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 Z. Allen


There is an unexpected comfort

in grief so broad and wide

that it encompasses more

than the mind can fathom.

Like G!d 

it’s source is so expansive–

inclusive of so much destruction

so much displacement





affecting so many,

unjust at every twist and turn–

that I cannot comprehend it.

But also, like G!d,

i know it is real

even when I cannot see it

or touch it.

Like G!d,

I encounter it daily–

sometimes I notice it,

and sometimes I don’t.

Like G!d,

it impacts at unexpected moments,

during a thunderous storm

or in the quiet of the night.

Like G!d,

and yet, so very, very


G!d created us

and we created this anti-G!d

of environmental degradation

climate disruption

environmental injustice

mass extinction

global glacial melts

incipient sea level rise

and massive habitat destruction.

So like G!d, and so unlike G!d.

And very surprisingly

a comfort,

for every other disturbance in life

suddenly feels insignificantly important

and fully possible to resolve

and out of this understanding

arise strength and calm,

courage and determination,

a certainty 

and trust

that could, perhaps,

be understood

to be G!d’s presence

walking beside me.

יש נחמה לא צפוייהיש נחמה לא צפוייה

באבל כל-כך רחב ונרחב

שהוא מכתר יותר

ממה שהמחשבות מסוגלות להעמיק.


מקורו כל-כך מקיף--

כולל כל-כך הרבה השמדה

כל-כך הרבה עקירה





משפיע על כל-כך הרבה,

אי-צדק בכל תפנית וסיבוב--

שאני לא יכולה להשיג אותו.

אבל גם כאלוהים,

אני יודעת שהוא אמיתי

אפילו כשאני לא יכולה לראות אותו

או לגעת בו.


אני נתקלת בו יום יום--

לפעמים אני מבחינה בו,

ולפעמים לא.


הוא פוגע בדקות לא צפויות,

בזמן סערה רועמת

או בדממת הלילה.


אבל כל-כך, כל-כך


אלוהים ברא אותנו

ואנחנו יצרנו את האנטי-אלוהים הזה

של שחיקה סביבתית

הפרעת אקלים

עוולה סביבתית

הכחדה המונית

המסה קרחונית עולמית

עליית פני הים התחלתית

והרס גידול-סביבתי המוני.

כל-כך כאלוהים וכל-כך לא כאלוהים.

ובאופן מפתיע מאוד


כי כל הפרעה אחרת בחיים

פתאום מרגישה חשובה לא משמעותית

ולגמרי אפשרית לפתרון

ומההבנה הזאת

עולים כח ושלווה,

אומץ ונחישות,



שיכולים, אולי,

להיות מובנים

להיות שכינת אל

הולכת לידי.

Rabbi Katy Allen is the founder and rabbi of Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope, which holds services outdoors all year long and has a growing children’s outdoor learning program, Y’ladim BaTeva. She is the founder of the Jewish Climate Action Network-MA, a board certified chaplain, and a former hospital and hospice chaplain. She received her ordination from the Academy for Jewish Religion in  Yonkers, NY, in 2005. She is the author of A Tree of Life: A Story in Word, Image, and Text and lives in Wayland, MA, with her spouse, Gabi Mezger, who leads the.singing at Ma'yan Tikvah.

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Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope
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by Rabbi Katy Allen

Last year I forgot, and ordered a lulav and etrog.

This year, I remembered and didn’t order them. This year I knew I was going to try substituting locally grown plants in place of the etrog, palm, myrtle, and willow that I normally order from the local Judaica shop, coming straight from Israel.

I didn’t know what plants I would use. But I was aware that I would miss holding those traditional plants in my hand as I stood in the sukkah and waved them in every direction, acknowledging the presence of something greater than myself all around me. I knew my forgetfulness last year was a measure of my ambivalence. I’m not a halachic Jew by any means, not feeling compelled to observe the letter of the law, but I have always found meaning and comfort in the lulav and etrog. And I absolutely love the holiday of Sukkot. I love building the sukkah, sharing it with family and friends, and eating outdoors no matter how cold it is in New England in October, driven indoors only by the rain.

So here I was, with Sukkot approaching. The question of what plant leaves and fruit to use was on my mind. I read up a bit on what others have done. But I hadn’t decided what I was going to use in place of the traditional tropical plants that Jewish law and tradition direct us to use.

Then Sukkot was upon us. Having been busy - always a convenient excuse - I hadn’t taken the time to give the question enough thought to settle on any particular plants.

I was busy hosting my children and grandchildren as the holiday began, and then suddenly it was Sukkot morning, and I didn’t have a lulav and etrog and I still hadn’t collected anything to take their place.

My wrestling with the question was abruptly interrupted by family issues, some of them emotionally charged. (I’m assuming you have experience with this and understand.) I became caught up in dealing with all of it, and as it progressed, I found myself losing my equanimity and getting upset in ways that I didn’t want to.

