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Eilat Chayim

I went someplace new, took a leap of faith, and I was totally plugged in and energized by the experience. I saw the program description, a course called “Wild Roots of Torah” about nature, Torah, music and stories…. and it sounded like a perfect fit! It was part of Eilat Chayim  program at Isabella Friedman nature center in the Connecticut Berkshires, a beautiful location to be sure:  majestic Pines and Aspens surrounding a small lake, complete with a playful resident muskrat and swooping swallows. But more beautiful were the energy and caring and kindness of the teachers and participants. And the joy of finding resonance – with the people, the surroundings, with ideals and values, and hopes we shared


Wednesday:   it is pouring at the  nature center. Rain makes tiny circles in the lake, and runs in rivulets down trees and ground.  I am engaged with the program “Wild  Roots of Torah”, led by Rabbi Natan Margalit and Cara Silverberg (our nature guide).  R’ Natan is a gentle, kind, wise soul with an easy smile that lights up playfully whenever we find wonderful connections, or in appreciation of natural beauty.   On our first afternoon, Cara asked the group to find something amazing in our surroundings, and to enthusiastically share it. Natan was found soon swinging from a low, flexible tree branch!  Cara is passionate, and deeply connected to nature, movement and music.  It’s the second day, so, as per plan,  we are discussing water – in the world, in life, in metaphor. It’s the only rainy day and the weather/text coincidence strikes us, one of many coincide-incidents these last 2 days.  In the text we are studying, humanity is moving from the well watered river valley plains civilizations, to hills and valleys watered by rain from above (The quality of mercy is not strained, it falleth as the gentle rain from heaven, pops in to my head) We’ve also just been singing “Thank You for the water which nourishes my soul”, and water is a metaphor for Torah.  As we are born with a gush of waters from the amnion, we had to leave the well watered Garden of Eden in Genesis to be adults, and cross to sea of Reeds to birth a nation. In the same way we must leave the well watered valleys of childhood to the hills and valleys of our lives. It’s really unhealthy to maintain an umbilical cord of dependence – maybe like drowning with too much water, we explore with Natan. Yet, we yearn for safety and security. R’ Alan Lew writes: “our life is a river and it’s goal is taking us home”.

One of our group, Jeremy, has a tattoo from Song of Songs on his arm colored like flame: “Set me as a seal upon your arm”, it says, and I know that next the text reads: “Love is as strong as death… many waters cannot quench this love of ours”. So It occurs to me in a flash: LOVE IS THE UMBILICAL CORD WHICH CANNOT EVER DROWN us, and can lead us home to the Garden.

Cara has been sharing with us her own (and others’) personal connections with the natural world around us. She shared a story about a plant called Colt’s foot, which is medicinal and helped ease a cough she’d been suffering from. She came to feel and view the plant very personally,  in relationship. It was starting a shift in me, from seeing and analyzing the natural world to developing a more aware, more keenly felt relationship. And life and Torah may be at its core about relationships….

In our next move, the group was instructed to take the experiences we’ve had and create something to express them. Each group member created and later shared their art, poem or song. With melody in my head, I wrote this song to distill a taste of the inspiration I was experiencing.  But first a bit of explanation: Adamah means “earth”, but it also contains the name of the first earthling: Adam. And Mayim means “water” in Hebrew. and is part of the word for “sky,” Shamayim. The song is called “Adamah, Mayim” and each element has it’s own melody, and then the two melodies come together in the end. Adamah rolls a bit, then reaches down. Mayim’s melody soars unrestrained.

Ruach is the Hebrew word meaning both wind and spirit; Aish means fire.

Adamah; Adamah, Adamah (2X)

To be aware when bare feet touch down,

We’ve found connections through the sacred ground

We are of earth, its colors and hues

Heed love’s commandment to choose life!….


Earth must drink, I must drink, crystal clear mayim!

Earth must drink as I must drink, sweet droplets from Shamayim

Mayim, Mayim, Mayim! Mayim, Mayim, Mayim Rabim!

the quality of Torah’s unrestrained; It falleth as the gentle rain

We must build bridges, of love

and if we build them heart to heart

Then the garden blooms again

and Many waters will not quench this love, it remains

Earth must drink, I must drink, crystal clear mayim!

