An Open Blessing to Our Children on the Eve of the Shmita year and the People’s Climate March

Dear Chloe, Avery, Leila, Mattie,

This Rosh Hashana marks the start of the Shmita year – the Shabbat for the land.  Shmita is the oldest sustainability concept on the planet, and it is ours.  During Shmita, the land is given a chance to rest.  Nothing new is planted and what grows organically grows.  Fences come down, and animals and people roam from field to field. What’s yours is mine and what’s mine is yours.  Debts are excused and all people are given a chance to be on equal footing.  Hashem asks us to have faith that there will be enough for us in the 7th year and in the 8th year as it will take time for things to grow.

We don’t live off the land like they did in ancient Israel, and we aren’t even required to pay attention to this sabbatical year.  But we will pay attention.

The launch of this Shmita year coincides with the largest demonstration on climate change, ever.  People will take to the streets. We have taken to the streets.  We experienced it together.  The experience will take us into the Shmita year and that is very meaningful.

In this Shmita year we will begin to answer the question that I keep asking: What do we do today to prepare for future in a changed world?  That changed world might be scary from the vantage point of today, but really it will be very beautiful because people will learn how to live again.  Think “eyes-up,” opportunities to help out, and awareness of the world around you.

Daddy and I need to teach you how to live, not make a living.

We need to grow our community and relationships, not our piles of stuff.

We need to let the fences down, share, and have faith.

This Shmita year we will not purchase any new ‘stuff’.  Food is not ‘stuff’, nor is toilet paper, nor toothpaste.  We will buy that stuff.  But we won’t buy other stuff that leaves a negative impact on the planet.  We won’t buy the stuff that we don’t need, or the stuff that we just throw out very quickly.  And we don’t have to.

First, I bet that there are more than 20 pairs of underwear in Avery’s drawer.  I bet that there are enough hand-me-downs in the attic from our wonderful friends to dress Mattie and Chloe for the next, well, ever.  I bet that Leila has enough stuff to entertain her, too, already in the house.

Second, we do not live on an island.  We live near and around friends who just might have a hammer we could borrow; we actually have 2 that we can lend. We all don’t need a coffee bean grinder – and in fact, I’ve shared one successfully with my mother for years.  We can share.  We will grow our community by talking to our neighbors and friends.  We will draw from our new communities and our old communities.

Third, we repair.  I will introduce you to the show maker and very cool knee patches.  Surgeons are very good with the needle and thread.

Fourth, we can buy not-new stuff, and there are systems in place that do this.  There’s yerdle, and freecycle and the fancy consignment shoppe and the library.  I already see the Fisher Price princess Castle on eBay, and Mattie will love it for her birthday. It’ll be brand new to her.

Last, there’s rest.

There’s the notion that we’re done for a bit with newness, and we are now up to enjoying what we have.  Since the last Shmita year we’ve had a lot of new – a new Chloe, a new Mattie, a new house with all the fixings, a new car, a new uncle, five new cousins (at least).  Now we will settle down and look around and see what our landscape looks like.

Just like we treasure our time around the Shabbat table together each Friday night: a song, yummy food, stories, I am looking forward to treasuring the time together this Shmita year. Yes, and just like we sometimes wish that Shabbat were over a bit sooner, we will wish that Shmita weren’t with us.  But we will have no choice – and we will look around and take a deep breath and something new will grow organically from within.

Even if you don’t understand everything that is written here, I hope you do understand that I love you and that Daddy loves you.

May Hashem bless you and guard you. May Hashem make his face shine upon you and be gracious towards you. May Hashem grant you peace.  May Hashem prepare your sustenance in a permissible way with contentment and with abundance.  And may you be inscribed and sealed for a good, long, life among all the righteous of Israel.

Love,

Mommy

Jessica Haller

 

My Mother Rose (Z”L), the Divine Energy of Elul and Kohelet 1:4

by Pamela Frydman-Roza

 

I remember my mother, Rose (Z”L, zichronah livracha, of blessed memory) tossing hollowed grapefruit halves and eggshells into an open pit in our garden. Our small but lovingly tended flower and vegetable garden was situated behind our equally modest 1950’s Toronto house. I didn’t know it then but mom was composting. She was applying the concept of Baal Tashchit or “do not waste” by recycling food into rich earth to help her garden flourish.

When I was 8 years old, my parents and I moved to a tiny apartment during the wave of migration to the Northern suburbs. With no yard, mom adorned the spartan indoor space with plants of all kinds. She was particularly proud of the huge cactus that bloomed each winter. Rose loved nature and brought the outside in.  Mom would usher me onto the balcony overlooking a lovely ravine. She enthusiastically shared her love of the natural beauty of the landscape in every season.