Finally I paused to take a deep breath, and I realized it was past time to find my replacement lulav and etrog. Slowing down, I wandered our yard considering my options. I returned with a fruit from a kousa dogwood tree, not native, but a volunteer, probably from fruit from our neighbor’s tree; a long yucca leaf, also definitely not native, but having come from separating my aunt’s (z”l) yucca plant some twenty years ago; and an arching stem of giant Solomon’s seal, a native plant that came from separating someone else’s patch 15-20 years ago; and a stem of monarda, also a native plant, one that I had purchased a few years ago as part of my efforts to enrich my native pollinator garden.


Various metaphors from rabbinic literature regarding what the lulav and etrog represent flitted through my mind - the parts of the body or the types of people who make up a community, as well as the understanding that they come from different ecosystems. But when I finally held these plant parts in my hand and sat with them in the sukkah, suddenly all the angst in my heart and my mind, some of it painful, dissolved. Beneath everything I had thought was bothering me, I felt a deeper pain, a deeper grief, from a source far more difficult to heal – my grief and pain over what we have done to the Earth over the centuries, and in particular, in recent decades.

I sat with that unexpected pain, and realized how minor the family concerns were by comparison, even the most difficult aspects of them. I realized, too, that this deeper pain related to the Earth was coloring my responses about the family situation. The family issues could be resolved with love and respect, patience and caring. The global environmental issues are far more complicated. As I understood what was happening to me and honored the difficult feelings, relief washed over me, despite the pain. Clarity matters.

The time had come to shake my “lulav and etrog.” But what blessing could I say? I couldn’t recite a blessing for shaking a lulav - a palm - since I wasn’t holding one. With my procrastination, I hadn’t researched what others say. After a bit of reflection, I decided that I could say bimkom lulav, meaning “in place of the lulav”.

But what about the shehecheyanu blessing? How and why should I express gratitude for reaching this time? This time when we have already entered an unprecedented global environmental crisis? This time when it is apparent that any extra and unnecessary energy and carbon output is critical to avoid? 

And then, unexpectedly, I felt gratitude for feelings of connection to the natural world around me resulting from substituting locally grown plants in my sukkah rising within me. As some measure of my pain was released, I gave thanks for reaching this season, this day, this understanding. I knew that this was just the beginning of honoring the pain I was feeling, and that these difficult feelings would fuel my determination to share the reality of such emotions with others, and also to provide venues for other people to honor and process their own pain and grief in the face of the massive existential crisis of climate change.

On Sukkot we are commanded to be happy. It is only by honoring, naming, feeling, and letting go of a layer of our pain and grief that we can honestly be happy.


Rabbi Katy Allen is the founder and rabbi of Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope, which holds services outdoors all year long and has a growing children’s outdoor learning program, Y’ladim BaTeva. She is the founder of the Jewish Climate Action Network-MA, a board certified chaplain, and a former hospital and hospice chaplain. She received her ordination from the Academy for Jewish Religion in  Yonkers, NY, in 2005. She is the author of A Tree of Life: A Story in Word, Image, and Text and lives in Wayland, MA, with her spouse, Gabi Mezger, who leads the.singing at Ma'yan Tikvah.

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Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope
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Ed. Note: This poem was originally part of this year's Earth Etudes for Elul and is being reposted due to a technical glitch that caused it not to be disseminate.

by Bill Witherspoon

We were supposed to name all the animals.

Lately we have gotten pretty good at it,

While it begins to dawn on us that

Even that slender branch of the tree of life

(Let alone the one on which crawl the slime molds,

Or the branch dotted with archaea microbes that turn salt ponds pink

Or the one spread with green life that converts sunlight into food)

Is just too prolific for words.

Still, 500 animal species named since last Elul

(150 of them the beetles of which She is “inordinately fond”)

Is kind of impressive for an ape that, according to Earth time

Only dropped from the fruit trees day before yesterday. 


Maybe we can be a blessing on creation, singing hallelujah

With the answer machines in our palms.

If, in this season of turning to look at ourselves

We admit that our archery is wide of the target

That it is time to ask directions 

of the keepers of indigenous knowledge

How were we managing to keep it going

For thousands of generations?

Bill Witherspoon is a geologist-educator and for 20 years a Jew by choice. At Congregation Bet Haverim in Atlanta, he sings in its remarkable chorus and occasionally leads services. He is a native of East Tennessee where he was blessed with many visits to its huge national park throughout his formative years. Bill encourages fellow humans to check out Citizens Climate Lobby.

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


As a Falling Leaf: Letting Go and Slowing Down, selected Friday evenings at 6:00 PM.


Shabbat Morning Walks, selected Saturday mornings at 10:30 AM.


RSVP for locations and Zoom links. 




Where to Find Us


Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope

Wayland, MA 




Affiliated with the Synagogue Council of Massachusetts






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© Katy Z. Allen 2012