Tag Archives: Environmentalism

Tu biShvat: The active, virile energies it addresses in nature and us

The development of the seder, and what we can learn about our will for assertion from this tradition

Tu biShvat – the New Year for the Trees – is probably one of the most enjoyable, and yet one of the least understood, holidays in the Jewish calendar. It is a highly mystical holiday, and also deeply connected to nature. And because us moderns tend to be quite detached from both the mystical and the natural world, it’s hard for us to connect with this frame of mind. It’s often hard – especially for those of us who are primarily urban business people – to connect with the land and do it in a most spiritual way.

Just in time for Tu biShvat, we have sprouting etrog (Israeli citron) trees breaking soil!

Just in time for Tu biShvat, we have sprouting etrog trees breaking soil! This is a very virile holiday, it is not so much about embracing mother nature. It’s more about becoming aware and mindful of how we assert ourselves over nature, and then taking those lessons inward.

This is especially more so for us Jews outside of the land of Israel, where the agricultural issues of how to manage the crops of Eretz Yisrael and where observing the related halacha isn’t something we really experience.

This holiday marks the agricultural fiscal year in the land of Israel. This is when all the trees are accounted for in the land, allowing the growers to know when it was appropriate to harvest from a tree. This accounting made it possible to know when to observe the many agricultural related Torah mitzvot; such as to give first-fruit offerings from a new tree, and when to mark for the agricultural sabbatical years (shemitah) in the land, and from what point to give tithes from ones crops. (see Leviticus 19:23-25)

Notice that this year is the shemitah year in Israel, where we don’t plant or harvest in Israel. We let the land rest and lay fallow in the holy land. But here in the diaspora most people are unaware of it. Like I said, it’s hard to connect to this outside of the Land of Israel. Where the seasons might not jive and the cycle doesn’t apply. This makes it difficult to grasp and appreciate, this cycle of life in Isreael. And this can even be unnerving to some, who do not hold Israel dear. As indeed, this holiday does ask us to consider the nature and produce of the Land of Israel. And it also calls us out to actively connect with this very land.

But this holiday which we know today comes down to us today as an outgrowth of both spiritual and secular reinterpretation. Ones which have greatly shaped the holiday and the way we celebrate it today.

The kabbalists of the middle-ages – those Jewish masters of mysticism and the esoteric – they were deeply connected to the land of Israel after their expulsion from Spain in 1492 and upon their arrival in the holy city of Tzfat (Safed). There the symbolisms of this holiday came alive for them as they began to renew the land. And there they were also able to discover deeper spiritual meanings to this observance and to the traditions surrounding this holiday.

Out of this tradition we received the seder for this holiday, as documented in the “The Pri Etz Hadar: Fruit of the Majestic Tree seder for Tu biShvat by Rabbi Natan Binyamin Ghazzati (ca. 17th c.),” a deeply mystical text intended to help people take a spiritual accounting of their growth and produce on a soul level. This text first documented the customs for the Tu biShvat seder we know today. A source text made popular among Sephardic and Chassidic masters, being close adherents of the mystical schools.

Of course, as the age of enlightenment arose many people began to neglect the deeply mystical practices. And intern this holiday of Tu biShvat fell into neglect by many in the next couple centuries.

However, another huge revival and re-envisioning of this holiday – this time a secular one – would come about as the result of another direct encounter with Jews and the land of Israel. Actualized as part of the Zionist dream during the 19th and 20th century, during the rebirth of the land of Israel and the formation of the modern, secular State of Israel. This holiday would take on the role akin to Arbor Day, and focus upon the restoration of the land of Israel. Planting trees and restoring the wildlife of Israel, which had been stripped bare in the many wars, crusades and occupations.

For many Jews in diaspora, Tu biShvat would thus also come to hold significance. A day in which we direct our focus towards Israel. To try to connect with eretz Yisrael in the most direct ways possible. Many contributing to the restoration and preservation of the land. The world over, Jewish progressives and religious Zionists would come to observe this day by giving tzedakah (charity) for planting trees in Israel. This day noticeably marked with the passing around of the Jewish National Fund pushka.

