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The Gluttonous American Child

This past I week I attended a Tu B’Shevat environmental sedar/symposium led by my friend, Rabbi Charlie Buckholtz, at The Samuel Bronfman Foundation. Charlie suggested that more than anything else our treatment toward the environment stems from a certain attitude towards nature and the world. Specifically, he shared with us the Biblical story of the stubborn and rebellious son:

“If any man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father or his mother, and when they chastise him, he will not even listen to them, 19 then his father and mother shall seize him, and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gateway of his home town. 20 “And they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey us, he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ 21 “Then all the men of his city shall stone him to death; so you shall remove the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear of it and fear,” (Deut.).

The text is amazing in how much more severe the punishment is than the crime. The crime is that the son is drunkard and glutton –two actions that under any other circumstances would never end in the death penalty. The rabbis of the Talmud pick up the absurdity of the case and dismiss it as mere legal fiction that never happened. But perhaps it might be suggested that the reason such a son is punished is not just because he knows no boundaries and because he is unthankful for what he has, but because this behavior is coupled with a character trait of stubbornness pointing to the fact that the child has no intention or ability to change his ways.
In some sense, Americans are guilty of being rebellious and stubborn sons to Mother Earth. We have become gluttonous and drunk in our need to take, consume, and control. We are never satisfied with what we have and are unthankful to the world that has provided us with so much. We not only take, we take too much. However, more than anything else, our conspicuous consumption comes with a stubbornness that will not bend. The use of the metaphor of gluttony is more than apt for an obese America. We are unable to even imagine holding back and being thankful for what we have.
Tu B’Shevat is about giving thanks and being cognizant that everything we have comes from Mother Earth. In the same way that on Yom Kippur we reflect on our selves, Tu B’Shevat is there for us to reflect on our relationship to the life-sustaining force of Earth.

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posted January 28, 2008 at 1:51 pm

1/ Who is this Mother Earth? I’ve looked throughout Jewish sources and can’t find her. Maybe the rabbi is referring to some pagan sources.
2/ Humankind has dominion over the Earth granted by G-d. That means what we do to Earth is as if G-d did it.
3/ America is perhaps the first society in history where an obese person is more likely to be a poor person than a rich one. This is a positive accomplishment.
4/ There is a growing problem in the Jewish community with alcoholism which was never this large before. This is what rabbis should attend to instead of adopting pagan views of nature.
5/ G-d sustains the Jewish people, not rocks and dirt.
6/ If Americans are all the things he says, perhaps he should visit India and China right now.

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posted January 28, 2008 at 4:35 pm

There is nothing pagan about the idea that we are to be stewards of God’s creations. It is the duty not just of every Jew but of every Human to watch over the earth and sea and sky, to protect them for future generations. Due you want your grandchildren to have mercury poisoning from eating fish and skin cancer from a depleted ozone? Did you know there is a worldwide decrease in the amount of sperm produced by men due to pollution, and that scientists have stated we could become EXTINCT within 200-300 years if the damage to the environment is not cleaned up? There are chemicals in our air and water that are causing cancer, sterility, and autism. If you value human life, you must take the environment seriously regardless of what your faith is…

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posted January 29, 2008 at 10:36 am

1/ Tsk, tsk, tsk. Its not ‘steward’. Its ‘flight attendant’.
2/ I look over the 613 mitzvot and watching over the earth, sea, and sky is just not there.
3/ Human beings are not going to become extinct, at least not before Moshiach comes.

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Billie Berman

posted January 29, 2008 at 12:13 pm

“Mother Earth”, the Rabbi is refering to the earth itself. The son will die and return to the earth. We do not kill or stone people for such abuse of their bodies in this day in age but attempt to help them change. Gluttony, a sin, which we all must repent for is not only alcoholism, but overeating or over indulgence in anything, such as gambling, working, etc. We must take care of ourselves before we can take care of other people. We realize that children live and learn and hopefully they will not make horrible mistakes and end up in prison for killing someone with drunk driving or manslaughter. We hope and pray that we can guide our children into becoming responsible adults who will not over induldge but practice good health habits. We must do this by example not just lip service.

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posted January 30, 2008 at 2:28 pm

1/ ‘Mother Earth’ is a pagan term. ‘Earth’ is the simple non-religious term.
2/ ‘The son will die and return to the earth’ sounds specifically Christian to me.
3/ People who consider gluttony slone as such a sin should look at quite a few very Orthodox Jews I’ve seen.

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posted January 31, 2008 at 8:03 pm

“2/ ‘The son will die and return to the earth’ sounds specifically Christian to me.”
Please explain.

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Billie Berman

posted February 2, 2008 at 10:45 am

Man is greedy. Yes, there are many Jews and other people that are over weight and gluttons. We must all be concerned about our health and our environment. Our bodies are made up of the earths elements and we take from the earth to nourish our bodies. We put back what we take from the earth and should not be so greedy. We are only here a short time and must prepare for future generations.
Perhaps the Rabbi’s interpretation when referring to “Mother Earth” is refering to Pagan concepts or Christian concepts? Who knows what his/her thoughts are? Is the Rabbi a Mesianic Jew? Stoning is certainly a pagan method of killing a person. However, if the son dies or his body is buried it will rot and become part of the earth.
If a body is in a vault, no matter how well it is sealed, eventually, the body will rot. The vault will become ruined and decay and return to the earth also over time. As Jews, we are often buried in a shrowd which should not be plastic and in a simple casket. Therefore, we give our bodies back to the earth. Laws state that a vault be made to surround the bodies in grave sites. The soul, if you believe, returns to a place where G-d deals with it sooner or later depending on what you believe and how you interpret the Torah.
The torah and the talmud has many interpretations and questions and Rabbi’s spend much of their time discussing these and writing about them. It may be an insult to a Rabbi to imply that he/she is using pagan or Christian terms in trying to make a point. Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist views may vary on these interpretations.

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Billie Berman

posted February 3, 2008 at 8:32 am

Did you understand the concepts?

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