Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope
Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope

Spiritual Wisdom from Earth and Torah

Divrei Earth

The views and opinions expressed in the d'vrei Earth represent those of the author.

Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope
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by Rabbi Katy Allen We are settling into an altered life. And as this happens, I have been thinking about the Jewish imperative to love your neighbor:  'וְאָֽהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ אֲנִי ה You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Lev. 19:18) The rabbis tell us that this commandment is a fundamental principle of Torah, meaning that many other commandments depend on it. For example, we won't steal from others if we think about loving them as ourselves. We won't hurt them or cause damage intentionally to their property, and so on. Loving our neighbors is what we are doing now, as we stay at home, as we distance ourselves physically but not emotionally or socially from others, as we reach out to those more vulnerable than ourselves. By telling us to love others as we love ourselves, this imperative implies that if we don't love ourselves, we can't love others. So, in order to get through this time of containment, we need to remind ourselves - and others - that it is OK and necessary to take care of ourselves. It's OK and necessary to take down time, to scream at G!d, to cry and cry and cry, to find a way to be alone. It's OK and necessary to do whatever we need to do to keep ourselves whole. What are our tools for resiliency? Taking time to identify them, and then to reformat them for today's reality, can help us on our journey toward deeper peace. Remembering the old adage, one day at a time, can help us slow down and remember that we don't need to rush. We have time. And so it continues. There is already grief, fear, anger, despair, and there will be more. And as Miriam Greenspan reminds us  in her book Healing Through the Dark Emotions, each of these and other dark emotions is an indicator that we care, we love, we are compassionate, we are aware, we are human. Each of our difficult emotions is saying something good and positive about who we are. Now is a time to do our best to find a new depth of kindness, not just for others, but for ourselves. Now more than ever we need to remember that if we are going to truly love others - and care for them and support them and be kind to them - then we must also, or perhaps primarily, love ourselves.  If we are to love ourselves, then we need to take care of ourselves. And then, when we love ourselves, we will be able to give to others from a place of wholeness and strength, and from that place, our giving is sustainable. Rabbi Katy Allen is the founder and rabbi of Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope, which holds services outdoors all year long, and the co-founder and President pro-tem of the Jewish Climate Action Network-MA. She is a board certified chaplain and a former hospital and hospice chaplain and now considers herself an eco-chaplain. She received her ordination from the Academy for Jewish Religion in Yonkers, NY in 2005 and lives in Wayland, MA with her spouse, Gabi Mezger, who leads the singing at Ma'yan Tikvah. 
Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope
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by Rabbi Katy Allen [Note: This essay was first published on the Hebrew College website here on March 3, 2020.] We live embedded in a web of many kinds of sacred texts. The texts of our tradition are sacred. But so are the “texts” of our lives and the “texts” of the Earth. So are the “texts” of our communities. A childhood memory of playing with friends in a stream. The experience of sitting beside a loved one as their life draws to an end. A stone. A song. A beloved book from childhood, shared deeply and intimately with family members over the years. All these and so much more are sacred texts. And when we pull these text out into the light, notice them, take time to turn them and turn them again in our hands, our minds, or our souls, and when we then weave them all together, suddenly something new emerges. Unexpectedly, a new story, a new vision, an insight, a fresh way of understanding takes shape, and with it comes deepening wisdom and an opening of the heart. Over the years, I have discovered for myself the power of interconnections, that reciting the Shema outdoors is a totally different experience for me than indoors. Connecting a Jewish text to a story of my family deepens the meaning of that story, bringing with it the power of transformation. It is this power of interconnection, bringing sacred texts to family stories, that decades later enabled me to finally grieve my father, who had died when I was 25, in a meaningful and healing way. Today, the communal losses are constant, overwhelming and increasing. We are living not only with our inevitable personal losses, but with all the devastation happening around us, at an ever-increasing speed. Australia is burning. Pacific island nations are vanishing from the map. Refugees around the world and at home are fleeing drought or flood. Lyme disease, EEE, coronavirus – dread diseases appear and spread. Dictators are thriving. Injustice is rampant. The existential threat of a non-livable planet looms. The situation, globally, nationally, locally, and personally, calls us to explore and develop new psychological and spiritual tools. What is a person with a heart supposed to do? How can we remain compassionate and open to the pain of the world without becoming immobilized by despair or fatigue? Eco-despair, eco-depression, eco-anxiety, and eco-grief areall real. There’s even a new word, solastalgia, to describe our lived experience of environmental changes we perceive as negative. With so much happening around us, how do we not succumb to despair? We all have tools for coping and growth. Most likely, we have found strength in a time of personal loss or trauma. Now is the time for us to examine those, bring them to our forefront, and transfer our existing processes to the communal losses and trauma we are experiencing today. I’ve designed a course, Loss and Transformation: Maintaining Hope when Optimism Is Elusive, to help participants understand and employ their existing spiritual and emotional tools for maintaining strength, courage and hope, as well as to build new ones. Our lives are filled with mystery and with numberless texts. I invite you to join me on an exploration into that mystery and those texts. Note: I will be teaching the course “Loss and Transformation” beginning March 19, 2020 as part of Hebrew College’s Open Circle Jewish Learning program. This class will be online. Register here. Cost is $60.
Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope
