Eicha for the Earth

Tisha B’Av (the midsummer day of Jewish mourning for the ancient Temples in Jerusalem, and of hope for a transformed future) can be focused on the endangered Earth as our Temple.

What follows is the text of what such an Earth-centered prayerful mourning/action/celebration might look like. Although here at The Shalom Center we have put considerable energy into working this out, it is not carved in stone. We encourage communities to work out their own changes or additions.

After the text, you can find suggestions in more detail about using the liturgy or parts of it on Tisha B’Av itself or in creating an event on the Sunday before Tisha B’Av.

There follows:

1. An English-language Lament for the earth, woven from some underlying sense of the meaning of the Book of Lamentations/Eicha, traditionally read on Tisha B’Av.

This Lament for the earth can be chanted according to the ancient wailing Lamentations melody, or not.

It can be used as it is, or woven in part or in whole into a more traditional reading of Eicha.

It could be read/chanted on Tisha B’Av itself and/or on perhaps the Sunday before, when many people who might not take part in such an event on a weekday might do so on Sunday.

It could be read as shown here, with the “Hashivenu” passage of hope interwoven with lament, or that passage could be held to the end, as it is in the original Eicha.

This lament for the Earth could be treated as one among kinot (traditionally, poems of sorrow about various disasters that have befallen the Jewish people) that are often added to the liturgy of Tisha B’Av. Some communities may also wish to take note of sorrow and hope for other troubles and travails arising in Jewish or multireligious awareness today.

2. After the Lament for the Earth, we include for possible use as a kinah, a litany of sorrow and hope, “We are the generation that lives between the fires.”

3. Drawing on the rabbinic tradition that the Messiah was/is born on Tisha B’Av but has not yet been revealed because the world is not yet ready for the necessary transformation, we include a passage from the Song of Songs that celebrates a loving awareness of the intertwining of all life, a planetary community. This includes a chant from the Song, by Rabbi Shefa Gold.

4. Since in our generation, messianic hope must be encoded into public action, we include several brief demands or proposals for change in public policy. Specific communities, congregations, or groups could change these as their own concerns point the way. These demands or proposals could be encoded into petitions, could be presented to public officials, corporate or union leaders, etc. (You can draw on The Shalom Center’s “Seven Principles for Public Policy” by clicking here.)

5. The gathering could end by chanting again—this time a passage from Isaiah and/or by reading together Psalm 104 or 148 or a contemporary poetic celebration of the earth.

1. Eichah / Lament for the Earth: Tisha B’Av 2010
By Tamara Cohen 
(Barbara Bick Memorial Fellow of The Shalom Center)

Eicha: Alas, she sits in danger.
Earth, home to multitudes,
like a beloved, deep in distress.

Blue ocean, source of life –
Endangered and imprisoned.

Bitterly she weeps in the night
Her shorelines wet with tears.
Of all her friends, none to comfort her;
All her allies have betrayed her.

Checkerspot butterflies
flee their homes;
Polar bears
can find no rest.
Because our greed has heated Earth.

Whole communities destroyed
To pursue off-shore oil.
Lives and dreams have been narrowed.

Coastlines mourn for families,
lost homes and livelihoods.
Barrier islands lament, desolate.

Wetlands sigh without their song birds.
Estuaries grieve; the sea is embittered.

Earth’s children – now her enemies;
Despite destruction, we sleep at ease.
The Breath of Life grieves
our abundant transgressions.
Infants of every species,
captive to our conceit.

>> Hashivenu Yahh elecha v’nashuva, hadesh yameinu kekedem.
>> Let us return, help us repent,
>> You Who Breathe all Life;
>> Breathe us, Breathe us,
>> Breathe us into a new path –
>> Help us, Help us,
>> Help us turn to a new way of living
>> Make new, Make new,
>> Our world of life intertwining –
>> Splendor, beauty, joy in our love for each life-form.

Gone from Appalachia –
her mountaintop glory;
mined by Massey Energy
without compassion.
Children sick from air and water,
stumble weak before King Coal.

All that was precious in the days of our youth,
Earth recalls in woe and sorrow.

Her creatures die with none to help them,
at the hands of Exxon, now BP.
World leaders shrug
and look on helpless.

We have sinned greatly,
and so are ailing.
Our people who respected life,
have come to defile it.
We have stripped Earth naked,
she shrinks back.

