In the past week and a half, we’ve had our hands dirty, our feet tired, and our hearts opened to the beauty of what it looks like when a group of people come together to find a solution to a problem facing their community. We’ve explored questions surrounding our food system, the relationships that we build with the land around us, and just how much work it takes for food to end up on our dining room tables. We’ve talked about the nuances between fairtrade and fair for life, between organic and certified organic, between sustainability and functionality. We’ve come together through our questions, our passions, and our shared vendettas against bindweed after hours spent irradiating it from local community gardens. Above all else, we’ve built our own community through the moments, projects, and laughs we’ve shared together and have begun to see the true impact that our micro-community here within Seattle can have through the work we do and, more so, through the ideas, knowledge, inspiration that we will each take with us when returning to our communities back home. We have seen just how much a few set of hands can accomplish when the hearts that go with them are committed to helping those around them in a way that treats our earth well. In the past week and a half, we’ve been those hands and hearts, and we are still working to understand what that means for us.
The topics we’ve been discussing and some of the issues we’ve found ourselves confronting head on aren’t always easy to digest. As we’ve begun to process, we’ve wrestled with feelings of frustration and helplessness. How can the work we’re doing be anything more than a drop in the bucket when compared to how pervasive the issues of food insecurity and homelessness are in our country? On the complete other end of the spectrum, we’ve asked ourselves where the line between helping and helping too much gets drawn. We have learned to redefine our image of what an individual experiencing homelessness looks like, thinks like, and lives like. We have begun to connect the dots between what we’ve been doing in community gardens and at other volunteer sites with the big picture systems and challenges we’ve discussed as a group. Yet emotionally, we still find ourselves working to balance the scarcity of resources available with the beauty of the organic work we’ve been doing and surrounded by.
In this week’s Torah portion, the Israelites once again turned to Moses with feelings of frustration. Short on resources and water, they push their leader to find them a solution. G-D instructs Moses to approach a nearby rock and speak to it, asking it to give forth water. Moses, grieving the loss of his sister and echoing the frustration of his community, strikes the rock twice instead of asking it for water. Water springs forth for the community, but Moses is told by G-D that because he disregarded his instructions, neither he nor Aaron will be permitted to enter the promised land.
In this pivotal moment, we see a clear example of the way that our desperation for resources can lead us to treat our earth harshly. Let’s be honest here. When we are starving and dehydrated, trying a gentle method that seems relatively absurd for gleaning resources is not going to be our first move. Moses acted in a way the echoes our instinctual behaviors- to take what we need in a way that gives it to us directly and quickly. Moses, like so many of our developed systems today, was not interested in working with the land to get what he needed.
Our work here in Seattle has taught us to take a step back in these moments and to remove ourselves from the instincts we have to be in control. We have seen and felt the power that comes from building a relationship with the earth and working with it to bring life from the soil rather than destroying it with man-made forces for the sake of producing resources in a way that is ultimately unsustainable. At its core, our portion this week shows us that yielding resources by force has consequences, and presents us with alternatives to make our situations better.
Communication. With each other, our communities, and our earth.
As we head into our last few days together, we will continue to process, learn, and seek ways to treat ourselves and our earth gently and with kindness. We will keep our hands dirty and our minds inspired. We will find ways to grow with the earth rather than simply just take from it.
Noah, Heather, Elliot, and Tamar
Mitzvah Corps Pacific Northwest 2016 Staff Team