Parashat Hukkat

Water Consciousness

How to send environmental problems down the drain.

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Given this, if we use 230 gallons of water a day, we are raising almost 2,000 pounds in weight every day up the vertical height of a 60 story skyscraper. Over an entire lifetime, this is a lot of energy used and a lot of carbon put into the atmosphere. Misusing water wastes energy and unnecessarily causes global climate change. Scientists predict that climate change is likely to cause sea levels to rise, impacting sandbars like Long Beach Island and New Jersey, and islands like Manhattan, as well as causing more intense storms and floods.

Environmental problems do not just have to do with air pollution, global warming, species extinction, or water scarcity. Those are merely symptoms. As long as we only treat the symptoms, the problems will continue popping up and getting bigger. 

Branches vs. Roots

Henry David Thoreau said, "There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root." Today we generally hack at the branches: in many counties we spend significant amounts on wastewater treatment and desalinization plants to produce more usable water, and in some states we enact Draconian measures like water rationing when the aquifer just gets too low.

Environmental problems at their root are spiritual problems--they stem from a lack of awareness of the Source of all Existence. Once we come to that awareness, we can address environmental problems in very different ways. Since beneath every environmental problem is a spiritual problem, awaiting every environmental problem is a spiritual solution. Drop a stone in the pond and the ripples will reach far beyond you.

The Torah is a blueprint for spiritual living on this planet. It enables us to transform our daily, mundane ways into holy acts. If we can preserve our connection to God's sustaining power in our world of great abundance, we can transform our lives and the world in holy ways.

The great Sage of Talmudic times, Rabbi Tarfon, teaches that "The day is short, the work is much, the workers are lazy, the reward is great, and the Master is pressing." I might add: the climate is changing, the seas are rising, the glaciers are melting.

We can address environmental issues at their roots if we live according to the Torah's call. And when we get at the roots, we're going to deal with many of the branches as well. When we finally embrace this path as a people, our spiritual problems masquerading as environmental problems will make their way down the drain.

Suggestion Action Items:

1) Easy: Connect to the physical source of the water you drink. Go to that source and sit by it, like Jacob and Moses did. Listen to the water. Think about how most of your body is comprised of water. Try this every year or every month and see what happens. 

2) Still not demanding a lot: Contemplate your monthly water bill, remembering that each drop is given to you as a gift. If you use close to 230 gallons a day, like the average person in the United States does, think about key areas where you could reduce the amount you use.

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Jonathan Neril

Jonathan Neril is the project manager of the Jewish Environmental Parsha Initiative. He is a rabbinical student in his fourth year of Jewish learning in Israel. He received an MA and BA at Stanford with a focus on global environmental issues.