Torah Study, Eco-Science, & Activism

Ecological Devastation & the Poor Peoples Campaign

Several weeks ago, Truah: A Rabbinic Call for Human Rights decided to support the organizing efforts of the Poor Peoples Campaign by supplying Torah-study texts and questions for the six different focuses of the six different weeks of the 40-day PPC campaign. Truah asked several rabbis, including me, to provide these texts and studies.

The way this was to work: Each of us proposed some texts of Torah (in the broad sense: the Hebrew Scriptures and rabbinic commentaries) that dealt with the key Spirit--rooted areas of the PPC campaign: poverty; racism; militarism; ecological devastation and health; jobs, income, and housing; and “a fusion movement rising up in response to a false moral narrative.”

Along with the texts we chose,  we provided some questions to encourage and enrich exploration of these issues from a Torah perspective. We did not provide “correct answers”; the purpose was to encourage open exploration by a gathering of people.

The texts and questions for the six weeks were published at <www.truah.org/ppc>.  I encourage you-all to look at them and to draw on them for conversations in your own community (face-to-face or on-line.)   Below I will add my own section, which addresses  “Ecological Devastation”  -- the issue that the Poor Peoples Campaign is dealing with this week.

As you will find by exploring these biblical texts,  both ancient Torah and modern science predict climate chaos and ecological disaster, if we keep on overworking our Earth and denying her the rhythmic restfulness that the Breath of Life requires.  So I urge you to join in the Poor Peoples Campaign at your own state capitol this week, demanding action to prevent even worse disasters than the droughts, famines, floods, and wildfires that our modern Carbon Pharaohs are already imposing on us. Find your closest action by clicking here: <https://www.poorpeoplescampaign.org/events/>

 I asked the Truah staff whether there might be a way to  invite people to respond with their own thoughts to any and all of these explorations of Torah, and to circulate their responses. The answer came back that Truah was not in a position to do this.

 So I am inviting you-all to do this. I invite you to read the Truah gathering of wisdom -- either on your own or in community --  and to respond with your own thought by clicking to the ”Comment” section for this report, on The Shalom Center ‘s website. So please click <www.truah.org/ppc>  to read the rabbis’  thoughts that Truah collected, and then click here <> to share your thoughts with each other and the public.

 Here is my own contribution to Truah’s effort:

 The biblical passages about Creation (in  Genesis) draw our attention to who we are as human “earthlings” and our relationship to the Earth. And later texts (especially in Exodus 16 and Leviticus 25-26) explore how we can fulfill that relationship so that future generations can prevent ecological disasters and live sustainably.

(Torah translations are slightly modified from Everett Fox’s The Five Books of Moses (Schocken); the passage from II Chronicles, from the New Jewish Publication Society’s Tanakh. For this section of Truah’s exploration of Torah, I chose the texts and the accompanying questions.)

I. ADAMAH & ADAM

A. Genesis 2:5

No bush of the field was yet on earth, no plant of the field had yet  sprung up, for YHWH [Yahhhh, Breath of Life], God, had not made it rain upon the earth, and there was no human/ adam to till the soil/ adamah.

AW: Isn’t this backward to our understanding of evolution and to Genesis 1, in which vegetation emerged before Homo Sapiens ? Why would this Torah passage say it was necessary for the human (adam) to be present for shrubs of the earth (adamah) to grow?

The Torah continues (Gen. 1: verses 6-7): “but a surge would well up from the ground and water all the face of the soil; and YHWH, God, formed the human [adam], of dust from the soil [adamah]. YHWH [Yahhhh, Breath of Life] blew into his nostrils the breath of life and the human became a living being.

AW: From the adamah (earth) comes forth adam (the human earthling). First this newborn loses the –ah, the Hebrew letter hei  that is the sound of breathing. Then the Creator Breath of Life (YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh Elohim) “blew into the newborn’s nostrils the breath of life, and the human became a living, breathing person.” What do these two passages mean about relationship between adam and adamah?

What do they mean about the relationship between God and Breath? About the YHWH Name?

About the relationship between an individual human birth and the emergence of the human species? 

TWO PARABLES: EDEN AND MANNA/SHABBAT

AW: Do these two parables have any connection with each other?

A. Eden

Genesis 2:15-17:  YHWH, God, took the human and set him in the garden of Eden [Delight}, to work it and to watch it. YHWH, God, commanded concerning the human, saying: From every (other) tree of the garden you may eat, yes, eat, but from the Tree of the Knowing of Good and Evil—you are not to eat from it, for on the day that you eat from it, you must die, yes, die.

 AW: Paraphrasing: “On this earth there is wonderful abundance. Eat of it in joy. But you must restrain yourselves just a little: Of this one tree, don’t eat.”  But the humans refuse to restrain themselves, and insist on leaving no part of the Garden uneaten.

