Rosh Hashanah in an Era of Climate Change

From Ego to Eco
From Ego to Eco

As we prepare to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, gather with family and friends for delicious food, and recite ancient prayers about the creation of the world, I invite us on a reflection of the world we are creating today. Hayom Harat Olam, we chant over, and over. Hayom – Today, not just some long time ago. Harat Olam, the world is pregnant.

The question before us is, how will we treat that pregnancy? How will we treat the children who are born into it? How are we treating the world, the Earth into which they will open their eyes to?

I am speaking of Climate Change here, with sea level rise as the least of its harmful side-effects. In Israel our concern is more about longer and deeper droughts, their effects of food production, on health, and on civil instability (i.e. think of the effects of Syria’s long drought on its civil war).  I am not writing here to harangue you about recycling, using even less water, or buying solar panels. Israelis already do a fantastic job on all of these counts. Moreover, the level of action we need is much bigger. It’s bigger because the realities of Climate and Environmental disruption in Israel and around the world are calling for a Paradigm Shift, not just a change in consumer choices or any singular government policy.

In Jewish language we might call this a kind of Zikaron, a remembrance and a recalibration, of what the Torah calls Adam, with an intimate relationship to Adamah. As my teacher Rabbi Yehoshua Karsh taught me long ago, we are not any more Adam – Earthlings than any other creatures on Earth-Adamah, but perhaps we are called Adam because we are the only ones with the capacity to forget our relationship to and dependence on Adamah. In a big modern city it’s easy to forget, even in Israel sometimes, that are lives are fully dependent on healthy soil, on clean water and air, and a stable and predictable climate. The Chalutzim and the early Kibbutzniks knew these things, but today calls for an even bigger and more intimate transformation in our relationship to Nature.

The realities of Climate Change call for something the scale of the Copernican Revolution. That change wasn’t just about the facts of whether Earth circled around the Sun or the other way around. It was about an entire world view, about authority (church vs. science), trust, and values. The same is true today as we are challenged to accept that humanity’s hunger for power has spilled over into disrupting the basic life-support systems which make our lives possible. The Earth, after all, does not revolve around humanity. This epoch calls for a new awareness of the destructiveness of our greed, and a step forward into our roles as part of the eco-system instead of its overlords.  This would be hard no matter the situation, but it’s made harder because doing so is based on observations by specialized scientists and instruments not available to the naked eye. This too was true in the time of Copernicus.  That’s why so many resisted and that’s why it took so long.

The danger before us, transformation needed, and the trust required do not come easily. They come with fear, with anger, with anxiety and with denial.  All of these are natural coping mechanisms as we traverse an uncertain road before us. However you take steps to respond, I urge you to have compassion on yourselves and each other – none of our individual choices have created the environmental havoc that is our danger. The paradigm shift, the taking of our rightful place Bnei Adam(ah) in relationship with Adamah, does not need guilt but calls for love and covenant, for kinship and commitment. Whatever you do, I hope that you do it with community, remembering that our strength comes as part of Kehillat Yisrael, and as part of the eco-system of peoples rising up all over the earth, like T-cells of the Earth’s immune system waking up for a fight, with God whispering in our heart and ears this Rosh Hashanah,  “I set life and good before you, death and evil [choose courage, choose action] choose life.” (Deut. 30:15).

About the Author
Rabbi Moshe Givental is based in Metro-Detroit, Michigan, where he is a community chaplain, organizer and educator. He was ordained as a rabbi at Hebrew College Rabbinical School, has an M.A. in Clinical Psychology, and is a trained facilitator of "Work That Reconnects," which creates rituals and provides emotional/spiritual support for communities wrestling with environmental/climate justice. Follow his work at
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