Chag Hanukkah Sameach. Happy Hanukkah to everyone in the Tikkun HaYam community. I hope you are eating lots of latkes and jelly donuts, and I hope you are enjoying the eight days of bioluminescence videos from last week’s Water Wednesday.
This week, we read a special Haftarah during the Shabbat of Hanukkah. When explored deeper, this text inspires me, yet again, to care for our Blue Planet. It takes place at the end of the Babylonian exile. The Holy Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE, and our People were expelled from the Land of Israel for 70 years. The Persians then defeated the Babylonians and allowed the Jews to return to Israel. Upon returning to Jerusalem, we set about rebuilding the Holy Temple. That is where this week’s Haftarah begins.
The Haftarah contains prophecies and visions of the Prophet Zechariah associated with the rebuilding of the Temple. It concludes with a vision of a golden Menorah with seven branches. Zechariah doesn’t understand the vision, so an angel gives him a very cryptic message: “‘Not by might and not by power, but by My Spirit’ says the Lord of Hosts.” (Zecharaiah 4:6) There are many interpretations of this message, but most say it refers to rebuilding of the Temple through the spiritual strength of the Jewish people, not through our physical power or might.
Interestingly, in Hebrew, the prophecy of Zechariah also offers insight into protecting the world’s Water:
“ לֹ֤א בְחַ֨יִל֙ וְלֹ֣א בְכֹ֔חַ כִּ֣י אִם־בְּרוּחִ֔י אָמַ֖ר יְיָ֥ צְבָאֽוֹת.”
“‘Not by might and not by power, but by My Spirit’ says the Lord of Hosts.”
The word בְּרוּחִ֔י is the same word for Spirit used in Genesis 1:2 at the beginning of creation, when the Torah says:
וְר֣וּחַ אֱלֹהִ֔ים מְרַחֶ֖פֶת עַל־פְּנֵ֥י הַמָּֽיִם
“The Spirit of God is on the Water.”
The Spirit that is on the Water is the Spirit that has supported the Jewish people throughout history. Therefore, I see this Haftarah as a message for us today. Just as the Holy Temple was desecrated and defiled by the Babylonians in ancient times, the Ocean and Water of the world today has been desecrated and defiled by a different Babylon. In the Jewish tradition, the generic “Babylon” has come to symbolize an oppressor against which the righteous must fight. In Christianity, “Babylon” symbolizes evil. In the Book of Revelation it is personified as “the Whore of Babylon” and described as “the mother of all prostitutes and abominations of the Earth.” (Rev. 17). In the Rastafarian tradition, “Babylon” represents the materialistic, capitalistic world and imperialistic evil. In one way or another, all of these traditions represent Babylon as a force of power motivated by oppression, greed and selfishness.
I see the Babylon of today as the industrial fishing corporations that are stealing trillions of fish every year. Sea life should not be viewed as a commodity to be exploited, but as living beings who are essential for keeping our global ecosystem in balance.
I see the multinational oil companies spilling billions of gallons of oil into the ocean, spewing toxic emissions into the atmosphere, and pushing single-use plastic in their quest to earn more profits, while minimizing the impact of their actions on the rest of the planet, as Babylon.
I see the mining companies seeking to exploit minerals from the deep ocean floor, disturbing and potentially destroying ecosystems and life that have existed there for thousands of years, as Babylon.
Marine scientists, conservation organizations, and activists are doing great work to fight the modern Babylon. I support them, and encourage you to do the same. But I believe they are missing a key piece in their work: רוּחִ֔, Spirit. That is the space Tikkun HaYam fills. We need might and power to overcome modern day Babylon. However, we need the Spirit to rebuild and Repair the Sea.
When we acknowledge that the spirit of the Divine is on water, we will see that to protect the marine environment is a sacred task… a mitzvah. Like our ancestors so long ago who rededicated the Holy Temple at this time, and as Jews have done for thousands of years since then to rededicated ourselves to the values and traditions of our people, so too may we rededicate ourselves to our sacred task of being caretakers of the natural world.