, and all tellers are created in the image of life, and all life is created in the image of the Holy One, Tzelem Elohim.  In this way, all stories contain sparks of holiness.  After all, Reb Nachman of Bratzlav says that every story has something that is concealed.  What is concealed?  Nothing less than the hidden light from the beginning of creation!

This is why no story is too small for our attention.  For instance, this past week, Noah receives so much attention, and yet, at the beginning of chapter 11, in just a few sentences, lives another story (quiz time).  Thankfully, in our tradition, stories beget stories, and they all contain sparks of holiness.

Here is my offering, grown from our living tradition of stories, with appreciation and gratitude for generations of storytellers who have served and tended to their growth.  Isn’t it amazing that Judaism “allows” us all to become storytellers and to imagine what might come before, and what might come after.  Where does this story take your imagination?  Is this story an “environmental” story?  What questions and ideas are you left with?  Please share your reflections of the hidden light here and together we’ll continue to grow our organic Torah.  B’Shalom, Maggid David.

“My name is Mardon, son of Nimrod the powerful.  I write in misery and confusion, no longer understanding, hearing only babble around me.  As the light wanes from my cold cave, I want to convey my story with trust that someone, sometime, might learn this language and learn from our arrogance.

My father Nimrod became king on his 20th birthday, the year he began wearing Adam’s “buckskin” clothing.  When he wore Adam’s magical clothes sewn by the Holy One upon leaving the Garden, Nimrod realized that the animals bowed down to him as King.  When the animals would bow down, my father would pull out his bow and kill them.  He filled the people with shock and awe as he brought back menacing lions, enormous elephants, and hundreds of golden ptarmigan.  All the people bowed down with widened eyes and made my father king of the world.

My father wanted to demonstrate his power.  He conquered armies and built cities, but that was not enough for him.  My father wanted more.  He built a rock tower for his throne as tall as a mountain.  On top, he had carved a giant cedar throne, on that a throne of iron, then one of copper, another of silver and on the very top, a throne of gold.  The seat and back were covered with fine diamonds for comfort.  Around the diamonds he placed many oil lights.  The light reached up to the heavenly realms and out around the entire world.  On this day, he became a god to all the people.

Still, he was not satisfied.  He wore his anger openly and yelled at all those around him for not being enough.  Most of all, he yelled at me, his son.  I yearned to find a way to please him.  It was I who suggested a Pillar to Heaven, to allow our military to storm heaven and conquer the heavenly realms.   Why should the heavenly realms not be conquered by humans?  I was sure we could accomplish this.  Some recognized the arrogance and hubris of this project from the beginning.   We simply told the people we have to do this to protect ourselves- because God was going to flood the world again, destroying all of the cities we have built.  We have to strike first or risk being wiped out- just like Noah’s generation.

I embraced this project with zeal.  I organized the brick makers, the brick layers, the masons and the carpenters to create this Pillar to Heaven.  We built on the plains of Shinar a tremendous round foundation and raised the walls cubit by cubit.  Stairs were built on the east and west side so those going up would never interfere with those going down.  The strong, fired clay bricks were expensive to carry up the miles of stairway.  The penalty of dropping one brick was death.  Women could not stop even to give birth!  The people worked together for 42 years and created a pillar that reached into the heavenly realms, 27 miles high.

When we were in striking range, our archers went to the top of the tower and upon my father’s command, released their sharpened arrows.  Streaking into the heavenly realms, they returned covered in blood.  God, loved that we were working together in harmony, though was concerned where our arrogance was leading.  God hoped the bloodied arrows would be enough warning to desist. However, in pride, we interpreted success.  When my father commanded the archers to ready a second wave, God blocked those arrows with ease and cursed the people with a confusion of tongues.  The Pillar to Heaven turned into the Tower of Babel.  The workers could no longer work together.  A fire broke out in the confusion, burning a third of the pillar.  Another third sank into the ground.  The remaining third was abandoned, as a warning to those who wander through Shinar.  Do not usurp power from the One, or forget that The Holy One, beyond the beyond, is the mysterious source of life and power.

My father felt no shame.   In response to a prophecy that foresees a first born boy will one day replace him, he has decreed death to all first born sons.   I could no longer help administer these policies.  I ran from the kingdom at risk of my life and have been living in this cave.  A new born baby named Abraham has just been brought here by a woman.  I must save him from my father. I stop now for the baby is crying, signed Mardon, exiled son of Nimrod.”

Epilogue:  The Rabbi’s add that the ruins of Babel can be seen to this day.  However, those who even glance upon the tower are cursed with memory loss.  Maybe you have met such a person who goes around repeating, “who am I, who am I, who am I?”

Sources:  Louis Ginzberg’s, Legends of the Jews, Howard Schwartz’s, Tree of Souls, Raphael Patai’s, Gates to the Old City, Joseph Gaer’s, The Lore of the Old Testament.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sukkot for the Shretelech

I can’t help myself- this time of year, as cold winds start blowing, leaves begin to fall and music of the geese magically fills the air, I think of the Shretelech.  Don’t you?  What?  You’ve never seen one before?  What?! What?!  You’ve never even heard of them before?

