Updated: Mar 2, 2022
While I was teaching about Earth focused Halacha a few weeks ago, one of the participants, Lisa Apfelberg, came up with this great comment:
I once heard that we treat the earth badly because we think of it as “Mother Earth” and we know that so often women or mothers are kind of stepped on or put themselves aside - i.e. the mom always serves herself last or takes the burnt piece of toast…..
In general contemporary culture, once the word "Mother" appears, things go all mushy and soft at the edges:
She who nurtures, that one that cares for us, the one who sacrifices herself....
This notion is hurtful for human mothers, but also when we apply it onto other entities or ideas.
I still think that "Mother Earth", an ancient deity in her own right, doesn't need to change her name just because we don't know how to behave.
Rather, we have the obligation to realign ourselves with our ethical obligations and remember that one of the core Jewish Mitzvot is that of honouring our parents and being in Awesome (from the meaning of Awe) obligation towards them. We ain't talking about "love" or other fluffy Mother's/Father's Day card type of nonsense.
This commandment is about remembering our unending obligation and responsibility towards the people who brought us into the world and made us who we were. [This Halachic category doesn't ignore the questions of people who's parents might be horrible or neglectful or just unpleasant. These questions are addressed, but we won't go into them just now. ]
What we take from this is that our radically deep relationship towards our mother needs to be one of respect and unending duty. As individuals this pertains to our personal mother (and father), and as a species this relates to our primal mother, the soil from which we sprung.
Here is a prayer I wrote for this month of Elul as a means of focusing on my Earth T'shuvah in the coming month and year.
By the way, Lisa is the Director of SHAMAYIM: Jewish Animal Advocacy - check out their website for some great resources!
תחינה לחזק ידינו במצוות "כיבוד אב ואם" ביחס לאמנו, האדמה
מִי שֶׁבֵּרַךְ חַוָּה אִמֵּנוּ, אֵם כָּל חַי, וְיָצַר אוֹתָנוּ עָפָר מִן־הָאֲדָמָה וַיִּפַּח בְּאַפֵּנוּ נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים וְנִהְיֶה לְנֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה, הִיא תִּבְרַךְ אוֹתָנוּ בְּחָכְמַת הַלֵּב וּבְבִינַת הַגּוּף לִשְׁמֹר אֶת הַמִּצְוָה הַקְּדוֹשָׁה מִן הַתּוֹרָה, דִּבְרֵי אֱלֹהִים חַיִּים: "כַּבֵּד אֶת־אָבִיךָ וְאֶת־אִמֶּךָ לְמַעַן יַאֲרִכּוּן יָמֶיךָ עַל הָאֲדָמָה אֲשֶׁר־יהוה אֱלֹהֶיךָ נָתַן לָךְ” . וְנִזְכֹּר שֶׁכָּל קְרוּמֵי קִיּוּם הָעוֹלָם נוֹבְעִים מִקַּרְקַע הָאֲדָמָה וּמִמִּשְׂחַק הַמַּיִם הַזּוֹרְמִים עָלֶיהָ וּבְתוֹכָהּ, בִּבְחִינַת "וְאֵד יַעֲלֶה מִן־הָאָרֶץ וְהִשְׁקָה אֶת־כָּל־פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה" , "וַיַּצְמֵחַ יהוה אֱלֹהִים מִן־הָאֲדָמָה כָּל־עֵץ נֶחְמָד לְמַרְאֶה וְטוֹב לְמַאֲכָל". וְהִיא, קַרְקַע הָעוֹלָם, אֵם כֻּלָּנוּ, וּמֵעֲפָרָהּ אָנוּ בָּאִים וְאֶל עֲפָרָהּ נָשׁוּב כַּאֲשֶׁר תַּעֲזֹב אוֹתָנוּ הָרוּחַ. וְלָכֵן בַּעֲלַת הַרַחֲמִים תָּשִׁיב "לֵב בָּנִים עַל־אֲבוֹתָם", וּנְמַלֵּא בְּנֶפֶשׁ חֲפֵצָה מִצְוַת מוֹרָאָהּ וּכְבוֹדָהּ שֶׁל אֲדָמָה, "פֶּן־אָבוֹא וְהִכֵּיתִי אֶת־הָאָרֶץ חֵרֶם". וְנִזְכֶּה לַעֲסֹק בְּמוֹ יָדֵינוּ בְּנִקְיוֹן הָאֲדָמָה וּבְתִקּוּנָהּ יַחַד עָם כֹּל אַחֵינוּ וְאַחֲיוֹתֵינוּ: הַזּוֹחֲלִים, הַשּׂוֹחִים, הַמְּעוֹפְפִים, הָרוֹמְשִׂים, הַצּוֹמְחִים, הַיּוֹנְקִים, הַנּוֹבְגִים וְהַדּוֹמְמִים.
דְּמָמָה מִסּוֹף הָעוֹלָם וְעַד סוֹפוֹ.
A prayer of strengthening our commitment to the Commandment of Honoring our Parents in relation to Mother Earth (Translated from Hebrew):
May the one who blessed Eve, mother of all living and fashioned us Humans, humus from the soil, and blew the breath of life into our nostrils, so we became a living creature: May She bless us with Heart-Wisdom and Body-Knowledge to guard the sacred commandment of “Honour your father and your mother, so that your days me be long on the soil that Adonai your God has given you” And may we remember that life’s web springs from Earth and from the rush of waters on and within Her as we remember that “wetness would well from the earth to water all the soil…and Adonai our God caused to sprout from the soil every tree lovely to look at and good for food…” And she the soil-ground is our Mother: We arrive from her dust and return to her when our spirit leaves us. So may our Goddess of all mercy “Return children’s hearts to their parents” and we shall once again fulfil the mitzvah of reverence and respect to Earth as due to a parent so that “I (Adonai) do not strike the whole land with utter destruction”. And may we merit to clean Earth with our own hands and beautify her together with all our brothers and sisters: The Crawlers, Swimmers, Flyers, Swarmers, those who grow, those who suckle, those who spore and the silent ones.
A silence calling out from one end of the world to another.
 Rabbi Gila Caine. 5782/2021. Quotes from [Ex. 20:11 / Gen. 2:6 / Gen. 2:9 / Malachi 3:24]