My first tallit was based on the second verse of Genesis. Inscribed on the atarah/neckband was: V’ru’ach Elohim mirachefet al p’nai hamayim – “_And the spirit of God hovered over the face of the water.” All that existed was God and water amid the void. My teacher, Rabbi David Wolfe-Blank _z”l, taught that this was the moment of greatest potential, when anything could happen. Indeed, with two words, God created light, and then the rest of the universe. I would reconnect to that sense of possibility each time I put it over my head to say the blessing.
Last month, as I listened to indigenous elders in northern Minnesota talking about their responsibility to the water and relationship to the Divine, this moment from Torah flooded my imagination.
I was one of 2,000 people that morning in Anishinaabe territory, sitting in silence, honored by hospitality and humor, captivated by stories of struggles for human and cultural rights, and inspired by education about treaty rights and the campaign against the rebuilding of Pipeline 3 by a Canadian multinational. This pipeline would carry tar sands from Alberta through untouched wetlands and the Mississippi headwaters before terminating in Superior, Wisconsin. The following day we accompanied the Anishinaabe leaders to vulnerable spots along the pipeline route to amplify their call to protect the waters and their rights to hunt, fish, gather and grow on the wetlands.
Of the thousands in attendance, 300 were members of an interfaith coalition, bringing the values and voices of religious traditions to the gathering. The Jewish delegation, about 30 strong, included groups from Chicago and Minneapolis and a diverse cohort from Dayenu: A Jewish Call to Climate Justice, including two of us from Milwaukee. We shared an understanding of earth and water as gifts we’re called to protect and repair, and of air as ru’ach Elohim.