When God created Adam, God passed him before all the trees of the Garden of Eden and said to him: “See my works, how lovely they are, how fine they are. All I have created, I created for you. Take care not to corrupt and destroy my universe, for if you destroy it, no oÂne will come after you to put it right.” (Ecclesiasted, Rabbah 7)
It is difficult to decide what is the most pressing need right now. There is no shortage of essential wrongs in this broken world that require the work of our hands to set them right. But the truth is, when you break them down, they’re all interrelated. The link between poverty and economic injustice is pretty obvious – if you don’t pay people honest wages, and get rich off their backs, of course, they’re going to be poor. No surprises there. But the link between poverty and environmental degradation is sometimes harder to see. On the other hand, the environment, Dubya notwithstanding, is perhaps the most pressing matter of all. Although of course, it will be less oppressive on the wealthy when the seas rise, and the animals and plants disappear, nevertheless, whatever your class, when the world begins coming apart at the seams, you too will be affected for the worse.
Sukkot is a holiday in which we live out in the world; we are required to see stars, and what rooves we have must be made from living plants (bamboo mats, silly things, aside). We must suffer the heat of summer in warmer climes, and bees, and where it is colder, we have to put on our coats while our soup cools.
And water, of all the poverty/environment issues, is close to the easiest to see how it affects the poor. When cancer alley (see here and here for more info) in Louisiana produces rare cancers in poor neighborhoods, no one really is surprised. After all, if you’re poor, you can’t protest polluting corporations dumping in your backyard (let alone building in your back yard) very effectively, you have a harder time getting treatment -insurance anyone?- and well, who cares about your complaint anyway?
That’s why it’s nice to see a fledgling Orthodox environmental group joining the extant Jewish environmental groups (like COEJL) celebrating one of the often forgotten pieces of sukkot:
Simchat Beit Hashoeva, the festive water ceremony that took place on Sukkot while the Temple was standing. It is part of True Joy Through Water, a new program created by the Orthodox environmental group Canfei Nesharim, designed primarily to educate the Orthodox community about water conservation.
“At the time of the Temple, people lived on the land and understood that if there wasn’t rain, there wasn’t food. That absolute dependence is still true today, but we don’t think about it because we live so far from the land,” said Marzouk, executive director of the three-year-old group.
This is one of a number of environmentally themed sukkot festivities mentioned in the JTA article.
OK, so poverty isn’t the connection that they’re making, but as I said, it’s all connected. We’ve got to start somewhere. I await Canfei Nesharim’s leading the way in taking some really serious approaches to dealing with the connections between poverty and environmental destruction. Have at it, friends.
While I’m there, let’s give a shout-out to Hazon and their Tuv Ha’aretz program, which supports sustainable agriculture.
I wish I could get this started somewhere here in DC. Anyone have a shul that’s open to this, and want to join me?