Virtual Talmud

Winter has finally come to the East Coast. I must admit I did not mind the sunny January days that reached into the 70s. There are benefits to global warming if you, like me, prefer sun to snow. However, there are dangers as well. The recent decision by Great Britian’s Tony Blair to mobilize his nation around global warming (for much of England will otherwise literally disappear under water) is a sobering reality check.

In Genesis, God gives Adam and Eve the job not just to “conquer” the world (i.e., to tame it for productive use) but to “care” for it (to be good stewards of its resources and species). God’s command is all about balance: balancing our needs and desires with our responsibility to the larger world and to the future.

It is particularly appropriate to think about our stewardship of the Earth as we begin February with Tu B’Shevat, the New Year for Trees. Like all holidays, Tu B’Shevat has its own rituals, from planting trees in Israel through the Jewish National Fund to holding a Seder based on the traditions of the ancient kabbalists.

Like all Jewish holidays, Tu B’Shevat also contains lessons that are designed to change our behavior, not just one day, but every day of the year. One such lesson is that God expects us to do all we can to be responsible stewards of the earth and the environment which sustains it. There is a lovely story about a sage named Honi who, as an old man, planted a tree that would probably not bear fruit in his lifetime. When he was asked why, he explained that just as his ancestors had planted trees for him, he was planting for his descendents. We have the same responsibility as Honi to prepare the earth for future generations.

It is not too late to stem global warming. Here are ten New Year’s Resolutions for Tu B’Shevat that can help:

1) Buy recycled napkins to help save one million trees, according to Newsweek magazine.

2) Turn your thermostat down two degrees in winter and up two degrees in summer to save 2,000 lbs. of CO2 a year.

3) Replace a regular light bulb with a compact fluorescent bulb to help save 1,000 lbs of CO2 per bulb.

4) Turn off lights, monitors, and other electronics when you leave a room, even for a few minutes, to cut your energy bill by up to a third. (It worked for me!)

5) Walk more, bundle errands to be gas efficient, and buy fuel efficient cars.

6) Keep your car in tune and tires at the right pressure to save up to 4% on your gas mileage (that’s 20 pounds of carbon dioxide for every gallon saved).

7) Buy food with an eye to its impact on the environment: Where possible choose locally grown, fresh rather than frozen, and organic rather than regular produce.

8) Recycle, including mail inserts and envelopes without your address. Old cell phones, PDAs, and rechargeable batteries can be recycled for free by mail through the Sierra Club.

9) Learn more. See “An Inconvenient Truth,” its web site, and check out the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life.

10) Post this list and use it throughout the year.

— Posted by Rabbi Susan Grossman

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