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Displaying items by tag: environment Riverton Mussar - a wellspring for ethical change. Our vision is to build a physical and virtual community devoted to good character in relationships through the integration of Torah, Besorah(Gospels), and Jewish Tradition. http://rivertonmussar.org Mon, 19 Feb 2018 21:42:49 +0000 Joomla! 1.5 - Open Source Content Management en-gb think outside the bottle http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/equanimity/item/421-think-outside-the-bottle http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/equanimity/item/421-think-outside-the-bottle

art-waterbottlesA few years back, my son Daniel converted me away from bottled water. I had thought that drinking pure and healthy water was an act of environmental awareness, but he helped me see it the other way around. Spending resources to make little bottles that could only hold one long drink, to put water into those bottles, ship them all around the country, put them on shelves and sell them one by one, could hardly be corrected just by recycling the bottles after we used them. Better to stick with plain old tap water, or tap water we filter ourselves, and a reusable bottle that might last years.

If frugality is a virtue—and Mussar insists that it is—it applies especially to the earth resources that Hashem has entrusted to us. As rebbetizin Malkah points out in her article entitled “and to keep it,” “Being frugal with the resources of our planet is not political—it is theological.

Theology is not just theoretical, though, so let’s review some everyday ways to practice eco-frugality.

  1. Remember that recycling is second-best. It’s good to make sure you put your used water bottle in a recycling bin, but it’s even better not to buy water in a bottle at all. (I’ll admit that I don’t follow this rule rigidly. In some circumstances it’s better to buy a bottle of water to make sure you drink enough of the healthy substance.) Likewise, it’s good to recycle your shopping bags, but it’s a lot better to bring your reusable bag with you to the store.
  2. Walk, don’t drive. Avoid firing up the engine for those little trips. Walking takes time, but it’s the most elegant way to multi-task that I can think of. You’re getting exercise while you’re getting wherever you need to go, and you can take advantage of the time to pray or just think. If the distance is too great for walking, consider riding a bike, using public transportation, or combining multiple trips into one.
  3. Buy local if you can. One of the thoughts that weaned me off bottled water was the distance the stuff had to be transported. Drinking water schlepped from France or Italy or Fiji seems crazy in our day of three or four dollar a gallon gas. Locally grown produce and domestic over imported food and drink make sense.


It’s clear that small measures like these won’t tip the balance toward saving the planet, but they are steps in the right direction. Just as important, they help work a change within us. As with every middah, we practice frugality not only for its outward effect—conserving money or natural resources—but even more for its effect upon our own souls. So what inward effect does eco-frugality have upon us? First, it stirs up appreciation for the bountiful creation in which Hashem has placed us. We stop tromping through the garden, plucking its fruit and tossing out the skins, and we start noticing its beauty and—I’ll say it—holiness. This appreciation in turn can lead to worship; not, God forbid, worship of the creation, but of the creator. The Jewish tradition of hiddur mitzah—making beautiful the commandment—sanctions the use of beautiful objects in our rituals, such as a splendid tallit or Kiddush cup, to deepen our sense of worship. In the same way, as we do our part to uphold and enhance the beauty of the created order, as we make splendid the commandment to tend and guard the creation, we deepen our worship of the creator.

daily living Sun, 20 Feb 2011 04:07:59 +0000
say something already http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/equanimity/item/357-say-something-already http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/equanimity/item/357-say-something-already

art-fingersears"Do not stand idly by the blood of your brother, I am God" —Leviticus 19:16

Back in the early 1990's, an unknown figure named Erin Brokovich emerged.  She was a single mother of three, working in a law firm in California, who wanted to know what medical records had to do with a real estate file. What she found out led to the biggest settlement on record for a civil class action lawsuit.  She discovered that Pacific Gas and Electric was dumping hexavalent chromium into unlined ponds on their facility grounds.  It was seeping into the groundwater.  It was killing the nearby residents. This story, which later became a film in 2000, was about a sassy, uncompromising woman who felt that the truth needed to be told.  Silence was killing the people of Hinkley, California, and enough was enough.

What is wonderful about this film is that it shows, without a doubt, that a human being felt that silence was not an option.  The people of Hinkley were suffering everything from nosebleeds to deadly cancers.  Their own drinking water was not a source of life, but filled with toxins and gene-mutating additives.

What is probably more distressing is that PG&E, the culprit of these sins, was telling the local community that chromium was good for them, paying for their physicals with their own doctors, and deceiving the masses on a grand scale.

You must not carry false rumors; you shall not join hands with the guilty to act as a malicious witness. (Exodus 23:1)

The PG&E executives were mavens at allowing false accusations to reign.  Chromium can be good for you—they weren't going to tell you that hexavalent chromium was deadly.  This kind of communal deception was not only a pure evil, but would affect generations to come as the DNA of the victims would be corrupted from exposure.  This was truly shameful and about as malicious a witness as you could get.