Oily waves slap the sand like a soiled hem;
we were heedless of the cost of our appetite.
We have sunk appallingly, there is no comfort.
See, Breath of Life, this misery; how our avarice jeers!

Greed has laid hands on all dear to us.
Your sanctuary plundered by multinationals
full of contempt for Your holy community.

The Earth’s poor cry out as they search for nourishment;
indigenous communities trade resources for food,
to keep themselves alive.

>>> Hashivenu Yahh elecha v’nashuva, hadesh yameinu kekedem.
>>> Let us return, help us repent,
>>> You Who Breathe all Life;
>>> Breathe us, Breathe us,
>>> Breathe us into a new path –
>>> Help us, Help us,
>>> Help us turn to a new way of living
>>> Make new, Make new,
>>> Our world of life intertwining –
>>> Splendor, beauty, joy in our love for each life-form.

Look, O Breath of Life, and behold,
what gluttons we have become.
Will we heed this warning, we who live as if unscathed –
Will we truly look and know this agony as our own?

We are afflicted by angry consequence,
The elements push back against their abuse.

Forest fires reach down and spread like fury,
Sprawl and refuse trap our spirits.
Great storms hurl lives backwards, upside down
survivors are left forlorn, in constant misery.

For these things do we weep
Our eyes flow with tears.
How far from us is any comfort,
the possibility of change that might revive our Earth?
The children are forlorn for their future is bleak
unless we act with speed and wisdom.

Alas, humanity in our reckless living
have brought shame over all.
Can we remember the holiness of your creation,
Your footstool, green and fertile?

We have razed woodlands to the ground,
profaned the Kingdom of Earth and all its creatures.
In arrogance we slashed the mighty Redwoods,
will we cease hiding our power from ourselves and befriend our Earth?

How can we wrestle with God and bring justice to others
If we don’t quench the flaming fires,
and turn back from endless consumption?

Egrets and brown pelicans languish in salt marshes
From the depths, corals cry out.
“Where are the fish? Where are the clean waters?”
Languishing battle-wounded in the wetlands,
life runs out in ocean’s bosom.

>>> Hashivenu Yahh elecha v’nashuva, hadesh yameinu kekedem.
>>> Let us return, help us repent,
>>> You Who Breathe all Life;
>>> Breathe us, Breathe us,
>>> Breathe us into a new path –
>>> Help us, Help us,
>>> Help us turn to a new way of living
>>> Make new, Make new,
>>> Our world of life intertwining –
>>> Splendor, beauty, joy in our love for each life-form.

Lead us, lead us, on a new path to Eden,
Teach us self-restraint in the very midst of abundance.
To “Ayeka/Where are you?”
We will answer Hineni.
We are here to honor boundaries, not to devour all.

Open, open –
Our eyes to see in each creature,
Tree, Ocean, Mountain –
the Presence of the One.

2. Between the Fires
By Rabbi Arthur Waskow

We are the generation that stands
between the fires:
Behind us the flame and smoke
that rose from Auschwitz and from Hiroshima
And from the burning of the Amazon forest;
Before us the nightmare of a Flood of Fire,
The flame and smoke that could consume all earth.

It is our task to make from fire not an all-consuming blaze
But the light in which we see each other fully.
All of us different, All of us bearing
One Spark.

[Light a candle, or a torch, or clump of sage]

We light these fires to see more clearly
That the earth and all who live as part of it
Are not for burning.
We light these fires to see more clearly
The rainbow in our many-colored faces.
Blessed is the One within the many.
Blessed are the many who make One.

>>> Here! I will send you
>>> Elijah the Prophet
>>> Before the coming
>>> of the great and terrible day
>>> of YAHH, the Breath of Life.
>>> And he shall turn the heart
>>> Of parents to children
>>> And the heart of children to their parents.
>>> Lest I come and
>>> Smite the earth
>>> With utter destruction.
>>> (From Malachi 3)

Here! We ourselves are coming
Before the great and terrible day
of smiting Earth –
For we shall turn the hearts
Of parents to children
And the hearts of children to their parents
So that this day of smiting
Does not fall upon us.

3. Recite Together
Song of Songs 2:11–13, translated by Marcia Falk

Come with me, my love, come away,
For the long chill months are past,
The rains have fed the earth
and left it bright with blossoms.
Birds wing in the low sky,
dove and songbird singing in the open air above.
Earth nourishing tree and vine,
green fig and tender grape,
green and tender fragrance.
Come with me my love, come away!

