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Resources for the 2017 People’s Climate Shabbat

Peoples’ Climate Shabbat — Resources

For starters, see the comprehensive list of goings-on, resources, events around the People’s Climate March, and cosponsoring organizations — assembled by our friends at Interfaith Power & Light (MD.DC.NoVA) — at http://ipldmv.org/peoplesclimateshabbatThere you’ll find an indispensible guide, if you’ll be marching this Shabbat.  •  

For those who’ll be praying in solidarity with the aims of the marchers, we offer here four short thoughts / sermon-starters / kavvanot — ways to respectfully and thoughtfully tie the Torah portion of the week (the ever-popular Tazria, Lev. 12-13) into the all-important, life-affirming, Jewish-values-oriented, in-the-spotlight-this-weekend challenge to control climate change.  (Please email us just one sentence summarizing anything you might share in this regard with your community this Shabbat — we hope to document a piece of the Jewish contribution to this broad multi-faith effort).


PUBLIC OVER PRIVATE GOOD — from COEJL (R. Fred Scherlinder Dobb)

Whether for fear of physical contagion, or concern that those afflicted with tzara’at were spiritually unbalanced, the Torah insists on a temporary quarantine.  Though the skin-afflicted now had to deal with inconvenience and dislocation as well, still there was no question that the public good took precedence over their own private wishes. Likewise the priest, much like today’s medical professionals in outbeak zones, took personal detours and risks in order to help others, and advance the community as a whole.  Tazria illustrates Judaism’s broad communitarian sensibility, in which the public good generally trumps the private, even as individual preferences and rights are honored where possible. •  We see this in Talmudic rulings on zoning and torts; in medieval communal support structures; in modern responsa literature upholding environmental and worker protections; and in today’s widespread Jewish backing for common-sense safeguards over narrowly-defined invidual ‘rights.’  From Bava Kama 50b (a great story of a former landowner learning that only the public thoroughfare is truly ‘his’) to the teachings of shmita and yovel (sabbatical and jubilee), our tradition holds that we’re “all in this together,” and celebrates the public realm alongside — and when necessary, over — the private. •  That’s why this very week a broad Jewish coalition (including COEJL, the JCPA, the RAC, and Hazon) is standing up for protections on our public lands, starting with a Native American sacred area in Utah called Bears Ears (recently made a National Monument, though now under threat).  The climate connection is clear too: one’s “right” to unsustainable profit (e.g. from extractive industries), or enjoyment of carbon-intensive creature comforts, must necessarily be limited by society and Creation’s need to protect our shared atmosphere and biosphere, on which all life depends.  This is a “sacrifice,” a korban (from karov or ‘drawing near’), in the truest sense – giving up a thing of limited value, in order to gain something priceless.


NARROWNESS OF VISION — from Canfei Nesharim (R. Natan Greenberg)

The Talmud pinpoints seven spiritual sources of tzaraat, with one being a condition called “tzarut ayin,” or narrowness of vision (Rif, at Shabbat 14a).  Narrow vision means not paying attention to the wider ramifications of one’s actions. It is a decision-making process guided purely by the desire for immediate gratification, and not a larger plan to reach an extensive goal (Reb Nachman)…  The spiritual blemish of tzarut ayin, narrow vision, characterizes many environmentally unsound practices today….     Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (Israel, 20th cent.) in teaching about prayer mentioned that within a process, something is always imbalanced. At every stage of life, something is not in harmony. This is because imbalance leads to new growth. Imbalance of global climate change can lead us to a new awareness and responsibility, to change the way we live. Spiritual imbalance and global ecological imbalance are an opportunity for growth towards sustainability, spiritually as well as physically.   [read the full drash here]


MORAL and PHYSICAL POLLUTION — from Hazon (R. Jacob Siegel, Rachel Aronson, & Hody Nemes)

  • Tzaraat is a physical condition with a moral cause, according to the Sages, including “lashon hara (slander), bloodshed, false oaths, incest, arrogance, stealing, and envy” (BT Arachin 16a). • “The more carefully you do the math, the more thoroughly you realize that [climate change] is at bottom a moral issue,” writes environmentalist Bill McKibben.       • Climate change parallels tzara’at — a physical phenomenon with deep moral causes and implications. It most significantly impacts the vulnerable in society, and precisely those who did the least to cause it: people living in the developing world and future generations.       • [Consider:]  How could we create a “purification process” (spiritually or physically) to adjust our relationship with the earth?   (From the People’s Climate Shabbat resource packet).


HOARDING OUR NATURAL & FINANCIAL RESOURCES — from Hazon (R. Jacob Siegel, Rachel Aronson, & Hody Nemes)

• A house that is suspected of showing tzara’at must be emptied of its contents before it is examined by a priest. The rabbis suggest a moral explanation: tzara’at is caused when the owners of the house refuse to lend a tool, instead claiming that they don’t own it. Tzaraat then forces the unwilling lenders to publicly display their possessions, a fair consequence for their refusal to share resources with the community.     • We are the wealthiest nation in the world, and we have the financial resources and technical know-how to manage climate change. How can we offer our resources and lend our tools to help poor countries bearing the brunt of climate change?  (Also from the People’s Climate Shabbat resource packet).

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