Believe it or not, especially for Orthodox Jews in America, the giving of tzedakah for planting trees is one of the only ways most of us remember observing the holiday as kids. I was talking about this with my friends who were former yeshiva bochurs as we planned for the holiday this year. Except for obtaining from fasting, which isn’t necessarily an observance in and of itself, that was about it. Raising money in diaspora and physically planting trees in Israel was the most pronounced observance any of us remembers. One which was less likely if you were haredi, and therefore not Zionist leaning.

In the orthodox world I remember we would all do a little learning, but few people held a full Tu biShvat seder in those days. Most likely, because few people knew exactly how to perform it well enough. Which is quite sad because the seder is dripping in symbolism which should be most meaningful for those who are fully immersed in the verbiage of kabbalah and chassidus. And yet, we admit we have often been lacking in our application and enthusiasm.

Of course since then, a lot has changed. Newer siddurim and the advent of online resources, more people are finding the seder more accessible. But the reviving observance is also greatly motivated by a growing interest in kabbalah in society today. An interest which many traditional movements are thrilled to be meeting, so today there is a lot more promotion of this holiday more than ever to address this interest.

However, for the most part the most success in incorporating this holiday into the consciousness of diaspora Jews has come during the latter part of the 20th century and during the turn of the 21st century has been made by progressive Jews. By diaspora Jews who have brought the lessons learned in modern-day Israel to the rest of the world. Who have witnessed the melded of the secular with the spiritual in the modern-day State of Israel. And who have in this model taken the holiday and made it more socially conscious in our own lands. And who have also come to mark this day as an opportunity for their communities to become socially and politically active regarding the environment and nature. Realizing that we wont bear fruit until we break ground through social action.

In this spirit the holiday of Tu biShvat has come to be embraced the world over as a Jewish Earth Day Celebration of sorts. Where people not just celebrate nature, but actively show their green thumb and their social activism. A time when one gets to show their love for nature and vow to preserve it.

The latter reason is probably another factor for why this holiday of Tu biShvat is more well observed among progressives and less so among conservatives in America. Be it personal discomfort with being called a tree-hugger, one’s dissociation with nature… or even worse, ones troubling environmental politics. What ever the reason, many religious Jews in the Americas show neglect towards our observance because of our personal sentiments we need to correct.

Today I want us to take the time to focus on a tikkun atzmi – a correction and repair within ourselves. So intern we can be more effective in making a tikkun olam – a correction and repair in the world! We need to have both.

A Peek into the Mystical Aspects of the Tu biShvat Seder

And that is precisely what this holiday is about according to our kabbalistic tradition. Making a tikkun (a correction) within ourselves.

And more specifically making a correction within our male energies and over our sense of assertion. This is a very virile holiday, it is not so much about embracing mother nature. It’s more about becoming aware and mindful of how we assert ourselves over nature, and then taking those lessons inward.

And this is where I fear I might lose readers, both nervous males and bashful females. I’ve noticed I can talk as much as I want about the feminine aspects of G-d’s shechinah these days, but talking about masculine things is something many are becoming less accustomed to! Men and women, both equally, show discomfort at times. However, I think that whatever our gender is we can all learn a very important lesson by looking at the very masculine and assertive essence of this holiday of Tu biShvat.

I don’t want to make it weird so let me explain what I mean, and use the paralleling examples we can draw from. At this time of year we are approaching the spring harvest two months from now, which is the biblical new year; that is something most of us know little about. So instead let us look at the opposite side of the calendar, and compare it to the coming of the civil and religious new year – to Rosh haShanah; that is something we seem to all naturally know more about. I’m sure many of you will immediate recognize the polar distinctions between these two seasons in our tradition.

When we think of the season of Rosh haShanah we think of it as a season with female spiritual correspondences. The season of Elul and Tishrei are often regarded as a feminine and receptive time of year. This month of Elul, its kabbalistic Zodiac sign is the Beitulah; the virgin which corresponds to Virgo, explained as the same virgin (beitulah) of Libra with the scales of justice (moznayim) in hand. This symbolizes the receptive nature of the virgin earth, during the season of plowing of the land. It also represents Din – or judgment, which is also seen as a feminine aspect of the Divine. As we know, we are making selichot in that month of Elul, in preparation towards being judged in Tisherei. That season is characterized by judgment and restriction.

