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Earth, Earth, Earth - Listening?
Faced with the refusal of the people of Jerusalem to listen to his relentless pleas for their return to morality, Jeremiah calls out in despair to what we may have considered the inanimate world.
אֶ֥רֶץ אֶ֖רֶץ אָ֑רֶץ שִׁמְעִ֖י דְּבַר־יְהֹוָֽה׃
“Earth, earth, earth! Hear the word of YHWH!”
In biblical and rabbinic context, the Hebrew word ‘Eretz’ - usually means “land”, which is also how it’s most often translated here. Depending on the context, more specifically, it’s meant to be not any land but “the Land of Israel ''.
The word ‘earth’ - connected to a similar sounding concept in many world languages, might be connected etymologically to this semitic word. But either way - it’s to the land at large that Jeremiah is pleading. The matter of it all.
Earth, earth, earth - will YOU Listen?! The despairing prophet talks to the universe, with this three-time repetition, as though there’s no more use of talking with the humans. Only the earth might listen, and may help. The people, says the prophet, have no ears.
The sense that underneath the silence secrets lurk is shared by many prophets and poets, those who listen to what's underground. These seekers sometimes hear the echo of eternity deep within the echo of the earth’s rumblings.
Psalm 19 begins with the poetic praise of the planet: “The heavens declare God’s glory and the sky proclaims divine creation.”
A rabbinic midrash combines this psalm with this phrase from today’s chapter - paying attention to what the earth has to say, especially when people are not paying attention:
“..And what in human terms does not have ears, yet does have ears with which to hear the word of God? The earth: As Jeremiah makes clear when he cries out to the land, as it says: “Land, land, land! Hear the word of the Lord!”
As we begin this new year, with extra attention to the modern jeremiads trying to get our civilization to still save the earth, it’s chilling to hear Jeremiah’s pleas, echoed so many generations later, with these words tweeted (remember that?) by Neil deGrasse Tyson, on Earth Day 2022:
“If every day were Earth Day we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in.”
As the world wraps up Climate Week 2023 at the United Nations today - May every day bring the awareness of mother earth. Perhaps we still will listen. Perhaps there’s time.
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