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Earth Day Shabbat: A Double Celebration

Earth Day Shabbat: A Double Celebration


Each year, Earth Day is a time to celebrate the world around us, to appreciate our natural resources, and to connect with nature. This year, Earth Day (April 22) falls on Shabbat, our day of rest, our deep breath between the week that has passed and the week to come. Earth Day Shabbat is the perfect opportunity to host a sustainable Shabbat, to engage in Jewish study with an environmental lens and to celebrate the earth.

Host A Sustainable Shabbat

One powerful way to celebrate Earth Day is to incorporate environmentalism into your daily life, to make an effort to see your Shabbat practice and the way you move through the world, as inextricably linked to the future of our planet. A great way to reduce your own carbon footprint is by being intentional about what you buy, what you eat and what you serve food on. Transportation of food and agriculture contribute significantly to our national greenhouse gas emissions. Consider eating less meat and more locally-sourced food. Check out this guide to hosting a sustainable Shabbat for more ideas on how to make your Shabbat more environmentally friendly.

Parsha Sh’mini: Strange Fire

On Earth Day Shabbat, we read Parasha Sh’mini. In this Torah portion, we find the Israelites still in the desert, on the eighth day of consecrating the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and the priests. While the portion covers several topics, from sacrificial offerings to the laws of kashrut, a narrative section of the parsha offers a metaphorical lesson about climate change and the perils it can bring. We read the story of Nadab and Abihu, Aaron’s sons, who have successfully been making sacrifices for a week. Each time they make a sacrifice – a calf, an ox or a ram – it is received by God and turns to smoke.

Then, Nadab and Abihu bring an offering of incense to the alter, an offering which had not been commanded. They are immediately consumed in fire and they die. “And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took each of them his censer, and put fire therein, and laid incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. And there came forth fire from before the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD” (Leviticus 10:1-2). From this story, we can take a lesson about strange fire, and what happens when we tamper with the natural order of things. When we burn fossil fuels, we release our own form of strange fire into our atmosphere, creating a heat-trapping blanket over our earth and exacerbating the effects of climate change. Just as the strange fire from Nadab and Abihu’s offering resulted in their death, we too will be harmed by our strange fire.

Another perplexing detail of this story is that after his sons are killed, Aaron is silent. Rabbis have debated why this is and have drawn several conclusions about this moment. In modern times, we can see Aaron’s silence echoed in the face of the suffering that occurs as a result of climate change. When we face great pain or see the potential for it, silence, or handling issues personally, is a common reaction. As we read and reflect on this week’s Torah portion, we can see a bit of our modern task to reduce carbon emissions paralleled in our thousands -year-old textual tradition.

Celebrate the Earth

At the core of an Earth Day celebration is the practice of gratitude to our earth. And when we think about it, a Shabbat observance, is an environmental act. On Shabbat, we refrain from using electricity and driving cars, effectively reducing our carbon footprint. For one day a week, we shut down, conserving energy and taking time to reflect. This Earth Day Shabbat, let’s take time to also look out, to appreciate the nature around us, spend time outside, and appreciate our interconnectedness with the earth. 

Lizzie Stein is a leadership development associate at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, where she previously served as an Eisendrath Legislative Assistant. In her current role, she leads fellowships for alumni of RAC programs and brings leadership skills training to the RAC’s L’Taken Social Justice Seminars and other programs. Lizzie also staffs the Urgency of Now: Transgender Rights Campaign. A graduate of Occidential College, she is a member of Temple Kol Ami in Phoenix, AZ, her hometown.

Lizzie Stein

Published: 4/14/2017