Bechukotay

Proclaim Restfulness throughout the Earth to all its Life-Forms

This coming Shabbat, the traditional Jewish reading of the Torah reaches chapters 25 and 26 of Leviticus.

Chapter 25 is famous, especially because the quotation on the Liberty Bell,  “Proclaim liberty throughout the land to all the inhabitants thereof," comes from that passage of Torah. It is not talking about civil liberty  -- freedom of speech and of the press. It is talking about economic freedom – – ending a period of slavery -- and freedom for the Earth from being overworked, freedom to rest.

Chapter 25 begins by asserting that the pattern of work and rest for the Earth comes straight from Sinai, like what we call the Ten Commandments. It teaches us that every seventh year, we must allow the Earth to rest fpr a full year from the work we usually do to make it bring forth the food we need to live.

We must do this because we are not in fact the owners of any plot of Earth.  Only YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh --- the InterBreath of Life – is the “Owner" of the Earth, and the InterBreath of Life can keep on breathing only if there is time to pause, to rest. If we do, says Torah, the Earth will be even more fruitful in the years that follow.

And what if we don't allow the earth to rest? Chapter 26 teaches us that the earth will rest anyway – – on our heads. It will rest through drought and famine, flood and unheard-of superstorms, plagues of diseases in unexpected places, the exile of whole peoples in what we would now call a flood of refugees.

Chapter 26 reads as if it were written by a contemporary climate scientist,

Rabbinic Letter on Climate -Torah, Pope, & Crisis Inspire 425+ Rabbis to Call for Vigorous Climate Action

Encouraged by plans for and release of the papal Encyclical,  they call for Eco-Social Justice

As of Noon on October 29, 2015,  425 rabbis have signed a Rabbinic Letter on the Climate Crisis, calling for vigorous action to prevent worsening climate disruption and to seek eco-social justice. The text of the Rabbinic Letter and its signers are below.

 The Rabbinic Letter was initiated by seven leading rabbis from a broad spectrum of American Jewish life: Rabbi Elliot Dorff, rector of the American Jewish University; 
Rabbi Arthur Green, rector of the Hebrew College rabbinical school; Rabbi Peter Knobel, former president, Central Conference of American Rabbis; Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, director of the Social Justice Organizing Program at the Reconstructionist Rabbininical College; Rabbi Susan Talve, spiritual leader of Central Reform Congregation, St. Louis; Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director of The Shalom Center; and Rabbi Deborah Waxman, president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. They were joined by Rabbi Irving (Yitz) Greenberg, a leader of the Orthodox community.

 The full text and list of signers follows.

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 To the Jewish People, to all Communities of Spirit,

and to the World:

 A Rabbinic Letter on the Climate Crisis

We come as Jews and rabbis with great respect for what scientists teach us – for as we understand their teaching, it is about the unfolding mystery of God’s Presence in the unfolding universe, and especially in the history and future of our planet.  Although we accept scientific accounts of earth’s history, we continue to see it as God’s creation, and we celebrate the presence of the divine hand in every earthly creature.

 Yet in our generation, this wonder and this beauty have been desecrated -- not in one land alone but ‘round all the Earth. So in this crisis, even as we join all Earth in celebrating the Breath of Life that interweaves us all -- –

 --  You sea-monsters and all deeps, Hallelu-Yah.

Fire, hail, snow, and steam, Hallelu-Yah.


Stormy wind to do God's word, Hallelu-Yah.

Mountains high and tiny hills, Hallelu-Yah (Psalm 148)

 We know all Earth needs not only the joyful human voice but also the healing human hand.

 We are especially moved when the deepest, most ancient insights of Torah about healing the relationships of Earth and human earthlings, adamah and adam, are echoed in the findings of modern science.

 The texts of Torah that perhaps most directly address our present crisis are Leviticus 25-26 and Deuteronomy 15.  They call for one year of every seven to be Shabbat Shabbaton – a Sabbatical Year – and Shmittah – a Year of restful Release for the Earth and its workers from being made to work, and of Release for debtors from their debts.

