Parashat Noah 5782 - The Six Seasons

Updated: Oct 21, 2021

Genesis 8:22 בארשית ח:כב

עֹ֖ד כָּל־יְמֵ֣י הָאָ֑רֶץ זֶ֡רַע וְ֠קָצִיר וְקֹ֨ר וָחֹ֜ם וְקַ֧יִץ וָחֹ֛רֶף וְי֥וֹם וָלַ֖יְלָה לֹ֥א יִשְׁבֹּֽתוּ ׃

Evermore, all the days of the earth: sowing, harvest, cold, heat, summer, winter, day, night – they will not cease.

תלמוד בבלי בבא מציעא קו: Talmud Bavli Bava Metzia 106b

רשב"ג משום ר"מ אומר וכן היה רבי שמעון בן מנסיא אומר כדבריו חצי תשרי מרחשון וחצי כסליו זרע חצי כסליו טבת וחצי שבט חורף חצי שבט אדר וחצי ניסן קור חצי ניסן אייר וחצי סיון קציר חצי סיון תמוז וחצי אב קיץ חצי אב אלול וחצי תשרי חום

Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel in the name of Rabbi Meir says, and also Rabbi Shimon ben Menasia would say according to his words: Half of Tishrei, Marheshvan, and half of Kislev is zera; half of Kislev, Tevet, and half of Shevat is horef; half of Shevat, Adar, and half of Nisan is kor; half of Nisan, Iyyar, and half of Sivan is ketzir; half of Sivan, Tammuz, and half of Av is kayitz; half of Av, Elul, and half of Tishrei is hom.

How we relate to seasons and seasonal transitions has been significantly impacted by the ways in which technological advancements and the desire of "creature comforts" have separated us from weather and climate. When the temperature falls, we turn up the heat; when the temperature rises, we turn up the air conditioning. By seeking to remove the impact of seasons and seasonal transitions, we have also lessened our nuanced experience of these transitions.

For most of human history, our exposure to the elements has deeply impacted our relationship with the Earth and her cycles. However, as we have become more and more removed from the natural Earth cycles we have allowed for our own behaviors and actions to seemingly irreparably influence the cycles of the Earth, and the wellness of the Earth. So, when contemporary people read in ancient scripture a story of mass environmental destruction, it is natural for our minds to consider the current experiences of the relationship between natural disaster and climate crisis. All over the world, we see rampant fires, devastating storms, and intense flooding.

And so, when we see in Parashat Noah, the very well known story of the flood that destroyed the world, more and more people have begun looking at this narrative as a means of understanding our responsibility to the Earth. And yet, there is something almost disingenuous, in my opinion, to utilize a story about divine rage to consider our relationship with climate crisis and our culpability in encouraging climate change. Are we, as contemporary people, truly comfortable viewing our relationship to climate crisis and our culpability in human made climate change through the lens of a narrative of divine reward and punishment? I, for one, am not.

And yet, there is this subtle element in Parashat Noah that does provide me with a sense of understanding and meaning in understanding my relationship to the collective need to confront climate crisis, human made climate change, and our personal experience of seasons, seasonal transitions, and how we might consider deepening our relationship with the natural Earth cycles as we strive to protect our planetary home from our own actions and behaviors.

Of course we are all familiar with the four seasons: Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter. However, in ancestral Jewish wisdom there is an understanding of six seasons, as listed above. What is the significance that ancient Jewish ancestors recognized six nuanced seasons? The four seasons are an expression of the human experience of the astronomical phenomena of solstices and equinoxes. And yet, when we physically experience seasonal transitions, it is not generally the case that on the day of, or immediate day after, a solstice or equinox that the weather has changed (that being said, in Western North Carolina this year the autumnal equinox did bring with it a deep physical experience of autumn on that very day). The transition from one season into another takes time as the Earth moves in its revolution around the sun and its rotation on its axis. It is so easy for us, in our limited human view, to confuse weather and climate. Weather changes dramatically, depending on bioregion, even moment to moment or day to day. Climate, however, has been something which appears to be in constant cyclical change in a very slow moving process which we humans, through out often thoughtless and short-sighted behaviors, have influenced dramatically.

As we seek to understand our culpability, on the one hand, but more importantly the most meaningful and significant actions we can take to undo, abate, or adapt to the changes in climate we have inspired, it is necessary for us to delve into much deeper relationship with the Earth cycles we experience. Does this mean abandoning indoor central heating and air conditioning? Maybe for some of us, though this might not be practical or possible for some. Rather by deepening our personal relationship and experience with the nuanced Earth cycles of seasonal transition - by adopting a more nuanced perspective through this tradition of the six seasons - we have the opportunity to experience more dramatically the distinction between weather and climate. Not every big storm is climate change, not every dip or spike in temperature is climate change, not every catastrophe is climate change. And yet, not every unseasonal storm is because of "natural cycles," not every drought causing threats of wildfire is because of "natural cycles" - there is nuance.

Deepening our relationship with the nuance of Earth cycles also encourages us and gives us rich soil in which to grow our relationship with the nuances of our own inner-cycles. One of the most significant wisdom offerings of ancestral Jewish teachings is the notion that humanity is made from, of, and with the soil. We are not separate from the Earth, we are a product of her and a part of her. When we only relate to seasons and seasonal transitions through astronomical phenomena with which we have little relationship, it brings us out of relationship with the more subtle, nuanced, personal experiences of how we experience the Earth. We begin to see the shift into autumn while summer is still, astronomically, our season; we begin to experience the coming of spring while winter is still, astronomically, our season. Likewise, we begin to experience joy - if we are open to its subtleties and nuances - while we might be mired in sadness; and we perceive the coming light - both figurative and literal - while overwhelmed by the current darkness.

Being in relationship with the Earth brings us into deeper relationship with ourselves and with our spheres of influence and obligation. The story of the flood in the Book of Genesis might tell a tale of the world being destroyed together, but the metaphor of the six seasons provides us an opportunity to contemplate our roles in rebuilding the world together by being present in changing cycles to observe the subtle nuances of the slow-moving process of change.

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