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Earth's Bonds

The Torah, and the Book of Deuteronomy in particular, argues that if we care for God’s commandments, if we follow the mitzvot, then the land will in turn care for us. In fact, the second paragraph of the Shema, reminds us: “If, then, you obey the commandments that I enjoin upon you this day, loving the Lord your God, and serving God with all your heart and soul, I will grant the rain for your land in season, the early rain and the late.” (Deuteronomy 11)

In other words, follow God’s mitzvot and then it will only rain when it is supposed to rain. Nature will follow its proper course if we listen to God. (As if it were that simple!)

Too often people think that observance means lighting candles, wearing a tallis, or reciting the Shema. It also entails ethical mitzvot: loving your neighbor, giving tzedakah or honoring parents. We forget the agricultural commandments that are also part of our sacred literature. We are commanded to leave the gleanings of the field for the poor and the stranger. We are told let our fields lie fallow on the seventh year. We are enjoined not to eat fruit from trees until after the third year.

Perhaps we would do we well to rediscover the meaning and intention of these commandments. We are connected to the land. The earth gives us life.

The early Reform rabbis removed these verses, and the second paragraph of the Shema, from the prayer service arguing that it represented too literalist of a theology. It offered a stark theory. If you do good, namely listening to God, then good happens. If you do bad by ignoring God and even worse bowing down to idols, then bad happens. Everyone knows the world does not follow such a neat and simplistic order and so the rabbis said, “Better not to say these words as a prayer.”

And yet, we live in a time when we are becoming more and more aware of how fragile our earth really is. Need we look any further than the forest fires raging out West, or the catastrophic flooding in Germany and China, or the extreme heat forecast for Middle America? It seems to me that it no longer rains but only storms. Rain showers bring torrents and not droplets. It no longer rains at the rain’s appointed seasons. It no longer rains when the Torah tells us it is supposed to rain.

How we live our lives really does have bearing on whether or not the earth will continue to sustain life. This is the Torah’s insight.

I am slowly making my way through Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants. If one wishes to gain inspiration from the natural world, I commend it. If one wishes to gain renewed strength, to care for our delicate, and precious, world, I urge you to pick it up. She writes: “Knowing that you love the earth changes you, activates you to defend and protect and celebrate. But when you feel that the earth loves you in return, that feeling transforms the relationship from a one-way street into a sacred bond.”

And I am slowly, and once again, making my way through the Torah. I am slowly trying to take more of its wisdom to heart.

My relationship with the earth is indeed a sacred covenant.