Thursday, September 11, 2014

Earth Etude for Elul 17 - Meditation on Elul

by Richard H. Schwartz

Elul is here. It represents a chance for heightened introspection, an opportunity to do teshuva and improve our lives, before the “Days of Awe,” the days of judgment, the “High holidays” of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The shofar is blown every morning (except on Shabbat) in synagogues during the month of Elul to awaken us from slumber, to remind us to consider where we are in our lives and to urge us to make positive changes.

How should we respond to Elul today? How should we respond when we hear reports almost daily of severe, often record-breaking, heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods, and storms; when atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have reached 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in human history, far above the 350 ppm that climate experts believe is safe, when polar ice caps and glaciers are melting far faster than projections of climate experts; when some climatologists are warning that we could be close to a tipping point when climate change could spiral out of control with disastrous consequences, unless major changes are soon made; when we appear to also be on the brink of major food, water, and energy scarcities; and when, despite all of the above, so many people are in denial, in effect “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic as we approach a giant iceberg”?

I believe that we should make it a priority to do all that we can to awaken the world to the dangers and the urgency of doing everything possible to shift our imperiled planet to a sustainable path. We should urge that tikkun olam (the healing and repair of the world) be a central focus in all aspects of Jewish life today.

We should contact rabbis, Jewish educators, and other Jewish leaders and urge that they increase awareness of the threats and how Jewish teachings can be applied to avert impending disasters. We should write letters to editors, call talk shows, question politicians, and in every other way possible, stress that we can’t continue the policies that have been so disastrous.

The afternoon service for Yom Kippur includes the book of Jonah, who was sent by God to Nineveh to urge the people to repent and change their evil ways in order to avoid their destruction. Today the whole world is Nineveh, in danger of annihilation and in need of repentance and redemption, and each one of us must be a Jonah, with a mission to warn the world that it must turn from greed, injustice, and idolatry, so that we can avoid a global catastrophe.

Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of College of Staten Island, author of Judaism and Vegetarianism, Who Stole My Religion? Revitalizing Judaism and Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal Our Imperiled Planet, other books, and 200 articles at, President Emeritus, Jewish Vegetarians of North America (; President, Society Of Ethical and Religious Vegetarians (SERV), and associate producer of A SACRED DUTY (

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