On Rosh Hashanah it is written, on Yom Kippur it is sealed. These are the solemn words that resound through the Days of Awe. In layman’s terms, it means that if you perform mitzvoth and live in accordance with the moral teachings of the Torah, you will be favorably inscribed in the Book of Life. If you’ve had a particularly wayward year, then it’s time to ask for s’lichot (forgiveness) before that book gets sealed on Yom Kippur.
Rosh Hashanah ushers in the High Holidays with the sounding of the Shofar, asking for our teshuva (repentance). One step towards teshuva is the tradition of taschlikh, or throwing one’s “sins” (usually bread) into a body of water. While we cast our personal sins into the water, let us also be aware of the sins we have committed against nature. Our modern society comes at a cost, and that cost is the health and safety of the world’s environment.
A major theme of the High Holidays is atonement, to make right our wrongs. The traditions of Yom Kippur encourage us to focus on nonmaterial things and improve ourselves from the previous year. So how can we make amends for contributing to climate change or atone for the past year’s carbon emissions? Is there a way to live more sustainably while still enjoying modern amenities?
These are difficult questions to answer and there’s no wrong or right interpretation. Today it’s almost impossible to live a 100% waste-free, fossil fuel-free lifestyle; however, as eco-conscious modern Jews we must do our best to act upon and spread the value of tikkun olam. Here are a few easy suggestions on how to make amends to the Earth this year as you seek to ensure your name in the Book of Life:
- Encourage your synagogue to “go green” by holding environmental programs about Israel, holidays, current events, and more! Click here for COEJL’s comprehensive guide to greening synagogues.
- As a small step during the Days of Awe, challenge yourself to use other forms of transportation besides driving. For 10 days you can reduce your carbon footprint by riding a bicycle, taking public transportation, or simply walking.
- For an even sweeter new year, dip some locally grown apples into certified organic honey this Rosh Hashanah.
- Recycle! Glass, plastic, paper…nothing should go to waste. Just do your research to prevent batch contamination by only recycling what can be processed at your local plant.
- Don’t throw out biodegradable items; start your own compost bin or find a local drop-off location. Biodegradation needs exposure to the elements to occur and landfills are built to avoid just that.
As stewards of the land G-d created for us, we need to be more conscious of how we use our planet’s resources. Now is a meaningful time to look back on your past year of ecological impact, ask for s’lichot if necessary, and start to improve for the better. Just remember to savor the sweetness of your new relationship with the environment, and have a sweet and sustainable new year!