Now that Sukkot is upon us, we are bound to think of the way we are grateful for and vulnerable to the bounty and power of nature. This year we asked our affiliate communities across the Commonwealth to document how climate change is affecting their country. Please check out our video and see what they had to say... we believe their personal stories can help to make a difference!
In our tradition, we are urged to remember that there is only one world - in the words of current climate activists 'there is no planet B' - and it behoves us to look after it. Not only is Humanity mandated in Genesis in the Torah to take responsibilty for the world, noting our awesome power to take control of all natural resources, but the Zohar has God telling us that we better not mess it up because there will be no-one else around to put it right.
Remember too that when God creates the world, He notes that each item he makes is 'good' - but for one, Mankind. When he makes Adam, he passes no judgement. After all, we are the only creature - item of creation - that can choose what it does and how it behaves. Everything else fits its role and does waht it isupposed to. But whether or not we are 'good', will be in our hands.
Our rabbis tells of an old man planting a fruit tree. When asked why he would bother, given that he will never live to see it produce fruit, he rightly responds that there were fruit trees around when he was young.
Someone must have done the same in the past for him.
On other occasions, we've noted the importance of trees in the Jewish tradition, but I'm not sure if we've mentioned before that the rabbis advise that 'if you're planting a tree, and someone comes and says that the Messiah has arrived, finish planting the tree first before going off to follow him!'
On this festival we gather the fruits and branches of trees and, in waving the lulav, encompass all the points of the compass and the world, symbolically demonstrating that we remember that for all our urban skill and comfort, in the end, the world out there is still at root natural and we must value it and recognise it. Strangely then, the roofs of our sukkot (the main feature of a sukka) must be made of things which once grew but are no longer alive. We can't use concrete or metal to make a sukka roof but nor can one use the overhanging branches of a tree as a roof covering. We are commanded ot use natural items and to bend them to our use. judiasm is not a religion that urges us to 'return to nature'.
Under the pressures of climate change and the need to act to lighten our pressure on the world, Sukkot teaches us that we must not cease to enjoy and value the natural world and that we have the power and the right to bend it to our will. But we cannot do so wantonly. We cannot waste, as we are taught in Deuteronomy - Bal Tashchit - but we have a right to use the world. This is a subtle and a challenging balancing act.
But in the end it is similar to that which parents the world over strive to achieve with their children. They have all kinds of power over their children and they should not avoid taking control and demanding what they feel is right of their children. At the same time though, they must not overstep the mark or ask too much. If they do, they will end up with ruined children and no relationship to enjoy. Most parents manage to get it more or less right. We now must find the same easy balance in our relationship with nature and the world.
So our wish for your Sukkot is that the waether is pleasant and your days in the sukka are enjoyable. And that then, you re-enter the normal world ever more deeply aware that it is a beautiful world, once beautifully balanced, but now out of kilter. We have an urgent duty to future generations to try and set it back on course while at the same time teaching all who we can influence that the pressure of climate change should never mean that we deny ourselves the wonders and pleasures of the world too. Striking that balance will require great skill, application of our highest capacities and great creativity, as well as forbearance and reduction of thoughtless wastage.
In some ways though, the balance between Shabbat and weekdays - six days of activity and a seventh of forebearance - already shows us part of the way. In fact, we have no right to stand aside for this great pressing issue of our time. We cannot avoid taking that responsibility seriously, as Jews and as citizens of the planet.
Clive A Lawton OBE JP