In Leviticus 26, the Torah warns us that if we refuse to let the Earth rest, it will “rest” anyway, despite us and upon us – through drought and famine and exile that turn an entire people into refugees.

This ancient warning heard by one indigenous people in one slender land has now become a crisis of our planet as a whole and of the entire human species. Human behavior that overworks the Earth – especially the overburning of fossil fuels   --- crests in a systemic planetary response that endangers human communities and many other life-forms as well.

Already we see unprecedented floods, droughts, ice-melts, snowstorms, heat waves, typhoons,

If We Do (or Don't) Allow the Earth to Rest --

[Originally posted Jan 2, 2005; revised May 18, 2014]

If we do not follow the pattern of seventh-year and fiftieth-year rest for the land and suspension of social hierarchies that is commanded in Leviticus 25, the Earth will rest anyway — on our heads!  It will rest through famine, drought, exile.

The Torah follows up on the commands in Leviticus 25 with warnings in Lev 26: 33-35 and 43-44, in the Torah portion called "B'Chukkotai" : For as many restful Shabbat Shabbaton years that human exploitation denied the earth, so many years will the earth "rest" through disaster.

 And at the very end of the Tanakh (the Hebrew Scriptures ) II Chronicles 36: 20-21 claims that this is exactly what happened — that the people lived in the Babylonian Exile as many years as they had prevented the land from making Shabbat:

Healing Mother Earth by drawing on 4 Worlds of Transformative Judaism

We face a planetary crisis. How would Transformative Judaism, drawing on the Four Worlds of Kabbalah, seek to heal our wounded Mother Earth? 

Since human action has endangered the web of life on earth, human action can heal it.

And the religious and spiritual communities of our planet have the wisdoms and the tools to do the healing.

May Day & Torah

Biblical Ecology & Economics for the 21st (or 58th) Century

There are two May Days in Western cultural tradition, one celebrating the Earth and the other calling for social justice. Torah treats these “two” issues as one.

One May Day is rooted in ancient pagan celebration of the spring, including Maypole dances.

The second May Day is rooted in the struggle of American workers beginning in the 1880s to win limits on the work-week to five days of eight hours. One apt slogan: “Eight hours for work, eight hours for sleep, eight hours for what we will.”  A recognition that social justice required not only decent pay and treatment for workers and their unions, but also time – free time — for the workers’ own intellectual, emotional, and spiritual growth.

The two versions of May Day have remained unconnected.  And in the political world, the two focuses –- social justice and healing of the Earth  — have also remained mostly segregated from each other.

Though the US and the world are struggling with both economic and ecological crises, most people see them as unconnected. In the secular “social justice” world, many organizations  ignore ecological issues. In the secular  “environmental” world, many organizations ignore issues like disemployment or income inequality or overwork.  And in both worlds, there is little talk about the need for free time, restfulness.

Even in the religious world, the loudest voices in American Christianity affirm an economics of minimal regulation of private property and competition, and minimal protection for the Earth from human exploitation.

But Torah says otherwise. Leviticus 25 & 26 call for an entire year of rest for the land and its workers, every seventh year. Deuteronomy adds that in that year, everyone’s debts are annulled. (Deut. 15: 1-3). Thus Torah sees economics and ecologics as intimately intertwined, affirms that both the land and the people need time to rest, and calls for a practice of strong, spiritually rooted regulation of both.

Green Festival, Green Hevra, Green Earth

Green is the color of today.

 Our own Green Hevra, the green of trees and grasses, and the green of Islam in one of its great festivals.

Today, as many of us who are involved in the Green Hevra (there’s a description below) are both taking joy in and mulling over the excellent work we did in an intensive two-day retreat this week,  we might also pause to take note of today’s beginning of the four-day Muslim Festival of Eid-al-Idha.

 The festival remembers and honors a moment that Jews remember as well. Abraham / Ibrahim / Avraham prepared to obey God’s command to offer up his son as a sacrifice – and then at the last moment heard God calling on him to save his son and offer instead a ram caught by its horns in a nearby thicket.  And obeyed.