But at the same time the season of fall is an intimate season, in which we are to mystically mirror a young virgin longing for marriage and intimacy. When we want to mirror that longing in our relationship to G-d. That is why we also consider Rosh haShanah our wedding day to G-d. From that point of spiritual reference, we focus upon our receptivity.

See, that wasn’t so hard. Not too difficult to talk about. And even if we are not kabbalistically learned, most of us recognize these themes. Now let’s see if we can grasp the other end of this.

In contrast, at this time of year we are supposed to be focusing on the more masculine correspondences displayed in these upcoming months. Now during Shevat we do not consider this season barren, this is now the time of the almond blossoms breaking forth. The ground will soon start to break forth with life, and with the hopes of budding of fruits to come.

We are now going into the fertile months. Two months from this night, we will be looking up at a full-moon like this and celebrating Pesach; we will be eating the produce of the spring wheat harvest, and counting towards the barley harvest until Shavout. This is a seminal and groundbreaking time of year. A very virile and fertile time of year!

We aren’t the only people who see this, consider how strong the theme of fertility is present in the cultures around us as this season approaches. As the common culture will soon find their celebrations also entrenched in symbols of fertility; as they decorate everything in eggs and bunnies. This theme is starting to be in the air for many cultures the world over, not just for us alone. It’s not hard to recognize and understand this seasonal contrast.

In contrast to the feminine and receptive nature of Rosh haShanah (and Beitulah), the spiritual new year of Pesach is a strikingly masculine holiday. And so is Tu biShvat. The Fall nature is barren and receptive, the Spring is asserting and springs forth. We know what we are talking about here, as traditionally cultures have often binarily called this “masculine initiative,” so we get what this means. I don’t need to be too explicit, I think we all get this.

Notice how the kabbalistic zodiac sign Taleh, the lamb in our tradition or a ram, it corresponds to the spring month of Aires (the month of aviv, spring; Nissan); it displays the masculine spiritual forces par-excellence. It represents an active and domineering partner in its spiritual attributes. It displays the Divine aspects of Chesed – that passionate and ever-expansive type of love. That fiery and lusty energy is what takes center stage as this time of fertility draws close.

Now we really need to pay special attention to this point. And I think if we examine our own drives we can clearly connect to these points in every person. That what this side of the Divine essence represents is that power of assertion we have inside us. That drive to want to assert ourselves in life and in our relationship to other things. It signifies that ever-expansive desire to aggressively assert ourselves over nature and life itself. To take whats barren and make life spring erect from it.

These are the words and themes mystically woven together in this Tu biShvat seder. For those who are attuned to kabbalah and chassidut we know that part of the this tikkun we are making is within our own personal will and drive to assert ourselves; and to bring balance to an ever-expansive type of chesed in us, as displayed by masculine aspects of the spiritual forces used in the text of the seder. (Abba, Tzedek, Yesod, etc.) It calls us to consider and make tikkun (correction) for an expansive love and passion on overdrive.

Take a look at the Pri Etz Hadar when you get a chance. Notice that the seder wording clearly makes those parallels in how it speaks about making a correction in Yesod (the phallus), and by means of this expressing how our over expansive drives are so seen as a form of unchastity. As we are embracing the virile energy at this time of year, we are also asked to be equally mindful in using that power responsibly. It calls us to make a correction in ourselves, related to bring balance to our own carnal desires and actions. Instead of giving completely over to this virile drive we are called to bring balance to it. Asking men in the traditional text to be mindful that they might be over-expansive in their carnal passions, and to make a tikkun (a correction inside ones self) for that.

This is a lesson which was learned though nature, and which needs to be applied back in our relationship with nature. At the heart of the Tu biShvat seder, under all the layers of mysticism, that is what it is doing by calling us to on all levels overcome a base-level drive inside of ourselves to assert ourselves over nature and be more responsible with the power we assert over the earth.

