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Uvalde Tragedy: What do we do?#728

05/27/2022 04:40:17 PM


Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Parashat Behar

“We do not inherit the earth from our elders, we borrow it from our children.” First Nations Chief.

Shabbat For The Earth

About nine months ago, the world lost one of its greatest composers and country music artists, Nanci Griffith.

You may have never heard of her - but her contribution to our understanding of the beauty of the earth will eternally remain with our family.

As we would take long family trips through rural Alberta, often passing wheat and canola fields, her songs would provide the soundtrack for our journeys.

While many of Nanci Griffith’s songs pertained to love and life growing up near Austin, Texas, one - entitled Trouble in our Fields - spoke about the drought that devastated the United States during the early 1930s - in particular from Texas to Nebraska.

Experts concluded that during and immediately following the depression, communities pushed hard against the land, until the earth finally shut its hand.

There is nothing to say that this could have been avoided. People had to eat. Money was scarce.

Yet, through the songs of Nanci Griffith and others like her, we are reminded to this day about the importance of treasuring the earth.

It is also a message that the Torah stressed thousands of years ago.

In this week’s Torah portion, God teaches that the earth is a “living entity.” Through Moses, God tells the Israelites to rest the land every seven years. 

In Hebrew, the word used is Shemmita - a “Sabbath of the Land.”

And yes, while the creation of jobs is vital within an often-insecure economy, we have come to understand what the Torah has been teaching for centuries: the earth needs its rest too.

This week the Torah “personifies” the earth. It teaches that, like each of us, the earth needs a Sabbath to replenish, refresh and re-set.

The early chapters of the Torah tell us that the Garden of Eden is a gift to us, but it is our responsibility “to work it and to guard it.” (Genesis 2:15).

The Kabballah our mystic tradition - teaches that there were six previous civilizations before this one, cautioning that that “this is the last earth we will get.”

In a previous career, I worked as a communications consultant for an environmental study that examined the effects of pulp mill effluent on the environment. Animals were dying. Fish were becoming laced with pollutants.

Before we would hold a public meeting in smaller communities - in order to increase attendance - we would visit Grade 5 classrooms and speak to students about the environment.

We quickly we learned that our children “get it.” Later that day they would appear at our informational meetings - parents and grandparents in tow.

Children are often the earth’s angels - encouraging older generations, to recycle, to conserve energy, or to consider alternative sources of energy.

Each year, as I read the commandment to rest the earth, I imagine God sending a message into the future.

I often think about how wasteful we continue to be. Rather than walking a few feet to the recycling container, we sometimes toss our soda cans into the garbage. I’ve always seen that as a sign of arrogance.

It is one thing to stress the earth. It is another to insult it.

In many other ways, we have become removed from the earth as a source of food and sustenance.

Peaches aren’t in season in Georgia? Import them from South America. Grapes are still on the vine in California? Bring them in from Chile.

Indeed, when it comes to food and the land, have we become too entitled?

Wrote Nanci Griffith:

“Now our children live in the city, and they rest upon our shoulders. They never want the rain to fall or the weather to get colder.”

In this week’s Torah portion, the Bible brings us closer to reality.

The ritual of Shemmita is an example of how an entire society chose to live at a significantly lower material standard for a year in order to nurture the earth. 

Agreed, within our modern society, it would be difficult to shut down agriculture for a year, but this week the Torah encourages us to, at least, ponder the health and stress we place on the environment.

The message is clear: Do not take the earth for granted, nor the farmer who stewards this miracle of food.

As a First Nations chief taught me many years ago, “We do not inherit the earth from our elders, we borrow it from our children.”

This week, the Torah portion begs the question, “Are we borrowing too much?”

Indeed, if this seventh and last world is to survive, we need to not only respect our own requirement to rest, but that of the earth as well.

This week, God sends us a message to protect the miracle of life and the earth upon which we stand.

Let us, therefore, be good stewards - one act at a time.

For the earth is our home - our guarantee of ongoing life through our children and our children’s children.

Let us, therefore, remember to work it, but more importantly - as God commands: “to guard it.”

Shabbat shalom, v’kol tuv.

Rabbi Irwin Huberman


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