5780 – who would have imagined?

Rabbah Gila Caine is the spiritual leader at Temple Beth Ora, Edmoton's Reform Jewish Congregation.

by Rabbi Gila Caine

(August 2020) – Now as the year comes to an end and we enter the final weeks of 5780 I’m looking back astonished at what we’ve been through in the past months. Who would have imagined? How could we imagine a global pandemic and civil unrest around the globe?

I think we could imagine, and some have been imagining, but as societies we are not listening to the idea (even a truth by now) that as we treat the world, the world will treat us. As we devour away other species’ natural habitat, they and their viruses will flow into ours. As we deplete resources and bruise the land, so will we have less land to live on and from. As we think only of financial profit and break up our chains of production to fling around the globe, so will local small economies suffer, so we find ourselves out of jobs, out of dignity. As we disconnect from a mindful and healthy pace of life, so will we find ourselves exhausted – physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

The reason Torah begins with a holistic story of creation, a story of everything, is to impress upon us the interconnectedness of creation. As we treat the Earth, so are we treated.

My understanding of the science and reality of our times is that the single most pressing issue our generation/s are facing is the climate havoc we are causing in the world. As a rabbi, I can say this is not only a scientific, social, political and economical catastrophe in the making but also a spiritual one.

I’m reminded of something Maggid Andrew Ramer wrote in his fictional post-apocalyptic collection “Fragments of the Brooklyn Talmud”: “I think of my grandmother, roasting a chicken for dinner. I think of her stories of the Nazi concentration camps that her mother survived. I think of the stories I heard and read about Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A disaster here, a disaster there. A nightmare here, a nightmare there. All so contained. And to my dismay – I find myself jealous” (p. 132).

This year is a wake-up call to all of humanity, even the humanity here in Edmonton: this is what our future might begin to look like, and none of it will be contained. If we disconnect ourselves from Earth, it will disconnect itself from us. As we enter the month of Elul, the month of mercy and forgiveness and Slichot, we must listen carefully, and work on true Tshuvah/ Return – to a better relationship with creation.

To end, here is a new translation I have done for ancient/everyday blessing of Asher Yatzar, a prayer thanking G-d for our bodily functions. The translation, for our times, is a form of midrash echoing our personal body with the body of the Earth. For our own body to survive, we must do our best in the coming year and years to come, to make sure the greater body flourishes as well:

Blessed are you Adonai our G-d, Creator of Life You wisely crafted our body Forming within us hollow tunnels and caves. It is Sacred truth, well known and revealed That if one of them be wrongly opened or wrongly sealed We could not stand before you even for a moment in Time. Baruch atah Adonai, Healer of all flesh, Creator of wonders.

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