At Rosh Hashanah in Fall we are called to be mindful of being receptive and properly submissive in our nature. But in this coming season of Spring, we are asked to be mindful of our will to assert ourselves and to expansively spring forth.

For those who are brave and honest with themselves, we need to be asking ourselves some questions deep inside our souls at this time. Privately ask oneself:

  • Am I over-asserting myself over the earth in a damaging and disrespectful manner? Am I being over-expansive in respect to the earth?
  • Am I over-asserting myself sexually, using it in a damaging and disrespecting manner? Am I being over-asserting in my sexuality?

The Seder and the Four Worlds

Now the structure of the Tu biShvat seder shows us how to apply this vigorous expansiveness, how to properly apply all this Chesed. And addresses how to become more effective in this aspect, both in our passions and actions. It does this by taking us on a journey up the scale of the kabbalistic Four Worlds of ABiYA:

Assiyah: The world of Action

Yetzirah: The world of Formation

Beriah: The world of Creation

Atzilut the world of Emanation (actualization)

In this seder we start our frame of reference grounded in the physical world of action, and we are moving towards pure thought which we perceive as being in the fiery heavens (where the sun and stars burn in the sky) as the mystics perceive of this path. We are moving upwards, elevating our senses and drives and thoughts to even loftier heights.

tree labeled four worlds kabbalahBut it all starts with activity, this process begins with us starting within the world of action. It starts with us putting our hands into action. And then as we begin to act, we can then better perceive of how to form and inspire creation in this world.

This holiday orients us and points us forward, and up. Directing us to strive on for a higher level of thought and passion which is beyond constriction, understood as the world of Emanation (Atzilut). Where G-d is One and the world is one. At this highest level of consciousness, we are trying to actualize a world without striving, restriction, disunity and lack; where there is completeness and wholeness.

Now I’ve said a mouthful, and I know very well that most of us aren’t mystics. I know not many of you consider yourselves too spiritual or mystical. Many of us are moderns and progressives, people who are not wrapped up in a world of mystical symbolisms as others. I understand this.

But that is the beautify of this holiday, it doesn’t require us to be at a place of lofty spirituality. The spiritual exercises of this holiday starts us firmly on the earth, in the natural world and in this very realm of physical action. All we need to do is focus on how to bring our actions better in line with our most loftier thoughts.

This tradition of ours doesn’t tell us we need to attain great spiritual heights. It just tells us to start with our actions, and to elevate our thoughts which inspire our actions. We don’t need to be concerned if we reach Atzilut, really. We aren’t literally trying to reach perfection, but what is important is that we are striving towards bettering and perfecting this world towards that more ideal reality. And doing a tikkun, making a correction, for those defects we recognize in this world.

In both our actions and with our passions as previously discussed, we are asked to become more conscious about our sense of assertiveness. That is what I want us to keep in mind as we make our way through the Tu biShvat seder this year. How to make a tikkun in that area of our lives as well.

Reflection: Now I don’t really think that traditional Jews are less observant than progressive Jews in respect to this holiday, just less enthusiastic about it sometimes in diaspora. As it is noticeable that progressives have started to do more visible activism during this holiday in the west. And that’s a chesed, it’s a really great thing!

In actually, I don’t believe one side is necessarily more observant or correct than the other. But that traditional Jews and the progressives Jews today are often approaching this holiday from different sides, but for the same goal:

  • In the orthodox circles, people are and often have been more attuned to their tikkun atzmi – a correction and repair in oneself.
  • And in the progressive circles, people are generally more attuned towards a tikkun olam – a correction and repair in the world.

However, the reality is that all of us need to be working towards a tikkun in both these areas, and do so more seriously during this season. Our tradition actually calls us to deal with both. We can’t really achieve one without the other, so we need to bring balance to both.

Tu biShvat Seder Resources:


Parshat Noach (2011)

Genesis 6:9 – 11:32

The Torah’s Response to Corruption in the World

bird-flying-freeOur Parsha begins with the words “ayleh toldot Noach / these are the decedents of Noah,” and from this we derive the name for this Parshat Noach. Now just briefly, as I should deal with this in more detail in Parshat Toldot; the word toldot most often means offspring, descendants, and generations or genealogy, but it can also mean chronicles or history. Yes, we will see in the second verse of this parsha the listing of Noah’s three sons, so the traditional rendering is often in relation to offspring; however, notice that the genealogy is already given in the previous parsha, not here (see Genesis 5:23).