By Rabbi Shefa Gold from Song of Songs

Kamti ani, liftoakh l’dodi; Kamti ani, liftoakh l’dodi;
I will open to you my beloved; Will you open, open to me?

4. Action/Proclamation
This part of the observance may include vigils, visits to official or business offices, letter-writing, etc.

We call on the peoples and the governments of the United States and of the world:

a. To forbid, now and forever, the drilling of new oil wells into the depths of Mother Ocean, the destruction of mountains for the sake of the coal within them, and the leveling of great forests that breathe their majesty throughout our planet.

b. To end all subsidies to producers of fossil fuels, and to provide as first priority throughout the world the support of the public in money and attention for conservation of energy and swift emplacement of responsible and sustainable energy sources; sun, wind, and earth-based geothermal.

c. To honor and affirm the Breath of Life by swiftly and strongly capping the emission of carbon dioxide, methane, and other heat-trapping gases.

d. To share the wealth of the world so that nations and regions, domestic and world-wide, that are trapped in poverty gain help from the rich in lessening the devastation of climate crisis already underway and in achieving economic development through a non-fossil-fuel path.

5. Celebration
End by reciting together Psalm 104 or 148 or a more recent poem of celebration of the Earth; by circle-dancing; and by chanting again from the Song of Songs

Psalm 148: Hallelu-YAH! (translated by Rabbi Arthur Waskow )

Praise YHWH/Yahh the Breath of Life from the heavens,
Praise Yah in the heights,
Praise Yah, you messengers; Praise Yah, you multitudes!
Praise Yah, sun and moon
And all you light-filled stars!
Praise Yah, Heavens beyond the heavens.
Praise Yah, waters beneath the heavens.
Praise the Name of YHWH/Yahh Breath of Life,
For through Its intertwining all comes to Be,
Each finds its place in the dance of All:
YHWH/Yahh carves them a role that no one can erase.
So sing praise, all that is earthy and grounded,
All that flows in the deeps like the great sea-monsters,
Fire and hail, snow and fog,
Storm-winds blowing from the Mouth of God.
Lofty mountains, gentle hills,
Fruit trees and evergreens,
Roaring beasts and lowing herds,
Crawly bugs and soaring birds,
Powerful rulers and empowered peoples,
Prosecutors and public defenders,
Men and women sprouting promise,
Bearded elders bent by life and beardless youth not yet on path,
All sing praise to the Breath of Life –
For Yahh stands alone in radiance,
Filling with splendor earth and sky,
Making all peoples a horn of plenty.
For the sake of all who love Yahh
Or who come near through Wrestling God,
Let us praise the Breath of Life – Hallelu-YAH!

Verse from Isaiah 51:3, from one of the haftarot of consolation after Tisha B’Av
(Chant melody for Hebrew by Rabbi Shefa Gold; same melody for English)

Vayasem midbarah k’eden (3x), v’arvatah k’gan Yahh;
Turn the barren place to Eden (3x); And the desert to a garden breathing Life.

Further notes on conducting an Eicha for the Earth Service

By Tamara Cohen

1. Choose a place for your gathering. (Things to think about: Do you want to meet at synagogue or community center? At a space that has been used for interfaith gathering? At a more public space in your community? At a riverside or lakeside outdoors? At a place denoting political power—e.g., a senator’s home office, a regional EPA headquarters, etc.? By a gas station or power plant or other visible symbol of fossil fuel and dirty energy in your local community?)

When community is gathered, or in an invitation/advertisement, you may choose to use part of the following background information:

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.

Although this approach may seem highly untraditional, there are some Jewish textual sources that lend themselves to make the leap from the Temple to the Earth:

According to the kabbalistic language of symbols, both the Temple and the Earth are embodiments of the Shekhinah, the indwelling (feminine) presence of God.

According to some rabbinic texts, the Temple was the center of the Earth—thus the destruction of the Temple carries with it the threat of the destruction of the rest. Without its heart, the body of Earth is clearly threatened. So a day traditionally used to mourn the loss of that heart can become a day to mourn the ailing body of the whole earth.

And the Temple offerings represented an effort to heal the spiritutal defects of all aspects of earth—mineral (salt), vegetation, animal life, and (through the songs of the Levites) the human community.

