Global Warming and Judaism: a Yom Kippur Sermon on climate change and the Bible– a re-post from 2006

For Congregation Sha’ar Zahav, Rabbi Camille Shira Angel;

See here and here for some current resources on religion and climate change; Read entire sermon here

By Ellie M. Cohen October 2, 2006

My 4 year old daughter and I were fortunate to spend a few days in August on a beautiful high Sierra lake.  One morning we decided to attempt her first fishing lesson.  The early morning air was pine-resin, mountain fresh as we sat down at the edge of the small dock.  The lake was quite still at first—a mirror reflecting the rising sun and the forests that lined the shores. 

We carefully cast out our line, trying hard to avoid getting hooked ourselves.  Together we very gradually pulled the line in, with the lightweight reel clicking and ratcheting each step.  We had no bait —so our biggest catch was some “lakeweed.”  After a few castings, Leah took off her socks and shoes, happily dangling her feet in the still-ice-cold snow-melted water. 

Suddenly a brisk wind picked up and we snuggled closer.  She dodged the chill by laying flat on her back on the sun-warmed dock and I joined her.  The new view was enchanting.  We found ourselves looking straight up into the most magnificent blue sky — that clarity you can only see when you are a mile and a half above sea level.  Wisps of clouds moved in from the south—enormous feathers of the whitest whites as my daughter described them.  Then she asked, is that God?  I hesitated, then with great parental authority, asked…. what do you think?  She replied, “I think God is everywhere– in the clouds, in the wind, in the trees, in the birds and in the ground.”  God was definitely present in that very special moment.

The High Holidays are a time to contemplate the meaning of heaven and earth as we celebrate the creation of the world, its incredible diversity of inhabitants and the powerful forces that shape it every day.  On Yom Kippur especially— as we explore repentance and forgiveness on this holiest of days, this final day of the Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe—we refrain from earthly pleasures, abstain from food, even abstain from colorful clothing as our thoughts are focused towards heaven.   Yet paradoxically, Yom Kippur prayers constantly bring us back to earth by urging us to reflect on our mundane routines and behaviors to reach the lofty goals of reconciliation and renewal. 

Rabbi Eleazar son of Rabbi Simeon observed almost 2,000 years ago, ‘Why does Scripture at times put earth before heaven and at other times heaven before earth?  To teach that the two are of equal value.[2]

What better day than today to contemplate heaven and earth, the oneness of our world, our role as stewards of God’s creation and our commitment as Jews to preserving it….. [Read more here]