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D'var for Ki Tavo

The following is an adaption of a Dvar Torah given on September 21st

The Torah portion Ki Tavo from September 21st, continues with the things the people must do as they enter the Promised Land after decades of preparation and struggle. “When you enter the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a heritage and you possess and settle in it, you shall take some of every first fruit of the soil, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, put it in a basket and go to the place where the Lord your God will choose to establish His Name.”

This sharing of the first fruits is their first act — one of sacrifice and expressing gratitude for the miracle of arriving at the Promised Land. The people must have had overwhelming feelings when looking upon this new land flowing with milk and honey after decades of being in the wil- derness and literally homeless. They must have experienced what Rabbi Joshua Heschel describes as “radical amazement.” Heschel says, “Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement ... get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phe- nomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.” Yet even in that moment of arriving at the Promised Land the people needed reminding about showing gratitude.

The Parashah continues with a litany of blessings and curses. The blessings describe the good life that is experienced when following the Mitzvot. The curses, which are extremely dire, express the consequences of not following the Mitzvot. Today we are bringing our own curse upon ourselves by not following the Mitzvot. Because of greed, deni- al, and apathy we are faced with a dire situation in which we are all complicit — that of the climate crisis and its many consequences.

This d’var was shared during the week which was focused on climate action. There were worldwide student strikes focused on the goal that the cli- mate crisis be recognized by every government, including our own, as the international emergency it truly is.

Climate upheaval, pollution, and taking more than we need of the earth’s resources has, in the last decades, initially impacted the sacrifice zones, where the poor mostly live. For those not familiar with the term sacrifice zones it refers to areas where the poor and often people of color live. Think of West Virginia mountain top mining where mountains are sliced off and toxic mine tailings pollute the water of the poor towns be- low. Think of Hurricane Katrina and the destruc- tion of the Ninth Ward in New Orleans. Think toxic polluting industries located in poor neigh- borhoods with little or no political clout but a lot of toxic air and water to affect all who live there. Think freeways with their noise and high levels of pollutants bordering poor neighborhoods.

That is now changing with climate change. The effects of fire, extreme storms, and drought are now impacting areas of wealth as well. Here in the Willamette Valley, OSU scientists are study- ing what will happen here as climate refugees from the Southwest are forced to leave their homes due to lack of water and unbearable temperatures. Many will come here. What will they find? Most likely more numerous and intense wildfires and decreased water availability and overpopulation.

This Torah portion challenges us to think broadly about the Promised Land — what if we were to view the entire planet as the Promised Land? In Genesis 1:31, “God saw all that He had made, and found it very good.” We need to remember that “it is very good’! There are two creation stories in Genesis.

In the first story God creates all the world and its flora and fauna. Humans are created last. Could this be a reminder that without an intact planet and its wealth of diverse ecosystems, humankind can neither exist or flourish?

In the second story humans are created first. “And God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female he created them.” Then humans are given both the gifts of the earth and the responsibility of ruling over them. I believe this reminds us to remember we are representatives of God on earth and we need to act accordingly.

As Rabbi Heschel says in “God in Search of Man,” “Forfeit your sense of awe, let your conceit dimin- ish your ability to revere, and the universe be- comes a marketplace for you.” We have been given a miniscule part of the universe to live on – if we blow this – we totally blow it. There is no other option – there is no place to go.

The US has 4.27% of the world’s population, yet one American over their lifetime uses the same amount of resources on average as 35 people from India or 53 people in China. It is not just China’s problem or India’s problem, it is ours. If everyone in the world lived the lifestyle we take for grant- ed, we would need 4-5 additional planets to supply the resources.

I challenge us to think about the entire gift of the earth as the Promised Land and to look at it through the eyes of the Israelites first looking at this new land. Are we willing to share our first fruits with others? If, indeed, as some experts have said, we will not be able to substitute renewable energy to replace oil: then we will need to reduce our energy consumption to 10% of what it is today. Can we address this joyfully and accept the challenge, or will we be reduced to the dire consequences of our behavior?

Like the Israelites, we are all in community – we have to decide whether to bring on disaster or to create a just and healthy world as we were originally given.

Just as the sacrifice of the first fruits was established in Deuteronomy, today we can use this mitzvah to sacrifice our wealth and become more willing to share in our limited resources.

We can examine our own lifestyles and patterns of consumption and consider the cost to the planet and also to the people who make possible our luxurious lifestyle. We can participate in actions to advocate for policies where the bottom line is the health and welfare of all beings on the planet. We can look at how we invest our wealth and consider divesting from fossil fuel industries.

We can examine our feelings of entitlement. Being American does not entitle us to more than our share of the resources or allow us to give off more greenhouse gases than others. Hopefully we can replace our feelings of entitlement with joyful responsibility.

While it was wonderful to have a good turnout of Beit Am folks including Rabbi Phil and his wife Amanda at the November 27th Climate March where we joined with others of faith, our next steps need to be proactive personally, in our congregation and in the community. The Beit Am Sustainability welcomes ideas and new members to our committee.

In the coming months the Beit Am Sustainability Committee plans to hold letter-writing evenings on sustainability-related bills and issues once a month to send to the Jewish Earth Alliance in Washington, D.C. Volunteers there will hand- deliver our letters to Congress making sure they are read and relationships established.

To quote Rabbi Heschel once more: “The Torah contains both love and law. Law is what holds the world together; love is what brings the world forward.” Let us follow the Mitzvot and let us truly love the Promised Land.

By Maureen

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