Sukkot and our Planet

Keeping Connected October 2023

Dear Friends,

As I sit to write, the sun will soon set and the Jewish community will usher in the festival of Sukkot. This holiday is an opportunity for the joyous celebration of the harvest in our lives, both physical and spiritual. When we engage in the rituals of Sukkot, we express gratitude for the bounty of our earth. Sukkot, however, also teaches us about the fragility of our lives and the planet. We remind ourselves of this vulnerability by building and eating in the Sukkah, a temporary and tenuous dwelling place. It is ironic that today, on the eve of Sukkot, the news has been filled with stories of devastating rains falling in New York City. More than 8 inches of rain, more than at any other time since 1948, fell at JFK airport. In Brooklyn in three hours’ time, about a month’s worth of rain fell. The photos show devasting and life-threatening images of water flooding streets, subways, buildings and more. These devastating floods, as well as the rain, other floods, overwhelming heat and fires of the past summer are all indications of just how vulnerable our planet is. Most scientists agree that all of these are symptoms of climate change.

Why should this matter to us as a Jewish community? The Torah teaches that humankind was created on Earth, in part, to care for and protect and be stewards of God’s creation (Genesis 2:15). A powerful rabbinic Midrash about the Book of Ecclesiastes says, “Do not destroy My world, for if you do, there will be nobody after you to make it right again.” (Midrash Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:13). This Midrash is a counterpoint to an actual text from Ecclesiastes “One generation goes and another comes; but the earth remains forever.” To many of us, images of the unparalleled flooding, fires and drought threaten that belief, “that the earth remains forever.”

Almost 2,000 years ago, the rabbis of the Talmud seemed prescient about the fact that humanity had the power not only to tend and care for the earth but also the capacity to spoil and ruin the well-being of the earth and her inhabitants. As a result, the rabbis articulated the Talmudic concept of bal tashchit, “do not destroy”. The rabbis of that time period believed that the land was ultimately God’s and that as Jews and as humanity in general, we had a responsibility to prevent destruction and degradation of the planet. When we live according to the principals of ‘bal tashchit’, we show our commitment to protect the earth and to each other. The Hebrew term “shomrei adamah’, which means ‘guardians of the earth”, is a path for us to demonstrate our responsibility to preserve, protect, and nourish our planet. Each of us has the ability to act in a manner that promotes a healthy and just future for all of the earth’s inhabitants.

As we consider the destructive impacts of climate change and shocking environmental degradations caused by people, the youth of our planet are taking the lead. They and their children are the ones who will most acutely feel the consequences of humanity’s inaction. The students in our school have undertaken the task of becoming Shomrei Adamah – guardians of the earth. Through their school tzedakah project they are going to be spearheading a program to collect and recycle plastic bags. Please read Deborah Morrissey’s article to learn more about this effort and to find out how you can partner with our youth. Some students in the school are also collecting recyclable cans and bottles to return for monies that can be contributed to the school’s tzedakah efforts. Please consider bringing your clean recyclable cans and bottles to the synagogue and putting them in the dedicated container in the kitchen. Thank you for your support of the students’ efforts and for being partners with them in the mitzvah of Bal Tashchit.


Rabbi Shoshana M. Perry