Our rainbow world: Taking Tu B’shevat personally


Rabbi Alyson Solomon, Interim Rabbi

Those of you who were with us for our November First Friday Animal Shabbat may remember that I shared with you about one of my teacher’s teachers, Rabbi Everett Gendler. Years ago
activist-scholar Rabbi Gendler came to meet with my Hebrew College Rabbinical School in Boston. Now age 91, I remember he was a tall, white-haired, radiant soul carrying a canvas bag.

Before he began to teach, he took out a crinkled newspaper and thoroughly, and silently, studied the day’s weather report. Finally, his opening words, said with a mix of exasperation and wonder,
were something to the effect of “there is deep Torah in this weather report.”

We only have to look outside for daily confirmation of this. Our weather patterns are changing; the Earth’s surface temperature and our global sea levels are rising. When I say that the Earth and
her delicate ecosystem is Torah I mean that, just as the Torah is available for us but it is ultimately our choice whether we study and learn, so we may gain insight and instruction from the Earth
or remain numb to our responsibility as stewards of the planet.
If we choose the latter, we perpetuate her destruction and our likely permanent exile from the Earth as we know it, our existing Garden of Eden.

As I said on Rosh Hashanah, our world is on life support. Greta Thunberg, who I consider to be one of Eve’s prodigies, is calling out to us that we must synch our lives up with creation. Teens are calling out from around the globe, amplifying the studies of scientists decades older. What are we doing to heed the call? As Greta tells us, hope is not enough. Action is required. Perhaps you have felt it during this especially cold LA winter? Our weather report is of Biblical proportions. We are living in Biblical times.

Especially during winter, in the rain and the cold, we remember that our world was created out of the tohu va’vo’hu, out of the hum of chaos and darkness. There were havdalot, divisions, created — waters separated from waters, lands from lands. Creeping animals, sea monsters, birds of the sky and grasses of the field came into being. Formed b’tzelem elohim, in the Divine image, we humans were formed from dust of the Earth as the multi-sided, androgynous first human, adam.

We humans were last to the party, joining the animals and the trees, the species of all living creatures. Instructed to be shomrei adama, guardians of the Earth, we quickly caused havoc. What a way to crash a party!

Upcoming soon is our festival of trees, Tu b’Shevat. According to Mishna, Rosh Hashanah 1:1, as Jews we have four New Years:
Rosh Hashanah (the first of Tishrei) is the new year of creation, kings and counting the jubilee. The first of Nissan honors our national cycle of exodus from Egypt, our redemption. The first of Elul is the new year of cattle, and the fourth new year is Tu b’Shevat, the new year for trees. Here are three ways to honor our Earth and earthliness:

1. The 15th of Shevat (Tu b’Shevat) is our time to reflect on our relationship with the Earth. Cantor Juval and I are creating a special BCC community-wide seder in partnership with our Director of Education, Rae Antonoff, focused on Kabbalist understandings of this holiday. Join us in this unique mystical experience; all are welcome.

2. Consider reconnecting with the days of creation via this prayer  practice distilled by my teacher, Rabbi Art Green, which he calls Ma’amadot. Ma’amadot refers to the townspeople from each district who would ma’amad, stand up, for their towns’ priests who would go for their week of service at the Temple in Jerusalem. In support of their priests, each day the townspeople would recount and meditate on a day of the creation story, thereby expressing their/our belief that we live in, and are responsible for, a created, Divine, world. Here are the topics for our daily meditation/prayer practice: Day 1/Sunday: darkness and light. Day 2/Monday: sky, firmament and heaven. Day 3/Tuesday: land, sea, grasses and trees. Day 4/Wednesday: sun, moon and stars. Day 5/Thursday: birds and fish. Day 6/Friday: animals and humans. Day 7/Shabbat, rest.

3. Consider your practice for Shabbat in terms of the Earth. Rabbi Dovid Zeller, z”l, taught that Shabbat is not a time to disconnect from the world around us; rather, it is a time to connect to the world within us. Slowing down and resting, nourishing ourselves with study, friends and good food, we renew ourselves as human beings, rather than human doings. And in turn we see ourselves in rhythm with creation, savoring the Earth and its beauty.
Genesis 9:13-15 reminds us: “This is the sign that I set for the covenant between Me and you, and every living creature with you, for all ages to come, I have set My bow – keshet – in the clouds, and it shall serve as a sign of the covenant between Me and the Earth. When I bring clouds over the Earth, and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember My covenant between Me and you and every living creature….”

Seven times the word brit, covenant, is repeated in Genesis 9:8-17. The symbol for this covenant is the rainbow, also the flag of our BCC community. So flash your rainbow everyone! The Earth is alive. We are her guardians and it is time we step it up. Join us for Tu b’Shevat, let creation into your prayers, be Shabbat.

With you, waving my rainbow high,
Rabbi Alyson Solomon