Progressively Speaking: What you can do to help protect our environment
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Progressively Speaking: What you can do to help protect our environment

 Rabbi Janet Burden of Ealing Liberal Synagogue takes a topical issue and applies a Liberal Jewish response

If I’d written this at an earlier point in my life, I would have dictated a long list of actions we should all be taking, as if I were the ultimate oracle of ‘green wisdom’.

As I have grown older, however, I have learned that significant lasting change in society must begin witha shift in the way individuals think.

Only a few years ago, we gave little thought to our use of plastic or the impact of our consumption of so much meat. Our increasing awareness today is now fuelling changes we need to make.

But how do we, as Jews, change ourselves?

One of the best ways is through the techniques of our Mussar tradition. Mussar encourages us to work on ourselves by cultivating the various character traits (middot), which the Mishnah says helps us to acquire Torah (Pirkei Avot 6:6).

As we approach Tu B’Shvat, there are three things we could all be trying.

The first is being happy with one’s lot. Ben Zoma said: “Who is rich? Those who are happy with their portion.”

We can be content with what we have, rather than endlessly acquiring more. We might also consider downsizing our homes when the children leave. That step could save enormous amounts of energy and address the lack of housing for others.

The second is moderating our business activities.  Amassing wealth fuels our desire for consumption. We damage our health by eating and drinking to excess. We fly to New York for shopping trips. We host extravagant simchahs. But what does this teach our children?

Finally, we can embark on learning, in order to practice. Rabbi Natan said: “The individual who has no good deeds, even though that person has studied much Torah – to whom may that individual be compared? To a person who in building lays bricks first and then heaps stones over them, so that even if a little water collects, it at once undermines the structure.”

Acting on what we learn about the environment is perhaps one of the most important steps we can take.

  •   Rabbi Janet Burden serves Ealing Liberal Synagogue
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