Well, let me start from the beginning.  Truthfully, I’m not totally shocked because as a guide who leads Shretelech expeditions, well, I’ve met all types in my day.  The Shretelech (singular Shretele), are the little people.  Others call them elves, fairies, or gnomes; but Jews from Eastern Europe call them by their Yiddish name, Shretelech.

Shretelech live in the woods, or fields, or by streams- in holes in the ground and in trees. During the cold winter they are not opposed to coming inside to live behind our stoves, where warmth and crumbs abound. Of course, the Shretelech are not just waiting around to shake our hands. The Shretelech are like wild birds and animals, they do not like loud noises. We need to use quiet stealth and keen observation if we have hopes of spotting one.

I take my job as Shretelech guide seriously.  I model how we can walk quietly and use our hands and sign language to point out something interesting.  You can imagine the commotion if you were to begin jumping up and down shouting, “I see one, I see one!”  The little Shretelech wouldn’t come out of hiding for days!

We practice listening and even the youngest of children will strain to hear as much as possible.  For older participants who have forgotten their inner sense of wonder, (and maybe even have a chronic case of the indoorsies without even realizing it!), I translate this experience as a contemplative nature hike.  I teach Thich Naht Hahn’s beautiful walking mediation.  I find this gives those parents and teachers a respectable opportunity to quietly enjoy being outside, to breathe fully and notice the great beauty found with each step.

I set the pace to a slow stroll, lingering around holes and exploring rotting logs.  Kids never seem to need any extra encouragement.  From the beginning they are intensely looking for Shretelech, often trying to gain our attention with waving hands and wide eyes.  At the center of the hike, we build Sukkot for the Shretelech, kind of like a Habitat for Humanity brigade.  After all, they are mighty busy preparing for winter, stocking up on food.  They can’t just visit the grocery store and turn up the thermostat like we can.

This is also a great opportunity to introduce traditional blessings for the many wonders of the natural world. We have ancient blessings for the awe of seeing first flowers, hearing thunder, seeing a rainbow, coming to the sea, and more.  Sometimes I wonder if these blessings were slipped into the prayer book from radicals at the Santa Cruz Hippie Hillel.  Nope- these are ancient alright!  Sources can be found in the Talmud and throughout our tradition.  The kids take it all in stride. I like to ask everyone, if you were one of the ancient rabbi’s, what blessing would you create?”  You can never have enough radical amazement, eh?

For the record, many groups have at least one child who sees a Shretele during our expedition, or perhaps earlier, in their home yard.  In all honesty, to date, I have not witnessed these sightings with my own eyes, or discovered any physical proof from these word of mouth testimonies.  In fact, scant physical evidence exists for this rare and elusive species.  Often, we hear a hammering in the forest- hoping it is a Shretele repairing his home, discover it is a woodpecker.  Or, after silently circling a small movement in the grass, discover it is a grasshopper munching away.  Amazingly, not only is no one ever disappointed after these encounters, sometimes they become the very highlight of our expedition!

Thankfully, we definitely have the stories.  They can be found in a gem of a book, Yiddish Folktales, by Beatrice Silverman Weinreich.  She was a career Yiddishist, folklorist and lover of riddles.  She worked at the premier institution for Jewish culture of Eastern Europe, YIVO in New York.  This great institute began in Vilna, Poland (currently Lithuania), in 1925 with the goal of using modern scholarship to document Jewish culture.  YIVO trained teams of Zamlers, collectors, who traveled throughout Eastern Europe collecting stories in the 1920’s and 1930’s.  Which is to say this book is the real deal.  Not just one person’s memory of favorite Yiddish stories.  I am sure the Shretelech, like many of our ancestors, found ways to immigrate here to America.

My Shretelech expeditions carry the very romantic view of bringing the world alive.  Using the power of story and imagination, sprinkled with wonder and awe  and a taste of Jewish life, a little outdoor magic comes to all who participate.

I look forward to hearing from you If you would like to arrange a Shretelech Expedition for your group or just have questions about the Shretelech.  All the best, Maggid David

PS  A word of warning:  like mushroom hunting, please, if you choose to seek out the little people on your own- do your homework.  Make sure you are able to positively ID him/her as a kindly Shretele.  You know, it could be a Kapelyushnikle, and then you’d be in for who knows what kind of tricks! Good luck.

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The Sacred Trees of Betar

Dear Friends,

I love how stories contain so much more than just what they are “about”.   Like seeds from an ancient world, they have the ability to surprise and grow in unpredictable ways.  Check out this obscure story from the Talmud (Gittin 55a, from Ein Yaakov, 1999 English translation):

“Because of a (broken wheel) from a carriage, Betar was destroyed.  [How did that happen?] It was the custom in Betar that when a boy was born the parents would plant a cedar tree, and when a girl was born they planted a pine tree.  When they got married the tree was cut down, and a bridal canopy was made of the branches.  One day the Emperor’s daughter was riding through town when a shaft of her carriage broke so [her servants] cut down a cedar tree and brought it to her [to replace the broken shaft].  Seeing this, the Jews attacked the princess’s party and beat them.  They then reported to the Emperor that the Jews were rebelling, and he marched against them.”

