Blessed are you, THE PROVIDENT, our God, life of all the worlds, who gives the bird of dawn discernment to tell day from night.
The second blessing of Birchot HaShachar, the Morning Blessings, in Kol Haneshamah reads, Baruch atah adonay eloheynu chey ha'olamim hanoten lasechvi vinah lehavchin beyn yom uveyn laylah. It is translated, “Blessed are you, THE PROVIDENT, our God, life of all the worlds, who gives the bird of dawn discernment to tell day from night.”
In other Siddurim (prayer books) this blessing is often the first blessing, but that is not our concern for the sake of this discussion, nor is the Reconstructionist use of the gender-neutral opening of the blessing. What I wish to focus on here is how the ending of the blessing is translated.
Some translate like we find in the Reconstructionist Siddur, “who gives the bird..,” while other Siddurim translate the end of the blessing as, “who gives the heart understanding.” The word sechvi can mean both heart (the ancient understanding as the source of wisdom) and bird or rooster. For a further discussion take a look at Job 38:36, and the Talmud Brachot 60b and Rosh Hashanah 26a.
“So what does all of this have to do with the environment?” you may be asking. The lesson here is subtle, but profound. The blurred boundary between the human and animal worlds that we face in attempting to translate this blessing calls attention to the possibility that our general insistence on the profound differences between human and animal is not always so clear, and not always necessary.
This blessing is one of many teachings from the tradition that points to a bio-centric orientation that we humans should have and live by. Many of us are familiar with the phrase ve’eleh toldot, translated as “This is the story/generation of...” We find it in reference to Isaac (Genesis 25:19) and others as well. In that context it has a clear human orientation. However, the first time that it is used is ve’eleh toldot hashamayim veha’aretz “This is the story/generation of the earth and the heaven” (Genesis 2:4). Here too we have an expression that has both human and natural (even cosmic) translations.
We need to see ourselves not only as human beings, who the tradition correctly sees as being unique in many ways, but also as part of, and not separate from, a much larger picture, world, and universe. We, like the rooster, must be able to hear and perceive the rhythms of our environment.
One of the ways that we can do that is by being more sensitive to how we impact the environment. That is to say the less impact we have the better, or to put it another way the more we can live according to the rhythms of the environment the better.
At the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies located on Kibbutz Ketura, where Arab and Jewish college students from the Middle East and around the world live and study together, we have begun to build using dry garbage and mud. This often involves tying old tires together, stuffing them with dry garbage, and then covering with mud. You can build chairs, walls, buildings, using this technique. This way of building is being refined across the Arava valley road from Ketura on Kibbutz Lotan.
In many parts of North America this may not be possible, but it does challenge us to think of how we live our lives, and how we do things in relation to its impact on the environment. One example is looking at how we fuel our cars. Find out more about alternative fuels.
Another way that we can have less of an impact on the environment is mowing our lawns less frequently, not cutting the grass too short, and not putting pesticides on our lawns. If you want to be really radical, get rid of your grass and replace it with perennial flowers and bushes.
Questions for thought and discussion: