Huffpost Religion

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater Headshot

The End of the World As We Know It, See Pg. 3

Posted: Updated:

This piece was adapted from a recent sermon delivered in services.

On our recent synagogue camping trip, I posed the issue, from a spiritual perspective, that on page 3 of the LA Times Extra section a few weeks ago, below the fold, was a story about how a large group of scientists believe that we are much closer to an environmental massive disaster, severe climate change, than we actually want to admit. They said like within 50 years if we keep things at the rate we are going now. I asked people what they thought about this. We discussed it, talked about how economics is always the driving force behind why we can't actualize what we know can work for fear of losing jobs or hurting the economy. To me though, investment in our future, investment in the infrastructure of our world, building it out for our children and their children should be and must be our primary concern. If we don't have a planet, how can we have an economy? We talked under the trees about that for a bit on a Sabbath afternoon.

Camping gave us space to unpack, just a tiny bit more, some of the bigger and more global challenges facing us as a human race. I am quite aware that we cannot live all the time in the world of these big issues, for we are all trying to build a home, raise children, create community, have a job, save for college, retirement, the future; we live the majority of our lives in these places, but sometimes, without too much infrequency, we must also look out and face the larger community, the world community upon this Earth that we share. Are you are aware that demographers say that the population will grow, from now until mid-century, from 7 billion to 9.3 billion? Population growth, global climate change and poverty are some of the bigger issues that we can't always face everyday with full attention as we try to navigate our lives. However, on the Sabbath, while also bringing joy and rejuvenation to our souls, we can give ourselves space to look at the wider vision of our lives and world.

I heard this recently: There is a jury trial which has concluded. The judge sends the jury to their room to deliberate. After some time, the jury returns. The judge asks the foreman, "Have you reached a verdict?" The forman replies, "Yes, your honor, we have. We find ourselves not wanting to be involved!" And that is how I think many of us feel about some of these global issues. How can we be involved? How can I make a difference? I don't have time to save the world. Reading the prophets of Israel, seeing the world through their eyes some of the time, calls us to take stock, to do cheshbon hanefesh, to look at our values, our choices, what direction we are going in, what kind of future do we want, not just for this moment, but for future generations. I am concerned that we are so overwrought with fear, some of it legitimate, some of it manufactured, that we can't stop and see what is truly happening, even when people point it out to us. The end of the world as we know it was on page 3 of the extra section!

As we head into summer, which has some of the qualities of the camping trip, many of us have some more time, more relaxed space, to think about, read about, talk about, write about, do something about, some of the bigger issues facing our world. We are facing massive economic crises all over the world, we are facing extreme weather, we are facing civil war in Syria, as we witness a massacre of a people and are not doing anything about it yet, we are facing a hardening of our politics, an angry and vitriolic turn, attacking people instead of discussing policy, and there are some serious, major choices that need to be made in the next several months, both here at home and abroad. Some we will actively participate in, like hopefully voting and being informed citizens on issues we are facing, locally, state-wide and nationally, yet some we can only witness and pray for. The extent to which we think our everyday decisions don't matter has grown exponentially, which is always dangerous, not only for democracy, but for the human psyche as well. Pirke Avot, the Ethics of our Ancestors teaches, "al tifrosh min hatzibbur," which means, "don't separate yourself from the community." This has traditionally been understood as not being aloof from the people with which you live. However, in today's globally interconnected world, I think we need to expand the teaching to include not just those in our immediate surroundings, but to our global community as well. We are challenged to remember that everything we do, in today's globalized world, can affect those that live thousands of miles away. Again, the concept of Sabbath can be a time not just to stop the errands and running around, but to proactively engage in conversation about some of these bigger issues on a more regular basis. For me, at its heart, prayer is about giving myself the space to focus, for bits of everyday, on the macro part of our existence, reminding me that we are all interconnected. And, if we can cultivate enough love and compassion, seriously doing that for as many people in our world as possible, we have a chance of making the huge changes that need to be made in order to save ourselves. It might sound dire and alarmist, but there was yet another article, just yesterday, again on page 3 of the extra section!

This time, we read of a recent study released at UCLA that warns us of increasing numbers of days in Southern California where temperatures will be over 95 degrees. "The study, aided by a UCLA supercomputer, is 2,500 times more precise than previous climate models for the region, said the executive director of the UCLA Center for Climate Change Solutions. The computer made roughly 1 quintillion calculations -- the equivalent of eight times all the grains of sand on the beaches of the western United States -- over a period of six months to assess every aspect of 25 global warming models that might be applicable to Southern California" (LAT, June 21). We are getting the warning signs, we are being offered the information and yet, as a society, we are choosing to either ignore it, dismiss it or deny it. If there is not some major shift, at the highest of governmental levels here in the U.S. and around the world, we may seriously regret it, and in our lifetimes.

Change is always hard, giving up certain conveniences is hard, acknowledging that we have done harm to our planet is hard, but we human beings are incredibly resilient, born with the capacity to adapt, change, express remorse, dream big and solve problems. With all of the great minds that we have in the world, we can create a sustainable planet, with renewable energy that will stave off the destruction and plant the roots for an amazing future. As with many difficult challenges, the know-how is already there, all we need is the will and stamina to make it happen. All of the rabbinic legends about facing these issues in the world, however, won't help us if we don't listen. I am trying hard to live consciously, which is certainly no where near enough, but I feel called to make sure I am talking about this, as much for myself as for you.

There is a well-known and oft-quoted Talmudic story of the old man and carob tree, who stands up to the laughing Roman soldiers who mock him, knowing that he is planting a tree not for himself but for his grandchildren. We are living the story and I am afraid the mocking Roman soldiers are winning. The same rabbinic literature reminds us, "eem lo achshav, aimatai -- if not, when?" Both pieces of wisdom are needed today. I feel our survival depends on it.