Sunday, August 26, 2018

Earth Etude for Elul 16 - Boggled by Bottles

Rabbi Suri Krieger

Today, driving home from the gorgeous flower-full Massachusetts Horticulture Society in Wellesley, I had to swerve on the road three times… to avoid plastic bottles thrown out on the highway. It boggles my mind that the bottle dilemma is still one of the most abusive forms of earth erosion we are guilty of. Bottles were one of the first recycle items to be tackled, and yes… we can see recycle bins everywhere now. But the fact that we even have those bins, indicates how drastically we have missed the point. The Recycle, Reuse, Reduce trilogy is a catchy soundbite. But it is the lazy way out. Reduce, RETHINK, DISMISS is what we should be aiming for. A recycle bin placed in the corridor right next to a vending machine full of plastic pint bottles does nothing to stem the flow of toxic plastic. There are no fewer plastic entanglements for sea creatures to get trapped in today, than there were a decade ago.

The Torah’s basic ethical principal of Bal Tashchit (do not destroy, or do not waste) originally was in context of cutting down trees in times of war (Deuteronomy 20). Jewish environmentalists have expanded the understanding of this principal to instruct us about waste in the vast array of circumstances in which we stand guilty. But this issue of plastic overuse continues to gnaw at me, with its ever persistent presence. Particularly because whatever efforts we have put forth in the recycle department, we continue to simply have a laissez faire attitude about divesting of plastic altogether. We have grown accustomed to convenience, and we don’t know how to wean ourselves from it. And alas… it’s not only us, with our comfortable Western life style habits, who prioritize convenience over ethical earth responsibility. My daughter Ilana was in the Peace Corps in Senegal. We visited her remote, drastically non-Western village, where basic dwellings were made of mud and straw, and there was no running water, plumbing or electricity. But there was one modern ‘convenience’ that was sadly ever present…plastic! Plastic bottles and plastic bags. They learned it from us! 

The familiar opening lines of the first paragraph of the Shema give us this instruction:
V’ahavta et hashem Elohecha, bechol levavcha, u’vechol nafshecha, u’vechol meodecha
which might be rendered as follows:
Show our love of YHWH, ‘Breath of life’ with all our Love, all our soul energy, and all our proactive action.
Some of us have become quite good at the heart and soul aspects of moral obligation. But we are still quite sluggish about taking appropriate action.

May the largely overshadowed small stuff that we need to change, in order to heal our wounded planet, move to the top of our To Do list, as we begin to prioritize our goals these High Holidays.

Rabbi Suri Krieger is the spiritual leader of B’nai Or Jewish Renewal of Greater Boston.

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