Instead of giving us a genealogy our parsha begins to introduce us to Noah with the statement, “Noach ish tzadik tamim haya bedorotav / Noah was a righteous and whole-hearted man in his generations; / et ha-Elohim hit’halech Noach / Noah walked with G-d.” (v.9) This majority of this first paragraph (v. 9-12,) is about telling a story, only one verse (v. 10) concerns the three sons. In this parsha we find the actual story of Noah’s life and deeds, not just who Noah and his sons were, but what Noah did: this is his story. So the translation can go either way; “these are the descendants of Noah” or “these are the chronicles of Noah.” However, in this case it seems clear the latter is a better choice.

In our previous parsha (Parshat Bereshit) we were given an introduction as to what we are walking into here, saying that in Noah’s days:

“Hashem saw that the wickedness of man was

great upon the earth (land),”

| Vayar’a Hashem ki raba raat ha-adam

| ba’aretz

Genesis 6:5a

This is the summation of the state of the earth. And the description of the state of man is described as:

“and all his heart had tendency to consider was

only evil all the time.”

| v’kol yetzer mach’shevot libo

| rak rah kol ha-yom

Genesis 6:5b

In the case of the earth, the problem was simple; it was man. However, the description of the condition of the heart of mankind is a little more complicated. It says that all of mankind’s yetzer, his impulse and inclination, was to think about evil all day long. Most of us recognize the word yetzer right away and first thing we think of is the yetzer ha-tov and yetzer ha-ra, the concept of our good inclination in opposition to our evil inclination. But this scripture isn’t saying that man’s nature was evil. No this word yetzer only has meaning here when connected to the word after it, mach’shevto which means thoughts, considerations, interest, philosophy; this is what was evil. The yezter is only the vehicle, so this word takes on more of the meaning of drive or urge. Everything mankind felt the urge to think about, everything that drove their interest, that motivated their outlook was only evil all of the time (kol ha-yom), all day long! Not just evil (ra), and evil all the time, but only (rak) evil; nothing else but evil.

And of course yetzer closely relates to the word yatzar, same spelling different pronunciation as a verb, which means to create or to produce. The world was in a sad state because the people of the world felt the urge to take everything they could produce, think, or take interest in and utilize it for how to cause evil (ra).

So often I hear the message of the parsha presented by yelling Bible-thumpers, saying that mankind had become grotesquely evil after the fall of man in Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden). But really what it’s saying is that man’s mindset had become inclined to think about wrong things all the time. I don’t want to get carried away on this point, but usually when we hear this story we are told about how evil man is, perverted to the core of his nature. But that’s not what I see here at all. I would like to remind these fire and brimstone people that dichotomize society that even Hashem, the Holy One blessed be He, is said to be the cause of both tov (good) and ra (evil). (see Isaiah 45:6). When I say that of course the non-Jewish fundamentalists get all upset and say that it’s true that the vast overwhelming majority of the time the word does simply means evil, though this doesn’t mean that G-d is engaging in sin or malice, but that by evil we can mean trouble, ill, woe, calamity, and disaster. This is true, examples are:

Genesis. 19:19 – “I cannot escape to the mountain, and the destruction (ha-ra’ah) will overtake me and I will die.” In this instance it means calamity and disaster.

Jeremiah 7:6 – “Neither follow after other gods, leading to your determent/harm (l’ra).”  In this instance it means ill, harm, trouble and woe.

Genesis. 26:29 – “That you will do us no harm (ra’ah) as we have done nothing but good (rak tov) to you” In this instance not only does it mean calamity and disaster, but also evil and bad (notice how bad/ra is expressed as the opposite of good/tov), showing it can certainly mean both in the same breath.

