We’ll Always Have Paris
(Reflections of the Chair of COEJL upon the US withdrawal from the Paris Accord)
Yesterday, the U.S. government ensured massive suffering for our own descendants; consigned untold people and ecosystems to ruin; deepened social inequity and injustice for years to come; demeaned facts even further; ceded global leadership in a most disturbing way; and decided that “love your neighbor as yourself” is irrelevant and unimportant. Suddenly we’re in the company of only Syria and Nicaragua, against the rest of the world, outside of the Paris Accord – the accord which had been such a ray of hope for people of faith and people of science alike. It’s a shameful time to be an American.
We learned of this imminent announcement over Shavuot, the festival of the giving of the Torah. Someone told me the news just as I was going up to the bimah to co-lead services at our synagogue; during worship, thoughts of Paris and climate swirled among the prayers and readings:
- “You who in Your mercy gives light to the earth and its inhabitants, and in Your goodness perpetually renews, each day, Creation’s wondrous work” (Yotzer) – but we, created in the image of the One, are interfering tragically.
- G-d is fodeh anavim v’ozer dalim, the One who “redeems the humble and helps the poor” (Emet V’Yatziv), even as we allow hubris to triumph while watching the globally disadvantaged slip further.
- “This is the day that G-d has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118 and Hallel) – hard to rejoice, knowing the news.
- And above all, Deuteronomy 11, also known as the second paragraph of the traditional Sh’ma, paraphrased thus: “if you really love the One and act in right relation with the rest of G-d’s Creation, then nature will work with you, rains will come in the right amount at the right times, and you will eat and be satisfied. But beware lest you turn your heart away, and emphasize what glitters, rather than what gives meaning and morality – for then the rains will not come in their proper season, the land will stop yielding such produce, and [verbatim here], ‘you will speedily be evicted from the good land that G-d is giving you.” Rarely has that passage jumped out at me from the prayer book as it did Wednesday morning.
Two kavvanot (spontaneous intentional framings of the liturgy) arose in me that morning; they were shared initially at Adat Shalom, and now more broadly. First, when taking out the Torah on a weekday festival, we read the Thirteen Attributes (Ex. 34:6-7). We are reminded that G-d is notzer hesed l’alafim, extending loving-kindness to the thousandth generation – and that the One “lifts away sin and rebellion and transgression, and wipes the slate clean.” One problem: the rabbinic editors were so uncomfortable with the actual final attribute that they turned the meaning on its head. The text properly ends, “and wipes the slate clean?! – G-d will NOT wipe it away, but will extend the iniquity of the parents to the children and grandchildren, to the third and fourth generation.” If a generation averages some 25 years, then G-d – acting here purely as karma, as reinforcement of what we do with our free will – allows our sins to hover around for a century, adversely impacting our own great-great-grandchildren. And how long does atmospheric carbon dioxide linger in the atmosphere?! – about 100 years. The heat-trapping gases we emit today will linger well into the 22nd century. Wouldn’t it be advisable to curb our carbon, rather than try to keep coal king? Perhaps it’s time to edit the siddur, and for progressive Jews to be the ones lengthening the liturgy, so that we finish the verse in shul, and remind ourselves each festival of the long-term consequences of our actions.
And second, on reading the story of Ruth, the ultimate ger-outsider-immigrant who is appropriately welcomed into our society, and ends up an ancestor of David and of the messianic line. Three categories of structurally disadvantaged folks are singled out over and over in the Torah as deserving and needing our specific help — including the right to glean from, collect dropped sheaves upon, and harvest corners of, every field, so important to Ruth and Naomi’s deliverance – the ger; the almanah/widow (as both women were), and the y’tom/orphan (as Ruth effectively was). Ruth is the trifecta outsider, the most marginal – the one most vulnerable to the very famines and floods, diseases and dangers, forced migrations and social upheavals, which are all exacerbated today by human-induced climate change. Just as we told the story of redemption coming through the care of the most marginal, our leaders turned their back on the many Ruths of today and tomorrow. As our President might summarize: “Tragic!”
In December of 2015, we at www.COEJL.org (the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life) issued a statement on the Paris agreement, welcoming it as a step in the right direction, while acknowledging that the voluntary goals each country would set, must be continually strengthened. Its last line now reads as painfully prescient: “The Paris agreement is only the beginning of the massive change we must make together.” Backward is exactly the irreligious, immoral, unwise, and un-sustainable direction. Let all voices of conscience and faith now rise up, resist, and redouble our commitment to a clean and sustainable future.