September 2014 scroll article

Don’t stop after beating swords into ploughshares, don’t stop! Go on beating and making musical instruments out of them. Whoever wants to make war again will have to turn them into ploughshares first.” Mishkan T’filah 179

              This quote embodies my summer on so many levels.  First, it shows that my efforts at Jewish Gardening have deep roots.  “Spears as pruning hooks and swords as ploughshares” is imagery that jumps right out of the labors of the garden.  The prophets saw that the activities of the garden offered an alternative to conflict.  The implements of caring for the earth and tending our crops drain the resources we need to harm each other.  Over the summer I have found many activities to use Jewish values to enhance garden labor or garden experiences that illustrate Jewish ideals. This is just one of the texts that I have in the garden resource I have been working on.

Second, this quote of the prophets dreams of a world without war.  How often in this summer have we been praying and beseeching:  “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, and they shall not study war anymore.”  Every day it seems like we wake up to a new conflict or hot spot.  And if the battles of armies were not enough, pundits and politicians alike are so happy to use words to tear each other apart. I have spent much time trying to find a meaningful way to stand up to the hateful action and speech I am witnessing, without being hateful or hurtful myself.  We are trying to fight the Amalek of our time, but don’t want to become a destroyer of life and blessing in our own right.

Finally, this summer has seen an experiment with Mishkan T’filah and Visual T’filah.  Over this month of August we have been using the Siddur and projection program to search out improved resources for our congregational worship.  Mishkan T’filah is full of new readings and commentaries.  Visual T’filah gives us new ways to share them in our service. I have been reading back and forth in Mishkan T’filah, finding readings for our service and looking for ways to bring other texts into our worship.

In the course of preparations for Shabbat, I came across my opening quote.  I saw it as I laid out the readings for the first Shabbat in August, my first back from Sabbatical.  Israel was in the midst of the Gaza ground campaign and we were awaiting the first cease fire.  I read it at those services as we gathered together ready to say Hamotzi. As we move forward from that one Shabbat, I hope that we realize this quote has a special vitality beyond it’s call and dream of peace.  In this text is not just garden imagery, not just an end to war, not just the new prayerbook with great resources….In fact it has an incredible hope and dream for this new year.   In this year to come, with any of the challenges we face, personally, communally or globally, will we have the chutzpah and ruach to go the extra step?  Can we shape our actions not once but twice or more, pushing the envelope of harmony, peace and kindness to a whole new level?

May we all have a sweet beginning to this New Year.  May we each find our own unique way to bring blessings into our world.


Rabbi Michael Birnholz