Friday, September 11, 2020

I’m reflecting on the weather a lot these days, as we see massive events around the country. On Sunday, folks in Colorado were frantically harvesting their crops amidst record high temperatures in preparation for snow the next day. It is wildfire season and large parts of the western US are facing smoke days that force people to stay indoors while over 10% of Oregon’s population have evacuated their homes as firefighters battle the blazes and exhaustion.

As we wake up to cooler temperatures in the Northeast mornings, we are continually reminded of the cycle of the seasons on a less extreme scale. Most of our food is grown on an annual cycle and we have reached the point in the season where some plants are done producing. Pulling the plants and throwing them away is for a greater good as they no longer have anything to offer us, and take nutrients from other plants.

If they are not diseased, plants can be composted and turned back into nutritious soil. The idea of collecting rotting plants and food scraps often gets a bad rap. It will smell! It will attract bugs!

Yet the ability to nurture the future, and develop something productive from seeming waste has a context in the story of Creation.

“When God began to create the heaven and the earth – the Earth being tohu va’vohu…”

~ Genesis 1:2

There are varied translations of this pre-heaven and earth phrase “tohu va’vohu“: Unformed and Void (JPS), Wild and Waste (Everett Fox), Shapeless and Formless (Septuagint).
How might you envision this existence before Creation?
Then, consider this midrash (commentary) from Genesis Rabbah 1:5:
“If a king builds a palace on top of sewers, dunghills and garbage, and a person says, “This palace is built on a sewers and garbage,” Is that not an insult? Therefore, if a person says that this world was created out of tohu va’vohu, is s/he not insulting God’s honor?
Rav Huna said in Bar Kappara’s name: If it had not actually been written in the Torah, it would be impossible to say, “God created the Heaven and the Earth,” out of what? Out of “tohu va’vohu.
How might this influence your perspective on waste, or collection of food scraps?
What is the relationship in your own life between wild/unformed and the sacred?

On Monday 14th at 7:30pm we’re meeting on zoom to start thinking about fall garden cleanup and putting things to bed.

Wishing you blessings for a Shabbat of wonder at Creation and nourishment from the unformed,

Leora Mallach
Co-Founder and Director
Beantown Jewish Gardens

כ״ב באלול ה׳תש״פ (September 11, 2020)