This week’s Torah Portion, Parshat Nitzavim, is the perfect parsha to proceed Tikkun HaYam’s Sixth Annual Reverse Tashlich. If you’ve been receiving our newsletter or reading our Blog, you know that the Reverse Tashlich is our biggest program. It has brought Jews to waterfront locations around the world to remove debris from their local waterways. The purpose is to raise awareness in the Jewish Community of the many threats facing the aquatic environment and our relationship with it as Jews. We do this not as an ordinary waterfront cleanup (others do that all the time). Rather, we do this to fulfill the Mitzvah of Bal Tashchit (the prohibition against needless waste and destruction) and to enter the New Year with renewed conviction to help us Repair the Sea. As we like to say: “Repairing the World begins by Repairing the Sea.”
The Parsha begins by saying:
אַתֶּם נִצָּבִים הַיּוֹם כֻּלְּכֶם, לִפְנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם: רָאשֵׁיכֶם שִׁבְטֵיכֶם, זִקְנֵיכֶם וְשֹׁטְרֵיכֶם, כֹּל, אִישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל
טַפְּכֶם נְשֵׁיכֶם--וְגֵרְךָ, אֲשֶׁר בְּקֶרֶב מַחֲנֶיךָ: מֵחֹטֵב עֵצֶיךָ, עַד שֹׁאֵב מֵימֶיךָ
לְעָבְרְךָ, בִּבְרִית יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ--וּבְאָלָתוֹ: אֲשֶׁר יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, כֹּרֵת עִמְּךָ הַיּוֹם
לְמַעַן הָקִים-אֹתְךָ הַיּוֹם לוֹ לְעָם, וְהוּא יִהְיֶה-לְּךָ לֵאלֹהִים--כַּאֲשֶׁר, דִּבֶּר-לָךְ; וְכַאֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע לַאֲבֹתֶיךָ, לְאַבְרָהָם לְיִצְחָק וּלְיַעֲקֹב
וְלֹא אִתְּכֶם, לְבַדְּכֶם--אָנֹכִי, כֹּרֵת אֶת-הַבְּרִית הַזֹּאת, וְאֶת-הָאָלָה, הַזֹּאת
כִּי אֶת-אֲשֶׁר יֶשְׁנוֹ פֹּה, עִמָּנוּ עֹמֵד הַיּוֹם, לִפְנֵי, יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ; וְאֵת אֲשֶׁר אֵינֶנּוּ פֹּה, עִמָּנוּ הַיּוֹם
You are standing this day all of you before the LORD your God: the heads of your tribes, your elders, and your officers… All Israel. Your little ones, your wives, and the stranger that is in the midst of thy camp, from the hewer of your wood to the drawer of your water, that you should enter into the covenant of the LORD your God--and into the oath which the LORD your God makes with you this day; that God may establish you this day as a special people (literally as His People), and that Adonai may be to you as your God, as was spoken to you, and as was sworn to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. Not with you only do I make this covenant and this oath; but with those that stand here with us this day before the LORD our God, and also with those that are not here with us this day.
It’s a powerful statement because it says the Covenant that was established between God and our ancestors was not only for them, but for us as well: “Those that stand here with us this day before the LORD our God, and also with those that are not here with us this day.” Those who are not here “this day”…. That’s us. This is an eternal covenant for the Jewish People.
And what is the Covenant?
לְאַהֲבָה אֶת-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ לָלֶכֶת בִּדְרָכָיו, וְלִשְׁמֹר מִצְותָיו וְחֻקֹּתָיו וּמִשְׁפָּטָיו
“To love the Lord your God, to walk in God’s ways, and to keep the commandments.”
To walk in God’s ways, for me, means to know that you are a Jew. To never deny that fact and to be proud of it. To live by Jewish values and be part of our People.
To keep the commandments is another issue. Like it or not, nobody observes ALL of the Mitzvot. Even the most observant Jews in Jerusalem do not observe them all. In fact, there are Jews who travel to the far-flung reaches of the planet or stand on street corners looking for Jews who are not practicing Judaism, and ask them to put on Tefillin. Their reasoning is that for a Jew to observe one Mitzvah is better than not observing any at all. They have chosen Tefillin as that Mitzvah. They believe that the observance of one Mitzvah leads to the observance of another. However, there is nothing in the Torah that says any particular Mitzvah is more important than any other.1 A Mitzvah is a Mitzvah. For us, the Bal Tashchit is that Mitzvah. We believe it can speak to all Jews regardless of their level of observance. For those who observe Mitzvot, it enhances what they already observe. For those who do not, we believe it can be the Mitzvah that adds Jewish relevance and meaning to their lives.
But then the Torah makes a profound statement about this relationship:
הַעִדֹתִי בָכֶם הַיּוֹם, אֶת-הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֶת-הָאָרֶץ--הַחַיִּים וְהַמָּוֶת נָתַתִּי לְפָנֶיךָ, הַבְּרָכָה וְהַקְּלָלָה; וּבָחַרְתָּ, בַּחַיִּים--לְמַעַן תִּחְיֶה, אַתָּה וְזַרְעֶךָ
I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse; therefore, choose life, that you and your children may live.
Never before has this passage rung more true than today.
We have before us, life or death. Blessing and curse.
Currently, we are experiencing extreme divisions in the world. We hear that climate change is a hoax. Conversely, we hear that climate change is all about carbon emissions and fossil fuel. Personally, I think both views are short-sighted. Both ideas could benefit from incorporating the Mitzvah of Bal Tashchit.
Whether climate change is an existential threat or not, there’s no denying that humans have polluted the water, the land, and the air. We’ve dumped plastic, chemicals, nuclear waste, pharmaceuticals, sewage, litter, and more into our water. We’ve created landfills that are oozing toxic chemicals into our soil. Why shouldn’t we clean that up? We would clean a mess if it was in our home. Why not on our planet? Even without any existential threat, even without “Climate Change,” there are still plentiful reasons to observe Bal Tashchit.
So too, can this mitzvah be fulfilled by those who see human caused carbon emissions as the issue. We cannot ignore all that we are doing to the Ocean beyond carbon emissions. Polluting our waterways creates an unhealthy environment. Polluting our waterways puts the fish, marine mammals, crustaceans, cephalopods, invertebrates, coral reefs, kelp forests, plankton, and all the other beings living in the ocean at risk. We must acknowledge the bigger picture, that the Ocean creates the Climate by means of a finely balanced ecosystem, and we need to bring it back into a healthy balance, by removing the burden of pollution.
This week’s Torah Portion has made a very clear statement: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse; therefore, choose life, that you and your children may live.”
Together we can make that choice and make a difference. Choose Life!
Choose life, and join us by joining a Reverse Tashlich near you.
1 Other than Pikuach Nefesh (which has been discussed in previous posts) that supersedes all but 3 mitzvot, and honor your father and honor which promises long life if observed (also discussed in previous posts).