Environmental Teshuva: Taking Care of Our Home

September 10, 2021
BBYO Weekly Parsha


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Over the past few years, the world has suffered through a whirlwind of disasters, so many that it is difficult to wrap one’s head around. The raging COVID-19 pandemic caused the world to come to a screeching halt as it claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. Unfortunately, this is not the only adversity the human race has been forced to face. Because of our own actions, the world is now witnessing the consequences that have been caused by thousands of years of mistreating the earth; consequences that have manifested themselves through natural disasters such as forest fires, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, and storms. However, the effects of climate change do not end with natural disasters. Everyday, we continue to feel the repercussions of global warming seep into our daily lives. For example, my friend in Arizona experiences temperatures that are over 110 degrees fahrenheit on a daily basis and my aunt and uncle out in California continuously wake up to fog looming in the air as a result of the wildfires that have destroyed the state. Scientists say that the global temperature is projected to keep rising. If serious changes are not enacted immediately, the earth’s temperature will rise four to eight degrees fahrenheit by the end of the century. Spikes in temperature of that magnitude could mean the end of a livable earth.  

This week's parsha warns us about this very issue surrounding climate change and the effects it will continue to have on humanity and other living beings. Devarim 29 states how, “...later generations will ask—the children who succeed you, and foreigners who come from distant lands and see the plagues and diseases that the LORD has inflicted upon that land, all its soil devastated by sulfur and salt, beyond sowing and producing, no grass growing in it, just like the upheaval of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim, which the LORD overthrew in His fierce anger— all nations will ask, “Why did the LORD do thus to this land? Wherefore that awful wrath?” They will be told, “Because they forsook the covenant that the LORD, G-d of their fathers, made with them when G-d freed them from the land of Egypt; they turned to the service of other gods and worshiped them.” (Devarim 29)

Forty days before Yom Kippur, the Hebrew month of Elul begins; a month defined by introspection, stocktaking, and repentance. Jewish tradition tells us that it was during these forty days when Moses went back up Mt. Sinai to receive the second tablets and ask for forgiveness, after smashing the first set after witnessing his fellow Jews praying to and worshipping a golden calf.  Like the Israelites at this time, we, the human race, have become idolaters. We have bowed to the gods of fossil fuels; wasting our precious earth’s  natural resources for the sake of money and profit. We have succumbed to the gods of convenience and single use, and to the gods of gas guzzling machines only for our own benefit without considering the effects these fuels have on the world around us or future generations. We have forsaken our holy covenant.

Even though the human race is facing this harsh reality, there is still time to somewhat reverse our past grievances. Professionals and scientists say that if we act now, we will be able to avoid the worst of climate change, but only with radical and large-scale change. While Moses was up on the mountain, he was confronted by his idolatry, and was thus commanded to , “... tear down their altars, smash their pillars, and cut down their sacred posts” (Shemot 34). We too must confront the entities that are massive contributors to climate change, tear them down, and begin to reverse the actions that have caused so much damage.

This is the time, now more than ever, for environmental teshuva. In the Hebrew language, “Teshuva” translates to return and repentance. At the end of this week's parsha G-d says “You, however, will again heed the LORD and obey all the commandments that I enjoin upon you this day. And the LORD your G-d will grant you abundant prosperity in all your undertakings, in the issue of your womb, the offspring of your cattle, and the produce of your soil. For the LORD will again delight in your well-being, as G-d did in the time of your fathers.” We can still make our way back from the damage we have caused on this earth, but like the Book of Life, closing on Yom Kippur, we have a deadline, and it's rapidly approaching. This year on the high holy days, let us use the shofar blasts as an alarm; an alarm that signifies the start of a new beginning.  It is time to wake up from our deep sleep and create a habitable and enjoyable environment in which future generations can enjoy like we have.

Shabbat Shalom,

Mateo Levin, Manhattan Regional Shaliach

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All views expressed on content written for The Shofar represent the opinions and thoughts of the individual authors. The author biography represents the author at the time in which they were in BBYO.

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