This story is “about” the reason for the horrifying destruction of Betar, and included as one of the tragedies of Tisha B’Av, and yet, I want to focus on these trees!  I wonder, is every family planting cedars and pines (or acacia’s if you read Eliyahu Kitov’s Book of our Heritage) for each of their children?  Are they in one sacred grove or does everyone plant on their own land? Do they actually cut down the whole tree for the chuppah, or just the branches (dramatically multiplying the number of trees in this numinous forest)?  Can you imagine the power of every village cedar and every village acacia being a beacon for individuals, alive and dead, from your community?

I love how these trees are given sacred power by the simple act of planting the tree at the birth of a child.  Not from mythic stories of the place, or from burial grounds, or being especially unique or old trees.  But from dedicating them by bringing the everyday love parents have for their children to these trees.  I’m swept with emotion just imagining parents preparing these trees they planted with their own hands to become wedding canopies.  What a special way to acknowledge this life cycle transition away from the intense parenting children require, and for the sacred to be given form and honored.

In what ways might we give form to the sacred that includes trees and land?  How do we share this with our children? How about with those who might be driving through and happen to break an axle?  How do we remember to bring these sacred moments into the whole of our life, as reminded by Isaiah who said, “The whole world is filled with Glorious Presence”?

Are the hilltop and tree that witnessed my wedding vows sacred?  Perhaps, they gained sacred status when years later, my children went to summer camp in that same place and learned to connect our wedding stories about the tree of witness, the tent of dance, the room of privacy with that place?

As we learn to re-inhabit our places and weave our lives in ways that includes the land, let us keep in mind this wisdom from the devotional tract of sacred literature called, Practice of the Wild, by Gary Snyder.  He reminds us:

“There’s no rush about calling things sacred.  I think we should be patient, and give the land a lot of time to tell us or the people of the future.  The cry of Flicker, the funny urgent chatter of Gray Squirrel, the acorn whack on a barn roof- are signs enough.” (From the end of the chapter Good, Wild, Sacred)

In what ways are you building relationships with the land?  What insights do you gain from this story of Betar?  Would you share a special story about your place with us here?

David Arfa, Maggid

PS

I have to share a quick story about a class I took at Hebrew College, called Sacred Place and Sacred Space in Jewish Tradition.  I remember a moment where our teacher, Rabbi Nehemiah Polen, held up the Hebrew Scriptures, and said with glee and excitement, “This is why I love this book.  The editors who put it together did not create it like the old Soviet encyclopedia- ripping out the pages describing the old governor when a new governor came into power.  In this book we have Abraham building altars in the special grove of trees known as the Terebinths of Mamre, and God appearing in direct revelation amidst these same trees; and also later in Deuteronomy, we have very different texts like 12:2 that say you must destroy all the sites where they worship their gods- whether on lofty mountains, on hills or under any luxuriant tree.”  Rabbi Polen continues honestly saying that “If I were the editor, I’m not sure I would have had the courage to leave that earlier stuff about Abraham in the text!”

I love how this obscure story about Betar shows us that sacred trees remained alive and powerful in ancient 2nd century Israel.  Reminding us all that what it means to ‘be Jewish’ is very diverse indeed.  Just one story alone, be it from Genesis, Deuteronomy or Betar, like one tree, even if it is a sacred tree, can never describe the entire landscape.

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A Sense of Wonder-Video Blog

Do you know this text- “Civilization will not be destroyed for lack of knowledge, but for lack of wonder” by Abraham Joshua Heschel? I confess, at first, while I wanted to love it, I doubted it. After all, aren’t educators in the business of knowledge? But then, I remembered this quote by Rachel Carson: “If I had influence with the good fairy…I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life.”

SPOILER ALERT: This video blog records a reflection of these texts- my realization that wonder makes all the difference. What is the power of wonder in your life?

A Sense of Wonder: Storytelling with Maggid David

Would you be willing to share your reflections and memories of awe and wonder here and with my guest blog on jewcology.com? Jewcology is a global Jewish environmental education web portal where this video is a featured blog this week.  By sharing a response to this video, together we can create a wondrous library of awe, a sacred celebration of OUR wonder stories, reminding Jewish educators everywhere that touching the sacred is at the heart of all that we do.

PS NOTE: I’d like to emphasize that wonder AND knowledge make all the difference. We do not have to choose. As the Sfat Emet taught, (a great Chasidic teacher whose words are paraphrased here): The dwelling place is awe and wonder. Woe to the one who has no dwelling place, no place of awe and wonder- Woe to the one who spends their life in the gateway, attaining knowledge alone, and does not know of the dwelling place. (This Shavuot teaching can be found in the Language of the Truth, translated by Rabbi Art Green.)

I look forward to hearing your stories.

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