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Two Callings from Dust

01/02/2022 09:56:12 AM


Rabbi Jamie Arnold

“The bodily-dust returns to the earth from whence it came.
And the conscious-spirit returns to the source that gave her life.
-    Kohelet/Ecclesiastes 12:7 

I have recited these words many times, standing graveside, accompanying mourners as they laid their loved one to rest.  Last month, as I sat at the bedside of my dying mother-in-law with my family, these were the words that I heard whispered on her last breath.  There is consolation in these words for those of us that see in the universe a conservation of consciousness and spirit paralleling the empirical law of the conservation of energy and mass.  Consolation, yes.  And, calling – two interrelated callings.  For the dust earth-body, the aphar, and the divine-spirit, the ruach.
Calling #1:  Out of the ashes, a return to the earth. 

The sun set quickly on the eve of the winter solstice – the weight of the night palpable culminating months of lengthening shadows, dropping temperatures, exacerbated racial tensions, extended drought, and a pandemic perpetuated by a mutating virus and a polarized society.  And, by the time you read these words, the sun will rise sooner and set later in our hemisphere.  Gratitude will illuminate and lighted the grief in my heart.  In the earth’s annual orbit around the sun our latitude turns away from and then back towards the light.  We don’t exactly orbit the earth, of course, but it seems to me our relationship to our planetary home endures and enjoys a similar oscillation.  We turn away from her, and the return to her.  

Our aphar [dust] has drifted afar from direct connection to her source, the earth.  This month, as the earth’s rotation returns us to the sunlight, the Jewish calendar invites us to return to dust to dust.  So too, in the annual cycle of Torah readings, from the exile at the end of the Book of Genesis, the Hebrews, we begin our exodus from exile in Egypt and return to our homeland.  Our annual mitzvah day at CBE is one way to achieve this return in spirit-and-body while they remain paired, a way for earthling to return to the earth with both awareness and action.  Now is the time to shake of the sleep-dust and get our hands dirty – planting and sowing seeds of hope and stewardship.  Our annual Tu Bishvat mitzvah day celebration invites a return to the earth with planting seeds and sharing resources with the needy.  Join us on Sunday, January 16, 2022 for an afternoon of mitzvahs, collective actions to address the threats to the earth (e.g. global warming) and to earthling (e.g. poverty) and return the dust to the dust.  

And what of the spirit?

Calling #2: “Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly.”  Micah 6:8

What does it mean that ‘the spirit shall return to its source?’  Perhaps we can do that while we are still alive as well.  The calling to close the gap between spirit and Spirit during our lifetimes has been described in many ways.  Justice, Kindness, and Humility.  I consider these prominent among the signs of Spirit, of godliness, of holiness.  And the on-going process of the realigning our thoughts, words, and actions with these ideals, this I call atonement.  As I proposed on Yom Kippur a few months ago, we have been collaborating with spiritual leaders in the area to lay the groundwork for a National [American] Day of Atonement.  

On the Monday, the 10th day of January, 10 days after the secular American New Year, we are planning a day of fasting followed by a service of atonement in which we collectively strive to acknowledge and atone for the wrongs of racial injustice in America past and present. The service begins at 7 PM, with offerings from the representatives of Evergreen area faith leaders, the ADL, and black and indigenous communities.   The gathering will culminate in commitment to act together to mitigate the ongoing impact of racial bias and repair the damage where we can – in the spirit of justice, kindness, and humility.  

Each morning, there is a prayer voicing thanks that upon waking, the bond between consciousness and our bodies has been restored, rabbah emunatecha, as a great act of faith in us on behalf of Spirit.  Let us respond to the two-fold calling inherent in that daily act of faith in us by investing our awareness [ruach] and actions [aphar] on behalf of our earthly home and our spiritual ideals.  

Rabbi Jamie

Tue, December 5 2023 22 Kislev 5784