She recycled (Baal Tashchit) everything from rubber bands to plastic bags, and more before this was an acknowledged and sustainable concept. Food was too precious to waste. We cleaned our plates. Nothing was left to decay in the fridge. She was a role model for sustainable living in so many ways. Shortly after I was married Rose visited my new family home in Montreal. My husband and I were so proud of the decor. Mom was not interested in our furnishings and chose instead to comment that “you throw out (waste) more food than I eat.”

We shared and role modeled Bubbe Rose’s environmentally sustainable ethos with our daughters, Shira & Orlee. Shira and her husband live in a tiny ‘railroad’ apartment in Brooklyn where they avoid material accoutrements. They focus on living sustainably by  recycling and biking when possible rather than taking public transportation. They compost food waste in their freezer and carry it weekly to a collection site at a nearby farmer’s market where they buy locally and organically grown produce.  Orlee also lives sustainably and loves spending as much time as possible in natural habitats. She is currently working on an organic ‘off the grid’ farm in Washington State. I am involved in collecting surplus produce and donating it to meal sites, pantries and shelters in order to help reduce the rapidly growing number  of  food insecure people living here in Milwaukee. Rose’s wise lessons on living ‘green’ have been instilled into  the thoughts and actions of her descendants.

My mother, Rose (Z”L) had a deep and spiritual love of Hashem’s Creation. She eschewed the materialistic world. On 9 Cheshvan, 5774 Rose, (A”H, Aleyha Hashalom, “May peace be upon her”) was buried on a tranquil hillside enveloped by the branches of mature trees. The end of my year of mourning coincides closely with the month of Elul. This is a time of deep spiritual introspection before the coming High Holy Days.  Hashem is particularly close to us and we share an extraordinary divine energy that benefits us in our quest towards spiritual and moral perfection.

It is most fitting that Elul is the time chosen for erecting a headstone over my mother’s gravesite. A year of grieving gives way to a New Year and new beginnings mimicking the cycles of the natural world. In this way we honor Rose’s blessed memory.  May we  use the holy month of Elul wisely to help create a more sustainable Earth not only for ourselves but for future generations.

Rose would quote Kohelet 1:4, “One generation goes and another generation comes; but the earth remains forever.

An Interrupting Tree?

By Rabbi Barry Kornblau

Barry Kornblau is Director of Member Services at the Rabbinical Council of America and serves as rabbi at Young Israel of Hollis Hills – Windsor Park in Queens, NY.

On Shabbat afternoons during the summer, many have the custom to study the section of the Mishna known as Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers). At this time of year, when many parts of the Northern Hemisphere presents us with lush natural beauty, it is particularly startling to come across a mishna (Avot 3:7) which seems to denigrate the appreciation of natural beauty:

רבי שמעון אומר: המהלך בדרך ושונה ומפסיק ממשנתו ואומר, “מה נאה אילן זה! ומה נאה ניר זה!” - מעלה עליו הכתוב כאילו מתחייב בנפשו.

Rabbi Shimon says: A person walking on the road while reviewing his Torah knowledge who interrupts his review to declare, “How lovely is this tree!”, or “How lovely is this plowed field!” – Scripture considers it as if he deserves capital punishment.

And indeed, a number of traditional commentaries on this complex mishna posit that stopping to look at nature (a tree) or at nature modified by man (the plowed field) and to remark upon its beauty is a neutral activity at best; a idle or negative one, at worst.

Other commentaries, however, consider beholding and praising wild or cultivated natural beauty to be a positive activity, for its gives one an opportunity to praise God. Indeed, they note that our Sages even mandated the recitation of a blessing upon encountering trees and other beautiful items: “Blessed Are You, Hashem, our God who is Ruler of the world, who has such [remarkable things] in His world.” These commentaries assert that R. Shimon is teaching that, nevertheless, Torah study is more important than reciting this blessing and that, therefore, one must not interrupt one’s study to do so.

A third, entirely different approach to interpreting this mishna comes from R. Tzvi Yehudah Kook, son of the first chief rabbi of Palestine R. Avraham Yitzchak haKohen Kook. R. Tzvi Yehuda was principal editor of his father’s published works and an influential Jewish thinker in his own right.

In R. T. Y. Kook’s view, the walker’s being worthy of capital punishment is neither because of his noticing beautiful trees and fields nor because of his choice to prioritize stating that observation at the expense of continuing his Torah study. Rather, the walker’s negative activity is his belief that appreciating the tree’s and field’s beauty constitutes an interruption in his Torah study. Instead, the walker ought to unify his appreciation of the Divine source of the beauty of Creation with his understanding of God and His Torah.