The Sap Is Rising – Reflections on Tu BiShvat in a Time of Climate Disruption by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen [Note: This was written for and published by Jüdische Allgemeine” in Berlin, Germany’s largest Jewish newspaper.] In southern New England where I live, the sap is rising in the maple trees. Everywhere, it's Tu BiShvat, the New Year for the Trees. Here, it's time to set out the taps and begin collecting sap for making maple syrup. In order to fill my buckets with sap and make maple syrup, I need to know which trees are sugar maple trees. I need to understand something about the trees around me. It's easy to clump trees altogether. They're all trees, right? Strong trunks rising high, green on top – that's a tree. But, like people, not all trees are the same. Glancing out my window in winter, the beginning of differentiation is easy--some trees are barren of leaves and others are green with needles. However, closer observation is needed in order to distinguish sugar maples from Norway maples or from beeches or oaks. Looking more closely is needed in order to tap the appropriate trees. The sages of the Talmud (Berakhot 16a) teach that laborers working in treetops may recite the Shemawithout coming down, but praying the Amidah, which requires greater concentration, is allowed atop only olive or fig trees, and not other kinds of trees. What a puzzle! But it seems that olive and fig trees have many branches close together, making is possible to stand in the tree and focus properly, without worrying about falling. But other kinds of trees, with sparser branching, can't adequately support a person, so the laborers must climb down and pray with their feet on the solid ground. To properly follow the halachah, tree-climbers need to know in what kind of tree they are standing. But to fully understand trees, as with people, it takes further discernment to beyond simply being able to identify and name them. What is happening inside the trees? The sap is rising, but what else is happening? Trees are connected with each other underground; what are they communicating to each other when someone stands on top of them and prays? As I put in the first taps this spring, I wonder what the trees might be “saying” to each other. Do they communicate warnings to nearby trees about a dangerous tree-tapper in their midst? If so, what exactly is that message? I don't know. I'm not good at understanding tree language, though when I lean against one, I feel a sense of kinship and connection. I feel a love and caring. And I feel sadness about what is happening to so many trees. Beyond that, I don't know. My neighbors, afraid their tall pines might fall on their house, recently cut down about 10 trees. Our yard, next door, has numerous similar pines. On stormy windy nights, we often worry about the trees falling on us, too. And then we always say, “No. We can't cut them down.” We feel too connected to them, and that connection overrides our fears. Watching images of wildfires engulfing California in the summer and Australia this winter, I imagine that the trees must be screaming. Reading about the destruction of the Amazon forests, the burning, the tilling to satisfy our cravings for meat, I can almost hear the screams. So many trees must be crying out in pain and terror, for themselves, their neighbors and kin, and trees all around the world. But it's Tu BiShvat, time to celebrate trees. Even though it's still winter here in New England. Even in Israel it isn't always full-blown spring when we celebrate Tu BiShvat, New Year for the Trees. Falling as it does in January or February, the trees may or may not be blooming. So why did the ancient sages decide that the best time to mark the end of one year of produce from trees and the beginning of the next year was in late winter? They needed a New Year for the Trees for tax purposes. How did they decide what date marked that distinction between one year and the next? In the Talmud (Rosh HaShanah 14a) the sages explain that by the beginning of the month of Shvat, most of the year’s rains, necessary for growth and production in the coming season, have already fallen, even though the winter hasn't fully ended. Thus, they determined, any produce harvested after the end of the rains could be considered produce of the next year. So, fruit harvested before Tu Bishvat (the 15th of Shevat) belongs to one tax year, and fruit harvested after the holiday belongs to the year to come. But Rashi, the medieval commentator, understood the timing of Tu Bishvat to be a bit more complex and less visible. He tells us that it falls at the time when the sap is starting to rise in the trees. Knowing when the sap begins to rise is a beginning of understanding that which we cannot see. And when a twig is broken, and the sap drips out on a warm sunny day, and then freezes into an icicle with sundown and falling temperatures, we are able to see evidence of that which is hidden, and understand better. We cannot see the carbon in the atmosphere, drying the air and raising air temperatures, but can see the burning wildfires. We cannot see the greed that fuels clear-cutting trees, but we can see the harsh reality of clear cuts afterward. We cannot literally see the short-sightedness of building more fossil fuel infrastructure, but we can see the superstorms that engulf vulnerable communities as a result of decades of burning fossil fuels. We cannot see the carbon being pulled out of the air by the trees, into their fresh, green leaves and sequestered in the soil, but we can see trees growing and flourishing. And we cannot see our own fear and denial, but we can see our own lack or limited action personally and in our communities. The sap rising. On this New Year for the Trees, we are transitioning from last year to this. The trees are coming out of dormancy, and so must we. We must come out of our winter dormancy, our hibernation, our fear, our denial. We must allow our spiritual growth from comfort to fear, to learning, to growth to take place. We must confront the fact that climate change is not just someone else's issue, it is ours, it is everyone's. No one is immune. We must all act. Tu BiShvat is here. The sap is rising, preparing the trees for new growth. Are we ready for our own new growth? Will we allow it happen? To begin, let's plant not just one tree this year, but many. Let's plant a tree in Israel and a tree in Palestine. Let's plant a tree in Africa and a tree in South America. Let's help plant a billion trees this year And then, let's allow ourselves to grow with those trees. Rabbi Katy Allen is the founder and rabbi of Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope, which holds services outdoors all year long, and the co-founder and President pro-tem of the Jewish Climate Action Network-MA. She is a board certified chaplain and a former hospital and hospice chaplain and now considers herself an eco-chaplain. She received her ordination from the Academy for Jewish Religion in Yonkers, NY in 2005 and lives in Wayland, MA with her spouse, Gabi Mezger, who leads the singing at Ma'yan Tikvah. 

