Thursday, September 8, 2016

Earth Etude for Elul 6: I Dare You

by Rabbi Margaret Frisch Klein

“I dare you to do it!” 

So I was challenged by Yosef Abramowitz. Yosef and his wife, Rabbi Susan Silverman made aliyah to Israel 10 years ago. Last year he ran for president of Israel and he has a company selling solar panels.

He challenged every American rabbi, any American rabbi to talk about Passover and the environment. It was, after all Earth Day. I accepted the dare. For me, it was easy. My father was one of the first “ecologists”. I was at the first Earth Day celebration. What could be more natural than talking about our responsibility to G-d’s glorious creation? We are commanded to bal taschit, to not destroy, and to be partners with G-d as caretakers of this earth.

I spoke about the prayer for dew, “Tal” which we begin to recite on Passover. As I began my sermon, a hand went up. “Rabbi, I object.” Sermons at my synagogue are more discussion than formal discourse but this was early for discussion. Maybe this wasn’t going to be so easy after all. He explained that Tal is a very old prayer written by a nomadic people and that we should not be obligated any more to take care of the earth.

Interesting argument. I might have concluded the exact opposite. In fact, I had a visual of the earth “breathing” that NASA had taken from space that shows the expanding and shrinking polar ice cap by the seasons. When we talk about Kol Haneshamah, every soul, every living breath praises G-d, even the earth. We echo that with Nishmat Kol Chai…Here was the proof that the earth breathes! It was thrilling.

I planned to talk about water and light. About my vision of having a rain barrel to help water our community garden. About the seeds I was giving each family as part of the seder later that evening. For me, it all fits with “Do not destroy.”

And I wanted to talk about our ner tamid, our eternal light. We have been given a grant to buy a new light for our chapel. It is my vision of making that a solar ner tamid. Since the sun should be an eternal light, we hope. Since, I had worked with Rabbi Everett Gendler who in the 1970s dedicated the first solar Ner Tamid in the country at Temple Emanuel of the Merrimack Valley. Since Yosef’s mother is a member there and I met my husband there. And since Yosef Abramowitz’s main focus is solar power. And since, lifting up the light for all time is part of our spiritual obligation. We are as this week’s Torah portion says an am kadosh, a holy people, a light to the nations. How we use our resources, how we light that light, lifting it up, elevates all of us.

That rain barrel will be installed on Sukkot. That new ner tamid will be going in before Rosh Hashanah and dedicated on Chanukah. They are a powerful symbol of light and hope, of our responsibility to the universe. I double dare other congregations to follow.

Rabbi Margaret Frisch Klein is the rabbi of Congregation Kneseth Israel in Elgin, IL. She received her rabbinic ordination from the Academy for Jewish Religion. Margaret blogs at www.theenergizerrabbi.org.

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