When I was in junior high, I was in the Environment Club, and one of our activities was a monthly recycling drive for newspapers and magazines. People would save them, bring them to the school, and we’d load up the truck. Then, the advisor would drive it to a place that would pay the club. The guys loved it, especially when someone included back issues of Playboy in with the rest of the papers. Then the girls were doing all the work.
It’s 50 years later, and where are we? We’re now recycling all kinds of things, and people and companies are figuring out ways to make new materials out of recycled ones, but so much is ending up in our ocean; the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is twice the size of Texas! On the positive side, laws such as the Clean Water Act have helped to improve our waterways over the past 50 years. For example, the Cuyahoga River in Ohio no longer catches on fire, but we still have a long way to go. This summer has seen weeks of unseasonably hot and humid temps, poor air quality from Canadian wildfires, and devastating rains and floods. Our planet is warming at an alarming rate.
According to our ancient sages, The Holy One created humans on Rosh Hashanah, and our midrash (Kohelet Rabbah 7:13) teaches, “The Holy One of Blessing planted a garden, and put ha-adam, the human in it, l’ovdah u-l’shomrah, “to work it and guard it.” Because after all, “if you destroy it, there will be no one after you to repair it.”
As we move toward Rosh Hashanah, with a focus on teshuvah, turning back, repenting, making a commitment to do better, may we be blessed with the ability to learn how each of us can work to improve the condition of the earth; to help mitigate climate change and leave a better world for future generations.
As Rabbi Tarfon (Pirkei Avot 2:16) said, “It is not your duty to finish the work, but neither are you at liberty to neglect it.”
Rabbi Susan Elkodsi is the spiritual leader of the Malverne Jewish Center on Long Island. She is committed to helping baby boomers and older Jewish adults create meaning and purpose in their lives in a Jewish context, and to fighting ageism.
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