Earth Etude for Elul 17 – Taking Stock of the Future
by Rabbi Lawrence Troster
During the month of Elul it’s traditional to do a heshbon ha-nefesh a spiritual accounting of what we did in the past year so that we can do teshuva or repentance for what we have done wrong or failed to achieve. Indeed, the first step of teshuva is the recognition of doing wrong. We then can move on to trying to fix that wrong and gain atonement.
One of the characteristics of the modern world is our ability to analyze possible future outcomes in a way that our ancestors could not. So we can take a future heshbon ha-nefesh if we want even given the inevitable uncertainty. In fact, we can help to shape much of the future in our lives and in the world. While there are still many things that we cannot predict or control but there is much that we can do that shapes the future for ourselves and the world.
When it comes to climate change, we know the various possible scenarios that will occur depending on how much carbon we emit into the atmosphere in the coming decades. We know that climate change is happening and it is not in our power now to completely stop it. But we can prevent it from becoming much much worse and we can mitigate some of its impact. Some of the greatest impacts will be on those who were least responsible for causing climate change and have the fewest resources to deal with it. It is morally imperative that our teshuva includes pushing for our country to supply the necessary aid to help those countries survive climate change. This is our future heshbon ha-nefesh: we know where we can go wrong not only where we went wrong on climate change. We must begin our teshuva for the future now.
One of the spiritual ways forward is to treasure each day, hopefully leading to an understanding of the possibilities that lie before us. The favorite biblical verse of the philosopher Hans Jonas (1903-1993) was Psalm 90:12: “Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” How do we get a heart of Wisdom? It is not an easy thing to do: most of our days are taken up with all the things that ordinary life demands. But if stop for some time each day to think, prayer or meditate we might be able to rejoice and appreciate this moment while also considering the many possibilities that lie before us—how our actions today affect the future and how we can begin our teshuva right now.
Rabbi Lawrence Troster is the coordinator of Shomre Breishit: Rabbis and Cantors for the Earth, a project of Aytzim and GreenFaith.