 Genesis 3:17: To Adam [Human] God said: Because you have hearkened to the voice of your wife and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying: You are not to eat from it! Damned be the soil on your account, with painstaking-labor shall you eat from it, all the days of your life. Thorn and sting-shrub let it spring up for you, when you (seek to) eat the plants of the field! By the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread, until you return to the soil, for from it you were taken. For you are dust, and to dust shall you return.

AW : By trying to gobble up all the abundancee, we have ruined it. Only by toiling every day of our lives with the sweat pouring down our faces will we find enough to eat from an earth that gives forth mostly thorns and thistles.”

B. Manna & Shabbat

Exodus 16:13b-18 (and continuing through verse 35)

...And at daybreak there was a layer of dew around the camp; and when the layer of dew went up, here, upon the surface of the wilderness, something fine, scaly, fine as hoar-frost upon the land. When the Children of Israel saw it they said each-man to his brother: Mahn hu/what is it? For they did not know what it was. Moshe said to them: It is the bread that YHWH has given you for eating. This is the word that YHWH has commanded: Glean from it, each-man according to what he can eat, an omer per capita, according to the number of your persons, each-man, for those in his tent, you are to take. The Children of Israel did thus, they gleaned, the-one-more and the-one-less, 18 but when they measured by the omer, no surplus had the-one-more, and the-one-less had no shortage; each-man had gleaned according to what he could eat.

AW :The Torah provides us this near-Edenic parable on the same theme, a story that points toward the healing of the disaster at the end of Eden. This is the parable of manna and Shabbat (Exodus 16). For in this story, as in Eden, the Great Provider showers adam again with almost free abundance. The only work the Israelites need to do is to walk forth every morning and gather the manna—a strange “vegetation” that is like coriander seed but far more nourishing.

No sweat, no toil, no thorns or thistles. Self-restraint is built in: Anyone who tries to gather more than enough to eat for a day finds that the extra rots and stinks. On the sixth day, enough manna falls to feed the people for another day, and it does not rot. It will meet their needs for the seventh day. On the seventh day, Shabbat, no manna falls. Self-restraint is again built in. But the two versions of self-restraint are quite different.

What was the self-restraint required in Eden? What was the self-restraint required in the wilderness when the Manna appeared? How do they differ?

III. SPIRITUAL PRACTICE & THE LAND: SHMITA AND ITS FAILURE

A. Leviticus 25:1-4, 6, 10, 23.

YHWH spoke to Moshe at Mount Sinai, saying: Speak to the Children of Israel, and say to them: When you enter the land that I am giving you, the land is to cease, a Sabbath-ceasing to YHWH. For six years you are to sow your field, for six years you are to prune your vineyard, then you are to gather in its produce, but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of Sabbath-ceasing for the land, a Sabbath to YHWH: your field you are not to sow, your vineyard you are not to prune...Now the Sabbath-yield of the land (is) for you, for eating, for you, for your servant and or your handmaid, for your hired-hand and for your resident-settler who sojourn with you...

You are to hallow the year, the fiftieth year, proclaiming

freedom throughout the land and to all its inhabitants; it shall be Homebringing [Yovel or Jubilee] for you, you are to return, each-man to his holding, each-man to his clan you are to return... But the land is not to be sold in-harness, for the land is mine; for you are sojourners and resident-settlers with me...

AW: Can we apply these teachings in our day? How?

1. Excerpts from Leviticus 26:14–46, especially verses 34–35 and 43

14 But if you do not hearken to me, by not observing all these commandments... you I will scatter among the nations; I will unsheath the sword against you, so that your land becomes a desolation and your cities become a wasteland. Then the land will find-acceptance regarding its Sabbaths, all the days of desolation—when you are in

the land of your enemies—then the land will enjoy-cessation, and find-acceptance regarding its Sabbaths. All the days of desolation it will enjoy-cessation, since it did not enjoy-cessation during its Sabbaths when you were settled on it.

B2. II Chronicles 36: 20. Those who survived the sword he exiled to Babylon, and they became his and his sons’ servants till the rise of the Persian kingdom,  in fulfillment of the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, until the land paid back its sabbaths; as long as it lay desolate it kept sabbath, till seventy years were completed.

AW: Through drought and famine, pestilence and plague, through an exile that today we would call a flood of refugees, our Mother Earth will indeed “rest” by failing to be fruitful. (N.B. Verse 23 of this chapter is the end of the entire Hebrew Bible.)

Are these disasters punishments? Consequences? How do we understand them? How do they compare with what modern climate scientists are predicting if we keep spewing CO2 and methane into our atmosphere?

I invite you to respond with your own thoughts by clicking to the ”Comment” section for this report on The Shalom Center ‘s website, to share your thoughts with each other and the public.

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