one story

one storyOne way that Jews learn the story of our covenant with God is through learning the story of creation—a story common to all creatures on earth. Like other peoples around the world, Jews find holiness, joy, and beauty through encounters with the natural world. As the book of Job informs us: “ask the earth, and she will teach you.”

By exploring the cycles of life and death, dark and light, air, water, earth, and fire, masculine and feminine, and by following the Jewish calendar that combines the rhythms of earth, sun, and moon, we learn about ourselves and about the Divine. The kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) tells us: “As above, so below.” By studying the world and creatures around us, we gain insight into Divine truth. By acknowledging the variety and changeability of our world, we keep ourselves from unnecessarily limiting our views of what is Divine—or what is human.

Many Jewish traditions throughout time have recognized these things to be true. Jewish sacred texts and stories offer healing and meaning through multiple images of God drawn from nature: moon, gardener, mother bear, counter of the stars —not only judge and warrior. Mystical Jews have imagined the Divine as dwelling within the world, there for us to find if we search carefully.

Jewish tradition gives us blessings for many natural phenomena: smelling spices, seeing rainbows, comets, or flowering trees, or immersing in a spring of flowing water. These blessings teach us that we can discover the Divine through our senses as well as through our spirits. They also teach us about our interdependency with all life.

Judaism has many things in common with other earth-based traditions of the world. Israelite laws of covenant are based on laws of Near Eastern monarchies, its psalms are related to the songs of other peoples, and its stories of creation use elements of Near Eastern myth. Throughout history, Judaism has borrowed from and added to earth-based traditions. The kabbalistic tradition’s belief in the four cosmic worlds, for example, echoes the use of a four-element system in many shamanic traditions around the world, and the Passover seder is an adaptation of a Greek philosophers’ meal. Judaism, in return, has added to ideas of sacred time and space, work and rest, by creating the Sabbath. It has expanded mystical conceptions of transcendence and immanence though its images of God, and has had a profound impact on the Christian calendar through Jewish seasonal festivals. Judaism has promoted through its sacred texts and laws the belief that caring for the earth and for other creatures is a sacred task.

Yet modern Jews do not always have access to the story of the earth through their Jewish experiences. Jews have traditionally explored sacred text as the primary way to reach God, and sometimes the “text” of the earthy and the physical has been downplayed. So too, the feminine, which is often associated with the earth and with Divine immanence, has been suppressed in study and liturgy. Normative Jewish texts have tended to emphasize male, hierarchical images of God over other kinds of images, though there have always been Jewish conceptions of deity that include the feminine.

Tel Shemesh, along with many other Jews, seeks to celebrate and create Jewish rituals, prayers, and festival celebrations that honor the earth, the physical, and the immanence of the Divine. Tel Shemesh seeks to recover Jewish images, sacred texts, rituals, mystical traditions, and modern writings relating to the earth, the four elements, the cycle of life, and the masculine and feminine, as well as other creative images of the sacred within nature. Tel Shemesh seeks to foster care and concern for the health and well-being of our planet. Finally, Tel Shemesh seeks to expose the connections between the story of Judaism and the one story of life on earth, honoring traditions of other peoples as sources of learning and holiness.

Jill Hammer


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