Inner and Outer Climate Change by Rabbi Robin Damsky

Earth Etudes 2019
Rosh Chodesh Elul, 5779

By Rabbi Robin Damsky
Durham, NC

It’s been a year of change. Not just a move, but a move to a new climate zone and a very new culture. I moved from outside Chicago to Durham, NC – the South. The trees here are glorious – pines everywhere, wisteria in April blooming in the wild, crepe myrtle in vivid fuchsia and pale pastels just now. It’s hot. Average days are in the 90s and one can almost swim in the humidity. A long growing season brought daffodils in February, while I just set my second planting of pole beans. I’ve been graced by many a critter – my welcome basket was in the form of a 10-inch turtle on my front steps. I see many toads, frogs, and praying mantises. The hawk that sits in my front tree visits regularly; as do so many species of birds that I hear and see living within the forest in my backyard. In a Dorothy moment, I would say to Toto: “We are definitely not in Kansas (Chicago) anymore.”

Being in this location with so much nature around me is a balm down deep. Yet I have already lived through two hurricanes. Then a snowstorm that brought more inches in one day than the annual average. The heat is often unbearable. Every day I see more forest being cleared for new townhomes. We live within climate change.

So what to do? Well, I plant. Everywhere I can I plant food and flower, vegetable, herb, fruit, and tree. I compost, building back some of which I take away. I teach this to expand the vision, as well as the healing. But I also worry. I meet many 20s and 30s individuals who are reconfiguring their goals expecting our Earth to die off. Or at least to go through a major shift. I am reminded of the movie, “The Day After Tomorrow,” with most of the northern hemisphere winding up covered in ice.

Teshuvah is internal and external. Where inside are we feeling laid waste? Where are our inner tornadoes and hurricanes? Where might we be cutting ourselves off from our own resources? What work do we need to do to replenish the inner landscape? As we explore the inner, so too we look out. Is there an individual act of repair for us to take on? Is it time to join a communal program? Are we to put on our activism boots and start a project, or advance one that speaks to us? How do we pass the word to others? In the words of Hillel, the time is now.

It may seem that the inner answers are easier to address than those pertaining to the Earth outside of us. But perhaps they are mere reflections of one another. As we heal within, so too without. The reverse is true as well. May our work this Elul season bless us with these healings in abundance. May we simultaneously hold hands with others around the globe, reminding ourselves that we are one Earth family.