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!
You are welcome to download a pdf of this prayer for your own use, or for the use of your community.
(English translation follows the Hebrew)
תְּחִנָּה לְחַזֵּק יָדֵינוּ בְּמִצְוַת "כִּבּוּד אָב וָאֵם" בְּיַחַס לְאִמֵּנוּ, הָאֲדָמָה:
מִי שֶׁבֵּרַךְ חַוָּה אִמֵּנוּ אֵם כָּל חַי
וְיָצַר אוֹתָנוּ עָפָר֙ מִן־הָ֣אֲדָמָ֔ה
וַיִּפַּ֥ח בְּאַפֵּנוּ נִשְׁמַ֣ת חַיִּ֑ים
וְנִהְיֶה לְנֶ֥פֶשׁ חַיּה׃
הִיא תְּבָרֵךְ אוֹתָנוּ בְּחָכְמַת הַלֵּב וּבְבִינַת הַגּוּף
לִשְׁמֹר אֶת הַמִּצְוָה הַקְּדוֹשָׁה מִן הַתּוֹרָה
דִּבְרֵי אֱלֹהִים חַיִּים
"כַּבֵּ֥ד אֶת־אָבִ֖יךָ וְאֶת־אִמֶּ֑ךָ לְמַ֙עַן֙ יַאֲרִכ֣וּן יָמֶ֔יךָ
עַ֚ל הָאֲדָמָ֔ה אֲשֶׁר־יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ נֹתֵ֥ן לךְ" (שְׁמוֹת כ' 11)
וְנִזְכּוֹר שֶׁכָּל קְרוּמֵי קִיּוּם הָעוֹלָם נוֹבְעִים מִקַּרְקַע הָאֲדָמָה וּמִמִּשְׂחַק הַמַּיִם הַזּוֹרְמִים עָלֶיהָ וּבְתוֹכָהּ,
"וְאֵ֖ד יעֲלֶ֣ה מִן־הָאָ֑רֶץ וְהִשְׁקָ֖ה את־כׇּל־פְּנֵ֥י האֲדָמה" (בְּרֵאשִׁית ב' 6)
"וַיַּצְמַ֞ח יְהֹוָ֤ה אֱלֹהִים֙ מִן־הָ֣אֲדָמָ֔ה כׇּל־עֵ֛ץ נֶחְמָ֥ד לְמַרְאֶ֖ה וְט֣וֹב לְמַאֲכָ֑ל.." (בְּרֵאשִׁית ב' 9)
וְהִיא קַרְקַע הָעוֹלָם, אִם כֻּלָּנוּ,
וּמֵעַפְרָה אָנוּ בָּאִים
וְאַל עָפְרָה נָשׁוּב כַּאֲשֶׁר תַּעֲזֹב אוֹתָנוּ הָרוּחַ.
וְלָכֵן בַּעֲלַת רַחֲמִים תָּשִׁיב
"לֵב בָּנִ֖ים עַל־אֲבוֹתָ֑ם" (מַלְאָכִי ג' 24)
וּנְמַלֵּא בְּנֶפֶשׁ חֲפֵצָה מִצְווֹת מוֹרָאָהּ וּכְבוֹדָהּ שֶׁל אֲדָמָה
"פֶּן־אָב֕וֹא וְהִכֵּיתִ֥י אֶת־הָאָ֖רֶץ חרֶם" (שָׁם).
וְנִזְכֶּה לַעֲסֹק בְּמוֹ יָדֵינוּ בְּנִקְיוֹן הָאֲדָמָה וּבְתִקּוּנָהּ
יַחַד עִם כָּל אַחֵינוּ וַאֲחִיתֵּנוּ:
הַזּוֹחֲלִים, הַשּׂוֹחִים, הַמְּעוֹפְפִים, הָרוֹמְשִׂים, הַצּוֹמְחִים, הַיּוֹנְקִים, הַנּוֹבְגִים וְהַדּוֹמְמִים
דְּמָמָה מִסּוֹף הָעוֹלָם וְעַד סוֹפוֹ.
A prayer to strengthen our commitment to the Mitzvah of Honouring our Parents in relation to our Mother, Earth: May the one who blessed Chava, mother of all creation And fashioned us Human, humus from the soil, And blew into our nostrils the breath of life, And we became a living creature:  May She bless us with Heart-Wisdom and Body-Knowledge To guard the sacred Mitzvah 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 In the sense of “And 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 fulfill the mitzvah of reverence and respect to Earth as due to a parent So that “I do not strike the whole land with utter destruction” (ibid.). 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. Amen.
Based on Genesis 2:7