I received a beautiful greeting from my colleague in Jerusalem, Rabbi Tamar Elad-Appelbaum: ‘May the songs of the sea, the earth, the animals and humankind be with you’.
On the seventh day of Pesach we sing the Song at the Sea. On the last day of the festival we recite the Song of Songs and read Isaiah’s wonderful prophecy of the time when humanity and nature live together in harmony and all the earth is called God’s place of prayer. Some communities hold a Se’udat Mashiach, a feast for the Messiah, on this day, to nourish our hopes of redemption.
Abraham Isaac HaCohen Kook, first Chief Rabbi of Palestine, wrote that holiness conceived in opposition to nature is not true holiness:
The highest essence of holiness is the very holiness of Nature herself; it is the foundation of repairing the world in its entirety, tikkun olam kullo.
(Orot 77; Orot Hatechiyah 25)
When the holiness inherent in all things is truly appreciated ‘War will cease entirely…and all things will incline towards loving-kindness’.
He was referring to the mystical understanding, a felt and experienced reality to many lovers of wild places, that God’s sacred energy sings in different modes and rhythms throughout all creation.
We are tragically far from that time envisaged by prophets and seers. But this is no reason to desist from the responsibility of working towards it.
On the contrary, the hour could not be more critically urgent. All life urges us to act for its protection. The songs of nature are beautiful (our garden is so full of birdsong that a friend just asked me over the phone if I was calling from an aviary). But those very cries and are often calls of warning; for a small bird, life is always at risk.
We now know now that all life is on the line, certainly the lives of the poorest in drought-riven lands and flatlands swept by the rising sea.
Judaism speaks of two overwhelming spiritual feelings, love and fear (or awe). Both drive me in my concern for this wonderful earth. Since childhood I have loved woodlands, gardens and wild places: the green hills near our home just north of Glasgow, the pine-forests of Mount Carmel, owl calls, bats’ flights. Like all gardeners, I live by the smell of rain and the feel of the soil in my hands.
But now I’m also deeply afraid. Often dread sits in the pit of my stomach, alleviated only by moments of wonder at the sheer beauty of the world.
That’s why I attended the Jewish section of Extinction Rebellion’s Pesach picnic for Earth Day at the assigned area at Marble Arch on Monday, became a life member of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and joined the London Wildlife Trust. It’s why I’m passionate to co-lead Eco Synagogue to change not just what we do in our religious buildings but in our homes, in how we eat, shop, travel, care for the world.
Only a sadist would intentionally harm someone they love. Only a very careless person would persistently hurt a loved one through neglect. If we love the world, love life itself, how can we go on behaving in ways which wound them?
So may the songs of the birds, trees, rivers and seas, as well as the songs of our own soul, guide us to protect and preserve the music of all creation.