In addition, we also draw on a midrash (rabbinic interpretation of a biblical text) about the first word of the Book of Lamentations/Eichah, the traditional text read on Tisha B’Av. This midrash links this first word Eicha (also the name of the book in its entirety) to the question asked by God to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden narrative. Both words are written with the same exact Hebrew letters and are only differentiated through their different vocalizations.

The rabbis link these textual moments, the moment that God is searching for Adam and Eve after they have transgressed and eaten from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil with the opening “Alas” of Lamentations. By linking the exile of the Jews from Israel with the exile of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, the rabbis link the particularistic story to the universalistic story, giving us the seeds to link what has been a holiday about the particular suffering of Jews with the need for a day of mourning for the universal suffering of the Earth and all its peoples and life forms.

The midrash, read in the context of a Tisha B’Av for the Earth, also focuses our attention on perhaps a new way to read the transgression of Adam and Eve, as a story about the difficulty the first humans, like humanity in our day, were not able to honor the boundaries set out for them about what of Eden’s bounty to enjoy and what to refrain from consuming.

2. If you plan to use our English readings as a supplement to the traditional Eicha, you can do that either by reading one section between each of the five chapters of Eicha, or by using the readings at the end or the beginning and end of your Eicha to frame or deepen the meaning of the reading. In this way, our Eicha joins the tradition of kinot (dirges sung after the chanting of Eicha that often focus on other times of destruction in addition to the destruction of the Temples.)

3. You may also choose, if you have the capability, to show a slide show of images of the BP oil disaster and other threats to the environment, during or after your Hebrew reading of Eicha. 

4. The English can be read responsively or with each person reading one stanza and going around in a circle and the whole group joining together for the repeating refrain of “Hashiveinu.”

5. For groups that have generally gathered for a more traditional Tisha B’Av service, have a discussion, before or after your chanting, about what it means to bring this new level of meaning to the observance of Tisha B’Av.

Some possible questions for your discussion:

a. Do we need a day of mourning for the Earth? If so, what do you think it should look like? What is the relationship between such a day and Earth Day? What are other contemporary resonances you see for Tisha B’Av? Can it work for you as a day about the Earth and about senseless hatred between Jews or is that too much for one day to hold?

b. It is said that the Messiah will be born on Tisha B’Av. While many of us do not believe in an actual human being who be a messiah come to save the world, we might still find inspiration in the idea of a messianic age—a time very different from our current reality in which peace and justice reign. How do you think the seeds of such a time could be planted by you and your community on this Tisha B’Av? What would that look like?

c. The text of Eicha is full of language about “our enemies” who destroyed the Temple and Jerusalem. Historically the First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonian Empire and the Second Temple by the Roman Empire. Yet the rabbis blame the destruction of the Temples on actions of the People Israel—for the first Temple, according to the rabbis the sins of idolatry, sexual immorality, and bloodshed, and the Second Temple because of senseless hatred among Jews.

When it comes to thinking about “enemies” in the context of our current environmental crisis, we too can look outward at the visible big-scale enemies like oil and coal companies causing destruction or we can follow the rabbinic impulse and look inward at the forces of which we are a part that have led to our current state of environmental destruction—or both. What do you think? Is the language of “enemies” helpful or outdated? Should we focus our energy on changing ourselves and our communities or on fighting large companies and governmental policies? What is the right balance for you and your community?

7. Whatever you do, please let us at the Shalom Center know what your plans are. Write us at Office@theshalomcenter.org. We will use this information to help local people who are looking for a Tisha B’Av for the Earth in your area find you. It will also give all of us a sense of being part of a larger national, and perhaps even international community.

8. Some midrashim to include on a text sheet, still in process:
What was the world like at that time? It was like a stool with two legs, which cannot stand and is unstable. When a third leg was made for it, it became firm and it stood. So, too, when the Mishkan was made… immediately, it became firm and stood. For at first the world had only two legs, loving-kindness and the Torah, and it was unstable. When a third leg was made for it, namely, the Mishkan, it immediately stood. (Bamidbar Rabba, parasha 12)

The world is like a human eyeball. The white of the eye is the ocean surrounding the world, the iris is this continent, the pupil is Jerusalem, and the image in the pupil is the Holy Temple. (Talmud Derech Eretz Zuta 9)

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