Four Questions for Today:
Can sing the first line, and then continue as a wordless melody: Mah nishtanah halailah hazeh mikol haleilot? [Literally: Why is this night different from all other nights?]
Why is this blight different from all other blights?
For other blights we can be concerned only for ourselves, why for this blight must we be concerned for others?
Because the climate crisis affects everyone on planet Earth, since the atmosphere does not respect the political boundaries that nations erect between themselves.
For other blights, we might not really know what's happening, why for this blight are we so sure?
Because there is a scientific consensus that human action is leading to global climate temperatures increasing - can we muster up the will to do something about it?
For other blights, the problem might seem too hard or too distant for us to do anything about it; why for this blight is it possible for us to make a difference?
Because each one of us contributes daily to the crisis - each one of us uses energy, each one of us causes carbon dioxide to be released into the air. And therefore each one of us can daily make a positive change to address the crisis.
For other blights, it can seem impossible to get the attention of politicians. How can we do so for this blight?
Because already, key members of Congress are taking bold leadership to address the global climate crisis. And we need to actively support their efforts. Though the federal government is not moving quickly enough, there's an inspiring move by local and state leaders to put necessary changes into place even while the national government plods along. We must call for and support these initiatives as well.
Avadim Haiyinu - Once We Were Slaves: Passover as a Call for Environmental Justice:
Later in our seder we read, "In every generation, we are obliged to regard ourselves as though we ourselves had actually gone out from Egypt." We are to remember the experience of being slaves, of being disenfranchised, of being the ones with the least power, with the least resources, with the least people looking out for our welfare and our well-being. We are to remember the experience of being valued only for what we can do, what we can do for others, rather than for our inherent value as human beings.
Environmental degradation in the United States most severely harms those people who are already the ones with the least power. All one needs to do is think of the aftermath to Hurricane Katrina. Or look at asthma rates in lower-income neighborhoods, or exposure rates to toxic waste. Similarly, the global climate crisis most severely harms people in those countries that also have the least.
While we in the United States will be forced to make gradual changes to adapt to a changing climate, people in other countries will face refugee crises and fierce wars over shifting agricultural and water distribution patterns.
And so, on this Passover, we remember avadim haiyinu, that we were slaves.
Avadim haiyinu, haiyinu, atah beney chorin, beney chorin Avadim haiyinu atah atah beney chorin.
Translation: "Once we were slaves but now we are free"
We remember that we were slaves, doing so in order to remember that our obligation is to help set everyone free. And we don't just sing the words. We commit ourselves to making sure that the moral voice continues to be spoken, ensuring that concern for environmental justice continues to be a part of any public policy. For example, the Lieberman-Warner "America's Climate Security Act" already includes legislation about environmental justice. As this bill is debated and eventually passed, we commit ourselves to making sure that these sections not only survive deliberations, but also that they are strengthened.
Environmental Plagues Then and Now:
In the Exodus story, nearly all but the final two plagues were environmental in nature. We can see this clearly from the teaching of Rabbi Yehuda Halevi, a 12th century Spanish physician and poet, who explained that the first eight plagues could be divided in a way that made their environmental basis clear: two came from water (blood, frogs from Nile); two came from the earth (lice and wild animals); two were infections carried by the air (plague and boils); and two were things carried by the air that did physical damage (hailstorms and locusts).
In our own day, we face a daunting array of environmental plagues as well.
[Everyone fills up the next glass with wine or grape juice. Leader lifts up kiddush cup and invites everyone else to do likewise. As each environmental plague is said out loud, a drop of wine/grape juice is poured out, or drops are removed by dipping finger into cup]
Leader asks: What are the environmental plagues that are befalling us in our own day?
Answers might include:
undrinkable water in rivers
Great Lakes drying
polar bears drowning
extreme weather conditions increasing
unhealthy air quality
increase in forest
changing bird migration
melting of permafrost
spread of infectious diseases
animal and plant extinction