The above are examples of Divrei Earth - spiritual wisdom from Earth and Torah, in the blog written by Rabbi Katy Allen and members and friends of Ma'yan Tikvah. 


Divrei Earth - literally words of Earth, provide reflections on the weekly Torah portion, as well as Earth Etudes for Elul, reflections in preparation for the New Year during the month leading up to Rosh Hashanah, and Counting the Omer, reflections on Earth and Torah from Passover to Shavuot.


CLICK HERE to view the blog, where you can subscribe to receive the posts via email.



Ma'yan Tikvah Makes the Globe!

Thank you to Lisa Wangsness at The Boston Globe for the fantastic article about Ma'yan Tikvah! Check it out here.


Help Protect and Save the Earth - 13 Tips

CLICK HERE to find 13 environmental tips with accompanying texts and commentary by Rabbi Katy Allen.


Watch at Eden Keeper

Webinar : A Transformation from Environamental Grief to Environmental Action


Watch Eden Keeper Webinar, "A Transformation from Environmental Grief to Environmental Action." During this half-hour video, Director Robin Purchia hosts Rabbi Katy and the two discuss grief, the management of feelings of loss, and how to tranform our dark inner places into joy and a spiritual connection to the environment. 


Link to YouTube Webinar


Link to Eden Keeper Website


Some Spiritual Tips

Are you feeling a bit blue? Wondering about meaning? Despairing about the state of the world? Here are a few suggestions to help yourself get re-grounded spiritually.


  • Find a spot outdoors where you can focus on the natural world. Even in the city, you can always look up at the sky. Pay attention to what you see. Let it speak to you. Let the image, sound, or smell enter deep into your being.
  • Draw a picture. It doesn't matter if you "know how to draw" or not. Simply focus on something meaningful to you and record something of what you see, in either an abstract form or something more representative.
  • Think back to a moment in nature from your childhood or youth. Record your memory in words or images.
  • Sit still in a quiet place. Breathe deeply. Image yourself enveloped in love and mercy, beneath the wings of the Shechinah, the Divine Presence.
  • Find a passage from a sacred text, in the broadest sense of the word, Torah or other Jewish texts, your favorite children's book, a poem, or whatever strikes you. Connect it to your experience in nature or your drawing or writing. Think about how the two enrich each other.
  • Call a friend to ask how he or she is doing.

Upcoming Outdoor Services & Other Events


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Fri, March 13, 5:00 PM

Preparing for Shabbat

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Where to Find Us


Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope

237 Old Connecticut Path
Wayland, MA 01778




Affiliated with the Synagogue Council of Massachusetts






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© Katy Z. Allen 2012