"...women cooked their own children" reading Eichah at a time of climate collapse

Destruction is the consequence of neglect. That is one way of reading our current climate predicament, a story of planetary destruction as a consequence of our marginalizing Motherhood/Parenthood/Caring for others. This is a crisis of us not centering relationships and the responsibility that comes with them. We talk allot about "self-care" and not enough about "care-for-other".

Traditional readings of Jerusalem's Destruction understand it as action and consequence - we acted in a specific way, and so God/dess responded likewise.

This study page begins and ends in our relationship with Earth. Take the day of Tish'a B'Av to explore for yourself how our responsibility towards plant Earth (with all that lives on it, including humans) could be understood as though we are its parents, or adult children. These are themes of caring and respect.

(ז) וַיִּ֩יצֶר֩ יְהֹוָ֨ה אֱלֹהִ֜ים אֶת־הָֽאָדָ֗ם עָפָר֙ מִן־הָ֣אֲדָמָ֔ה וַיִּפַּ֥ח בְּאַפָּ֖יו נִשְׁמַ֣ת חַיִּ֑ים וַֽיְהִ֥י הָֽאָדָ֖ם לְנֶ֥פֶשׁ חַיָּֽה׃
(7) God יהוה formed the Human from the soil’s humus, blowing into his nostrils the breath of life: the Human became a living being.

What is our relationship here to Earth?

וַיִּקַּ֛ח יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹהִ֖ים אֶת־הָֽאָדָ֑ם וַיַּנִּחֵ֣הוּ בְגַן־עֵ֔דֶן לְעׇבְדָ֖הּ וּלְשׇׁמְרָֽהּ׃
God יהוה settled the Human in the garden of Eden, to till it and tend it.

In Torah, all roads of catastrophe lead to the one catastrophe which is the destruction of our Sacred home (Be it the Temple, the Land, or nowadays, Earth).

As I read through Eichah, I am struck by the descriptions of dead children and by their suffering. I realise these are placed here to bring out deep grieving and protective emotions in me. I am supposed to think of my children and their children. To think of the children around me and of future generations.

But apart from wanting to bring out an emotional reaction in me, this is also one part of a common Biblical equation, for instance:

(ו) שֹׁפֵךְ֙ דַּ֣ם הָֽאָדָ֔ם בָּֽאָדָ֖ם דָּמ֣וֹ יִשָּׁפֵ֑ךְ כִּ֚י בְּצֶ֣לֶם אֱלֹהִ֔ים עָשָׂ֖ה אֶת־הָאָדָֽם׃
(6) Whoever sheds human blood,
By human [hands] shall that one’s blood be shed;
For in the image of God
Was humankind made.

The world will react to our actions in kind.

Eichah has many descriptions of dead and eaten children, which as I said is not only an emotional tool, but is also a hint pointing us in the direction of our sin.

Here are examples from the text:

(יא) כָּל֨וּ בַדְּמָע֤וֹת עֵינַי֙ חֳמַרְמְר֣וּ מֵעַ֔י נִשְׁפַּ֤ךְ לָאָ֙רֶץ֙ כְּבֵדִ֔י עַל־שֶׁ֖בֶר בַּת־עַמִּ֑י בֵּֽעָטֵ֤ף עוֹלֵל֙ וְיוֹנֵ֔ק בִּרְחֹב֖וֹת קִרְיָֽה׃ {ס}
(11) My eyes are spent with tears,
My heart is in tumult,
My being melts away-g
Over the ruin of my poor people,-h
As babes and sucklings languish
In the squares of the city.
(יב) לְאִמֹּתָם֙ יֹֽאמְר֔וּ אַיֵּ֖ה דָּגָ֣ן וָיָ֑יִן בְּהִֽתְעַטְּפָ֤ם כֶּֽחָלָל֙ בִּרְחֹב֣וֹת עִ֔יר בְּהִשְׁתַּפֵּ֣ךְ נַפְשָׁ֔ם אֶל־חֵ֖יק אִמֹּתָֽם׃ {ס}
(12) They keep asking their mothers,
“Where is bread and wine?”
As they languish like battle-wounded
In the squares of the town,
As their life runs out
In their mothers’ bosoms.
(יט) ק֣וּמִי ׀ רֹ֣נִּי (בליל) [בַלַּ֗יְלָה] לְרֹאשׁ֙ אַשְׁמֻר֔וֹת שִׁפְכִ֤י כַמַּ֙יִם֙ לִבֵּ֔ךְ נֹ֖כַח פְּנֵ֣י אֲדֹנָ֑י שְׂאִ֧י אֵלָ֣יו כַּפַּ֗יִךְ עַל־נֶ֙פֶשׁ֙ עֽוֹלָלַ֔יִךְ הָעֲטוּפִ֥ים בְּרָעָ֖ב בְּרֹ֥אשׁ כׇּל־חוּצֽוֹת׃ {ס}
(19) Arise, cry out in the night
At the beginning of the watches,
Pour out your heart like water
In the presence of the Lord!
Lift up your hands to Him
For the life of your infants,
Who faint for hunger
At every street corner.
(כ) רְאֵ֤ה יְהֹוָה֙ וְֽהַבִּ֔יטָה לְמִ֖י עוֹלַ֣לְתָּ כֹּ֑ה אִם־תֹּאכַ֨לְנָה נָשִׁ֤ים פִּרְיָם֙ עֹלְלֵ֣י טִפֻּחִ֔ים אִם־יֵהָרֵ֛ג בְּמִקְדַּ֥שׁ אֲדֹנָ֖י כֹּהֵ֥ן וְנָבִֽיא׃ {ס}
(20) See, O LORD, and behold,
To whom You have done this!
Alas, women eat their own fruit,
Their new-born babes!
Alas, priest and prophet are slain
In the Sanctuary of the Lord!
(ג) גַּם־[תַּנִּים֙] (תנין) חָ֣לְצוּ שַׁ֔ד הֵינִ֖יקוּ גּוּרֵיהֶ֑ן בַּת־עַמִּ֣י לְאַכְזָ֔ר (כי ענים) [כַּיְעֵינִ֖ים] בַּמִּדְבָּֽר׃ {ס}
(3) Even jackals offer the breast
And suckle their young;
But my poor people has turned cruel,
Like ostriches of the desert.
בַּת עַמִּי לְאַכְזָר. רוֹאִים אֶת בְּנֵיהֶם צוֹעֲקִים לְלֶחֶם, וְאֵין פּוֹרֵשׂ לָהֶם, שֶׁחַיֵּיהֶם קוֹדְמִים לָהֶם לְחַיֵּי בְנֵיהֶם מֵחֲמַת הָרָעָב:
Yet the daughters of my people have become brutal. They see their children crying for bread, and yet no one breaks [bread] for them; for their own lives come before their children’s lives because of the hunger.
(ד) דָּבַ֨ק לְשׁ֥וֹן יוֹנֵ֛ק אֶל־חִכּ֖וֹ בַּצָּמָ֑א עֽוֹלָלִים֙ שָׁ֣אֲלוּ לֶ֔חֶם פֹּרֵ֖שׂ אֵ֥ין לָהֶֽם׃ {ס}
(4) The tongue of the suckling cleaves
To its palate for thirst.
Little children beg for bread;
None gives them a morsel.
(י) יְדֵ֗י נָשִׁים֙ רַחֲמָ֣נִיּ֔וֹת בִּשְּׁל֖וּ יַלְדֵיהֶ֑ן הָי֤וּ לְבָרוֹת֙ לָ֔מוֹ בְּשֶׁ֖בֶר בַּת־עַמִּֽי׃ {ס}
(10) With their own hands, tenderhearted women
Have cooked their children;
Such became their fare,
In the disaster of my poor people.

We talk about the youth climate activists, but we rarely hear from the parents who are enabling, and inspiring, their activism, fueled by their own desperation to protect their kids from the worst-case scenario. On climate, for the most part, mothers are a wasted resource, and we can't afford to waste anything anymore.

(from: Amy Westervelt, Mothering in an age of extinction. in A. E. Johnson & K. K. Wilkinson (Eds.) All we can save: Truth, courage, and solutions for the Climate Crisis. One World, NY, 2020, p. 252)

Painting: Saturn Devouring His Son by Francisco Goya (1819-23)

Here are the voices of future generations asking us how come we didn't do enough to change our priorities and way of life, so the Earth with all of us on it, would not be so harshly impacted.

(ז) אֲבֹתֵ֤ינוּ חָֽטְאוּ֙ (אינם) [וְאֵינָ֔ם] (אנחנו) [וַאֲנַ֖חְנוּ] עֲוֺנֹתֵיהֶ֥ם סָבָֽלְנוּ׃
(7) Our fathers sinned and are no more;
And we must bear their guilt.

A traditional tool in interpreting Torah is "There is no “earlier” or “later” (no chronological order) in the events related in the Torah" [אין מוקדם ומאוחר בתורה]. This comes to teaches us a state of mind which is prophetic, in the sense that when learning deep truths our mind must be able to realise the cyclical and timeless relationships between events.