My point is that when the scriptures are saying that the thoughts of men were “rak rah kol ha-yom / only evil all the time” it is not saying that mankind was so depraved that they only had their heart set on maliciousness, no I believe there were good-natured people that just had their mind set on destruction, trouble, tragedy and hardship until it made them hardened and corrupt people. So it can be said that “v’kol yetzer mach’shevot libo” can also mean that the tendency of man’s heart was to worry all the time. One of the meanings of the words machshavah is “to worry,” and it can clearly be appropriately applied here. Not all destruction is what people plan for others, it can also be the disasters that one neurotically imagines for themselves, worry that drives people to act as less that upright people.

Old-World Thinking and Corruption

“And the earth was corrupt before G-d

and the earth was filled with violence”

| Vatishachait ha-aretz lifney ha-Elohim

| vatimalay ha-aretz chamas

Genesis 6:11

As we come into this weeks parsha we find ourselves looking at this perplexing statement. It says that the earth (ha-aretz), the very land itself was corrupt (shichait) before G-d. Are we saying the Earth was depraved by nature?

In looking at the word shichait, we see it means to corrupt, to destroyed, to damage and to ruin.

It has two meanings, on one hand it is true that it does mean moral corruption. We will see this at the incident of the golden calf, “lech raid ki shichait amcha / Go, descend, your people have become corrupt” (Exodus 32:7), it is also paraphrased using the same word in Deuteronomy 9:12. We again see it used this way in Deuteronomy 32:5, “shichait lo, loh / Is corruption His? No”

But it also means simply to destroy and damage, as we see the people fearing in Jeremiah 39:39 that, “bo yivoach melech bavel v’hish’echit et ha-aretz ha-zot / the king of Babylon will certainly come to destroy this land / v’hish’bit mimenah adam u’beheima / and cause the extinction of man and beast.”

It should be noted that the same word as a verb means to be pitted or excavated, dug up like a trench or a cistern (a shallow well), as seen in Psalms 7:16, “bor y’habel aven / He dug a trench, and burrowed / vayipol b’shachat yif’al / and has fallen into the pit he made.” In Job 33:22 it also clearly equates this image of the pit as a grave, though it is implied elsewhere. The landscape is marred and deadened.

I believe the reason some translators have chosen to look more at the idea of earth being corrupt, more than the earth being scarred and damaged is because of the second clause of this statement, “va’timalay ha-aretz chamas / and the earth was filled with violence.” The word chamas, here is an interesting word. Aside from violence it also means to cause oppression, as well as to rob; thus in Jewish law the term chamas means to rob a person through violence. As a noun it can figuratively also means theft and evil doing. [Interesting side note: if we add just one silent letter to this word, an alef, you get the name Hamas, same pronunciation, which is the name of the evil Islamic terror organization. Apparently they really do live up to their name]

As I look over this verse it becomes apparent to me that the translators tried to pair the meaning of the first clause with the second, and harmonized the meaning of the two so they were in agreement; and I agree that it is wholly appropriate. However, it doesn’t give us a good picture of what the nature of the world at this point in the story. It can confuse a person and lead them to the conclusion that now the scriptures are saying that world itself was evil; and such is the position of many faiths, to call the physical world bad and only the spiritual plane good. This is not at all what the scriptures are trying to say, it’s not even closely leaning to asceticism or demoralizing the physical world. So it clarifies for us in the next verse:

“And G-d saw the earth, and behold,

it was corrupt (or destroyed)

because all flesh had destroyed

(or corrupted) their way on the earth.”

| V’yare Elohim et ha-aretz, v’hinai

| nish’echatah

| ki hish’chit kol basar

| et dar’ko al ha-aretz

Genesis 6:12

And this is what I’m want to get at my friends, that the corrupt ways of humans were imposed on the earth itself. When it used the word “dar’ko / their way” we are talking about the literal, we mean they imposed their derech (way), like making a paved path or road (Genesis 16:7); men have changed the physical landscape to suit their aims. But it also means figuratively as well, meaning way of life or lifestyle; the manners to which one is accustomed (see Genesis 19:31, 45:23; 1 Sam 21:5, etc). The best example of this latter description is in Ezekiel 20:30, “…when you pollute yourselves after the manner (ha-derech) of your fathers…”

When we look at it this way the scriptures are presenting us with a sad image of this young and fruitful world as scared and destroyed. Being polluted both in environment and even more so in mentality, that it was prevalent on the earth for people to be corrupt. Again there is nothing by nature that is wrong with the world or people that makes them evil. But the earth has been damaged, likewise the social environment was also, in a way that it was recreating a cycle of destruction. This is why G-d had to put a stop to it. And this is the only reason that the earth had been dragged into this judgment with man at all during the flood, because both the physical and social environment had to be cleansed.

