by Rabbi Natan Margalit, PhD
“The Pool is closed. Have a good night. God Bless America” the lifeguard announced as I climbed out of the public pool at 5:00 pm on an August evening. I was a bit taken aback by that “God bless America.” Well, of course. Yes, it’s America, we’re in a public pool, why not? I hope God blesses America. We need to work for our own country, of course. Im ayn ani li, mi li – If I am not my own advocate, who will be for me? Said Hillel. But, it seemed to say more: God bless America –rah rah, go home team! Beat those enemies. Fear, pride, and narrow-mindedness seemed to lurk in the shadows of that “God bless America.” Hillel continued: Ve’ im ani rok l’atzmi, ma ani? If I am only for myself, what am I? “God Bless America, and everyone in the rest of the world as well,” I wish she had said.
Just like a cell is nested in an organ, which is nested in a body, nested in a family, nested in a community – all life is connected in complex interdependent relationships. When we isolate ourselves and operate under the illusion that it’s only me, when we only look at my advantage in the competition with others instead of including our points of cooperation as well, we break the complex pattern that keeps life going.
When we come this December to climate change negotiations in Paris, if each country only looks to its on narrow interests instead of its connection to the whole, the whole earth will be brought a step closer to climate disaster.
When I go to the food store and only look at the cheapest price I can pay, and I don’t ask myself where that chicken, that fish, came from? How was it raised? What was it fed? I am breaking the connection to the living web that gives me the bounty I enjoy every day.
When I argue with my family and my friends and don’t consider their point of view, don’t think about what needs they are expressing but only look at my own injured pride, my own comfort and my own ego, I am cutting myself off from the reality that we are all in this together; we are all struggling to do our best, and we all need one another, even when we argue.
It’s Elul. Hillel concluded: Ve’im lo akhshav, ay’matai? If not now, when? It is time to return to life, to our sense of connection, to seeing my own county as worthy of blessing, but only as it joins in the blessing of all the world; to seeing myself as important and worth standing up for – but only truly alive and well when I’m connected to my family, friends and all this living, sacred world. If not now, when?
This post is one of the Earth Etudes for Elul from Ma’yan Tikvah – A Wellspring of Hope.
Natan Margalit was raised in Honolulu, Hawaii. He received rabbinic ordination at The Jerusalem Seminary in 1990 and earned a Ph.D. in Talmud from U.C. Berkeley in 2001. He has taught at Bard College, the Reconstuctionist Rabbinical College and the Rabbinical School of Hebrew College. Natan is Rabbi of The Greater Washington Coalition for Jewish Life, in Connecticut and Visiting Rabbi at Congregation Adas Yoshuron in Rockland, Maine. He is Founder and President of Organic Torah Institute, a non-profit organization which fosters holistic thinking about Judaism, environment and society. He lives in Newton, MA with his wife Ilana and their two sons.