Earth must drink as I must drink, sweet droplets from Shamayim

Winds carry us on eagles wings

Ruach my spirit soars and sings

Ruach, the wind can take us higher

Inspired, sparked, on fire.

Rising like mist from the lake warmed by sun’s gentle rays

Rising from the face of the earth, mist can never stay

Ruach, Aish, the spirit and the fire

Ruach, aish, carrying us higher.

We must build bridges, of love

and if we build them heart to heart

Then the garden blooms again

and Many waters will not quench this love, it remains

Thursday: our fourth of five days. After a starry, peaceful night, I joined a morning worship service that took my breath away, and kept my eyes welling for nearly an hour. It was unconventional, heartfelt, radical, beautiful, led by elder statesman Rabbi Arthur Waskow. In a multicolored cap/kippah, Arthur leads a service transformed and transforming: a bass, warbling voice which invites clarity and opens doors and connects souls to one another, to timeless tradition, and to the world surrounding.

He wants no less than to reinterpret the name of God, (spelled Yud, Hay, Vav, Hey) to sound like breathing, and the inter-breathing connected-ness that is God, rather than the traditional “Adonai”, meaning “Lord”. We read Arthur’s original Shema interpretation, moved to create and share an original chant right there, which had never existed before! There were only nine of us, in a majestic sanctuary whose walls were almost entirely windows.  Not a minyan (a gathering requiring ten adults). Huge pines, however stood right outside breathing in our carbon dioxide, turning CO2 into tree, and sending out oxygen. Arthur passionately made the case that the trees as God-valued creatures be allowed join our minyan.  And they did. Soon we read in Torah that if we created a just world, then the rains would fall, rivers flow, and our life be sustained, and if not, there are real and serious consequences akin to climate change karma. The service ended about 8:15, a few minutes late. Now there’s a window above the ark, like a second eternal flame.  And just as we were ending the service, waxing poetic about that “someday” where God would be One,  the sun came streaming through that window right on to my face, and the faces of those near me. It was magic – like the Rocks of Stonehenge positioned to capture important celestial moments, and I was blessed to be there to notice.

It is our third day, and we are studying the element of air in nature, in Torah, in metaphor, and in relationship to our life. We are listening to the sounds of the birds – for their meanings within the ecosystem, and to one another, in population.  Sitting still, I listen, looking up into trees and sky. After lunch I climb the red trail to the top of the nearby hill and cliff (with the help of Joe, a helpful classmate).  Sitting still again I begin to soar in my imagination, and just then,  three buzzards circle silently on an air current past me.  I strongly feel awareness of this  vertical dimension of air!  Yesterday we’d discussed the planes verses the hill country:  Perhaps its meaning is adding a vertical dimension to our awareness of the universe, new inspiration.

Friday: I awake to mist, which the sun burns from the lake and trees as it silently rises. This is our last morning here. Our element is Fire, and the mist rose like smoke, but was actually composed of water, elevated by fiery sun! We studied fascinating text of a prophet Hoshea (saving). It begins as a very strange text of a prophet who is commanded to marry a harlot, and does!, falling madly in love with her. It is supposed to be a metaphor embodied of the relationship between divine and human , where the human partner prostitutes herself (ourselves) for material possessions. But somehow, through this mess, love pierces and renews, culminating in a renewed, pure “betrothal” which does two amazing things: Renews Noah’s covenant with the earth and its creatures, and 2) breaks the warrior’s bow (same Hebrew word as Noah’s rain bow in the clouds: Keshet),  and the sword of war. WOW, what a vision.

Our assignment following this study was to go out for awhile and synthesize our own vision.  I first stood, then sat on my tree stump. I reread the text. I mumbled a quick b’rachah (and was really aware of the water, etc.. that I took in to my body), and then had a startling picture in my head. With that blessing, that awareness of two parts of creation connecting and merging (me and the water), a tiny spark of light pierced the space between things, and I was a part of a luminous larger organism.  This image reflected what I had heard last night about the various parts of the body capable of doing this illuminating and connecting.  It was now part of my world view.  Each day we yearn for understanding. It was my insight to learn that to really know something we become different – affected and connected to that person, or tree, community, or sip of water.  In this connection, love rides the light beam (like that Einstein imagining), pierces the lonliness, and carries the possibility of healing and saving.


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