Sign In Forgot Password

Cindy Ostroff Drash (Rosh Hashanah day two 5782)

09/17/2021 12:19:57 PM


Cindy Ostroff

As I sat on the beach at Limantour last week, I thought, as I always do, about the first time I saw that beach more than 45 years ago when I moved here. The wide sweep of the beach, my favorite palette of colors, and the silence, all struck me then as they do now. It seems like nothing has changed. But we know that’s not true. Just driving there, we passed the Nicasio Reservoir, shockingly low in most places and completely dry in others.

The Creation narrative in Genesis is one we all know: “Let there be light. And God divided the light from the darkness and called the light Day and the dark Night, and there was morning and evening, the first day.” While some take this chaotic drama literally and others give it a scientific slant, fortunately for us most scholars and rabbis give it greater meaning.  According to Rabbi Oren Hayon, this light was “so intense as to provide illumination to the physical world, serving as a catalyst for our human ethical insight.” Rabbi Yehuda Amir suggests that the creation narrative teaches us the “value of life on earth, and shows us that it’s our responsibility and obligation to take care of our precious world.” The light actually gives us a moral orientation. 

So how do we put this parable into action? As many of us know we are now entering a schmita year, as taught in Leviticus. Here we are commanded to give the earth a shabbat rest, once every seven years, letting the earth lie fallow in order to rejuvenate. Schmita is the Torah’s effort to give us a path between the human community and Mother Earth. Neglecting this practice would result in the disasters listed in Leviticus which are frighteningly similar to the climate change of today: warming oceans, fires and droughts.

Whether we take this law literally or use it more as a metaphor, the schmita practice can certainly intensify our efforts to respect our planet and step up the action we take now to protect it.

How is this relevant in our modern, complicated world? What can we do to make an immediate difference?

Here are 5 things you can do right now:

  1. Volunteer in our community: You can donate food to the synagogue’s Community Fridge or deliver mitzvah meals. I became a volunteer for ExtraFood, founded by our very own Marv Zauderer. ExtraFood volunteers rescue excess fresh food from farmers, markets and restaurants and immediately deliver it to nonprofits serving Marin’s most vulnerable children, seniors, and families. By some measures, over 9% of Marin residents are food insecure and this work makes an immediate difference in their lives. See the temple website for many other places to volunteer such as Seed ReLeaf or the Marin Food Bank.
  2. Practice earth-friendly gardening: The UC Master Gardener program encourages you to compost food scraps, nurture the soil, grow a variety of plants to create habitats for living creatures, conserve water and energy, and avoid toxic materials. Master Gardeners offer many valuable programs as well as a staffed help line. 
  3. Avoid meat at least one day a week:  The majority of water used by farmers in the US is used to grow vast quantities of nonessential crops that feed cattle. You may say, But I don’t eat much meat. But consider this: According to a New York Times article last week, if every American gave up meat one day a week, we could save the amount of water equal to the flow of the Colorado River each year, alleviating the critical water shortages we suffer from in the West. This is a powerful reason to rethink how we eat.
  4. Read a book: I suggest The Story of More: How We Got to Climate Change and Where to Go From Here, by Dr. Hope Jahren. Rather than pummeling the reader with facts, this book brilliantly explains how consumption has overtaken our lives and what you can do to make changes right now!
  5. Vote! And tell everyone you know to vote.    Our own Congressman Jared Huffman is a committed environmentalist and is active in proposing and enacting climate legislation. Learn about the candidates and the legislation you vote for. Your right to vote is a privilege and is the way to make sure your voice is heard loud and clear.


Finally, as we head into this New Year, my hope is that we will all bring a new level of mindfulness to the beauty and wonder of the creation story as it plays out every day, as it has played out since the story in Genesis. But I also hope that we will take the extra step and that we will make action a part of our daily lives. I hope that we will make hard and necessary choices and embrace the responsibilities of living a life guided by Jewish values.

I wish you all a sweet New Year full of love, good health and peace.

Shana Tova.

Tue, March 28 2023 6 Nisan 5783