Parashat Miketz

The Song of the Land

A Torah teaching for the Western environmentalist.

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What is being said here is that the Torah's choice of calling the fruits the "song of the land" alludes to a level of existence well beyond the form and atoms we know, well beyond the mere actions that we do in this world. In Kabbalah the dual existence of spirit and matter is called the "light" and the "vessels." There is a crucial lesson therein for building sustainable forms of activism and change.

Our personal encounters with nature--quiet, sanctity, connection, beauty, etc.--are "lights" that slowly build within us, a growing awareness that can change how we act. For some people the gap between this experience of nature, and the destructive effects our lifestyles have upon it, has compelled action. The light of their experience has become a vessel. This is beautifully reflected in how Jacob tells his sons "to take from the fruits of the land in your vessels (Genesis 43:11)."

What is crucial for our own sanity as environmentalists is to refresh our source of light--to take our breaks, our Shabbat in the woods, our daily reconnecting with who and where we are. And then we can share this level of experience with our neighbors and friends as a part of our path, just as Joseph shared with the Egyptians not just the doomsday prediction, but also the solution.

Any of the below "Suggested Action Items" can help foster our sense of belonging to the place we inhabit and ultimately help us to nurture the awareness from where sustainable living habits will grow naturally. The taste and song of Green living are the greatest allies in affecting substantial organic change in our patterns. For if we end up with an environmentally sustainable lifestyle but have never grown any more aware of our surroundings and our personal connection to that which is outside of us, we may be missing one of the ultimate lessons the environmental crisis is here to teach us.

Suggested Action Items:

1. Find a guide to local plants and wildlife, providing yourself with a glimpse of what was here before us.

2. Learn the local geology of your neighborhood and the natural forces that sculpted the terrain--transform walking to the corner store into a hike!

3. Discover who the native people were who grew up in harmony with the place you currently live.

4. Learn the factors in your local climates (beyond the weather forecaster) to increase success in planning outings under good weather.

5. Introduce schoolchildren to the ecosystem that exists below the asphalt and that which has developed above it.

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Rabbi Shaul D Judelman

Rabbi Shaul David Judelman spent six years in the Bat Ayin Yeshiva Rabbinical program and now teaches at Yeshivat Simchat Shlomo while working on several different environmental initiatives in Jerusalem. He is the founder and coordinator of Simchat Shlomo's Eco-Activist Beit Midrash, a program offering holistic in-depth Torah study around issues of ecology.