To illustrate his point, R. T. Y. Kook quotes a mystical poem, “The Whispers of Existence”, composed by his father, R. A. Y. Kook, which reflects this outlook:

All existence whispers to me a secret:

“I have life to offer, take it, please take”

If you have a heart and in the heart red blood courses,

Which the poison of despair has not soiled.

 

“But if your heart is dulled”, existence whispers to me,

“And beauty does not charm you -

Leave me, leave,

Behold, I am forbidden to you.

If every gentle sound,

Every living beauty,

Arouse in you not the glory of a holy song,

But the flow of some some foreign fire,

Then leave me, leave, I am forbidden to you.”

 

And a generation will yet arise full of life

And sing to beauty and life

And draw delight unending

From the dew of heaven.

And this people returned to life will hear

The wealth of life’s secrets

From the vistas of the Carmel and the Sharon,

And from the delight of song and life’s beauty

Will be filled with a sacred light

When all of existence will whisper to it:

“My beloved, I am permitted to you.”

 

The second paragraph corresponds to the guilty walker in our mishna, one who is deadened to appreciating the beauty of Hashem’s Creation; who severs it from his Torah study, considering it to be an “interruption”; and who therefore is “as if he deserves capital punishment” since his life and perspective are so lacking.

By contrast, the final paragraph corresponds to a righteous walker. He perceives the natural world (particularly the Land of Israel) and man’s ability to transform that world as Divine gifts, reflecting the philosophy of the blessing recited over blossoming trees in the spring month of Nisan: “Blessed Are You, Hashem, our God who is Ruler of the world, who omitted nothing in His world and who created goodly creatures and goodly trees to bring benefit to people.”

This all-encompassing spiritual, physical, and experiential reality means that such a walker and his Torah are truly integrated with the world and therefore fully alive, since the Torah is “a tree of life to those who grasp onto it.” The intellect and inner spirit of such an individual resonates with the reality that just as his ability to walk, advance, and flourish on the path of his life stems from his study of Hashem and His Torah, so too his perception of, and pleasure in, natural beauty stem from his study of Torah, which sustains him and the entire world. Hence, there is no interruption; all is one.

This is a tall order, indeed.

As we stroll this summer, discussing Pirkei Avot and the rest of the Torah as we go, let us aspire to be righteous walkers, fully and uninterruptedly rooted in the beauty and bounty of Hashem’s creation which is part of us and of His holy Torah which sustains all.

Reduce Your Carbon Emissions this Fall

By Daniel Weber, Ph.D
 
Here some additional changes you can make to reduce your personal CO2 emissions. Fall is the perfect time to save energy. Leave the windows open and take longer walks, now that the heat from summer is fading. You’ll save energy, save money, and reduce your impact on the environment.
 
WALK. By reducing the amount of time spent in your car by using your feet, bike, or mass transit you reduce CO2 emissions, as well as ozone-producing nitrous oxides and cancer-causing polyaromatic hydrocarbons. How many of us have seen members of our community drive two blocks to get to the Sunday morning minyan? If you can walk on Shabbat, you can walk on Sunday! If you need to purchase a new car, get the most gas-efficient model available. Consider hybrid cars, too.
 
IMPROVE YOUR HOME. This fall, leave the windows open. As the cooler days approach, prepare your windows by installing weather stripping and plastic sheets to cut cold air drafts and keeping the blinds/shades closed in the daytime will keep the house cool. Use fans. (Ceiling fans can even be used in the winter, if you change the direction of the blades to bring the cold air up to the warmer ceiling areas, and that will decrease your heating needs.) Plant trees around the house to prepare for next summer. If you live in a cold climate, use dark paints or siding to keep the heat in this winter.
 
USE YOUR APPLIANCES EFFICIENTLY. If you have a dishwasher, run it only when you have a full load and use any energy-saving settings when drying. A temperature of 120o F for your water heater is just fine; turn it to vacation mode when gone for a few days or more. Set your thermostats mildly, as hundreds of pounds of CO2 are used/saved each year for every 2-degree adjustment. Clean your furnace filters; the harder your furnace needs to work to circulate the air, the more energy is used. Unplug your TV, and other appliances, when not in use. Many modern appliances are really using energy even when “off” – you can tell because they are still warm even when they aren’t in use.
 
SAVE ENERGY ON SHABBOS. On Shabbos, use warming trays and crock pots with a timer, if possible, rather than having your oven on for 25 hours. Use timers on lamps that plug into the wall. There are also now moderately-priced timers that connect into your ceiling lights and fans through your wall switch. By programming what hours you need the lights on or off, you don’t need your lights on all Shabbos.
 
Originally posted in “On Eagles’ Wings” September 12th 2003