Earth Etude for Elul 29 –Waking up to the Climate Crisis

by Rabbi David Jaffe

~ My guess is that many readers of the Elul Etudes are fully awakened to the climate crisis and read these blogs with the hope of gaining perspective and spiritual resilience to keep facing the crisis without panicking and burning out. This blog post is for a difference audience – those, like me, who intellectually understand the crisis but don’t feel the urgency.  Despite reading articles and watching videos about the famines, flooding and other impacts of rising temperatures on people in the Global South and here in parts of the United States, including the predictions about war and migration, something doesn’t break through to my heart. For me, and others like me, it is not an issue of more information, but, in the words of the prophet Ezekiel, it is more about turning the heart of stone into a heart of flesh.

וַיֹּ֖אמֶר אַל־תִּקְרַ֣ב הֲלֹ֑ם שַׁל־נְעָלֶ֙יךָ֙ מֵעַ֣ל רַגְלֶ֔יךָ כִּ֣י הַמָּק֗וֹם אֲשֶׁ֤ר אַתָּה֙ עוֹמֵ֣ד עָלָ֔יו אַדְמַת־קֹ֖דֶשׁ הֽוּא׃
And God said, “Do not come closer. Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:5)

My colleague, Elder Will Dickerson II, understands God’s words to Moses at the burning bush to mean that Moses needed to take something off to have this full encounter with God. The ground was holy and shoes block the nerve endings at the bottom of the feet from feeling this holy ground. They are a buffer between ourselves and real experience of the world. The shoes are symbolic of what keeps us numb to the beauty and holiness of the world as well as to feeling how the world is burning.

What do you need to “take off” or remove to really feel that our common home is burning? For me, I need to remove a certain buffer I wear as a middle class person in the United States. There is a way I’ve been acculturated to not notice the ways capitalism and our consumption-oriented society does not work for many people, but rather, to be thankful for any comfort I’ve been privileged to receive as part of this society. If I am really honest with myself I need to admit how addicted I am to this physical and emotional comfort and how many of my beliefs and behaviors are directed towards maintaining this comfort for myself and my family, despite the cost to the larger world. I need to take off middle class comfort to feel the house burning and move to action.

Maimonides understands the Shofar blasts on Rosh Hashana to be symbolically saying to us,

“You that sleep, bestir yourselves from your sleep, and you slumbering, emerge from your slumber, examine your conduct, turn in repentance, and remember your Creator!” (Hilchot Teshuva 3:4)

Middle class comfort is a form of spiritual sleep. Powerful dynamics in our economic system urge us to remain asleep. As long as I can have my living place, my car, my little life, I shouldn’t complain! Can the Shofar blast pierce this addiction to material comfort and create enough of a crack in the buffer so that the reality of the climate crisis can get in? For me and others like me, this is the spiritual work of Elul and Rosh Hashana.

Rabbi David Jaffe is the author of “Changing the World from the Inside Out,” winner of the National Jewish Book Award. He directs the “Inside Out Wisdom and Action Project,” which integrates Jewish spiritual wisdom and practice with social change. David lives with his family in Sharon, MA.

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