Religious Life

Who By Fire?

Rabbi Kassel Abelson

October 12, 2016 / Neilah 5777

It is Neilah and again I stand before you to speak carrying on a tradition begun by Rabbi Aronson when he retired.

Unetnah Tokef
This year I was deeply moved by a phrase in, what I consider to be, the central prayer in the High Holiday liturgy, the unetaneh tokef (P. 315). The prayer asks, “Who shall live and who shall die, who shall pass away and who shall be reborn? Mi vaesh, umi vamayim? Who by fire, and who by water?”

The phrase “who by fire and who by water” affected me deeply?
As I thought about it, I realized that I had been reading the newspapers and watching TV news channels which told about the large fire in California and described how thousands of acres of plant growth and residential areas had been destroyed by fire and almost at the same time a huge flood caused by almost endless rain in Louisiana swept way homes, farmlands, and developed areas.

I wondered, why such large natural disasters had taken place, almost simultaneously. I then recalled the book that I had recently read, which discussed what is happening all over the world.

The book was entitled “EAARTH”, but spelled different than usual, E.A.A.R.T.H.

The Author Explains
The author, Bill McKibbon explains the reason that the word earth is spelt differently. He explains it is because the book speaks about Making a Life on a Tough New Planet.

Now the book does not describe a long voyage to a distant planet where people settle. It speaks about life as we are now living it here on this planet, on earth.

The author McKibbon has a sobering message about the world in which we now live. He is telling us that the world has changed radically during the past few centuries. The globe that we take for granted is very different from the world our ancestors knew.

This is due to the fact that Humanity has waited too long to stop the rapid advance of global warming.

Global Warming
Climate change is well underway. The world is different. It is already drying and melting, flooding and burning. And this difference will become more intense in the years ahead. We earth dwellers will have to learn to live in this changed world.

To keep us mindful of these changes the author calls the world by a new name, E.A.A.R.T.H.
The author Bill McKibbon tells us that we cannot rely on the way we once lived. We cannot take for granted the world will continue to develop as it has in the past.

Adapting to the New Reality
We are living on a new planet, and we have to adapt our society and our lives to the new reality that we must now deal with.

We will have to develop a new society, build a new economy, develop a new way of life that will be suited to the polluted world we will live in.(The book describes in a very imaginative way the new society and the changes we will have to learn to live with.

It is a thought provoking and deeply disturbing description. I urge you to read the book and to begin to think seriously of the changes we, our children, and our children’s children will have to accept and adapt to).

How shall we learn to live in this new world? Even in this new world, I feel, that we can continue to learn helpful lessons from the Unetaneh Tokef.

The prayer states: Uteshuvah utefillah Utzedakah Maavirin et roah Hagezarah.

The prayer is telling us:
“That by changing our way of life, by gaining insight into our religious responsibilities, and together with other people doing the right things to lessen climate change”.

I understand it as saying to me “begin in the coming election, by choosing leaders who take seriously the need for social change, and who will deal effectively with climate change. If we do so we have the power to transform the harshness of our destiny, and keep the world we will live in, once again E,A,R,T,H.

It is not too late. We can reverse course. We can still make a better world out of the distorted world that we have created. Let us begin to do so.

Time is short
Time is short, so at the beginning of the Jewish year 5777 I bid you farewell, paraphrasing Garrison Keeler “zei Gesund, be well, do Mitzvot, good deeds, ulhitraot, stay in touch.