Practicing Shabbat and Mending the World
Jewish faith begins with creation. The Torah commences with bereshith bara’ Elohim…: “In the beginning, G-d created,” and outlines the many wonders of the world that came into being “in the beginning”: light, sky, sea, land, and the diverse creatures that fill them: birds, fish, land animals, and finally, late on the sixth day—which by Jewish reckoning is late Friday afternoon, just before Shabbat begins—human beings. So, according to the Genesis story, the first full day humans enjoyed was the holy day of divine rest. Having seen all things come into being, the Holy One saw that all creation was very good, and then rested.
The restfulness of Shabbat, or Sabbath, is a wonderful metaphor for the spiritual dimensions of ecological action. Shabbat is a day of release from busy commerce, a day of gratitude, simplicity, and satisfaction, enjoyed with family and community.
Not only is this a lovely metaphor for the peace of ecological living, but for many Jewish communities it is literally a fast from a host of ecologically costly activities: driving, cooking, handling money, turning on electric lights, appliances, and equipment. Especially wherever and whenever farm animals engage in hard labor for humans, the Shabbat has served as a day of rest for them. In short, the weekly observance of Shabbat allows Jews to relinquish control of the world for 24 hours—enabling relinquishment on many levels the other six days of the week as well.
Every Shabbat, Jews pray in the Aleinu that the world will soon be healed under G-d’s sovereignty. The rest of the week, they are enjoined to answer that prayer, to work to make things right, to practice what is called Tikkun ‘Olam, or “mending the world,” or “repairing the world.” According to an ancient rabbinical story recorded in Midrash Kohelet Rabbah, inspired by Ecclesiastes (Kohelet) 7:13, “When God created the first human beings, God led them around the Garden of Eden and said: ‘Look at my works! See how beautiful they are—how excellent! For your sake I created them all. See to it that you do not spoil and destroy My world; for if you do, there will be no one else to repair it.’” (Rabbi Lawrence Troster, “Ten Jewish Teachings on Judaism and the Environment”).
Environmental Activities in Indiana
Congregation Beth Shalom in Bloomington was the first Hoosier synagogue to take radical steps to reduce their building’s energy footprint. Working in tandem with five other Indiana congregations through the terms of an Office of Energy Development solar grant administered by member Madi Hirschland, Congregation Beth Shalom reduced their electricity use by 27% (beyond what the new solar panels provided) and their natural gas use by 61%. This laudable achievement succeeded mainly through thermostat setbacks, occupancy sensors, and installing high-efficiency HVAC systems. Beth Shalom’s deep and growing commitment sets the example not only for Jewish congregations, but for members of all faiths, of practicing tikkun ‘olam.
This past March, Rabbi Paula Winnig, executive directory of the Bureau of Jewish Education in Indianapolis, participated in an interfaith panel at Christian Theological Seminary hosted by Hoosier Interfaith Power & Light, enlightening a rapt audience on Jewish practices underlying environmental sensibilities and actions. Many know about the ancient laws of kashrut, in which the eating of some animals is kosher, but not the eating of others, and some slaughtering practices are allowed, but not others. As Rabbi Winnig pointed out, kashrut rules out the cruelty to both animals and laborers that is regularly practiced in factory farming installations. “If animals and workers are not treated with dignity,” she said, “then it is not kosher.” The laws of kosher enforce ethical limits on what humans might do in daily life, and like Shabbat, they demonstrate to us that we are better off when we live within the limits creation imposes.
The Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation has begun a new group called the Adamah (“earth”/“land”) Initiative. Under the leadership of Hoosier IPL board member Dori Chandler, this group is exploring new ways their congregation can put their ecological understandings into practice. Recently they met with H-IPL staff members Holly Jones, Mike Oles, and Trisha Tull to learn more about how H-IPL’s programs for energy conservation and environmental justice initiatives could help them fulfill these goals. We welcome them and celebrate the synagogues throughout Indiana that seek likewise to practice a living faith that mends the world.
Hoosier Interfaith Power & Light wishes our Jewish members a most blessed Rosh Hashanah (New Year) 5777, beginning October 2 at sunset. The High Holy Days continue through Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), Sukkot (Festival of Booths), Shemini Atzeret (the Eighth Day), and finally Simchat Torah (the Joy of Torah).Leshanah tovah tikatevu: may you be blessed in the coming year.