Sunday, September 14, 2014

Earth Etude for Elul 19- Soul Accounting in the Year of Release

by Rabbi Regina Sandler-Phillips 

Ecology and economy, spirituality and social justice are directly connected in our Jewish values of heshbon (accountability).  Every time we open our wallets or check our bank balances, we face issues of heshbon — no less than when we search our souls (heshbon hanefesh) during this Season of Turning. 

How are we “spending” each day of our lives? The ancient sage Ben Zoma (Mishnah Avot 4:1) taught that the wise are those who learn from every person; the brave are those who control (literally, “occupy”) their own impulses; the rich are those who rejoice in their own portions; and the honorable are those who honor creation and its creatures.

This integrated four-fold teaching offers a blueprint for sustainability in the coming year of sh’mitah / release.  Each of us can learn how to appreciate our abundance, to moderate our consumption, to discern which of our expenditures truly honor creation and its creatures — and to control our impulses regarding those purchases that do not.

Agricultural rhythms of tithing through the sabbatical cycle have given us the financial ethics of wealth redistribution on a proportional basis.  In order to share our wealth proportionately today, we need clarity about our actual discretionary spending and our place in the world economy.  Membership in the global “one percent” is a surprisingly low bar for affluent Americans — and experience has shown that peer support is needed to bring this spiritual, financial and environmental heshbon to the next level.

Welcome to Nedivut Tzedek / Generous Justice, an intergenerational network of Jewish learning circles for just giving.  Our circles renew the Jewish values and practices of heshbon through study, storytelling, supportive action / reflection, and cultural development.   Participants learn how we vote with our daily money choices for the state of our world, and how to mobilize the power of those choices for social change as well as for greater personal fulfillment.

Generous Justice circles are taking root within local communities through a series of local outreach programs, building momentum toward a retreat-based leadership training in August 2015.  A resource manual will be available beyond the 2015 training to extend the reach of Generous Justice to additional communities of concern.

When our personal tzedakah meets the ethical metric of proportional giving, we discover how much we can really afford to contribute toward the causes most important to us.  After that, setting distribution priorities becomes a process of ongoing action / reflection in the service of change.  We put our money where our mouths, hearts and minds are, making thoughtful course adjustments as appropriate — and we let the earth rest from our relentless consumption.

Throughout the coming sabbatical year, Generous Justice will bring together Jews across generations, income levels, personal temperaments, spiritual orientations and political ideologies to support each other in realizing our full giving potentials.  Like our ancestors, we will start from wherever we are, with whatever we have — and keep the issues in proportion.

© 2014 by Rabbi Regina Sandler-Phillips

Rabbi Regina Sandler-Phillips is the project director of Nedivut Tzedek / Generous Justice, and the executive director of WAYS OF PEACE Community Resources in Brooklyn, New York.

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