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Earth Etude for Elul 26– Turning to Shabbat: An Ecological Approach

by Dr. Leah Cassorla

In the loaming, Boobah the One-eyed Wonderdog and I sit outside in our vast, shared backyard, watching the swallows. As the evening descends, we watch the tree line of the nearby patch of forest. The lightning bugs begin their fiery dance before us, the swallows swoop in and out, and hares hop in and out of the line of sight–my line of sight as Boobah’s is thankfully too restricted to catch them. I consider this beautiful, if tiny, patch of Olam Ha’bah, and it shifts me to another space.

I’ve been a whole-foods, plant-based eater for several years now and know it is the single most powerful choice I can make for the continuation of humanity on this beautiful earth. I don’t say I’m doing it for the planet; the planet will be just fine. She is designed to clean her house as needed. But I am aware that cleaning house may require sweeping away the humans who have overpopulated, overused, and over-dirtied her. And I am concerned that we are not doing enough. This thought leads me to Shmita and Shabbat, and I wonder:

What if we treated Shabbat as an opportunity to practice environmental responsibility rather than a set of strictures for “keeping” or “not keeping” the Shabbat commandments? How could I make my Shabbat a mini Sh’mita, just as Sh’mita is considered a grand Shabbat?

Sh’mita is a year that allows the land a recovery period from the agricultural needs of humanity as well as the economic drivers of social inequality. Perhaps I can try to reduce my Carbon/Nitrogen footprint each week on Shabbat by refraining from using electricity, gas, or oil–or by buying credits if such use is mandatory for my survival (and my religious role in my community). I can refrain from purchasing anything on Shabbat as well, knowing that I cannot fully remove myself from the capitalist system and that reduction of consumption is only one step. I can set aside my pishke each week to support organizations that further ecological recovery.

And those of us who aren’t vegan may choose to refrain from eating meat on Shabbat–a truly radical idea.

Yet with these approaches in hand, I can feel myself (re)turning toward the needs of the ecosystem and my species. With each small step, I can come closer to making more space for the swallows, the lightning bugs, and the hares. Inch by inch, I can bring myself closer to the ideal Shabbat. And so can you.

Dr. Leah F. Cassorla is the Cantorial Soloist – Educator at Temple Beth Tikvah, in Madison, CT. Her etude reflects on her time in Huntsville, AL, as well as her belief that we can enact Teshuvah to a better relationship with our planet. She has written works of journalism, fiction, non-fiction, and academics. She is currently studying for a dual-ordination as a Rabbi and Cantor at the Academy for Jewish Religion in Yonkers, NY.

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