This week's Parsha, VaYeitzei, contains the famous story of Jacob's Ladder. As Jacob fled from the wrath of his brother Esau, who wanted to kill him, he went to sleep and had a dream in which he saw a ladder stretching from the ground up into the heavens, with angels ascending and descending on it. And God appeared to Jacob and said: "I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father, and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lay, I will give it to you and your descendants. And your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth, and will spread to the west, to the east, to the north, and to the south. And through you and your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed." (Genesis 23:13-16)
Interestingly, the same blessing is given three times in the previous Parshas to both Abraham and Isaac. To Abraham, God said: "Through you shall all the families of the earth be blessed" (Genesis 12:3), and in chapter 22:18: "through you shall all the families of the earth be blessed." Isaac also received this blessing with a slight variation: "and through your descendants shall all the nations of the earth bless themselves." (Genesis 26:4)
As the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, it behooves us to ask the question: What does it mean that through us shall all the families of the earth be blessed?" Sure, we can take collective pride in the contributions that individual Jews have made to the world. My grandmother used to do it… and so do I. Yes, I take great pride in the contributions of Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Leonard Bernstein, Mel Brooks, Simon & Garfunkel, and so many more. I am proud that the Torah changed the world and that the Ten Commandments were given to the Jewish People through Moses. Perhaps this is what it means through us shall all the families of the earth be blessed. But percentage-wise, the Jewish People are so small in number, and these luminaries of our people make up just a fraction of our tiny collective that it seems improbable that this alone should be how through us all the families of the earth are blessed. It also takes a lot of Chutzpah ("nerve" in Yiddish for those who don't know) for me to take collective credit for the work of all those illustrious Jews.
The COP27 Conference (United Nations Climate Change Conference) was an excellent example of how we can fulfill God's blessing. Like all 27 COP conferences before this one, going back to COP 1 in 1995 in Berlin, world leaders have come together and talked about Climate Change and the environment. For 27 years, however, they have all made promises and commitments… and very few results have followed. The COP27 Conference shows that we cannot rely on world "leaders" to repair the environment. It's Us! We need to rely on ourselves. The Torah says the Jewish People are an אור לגוים - a light unto the Nations. In these difficult times for the Ocean and environment, each of us needs to be that light unto the Nations. Through our actions and through our words, we can collectively be the vehicle that brings blessings to all the families of the world. We don't need empty words from politicians. Each of us can make a difference and show it through the causes we support, the lessons we learn, the products we purchase, and the words we speak. If we bring the mission and message of Tikkun HaYam to our synagogues, our Hillels, our Federations, and our schools, we can make a collective difference. If we are motivated by the Torah and our tradition, which tell us we are stewards of God's creation, then we know it is our obligation as Jews to protect the natural world for its own sake (not for the sake of exploitation and profit). Then perhaps we can truly say that through us, all the families of the earth shall be blessed.
Jacob isn't the only one who had a dream. I, too, have a dream. I dream that one day we will see the global Jewish community engaged in protecting and preserving the Ocean and the aquatic environment. I dream that every Jewish organization and institution will stop using single-use plastic. I dream that we will see a world with clean water and abundant life in the Sea. I dream that every Jew will recognize the life-giving holiness of water and treat it with the care and respect it deserves. And perhaps, if we live this dream, if we talk about it, if we show it and share it with our non-Jewish friends and neighbors, we can fulfill God's blessing to Isaac that through us, all the families of the earth will bless themselves.