Archive for the ‘Environment’ category

The Livin’ Is . . .

July 3, 2012

Our lives can get so hectic and hurried sometimes. With long hours at work, varied responsibilities at home, errands, bills, the breakneck speed of life set by modern technologies, and a host of other demands—at times, we need moments just to catch our breath.

“Summertime, and the livin’ is easy,” wrote Ira Gershwin in Porgy and Bess. Even in the year 2012, hopefully there is still some truth to this great lyric. If the livin’ is not easy, perhaps at least, it’s easier. Our burdens may lighten. The pace may slow a few steps. Nature may beckon us toward repose. These are all things that we desperately need during our fast and frenetic lives.

For thousands of years, Judaism has recognized such a need for rest and renewal in our lives. That is the purpose of Shabbat. On Shabbat, we let go of the burden of labor and constant doing so that our bodies and souls can be refreshed and renewed.

One day Rebbe Nachman of Breslov looked out his window and saw his friend scurrying about in the marketplace. His friend was running this way and that way, frantically engaged in his labors and responsibilities. After watching his friend carry on this way throughout most of the day, Rebbe Nachman opened his window and called out to his friend. “Joseph, have you seen the sky today?” Joseph stopped for a moment, and replied. “What! The sky! Who’s got time for that. I’m busy taking care of business.” To which Rebbe Nachman responded, “Joseph, look around you. All of the people you see here running around the marketplace, including yourself, will be gone in less than a hundred years. Everyone and everything in this marketplace will pass away. So why not take the time to look at the sky?”

During these summer months, when the livin’ is easy (easier), may we take the time to look at the sky.


Season of Freedom

March 25, 2012

Jewish people around the world are preparing for Passover. Over two-thirds (67-68%) of American Jews will
attend a seder. Family and friends will gather in their homes to retell and relive the Exodus from Egypt. That story of Hebrew slaves being liberated from bondage, redeemed from a God who demands justice and righteousness of all people, is the great message of Judaism. It is our essential story and gift to the world.

The Passover story teaches the world that God is deeply concerned with the affairs of humanity, that freedom is the fundamental right of every person, and that redemption and transformation of our world is possible. Fundamentally, this is what we relive at every Passover seder, and what we retell at every Passover meal. Is it any wonder, then, that our tradition decrees that we tell this story year after year, from one generation to the next?

Such a story can only be told and experienced in the springtime, moreover, when the very earth itself can take part in the drama. Nature is redeemed from the bondage of winter along with the Jewish slaves from Egypt. God causes the earth to flower once again as surely as God helps a people to live once again. Nature is transformed in a panoply of vibrant growth and flourish just as a people is transformed—and a world can be—by the light of goodness, compassion and justice.

Passover is truly, in the words of the Jewish tradition, “the season of our freedom.” It is our perennial holy day.

Chag Sameach!

Jewish Earth Day and a Mystic’s Meal

February 2, 2012

Ecology, spirituality, and appreciation of nature come together in Tu BiSh’vat, our Jewish Earth Day. Occurring on February 8 this year, it’s a time for planting trees in Israel and our communities. It’s an occasion to focus on the environment’s well-being and our stewardship of the earth. The Talmud calls Tu BiSh’vat the “New Year for Trees.” And, like much of Judaism, there are deeper, spiritual layers of meaning to this mid-winter holiday.

The Jewish mystics of our tradition see Tu BiSh’vat as part of a cosmic and divine drama. Judaism teaches that God’s blessings continually flow to all beings. In kabbalah—the Jewish mystical tradition—the divine flow of God’s energy in the universe is imagined as an Eitz Chayim—a Tree of Life—with roots above, branching down toward Creation, offering us its beneficent fruit.

So on Tu BiSh’vat we not only celebrate a new year for trees, we celebrate a new year for the divine Tree of Life, as well. Kabbalah teaches that when we eat specific fruits and nuts at a Tu BiSh’vat seder, we stimulate and renew the produce of the divine Tree of Life—that is, we help increase the divine flow of blessings and abundance into the universe.  As Rabbi Arthur Waskow expresses it in Seasons of Our Joy, “It is as if [Tu BiSh’vat] were God’s own Rosh Hashanah. Just as we need God’s presence on our Rosh Hashanah to help us renew our days, so God, as it were, needs our presence on this one.”

The sixteenth-century kabbalists of Safed, Israel, instituted the Tu BiSh’vat seder. It is modeled on the Passover seder, replete with special foods, four cups of wine or grape juice, and a unique haggadah that speaks of nature and these cosmic and divine themes. A fine Tu BiSh’vat haggadah is Seder Tu Bishevat: The Festival of Trees by Adam Fisher (CCAR Press, 1989). A wonderful Jewish organization that focuses on environmental issues is The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL). To learn more about kabbalah, please see this introductory overview from kabbalah.

If you’ve celebrated Tu BiSh’vat, what are some of your favorite practices and experiences?

A Sustainable Chanukah

December 14, 2011

“A great miracle happened there,” we say, as we spin the Chanukah dreidel each year while eating latkes fried in oil. But what was “the miracle” of Chanukah?

Our tradition recounts more than one.

The first miracle is that a small band of Jews defeated the more powerful Syrian army in their struggle for religious freedom and independence. As our thanksgiving prayer at Chanukah time puts it, “God delivered the mighty into the hands of the weak, and the many into the hands of the few.” The Maccabean victory is a remarkable story of courage, dedication, and resourcefulness.

That small cruse of sacred oil found in the desecrated Temple—that should have burned in the menorah of the rededicated Temple for only one day, yet instead lasted for eight days—of course, constitutes the second miracle.

Add both Chanukah miracles together and we realize the miraculous partnership between God and human beings to do amazing things together. The Chanukah story demonstrates that, with God’s help, limited resources—both human and natural—can be stretched to transform our world.

We can apply the story of the Chanukah miracles to our lives today, particularly to our environment. Human use of earth’s natural resources—fossil fuels—has led to dangerous levels of greenhouse gas emissions in the air, threatening the health of our environment and the sustainability of the planet. How can we stretch one cruse of oil so that we can protect the well-being of the earth and its ecosystems?

Scientists have already given us the solution: reduce our energy consumption, reduce our carbon footprint, choose to use renewable sources of energy, such as solar and wind. With God’s help, limited resources can be stretched to transform our world.

At this Chanukah season, our temple is making a commitment to environmental sustainability. Our modern-day cruse of oil will take the form of 125 solar panels to be placed on our synagogue rooftop, employing solar energy throughout our temple to reduce our energy consumption by 30-50%, reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and carbon footprint, reduce our costs, and do our part to help sustain and improve the world.

This solar project of the temple will help realize significant Jewish values such as tikkun olam, repairing and improving the world, and shomer adamah, protecting the earth and being good stewards and caretakers of our world.

Like the Maccabees before us, we’re going to take a small cruse of oil and with God’s help—in the form of the light of the sun—combined with human resourcefulness and ingenuity, we’re going to rededicate and renew our temple, as well as our environment and our planet.

What activities have you found to be effective in reducing your carbon footprint?