Ancient cries for help are contemporary cries for help.


Lise Van Susteren, a practicing clinical psychiatrist...developed her own words for climate grief....[she] started having trouble sleeping. After getting into bed and closing her eyes, she would be ambushed by intrusive images. She would see refugees surrounded by barbed wire, animals trapped in the path of hurricane, people stranded in floodwaters. The worst image was of a child. The child looked at Van Susteren and asked the same question again and again: "Why didn't you do anything?"

As a psychiatrist, Van Susteren recognised her symptoms. The stress, the insomnia, the intrusive thoughts - they read like PTSD. And yet the trauma she was imagining hadn't happened yet, or at least it hadn't happened to her. How could she feel trauma before the cause?....Van Susteren coined a new term for her condition: pre-traumatic stress disorder.

(from: Ash Sanders, Under the Weather. in A. E. Johnson & K. K. Wilkinson (Eds.) All we can save: Truth, courage, and solutions for the Climate Crisis. One World, NY, 2020, pp. 240-241).

Below, is Tekhine (prayer of supplication) I wrote some time ago, to remind myself of being commended to respect Earth, and to care for the life-web.

What image or words would you use to remind yourself of this commandment?

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" (שׁמוֹת כ, יא) וְנִזְכֹּר שֶׁכָּל קְרוּמֵי קִיּוּם הָעוֹלָם נוֹבְעִים מִקַּרְקַע הָאֲדָמָה וּמִמִּשְׂחַק הַמַּיִם הַזּוֹרְמִים עָלֶיהָ וּבְתוֹכָהּ, בִּבְחִינַת "וְאֵד יַעֲלֶה מִן־הָאָרֶץ וְהִשְׁקָה אֶת־כָּל־פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה" (בְּרֵאשִׁית ב, ו), "וַיַּצְמֵחַ יהוה אֱלֹהִים מִן־הָאֲדָמָה כָּל־עֵץ נֶחְמָד לְמַרְאֶה וְטוֹב לְמַאֲכָל" (בְּרֵאשִׁית ב, ט). וְהִיא, קַרְקַע הָעוֹלָם, אֵם כֻּלָּנוּ, וּמֵעֲפָרָהּ אָנוּ בָּאִים וְאֶל עֲפָרָהּ נָשׁוּב כַּאֲשֶׁר תַּעֲזֹב אוֹתָנוּ הָרוּחַ. וְלָכֵן בַּעֲלַת הַרַחֲמִים תָּשִׁיב "לֵב בָּנִים עַל־אֲבוֹתָם" (מַלְאָכִי ג, כד), וּנְמַלֵּא בְּנֶפֶשׁ חֲפֵצָה מִצְוַת מוֹרָאָהּ וּכְבוֹדָהּ שֶׁל אֲדָמָה, "פֶּן־אָבוֹא וְהִכֵּיתִי אֶת־הָאָרֶץ חֵרֶם" (שָׁם). 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.

וְנֹאמַר, אָמֵן.

[הרבה גילה קן]

A Tekhine to Honor Mother Earth

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 “Honor 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 the 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.


[Rabbah Gila Caine -

https://www.ritualwell.org/ritual/tekhine-honor-mother-earth ]

We end prophecies of destruction with words of hope, we aim our vision at the places we hope to arrive at. These verses from Zecharia 8 are a suggested image of a world in which the weaker strata of society are cared for, and in touch with each other.

What would be your image of a healed society and healed Earth?

(ד) כֹּ֤ה אָמַר֙ יְהֹוָ֣ה צְבָא֔וֹת עֹ֤ד יֵֽשְׁבוּ֙ זְקֵנִ֣ים וּזְקֵנ֔וֹת בִּרְחֹב֖וֹת יְרוּשָׁלָ֑͏ִם וְאִ֧ישׁ מִשְׁעַנְתּ֛וֹ בְּיָד֖וֹ מֵרֹ֥ב יָמִֽים׃
(4) Thus said the LORD of Hosts: There shall yet be old men and women in the squares of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of their great age.
(ה) וּרְחֹב֤וֹת הָעִיר֙ יִמָּ֣לְא֔וּ יְלָדִ֖ים וִֽילָד֑וֹת מְשַׂחֲקִ֖ים בִּרְחֹֽבֹתֶֽיהָ׃ {פ}
(5) And the squares of the city shall be crowded with boys and girls playing in the squares.