Earth Etude for Elul 9 — Elul: A Time to Start Shifting Our Imperiled Planet onto a Sustainable Path

by Richard H Schwartz

As the world spirals toward a climate catastrophe, the current Hebrew month of Elul again provides time for heightened introspection, a chance to do t’shuvah (repentance), to improve our lives and our involvements, before the “Days of Awe,” the days of judgment, the “High Holidays” of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. 

How should we respond to Elul today? How should we respond to the current reports of dire warnings and other environmental threats to humanity, including:

  • The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an organisation composed of climate experts from many countries, warned in an October 2018 report that the world may have only until 2030 to make ‘unprecedented changes’ in order to avert a climate catastrophe.
  • The average world temperature has increased every decade since, the 1970s, all 19 years in this century are among the top 19 hottest years since temperature records were kept in 1880; the hottest year worldwide was 2016, breaking records previously established in 2014, followed by 2015, the first time temperature records were broken in three consecutive years.
  • There are reports somewhere in the world almost daily about severe, often record-breaking, heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods, storms, or other climate events.
  • Glaciers worldwide and polar ice caps are melting faster than the projections of climate experts
  • Climate experts believe that because of self-reinforcing positive feedback loops (vicious cycles), the world may soon reach an irreversible tipping point when climate spins out of control with disastrous consequences, unless major changes are soon made.
  • In May 2019, The Global Assessment Report released by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) warned that about a million species are now threatened with extinction, more than ever before and that ecosystems are now under unprecedented stress.

In view of all of the above and more, we should make it a priority to do all we can to awaken the world to the dangers and the urgency of doing everything possible to shift our imperiled planet onto a sustainable path. We should urge that tikkun olam (the healing and repair of the world) be a central focus in all aspects of Jewish life today.

We should contact rabbis, Jewish educators, and other Jewish leaders and ask that they increase awareness of the threats and how Jewish teachings can be applied to avert impending disasters. We should write letters to editors, call talk shows, question politicians, and in every other way possible, stress that we can’t continue the policies that have been so disastrous.

The afternoon service for Yom Kippur includes the book of Jonah, who was sent by God to Nineveh to urge the people to repent and change their evil ways in order to avoid their destruction. Today the whole world is Nineveh, in danger of annihilation and in need of repentance and redemption, and each one of us must be a Jonah, with a mission to warn the world that it must turn from greed, injustice, and violence, so that we can avert a global catastrophe.

Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.D., is President Emeritus of Jewish Veg, formerly Jewish Vegetarians of North America, and author of Judaism and Vegetarianism, Judaism and Global Survival, and Who Stole My Religion? Revitalizing Judaism and Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal our Imperiled Planet, and 250 articles at

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