Passover and the Global
Is the Environmental Protection Agency a modern-day pharaoh? Sweep eco-chameitz from your life with these simple steps.
BY: Prepared by Rabbi Jeff Sultar
Rabban Gamliel used to say: Whoever does not explain the following three things at the Passover festival has not fulfilled their duty, namely: the Passover sacrifice, Matzah and Maror.
1. Passover Sacrifice:
Hold up the shank bone or Paschal yam, pass it around:
This shank bone/Paschal yam that we put on our seder plate represents idolatry. The ancient Egyptians worshiped the lamb. And so to sacrifice a lamb right under the Egyptians' noses was an act of defiance, one of the first ways that the ancient Israelites began to throw off the shackles of slavery. The shank bone/Paschal yam in our own day represents saying and doing what is right, in defiance of what the Pharaoh's in our own day tell us to say and do.
Who are the Pharaohs in our own day? Who tells us what to do, not because it's right but because they tell us to? (Invite responses from people gathered there).
How about George W. Bush, who for so long denied that there even was a global climate crisis, as he himself served his buddies in the oil industry in Texas and Saudi Arabia? Whose delegation at the United Nations Climate Talks in Bali, Indonesia this past December obstructed progress toward world action to address the global climate crisis?
How about Stephen Johnson, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, who this past December denied California and 18 other states the ability to set greenhouse gas emission standards stricter than federal levels?
How about Senators and Representatives who serve those who pay the most money, at the expense of those who pay the most dearly for short-sighted and self-serving policies?
How about the leaders of the oil and automobile industries, who enrich themselves at the expense of planet Earth? Who devise ever-more ingenious ways to entice us to waste more resources, to deplete more energy reserves, and to burn more carbon into the air, while their own pockets deepen and the global climage worsens?
The hearts of pharaohs too often, as in the Exodus story, become hardened. So that an overwhelming scientific consensus about rising climate temperatures can be ignored. So that a unanimous recommendation by EPA legal and policy advisers can be ignored, as in the case of the denial of California's request to enact stricter carbon emission standards.
But we can't just look outside of ourselves, blaming others. Who buys gas guzzling cars? Who allows politicians to get away with serving the interests of Big Business in the present at the expense of our shared future? Who allows Congress to subsidize the coal industry while allowing alternative sources of renewable energy to be underfunded?
Earlier in this Maggid section of our seder, we read another reason, other than slavery, for our need for redemption: "Mit'chila ovdei avodah zara," "In the beginning, our ancestors were worshipers of idols." Not only the Egyptians worshiped idols. We did, too!
At Passover, we mark the need for liberation not just from external Pharaohs, but from internal ones as well. Passover is a time to ask not just four questions, but hard questions: In what ways are we addicted to oil? To consumption? To having the newest and the latest and the most advanced? To comfort and convenience that takes a toll and levies a cost that doesn't get tallied up until some later year, off in some distant murky future. To a lifestyle made possible by the hands of and/or adversely affecting people half a world away, out of sight and too often out of mind?
[Distribute pieces of matzah to everyone present; leader holds up piece]
We began the Maggid section of the seder by holding up a piece of matzah and saying, "This is the bread of affliction." It represents where our spirits are flat. It represents what happens when we are beaten down, pressed down, and see ourselves as powerless.
But just as matzah literally has two physical sides, so too does it have two sides spiritually. From one perspective it is the bread of affliction, but, when turned over, when seen from the other side, it is also the bread of liberation, of freedom, of power to change our worlds for the better.
How do we make this transformation, from being pressed down to rising up?
To answer this, we must ask: what is the significance of matzah?
Traditionally, we are forbidden to eat or possess chameitz in any form during Passover. Chameitz literally is food with leavening, fermentation, souring, food that swells up. Chasidic teachers, though, saw chameitz metaphorically, as the swelling up of excess in our own lives.
What is metaphorical chameitz in our own day? What is the excess in our lives that we can rid ourselves of, or that we can at least tone down, keep in proper proportion and perspective? [can get responses from gathering]
Chameitz, first of all, can be carbon dioxide. It is the one single element most responsible for the global climate crisis. It is the element that we must immediately reduce our spewing of into the atmosphere.
Chameitz can be seen as overconsumption. Is one lesson of Passover this year that we should simplify our lives?
More specifically, is coal-fired electricity a kind of eco-chameitz? Is our addiction to the over-use of oil, coal and gasoline a eco-chameitz?
Seen this way, what then do we need to do in order to sweep eco-chameitz from our lives? [can get responses from the gathering]
Some answers: switching our households and institutions to wind power and other renewable sources of energy; supporting legislation that supports this switch, as well; getting an energy audit; changing all lightbulbs to CFLs.
Driving less; purchasing fuel-efficient and hybrid cars; supporting public transportation; shopping on-line.
Making green renovations and new buildings. Supporting legislation mandating such measures.
But before we can transform our matzah from the bread of affliction into the bread of liberation, we must face squarely the challenge that we face:
Maror means bitter herbs. It represents the pain of our slavery in Egypt. It represents the harm of our actions today.
Throughout the past eight years, here is the legacy of the George W. Bush, that has set back the cause of global climate health:
As someone says each action aloud, everyone else can sing the refrain, "Let my people go."