A Letter to DJJ from the Pilgrimage Rabbi

Dear DJJ Community,

I am writing you, in the midst of a Pilgrimage, walking from my former home near Boston, to what I hope will be my new home for a very very long time in Metro Detroit.

Near Cleveland now, I’m finishing my 7th week of walking, 642 miles, and approximately 1 million, 733 thousand, 400 steps. Now, I am not a hiker. I don’t remember the last time I exercised on a regular basis, and in general, I do not like spending time in the sun. However, there is something much bigger than myself that I am trying to bring “light” to, and there is a lot I know I must learn to prepare myself to return home to the Detroit area, and respond to the needs of our time.

Over a decade ago now, I was sitting in a Parshah HaShavua (weekly Torah Portion) class and my teacher asked the following: “Why are human beings called ADAM in our holy Torah? ADAMAH, after all, is our Hebrew word for the Earth. So ADAM would mean something like Earth-ling. However, human beings are no more from the Earth than any other life on our majestic planet. When we name something, we pick a name to highlight some unique quality of that being before us. Names are not chosen at random.” Rabbi Yehoshua Karsh then paused for a moment to let the question sink in, but not long enough to formulate our own answers. “Perhaps we were named thus, because we are the only beings on the Earth, who have the capacity to forget that we are, of the Earth, depend on the Earth, part of and partners with the Earth.”

Neither his question nor answer felt so significant to me at the time, but it planted a very important seed. The seed is not environmentalism or animal rights, in the sense of ethical demands to take care of animals or the Earth. The issue is not even just environmental or climate justice. The issue, as I understand it today, is sanity. What other species poisons its own habitat? Who else hunts species of its own “food supply” to extinction? Would a sane civilization design systems to mix clean drinking water with feces, and literally flush life-giving water down the toilet? Is there any other species on Earth which is as brutal to its own kin, as we are so often to ours, and on such a large scale? Perhaps the ways in which we use and abuse our Earth, and all of her aliveness, is rooted in the same dynamics and insanity which leads us to use and abuse each other, and anyone we think of as "other”?

For the last 7 weeks, I have been walking a Pilgrimage to Honor the Earth, putting my body in Her hands, those of the elements, complete strangers, and God. Listening, learning, and sharing what I see. I have walked through so many little towns decimated by “modernity,” slept in the homes of complete strangers who have welcomed me in - democrats, liberals, president Trump supporters, conservative Christians, as well as in public squares with street folks, farmers, and a few forests. I try to make plans for Shabbat ahead of time, but other than that, I stay with whomever I meet on the road.

As a Rabbi, this is the most extreme, terrifying, and peaceful, action I can take to bring light to the insanity of our destructiveness, and to ally my body-mind-soul with that of the Earth, and by that I mean all whose life is made possible by Her, those people who are most at risk, and every species. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, famously said when responding to Vietnam, “While not all are guilty, all are responsible!” Of course this applies to all of us today more than ever. We are all response-able, able to respond in some way, and therefore responsible to find out how we might respond most wisely, creatively, communally, and powerfully to the intersection of all the injustice inside and around us, and the destruction of our very habitat, the context for all that we see, enjoy, know, suffer, and do! What can we all do to remember my teacher’s lesson - that we are named ADAM, because we need to remember, that we are part of a much much bigger community, not only of all humanity, but the eco-systems, and all the whole web of life, in the ADAMAH.

The work that DJJ has been doing makes me proud to call myself a Jew. So as I near Detroit, and (hopefully) walk into the city on August 14th, I am completely unprepared and cannot wait, to join you and the people of Detroit, as an ally.

Stumbling Softly,

Rabbi Moshe

If you are interested in following along as I write and being in touch, take a look at www.MosheGivental.com and look under the “Pilgrimage” tab, as well at www.facebook.com/pilgrimagerabbi






Moshe will be teaching at Congregation T'chiyah's Saturday, August 18th Lunch & Learn at 15000 W. 10 Mile Rd. Join us for services, nosh, and study at 10AM.

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