I cant help but think of how we were faced with a disastrous fews years due to the scandals that rocked the Jewish world from the fallout of corruption claims. In politics, in religion, through investment schemes, through fraud, in bribery and even in some Jewish companies and communities being dragged into grotesque environmental and civil ordinance violations. Our community is no different than any other, faced with the same challenges as any other people. But the Jewish community has rightly be focused on the embarrassment of such instances and the chilul hashem, the desecration of the Name of G-d, that is caused.

I was reflecting on this the other day with someone who has been a missionary pastor abroad for decades. He rightfully pointed out to me that corruption and bribery is pretty much the norm in all places, especially in third-world countries. The strictness of the American ethic against corruption for instance, in that we do not allow it to run rampant and unchecked, is quite rare. Corruption is presented in most places as the way of the world. We started to compare tragic stories of corruption specifically within religious communities and the shame it causes to the faithful. As we discussed, I was asked how is it that wise and good people could be dragged into crookedness.

As an honest person I had to start out with the examples I know most intimately, those in the Jewish community. Unfortunately, my experience had shown me that often times there is among the religiously observant, and sadly especially among haimish people, for there to be an old-world style disregard for the civil law. Even worse, there is a tendency to cook the books and submit to bribery. The reasoning is not hard to understand, this is the way that Jews both in Europe and in the Arab world were conditioned out of survival. As less than true citizens they were subjected to not only unfair tax practices, but also constant extortion. Because the law was unfair it seemed okay to defraud the unjust authorities. As you could be robbed blind at any moment it was seen as good practice to conceal your funds as an act of discretion. Avoiding the proper channels of civil authority or giving over to bribery used to be the only way to get things done in the old-world, where permission based on merit and necessity was not honored for Jews. Abuse and waves of genocide only ingrained this even deeper, as there grew the paranoia to always try to get as much as one could while the getting was good, because the tides of tolerance would surely turn in the imminent future and funds would be needed. This became a norm and a constantly repeating cycle; just like Ezekiel 20:30, polluting ourselves after the ways of our fathers, foolishly following a bad example.

Sure, just like in the days of Noah there are many people whose hearts are set on nothing else other than doing the wrong and unethical for their own benefit. But not everyone does this intentionally, some people get sucked into foolish acts of corruption because of their constant worry and tendency to focus on calamity. It doesn’t matter what the reason is though, it leads to the same result; judgment. For a person of faith it is essential that we live our lives and manage our business practices above the board and ethically. The Torah commands us to follow the laws of the land, and by doing so we are honoring the will of G-d and the commands of His Torah. Furthermore, it is incumbent upon us to acknowledge that G-d is the one who provides for us; if we are corrupt or even lax in our ethics we do not truly believe that G-d rewards and cares for those who hold by His Torah. G-d would not call us to do something if He was not going to also to provide for us to do accordingly, if we cannot believe that then our view of G-d is far too small and is defective.

The first thing G-d did with Noah after emerging from the ark was give the Seven Laws of Noah, which calls for us to honor G-d, establish courts of justice, honor the lives of man, honor the lives of the beasts of the earth, etc. (Genesis 9:1-7) The Torah then continues on with the promise of never again destroying all life nor the earth with a flood (v.9-17). The only reason the earth and life upon the earth was troubled was because of the evilness that drove the ambitions of mankind. G-d was not just making a promise here, but also providing the means to ensure that it doesn’t happen again, by commanding the establishment of a system of law and order to enforce justice in place of judgement.

I would hope that we walk away asking ourselves two questions this week. First, how do our actions effect and scar the earth? Secondly, do we perpetuate unbecoming and unethical practices in our dealings?

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