Muslims honor his willingness to obey God, and they translate this honor into feeding the poor and the outcast.  Drawing on Ibrahim’s offering of the ram, Muslims will take the meat of a ritually slaughtered lamb to share with their extended families and with the poor.

The Shalom Center says to the Muslim world —  Eid Mubarak! May your festival be blessed!

May it help us all to make real the teaching of these days: “Do not kill your children; Feed the poor!”

May we deeply learn that our present mode of life is lifting the deadly “knife” of overburning fossil fuels — the knife that will kill our children and grandchildren. May we turn away, to make an offering of life, instead.

 I’ve just returned from a two-day intensive retreat of the year-old Green Hevra, a network of about 15 Eco-Jewish organizations, ranging from Jewish organic farms and an eco-focused summer camp to an educational center for kids in Jewish schools for learning Torah of the Earth to groups focused  on the hands-on physical greening of Jewish buildings to several organizations (including The Shalom Center) that fuse Jewish wisdom and practice with eco-policy activism.

The gathering was deeply joyful for me, both collectively and personally —  because the Hevra took several important decisions to address the climate crisis, and because the Hevra honored me as a teacher in a circle of blessing.

The GREEN HEVRA decided to adopt  “Growing a Sustainable Climate” as a focus for the work of the Hevra as a whole and as an important theme in much (not all) of the work of the member organizations.

We identified two special times for lifting up this work

Toward a Jubilee Economy & Ecology in the Modern World

By Rabbi Arthur Waskow

[This essay is a chapter in Rabbi Waskow's book Godwrestling -- Round 2 (Jewish Lights, 1996). The book is available as a free gift from The Shalom Center, personally inscribed by Rabbi Waskow as you choose, if you use the Donate button on the left to make a tax-deductible contribution of $36 or more.

[At the end of this essay you will find citations on teachings from the Hebrew Bible & related materials toward a Jubilee Economics and Ecologics.]::

One lesson that we have discerned from studying the story of the Flood [see a previous chapter from Godwrestling -- Round 2] is that it is profoundly necessary for us to affirm and celebrate the cycles of life if we wish to preserve the cycles of life. Are those cycles now in danger? And if so, how can we affirm them?

OYL! -- Corruption, the Spirit, the Earth, & Us

Photo of

This is not an oil "spill" we are facing in the Gulf, the way water might spill from a dish or oil from a tanker -- a finite amount in the first place, and then we clean up.

This is more like piercing, penetrating, raping the deep-hidden places in the body of Mother Earth, a mile beneath the surface of the ocean, with such ultraviolence that Her very guts are pouring out, drenching and poisoning us.

But we can take this disaster as a teaching toward a Turning in our lives and action.
To that end, we will present some concrete proposals for action at the end of this essay.

But let us begin by assessing the depths of our distress.

Every morning brings us fresh outrageous news about BP's and Big Oil's obscenities in the Gulf oil eruption -- and the fawning of paid-for governmental toadies:

Using sex, drugs, and money to bribe officials in the first place to overlook unsafety -- so that for years, the Materials Management Service has allowed dozens of wells to be drilled into the Gulf without requiring the Oil companies to get the permits they were legally obligated to get.

Giving BP a pass to drill without even checking environmental standards, though BP was already guilty of hundreds of safety violations in other places and of deaths from its mismanagement of oil wells.

Lying about how much oil is pouring into the Gulf.

Keeping independent scientists from measuring it themselves.

Getting US government approval for new permits and bypassing environmental-impact assessments even weeks after the president announced there would be a moratorium on new permits (in the light of the BP blow-out).

The article that follows looks at four aspects of this disaster, and how to deal with it: (1) spiritual failings; (2) corrupt politics; (3) making policy choices; and (4)prayerful political action.


1. Spiritual Failings

First and most basic, there is a spiritual teaching of all traditions that the US government and global corporations have been systematically violating.

The gulf disaster is an issue of power and the Spirit, not technology. It is rooted in a spiritual disease. One passage of the Hebrew Scriptures -- Leviticus 25 and 26 -- and millennia of human experience describe this as refusing to let the earth have its Sabbath rest.

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