The Baal Shem Tov, or Besht —  the founder of Chasidism — 
met the soul of the Messiah during an ascent to heaven. 
The Besht asked him, "When will the Master come?" 
The Messiah answered, "When your wellsprings break forth to the outside!" 
(from a letter written by the Besht to his brother-in-law about one of his soul ascents) 

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Heart Exercises

According to midrash, "the waters of Noah" are so-named because Noah did nothing to bring t'shuvah, repentance, into the world, or to argue with God against destroying the world. He did nothing stop the flood by by bringing transformation.

We are finally beginning to decide as a country that we must to do something to transform how we live. But what does t'shuvah look like for us? As global climate disruption takes on more Flood-like proportions, we need to work through the transformations we need to do on a heart level.

Here are some exercises for using this moment to think about what we can each do for the earth. The descriptions below are written for a group leader, but you can also do them on your own or with a chevruta partner. If you use them, please mention Neohasid and Stoptheflood! and invite people to write to us about what they're doing.

The first exercise is about tachlis, and it leads directly to action. It can happen in anywhere from 5 minutes (honestly) to 15 minutes, depending on what you say and your rhythm. It's what we ask people to commit to when they visit these pages, but organized for any size group to do together.

1. Invite everyone to make a commitment to do one thing, however small, to reduce their personal impact on climate change. Ask everyone to pick something they can accomplish *before Shavuot*. Having a time frame is important, as you'll see below.

One way to do this is to ask everyone to put a hand over their heart when they've come up with their commitment. It's a beautiful way to give people a chance to reflect and respond at their own pace, without interrupting to say time is up. And it reminds people that they are making a pledge.

2. Once everyone has come up with their commitment, ask them to find another person to share it with on the spot. Then ask all the pairs to be chevrutas, checking in with each other at the end of some set time about what they did. You can use ritual time to set this up (e.g., commit in Lag B'omer to complete something by Shavuot). Invite everyone to pick a new commitment when they check in and a new deadline when they will talk again.

The impact of all this is to create community through actions, and to support action through friendship. The work helps each individual to feel that they can create possibilities for really changing the way we live.

There should also be room to acknowledge that the small steps we take as individuals are virtually undetectable, even when massed together. If so, what are people's answers to the question, why act? This can be a follow-up to the above exercise. One answer is that this is part of doing t'shuvah: taking responsibility, and creating possibility for a different future. These changes we make (i.e. changing lightbulbs) are a kind of ritual that makes our commitment real and concrete. Honoring this commitment with action and prayer is what opens us up and keeps us open to new possibilities.

    The second exercise is more or less a guided meditation with the purpose of helping people respond to global climate change by acting out of love rather than fear. It works on its own or as a preparation for the first exercise or other discussions.

Almost everyone has connections with nature, places they love, times where they have received blessing from the more-than-human dimensions of this world. In other words, "global human change" isn't necessarily about giving things up and responding to fear; it can also be deeply rooted in nurturing (and making more abundant) the things that we hold the most precious.

Here are the steps as you might describe them to a group while doing this reflection:

1. Visualize a place in nature, a makom, that gave you comfort, awe, meaning.
2. Think about the blessings you received there. If this makom seems holy to you, then imagine standing before that holiness.
3. Thank that makom for what it gave you.
4. Thank the Holy One, God, the Creator (in whatever language you use to connect) for creating that makom and bringing you there.
5. Bless that place by asking for a blessing to be given there, for protection, healing, abundance.

The final step is to ask people to think about what they would do to nurture the place or places that they feel connected to. This is also a good transition for going to the first exercise.

Important! If people have picked a place that is holy for them, but which no longer exists because of human destruction, this can be pretty emotional, so make sure people know they have permission to cry. Making the transition from fear to love requires us to be present with our feelings. It's not pollyannish at all, and requires the ability to grieve. Mourning can take us out of despair (and inaction or avoidance) and allow us to love what we are afraid of losing.


One more point that applies to both exercises: You may want to remind yourself and others that Nature is always dynamic, changing and growing, and that all of the places we see destroyed will eventually be healed. If we take the idea that earth will heal itself seriously, then we can acknowledge that we are not "saving" the earth. Rather, we are finding a way to be in relationship with the earth that is respectful and loving, living in a way that enables us to feel as much connection as we can feel, and honoring those feelings. Here are some verses that root this idea in tradition:

Dor holekh v'dor ba, v'ha'arets l'olam omedet         דור הלך ודור בא והארץ לעולם עמדת
   "A generation goes and a generation comes, while the earth stands forever." Ecclesiastes 1:4

Oz v'hadar l'vushah vatischak l'yom acharon         עוז־והדר לבושׁה ותשׂחק ליום אחרון
   "Strength and majesty clothe her, and she laughs at the last day." Proverbs 31:25
The earth will be here, its beauty will continue to unfold, and life will continue to evolve, no matter what happens with us. And, we cherish the opportunity to be part of that beauty.



Design in progress © Rabbi David Mevorach Seidenberg 2006