You are here

D'var for Bechukkotai

Note: I wrote this d’var Torah for the Sustainability Shabbat in June of 2019. And since August is my turn to write an article on sustainability, I invite you to read on as I offer inspiration on a difficult subject for our times. ~Joni 

This d’var Torah is based on the parasha Bechukkotai, or “by My decrees.”

In this portion, God speaks to the Israelites about their choice to follow God’s laws and be blessed, or to disobey God’s laws and so bring suffering upon themselves.

God says to the Israelites, “If you follow my laws and faithfully observe my commandments, I will grant you rains in their season, so that the earth shall yield its produce and the trees of the field their fruit...You shall eat your fill of bread and dwell safely in your land.”

Here, a CHOICE is presented for how to live on the land. The Israelites are being ASKED to choose the laws that God set before them, and de- scribes what the resulting healthy relationship would look like – the earth would yield its produce and the trees their fruit. The earth would provide. The text mentions “FOLLOWING” the laws and “OBSERVING” them. Aren’t these the samethings? Why is it mentioned twice in the same sentence?

We can think of OBSERVING the laws as refer- ring to the actual words of Torah; in Hebrew, kevah, or what is “fixed in place.” An example would be the law “Don’t cut down the fruit trees in time of war.” This is the way the commandment is written in the Torah. But the act of FOLLOWING the law can be viewed as our “approach to the law,” or in Hebrew, kava-nah. Our approach tothe law “Don’t cut down the fruit trees in time of war” can be expanded to the concept of bal tash- chit, DO NOT WASTE.

When we FOLLOW the law of bal tashchit, we expand the meaning of the commandment to in- clude valuing and caring for all that is useful on the land, be it fruit trees or all the resources that the earth provides.

These words of Torah can inspire how we live today. Dwelling securely in our land and having the resources to sustain us are deeply rooted in our ability to be good stewards – to be in harmonious relationship with the land. By practicing environmental stewardship and caring for the land, the land becomes healthy and can sustain us.

If I would only take what I need, if I would value and care for the gifts of the land and be mindful of my use of them, if I would work to NOT WASTE them, then I would be following God’s laws with respect to the land. I would find myself in a har- monious relationship with the land. There would be enough food and a safe environment.

So, how are we doing? Are we being good environmental stewards? Before we can practice good stewardship, we need to understand what we are up against.

Currently, many of ecosystems of our planet are reaching their thresholds. Most of us understand that the earth has been rapidly warming since the beginning of the industrial era, spurred on by ever-increasing CO2 emissions. We are already experiencing sudden and calamitous changes that affect human societies and natural ecosystems. The earth’s poles are losing their glaciers at an alarming rate, affecting the earth’s cooling system. Ocean temperatures are rising, and islands and species of animals are disappearing.

At current rates of global warming, the world will likely warm by 1.5 degrees between 2030 and 2052, well within the lifetime of most of us who are alive today, and will increase droughts and floods, drastically decrease food sources for grow- ing populations, and significantly reduce ranges for plant and animal life.

The problem is enormous and global. If we want to effect change, environmental activ- ists are learning that we need to shift our focus from alarmist talk to basic principles. People need a vision of what’s in it for them, and a positive vision of how it matters for their life and their kids. People need to be inspired and moti- vated by the outcomes we as a world are striving for. When the debate is about clean energy or peo- ple’s health, when it is about food supply and safe places to live, we have a much better chance of moving towards goals for good stewardship.

Most scientists believe that a large reduction in carbon emissions over the next few decades could greatly reduce the destruction, and that a large reduction in emissions remains a possibility.

I personally find this problem of climate change to be overwhelming and hard to look at. But we must, I must. My own approach has involved small steps. But each of those steps pro- pels me forward and empowers me to more action. For example, in our home, we took advantage of government incentive programs to improve our home’s energy efficiency and installed solar pan- els to harvest solar energy for the major portion of our electrical needs, including the solar re- charging of our vehicle’s battery. While we wait for a power wall battery system that will store solar energy for our home, all of the extra solar power is fed back to the community power grid. These are small steps, and I continue to look for ways to reduce my carbon emission footprint.

But what I find most transformative and healing is when I participate in programs that improve my kavanah — or the WAY I live.

For example, when I participated in the “no food left behind” program, I heightened my own sensitivity to food supply — where my food geograph- ically comes from, what I grow in my garden, how I choose my food sources, how I store food, when I choose to prepare food, and the amount and quality of the food I discard. I learned to make better use of, and WASTE less, FOOD. This seems simple but it is important. Did you know that 30 percent of food is wasted globally across the supply chain, contributing 8 percent of total global green- house gas emissions? If food waste were a country, it would come in THIRD after the United States and China in terms of impact on global warming.

Through another program I participate in, beach cleanups, I have heightened my sensitivity to the problem of plastics. I have begun to make more

conscientious choices concerning packaging of products and have succeeded in curbing my use of plastics. Did you know that several greenhouse gases are emitted as common plastics degrade in the environment?

In line with my quest to be a good environmental steward, I’ve felt the need for a little bolstering of my soul, so I attended the Joanna Macy workshop at Beit Am – How to Live and Thrive in a World Gone Crazy, presented by Ken Winograd and Maureen Beezhold (thank you guys). It brought home the idea that we NEED DIVERSITY to solve our problems. We are all different, and we will all find different ways to be good stewards. Our diversity is our source of resilience. By fol- lowing God’s laws and observing God’s command- ments, God promises the Israelites “you shall eat your fill of bread and dwell securely in your land.”Each of our acts and intentions, our kavanah, are (as I learned at the workshop) “seeds that can germinate and bear fruit through our own lives, as we take them in and dedicate that awareness to the healing of our world.”

I encourage EACH of you to begin EACH day, even with small steps by finding your OWN ways to be better environmental stewards. YOUR kavanah will seed others on their own journey. We can be the seeds for change. We DO have a CHOICE.

By Joni

Contact us by sending e-mail to The Beit Am Web Maven
To contact our office, send email to The Beit Am Office
To contact our Rabbi, send email to The Beit Am Rabbi
To contact the newsletter editor, send email to The Beit Am Newsletter Editor
Questions about the New Building? Email us.

Theme by Danetsoft and Danang Probo Sayekti inspired by Maksimer