In the first two Portions of the Torah, humanity is given the responsibility to take care of the creatures of the earth. In Genesis, Adam and Eve are named caretakers for the animals in the Garden of Eden and then beyond. (In Genesis 1:28 the instruction is to “fill, master and rule.” In Genesis 2:15 it is to “till and tend.” Both imply power over the animals and creatures but later Midrash points out that if you spoil what you rule, then it is gone and you are lost.)
Ten generations later Noah comes forward, righteous in his generation, walking with G!d. Central to the instructions to build an ark, G!d tells Noah to take animals of all species, to safe guard them from the coming flood. Midrashim abound about the care that Noah and his family offer the animals who float along with them. “Our masters said: During the twelve months Noah spent on the ark, he did not saver the taste of sleep – neither he nor his children, neither by day nor by night, occupied as he was with feeding the creatures that were with him.” (Book of Legends page 28 #131)
As the High Holy Days pass, and we celebrate Sukkot, we are entering a new season outside. (In some places it is Fall or Autumn, in Israel it’s the Rainy season, here it is “maybe a little less hot”.) This is a time of appreciating our harvest and considering what we need to do to get through the colder and darker time of year that approaches with the Winter solstice. Connecting the season and its shift in weather and light to the stories we are telling from the Torah at this time of year, is a vital part of our turning outward with energy and inspiration of the High Holy Days. After reflecting on our past year with acts of apology, forgiveness and atonement, we are challenged to think like Adam and Eve, like Noah and his family and consider what we are called to do to care for the creatures of the earth. Are we maintaining the commandments and covenants that G!d made with humanity and have been passed to us? Are we following the model of our ancient ancestors to be responsible as guardians and stewards for the animals who share this planet with us?
In many communities, including ours, these questions have become the focus of an act of the blessing of the animals. Not only do we offer blessings to our pets who we take into our household, but also to the farm animal who are part of the system of agriculture that feeds us and wild animals who are seeing their habitats shrink and climate changing around them.
As you hear the stories of Creation and Noah, pondering our power and responsibility, I invite you to join with me in these acts of blessing to inspire care. On October 23rd as part of Virtual Shabbat Service at 7:30 pm, we will have a blessing of the creatures. Because we are virtual and cannot gather in person, we need your help to create the sense of a community of animals and creatures alongside our human collective. We invite you to email in pictures of your pets or pictures of creatures firstname.lastname@example.org. We will use the images as a way of creating a powerful setting for this moment of Blessing. Then login that night and add your voice to our acts of caring, light and love.
Rabbi Michael Birnholz