What Torah demands of us is simple.  If we know that those around us would be in serious jeopardy or danger from our withholding information, then we are obligated to break our silence.  Anything less is murderous and a grand disregard for human life.  Sometimes it is very difficult to carry out a mission of non-silence.  Perhaps it means losing our job, threats on our life, or even hardship.  But when human life is at stake, we are obligated to do what is right and say something to the proper people.  The laws of speech are very explicit:  if human life or livelihood are at stake, we are forbidden to keep silent.

Perhaps we don't have Erin Brokovich moments, but surely we have moments when should speak up for things that are not morally right.  Our ethical makeup should be great enough that when we are challenged, and we see fit that we should act, that indeed we do.  To do anything less is not only irresponsible but cowardly.

Stand up for what is right, stand up for Torah.  Silence can be golden, but silence can also maim. 

torah Tue, 30 Nov 2010 18:40:57 +0000
and to keep it http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/equanimity/item/346-and-to-keep-it http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/equanimity/item/346-and-to-keep-it

art-recycleAnd the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and to keep it. --Genesis 2:15

Living in Seattle, I take very seriously the concept of not only preserving resources, but making sure that every bit can be recycled or composted. Normally our recycling and composting outnumbers our trash by probably ten to one.  Taking out the trash in our house would be an easy job; instead, my teen sons get the hefty job of taking out the recycling.

My family also has a raging seltzer addiction.  When we started looking at how many cans we could go through in a week (it was truly that bad for a few weeks). I realized we needed a more sound solution that wasn't going to continue to abound in cans.  By purchasing a seltzer machine, we completely eliminated the can packaging.  The only consumption was the water and the CO2 canisters, which were recycled and filled again.  For pennies a day, we were not only having seltzer, but conserving resources by lowering our demand for packaging.  Frugality was found in all camps. 

Out here, it is much easier to live this philosophy out because our communities support it.  So many commodities are more readily available that help in the conservation of water in and around our homes.  However, in other parts of the country and the world, recycling facilities or services and ongoing discussions about resource management do not exist.  Water conservation and green building codes are also not commonplace or are scoffed at.  Many communities do not even have an awareness of how this kind of living makes a difference.  Excuses like "it is more expensive to recycle" or "it doesn't add up to much" are commonly thrown around.  This is not only distressing to me, it is just plain irresponsible.

We read from Genesis that Adam was given the task of not only cultivating but keeping Gan Eden. He had to care for it in a way that would sustain it and benefit it.  Most certainly it would have been easier then than now since we have packaging to contend with, waste on a global scale, billions of people -  but is that any excuse?

back to the garden

A few years ago we held our usual Tu B'Shevat seder in our synagogue.  It is a most glorious time of celebration of fruits, trees, tastes, sensory stimulation and awareness of nature.  For this seder, I decided that we would forgo any use of plastic tablecloths to make cleanup easy. It just didn't make any sense to be have a celebration such as this and fill the environment with more trash.  After a dash to the store, I managed to find some elegant runners that would dress up the tables and be used for years to come.  In addition, we decided to make sure we were composting everything that was compostable.  After we were done, it was amazing how little trash we accumulated after the seder - some plastic wrap, straws and some wrappers/packaging from food.  This was a beginning for our shul in the realm of composting.  We had always recycled, but we had never taken this step.  We also went from disposable silverware and made the investment on all levels (meat, dairy) in real silverware. Rabbi Mendel tells us in Cheshbon HaNefesh, "Be careful with your money.  Do not even spend a penny needlessly."  We were going from disposable ware to reusable ware - this was not only a savings of many pennies, but conservation of material as well. Not only that, we have glass coffee cups and glasses of all types that we use.  The reduction of waste was astonishing. If there ever is an occasion to use plastic, we are sure to wash everything out and recycle it.  Needless to say, we have so many people who are impacted by our level of concern for the earth and our frugality after they are done with a meal.  But we don't pat ourselves on the back.  It is all going where it needs and should go - back to the garden.  And we are doing precisely what Rabbi Mendel declares we should: watching those pennies in earnest.

taking something back that doesn't use a bag

Someone who was greatly affected by our passion for the environment was a young man who was stationed in the naval base nearby.  He was a congregant for many years who came as often as he could when he wasn't out to sea. Before he left on a needed return to Texas for a while, he shared something remarkable with us:  he was taking recyling back to Texas!  The impression of caring for the Earth and frugality with resources ran very deep for him - so much so that he felt it was his job to make sure it spread like wildfire back in his hometown.  This idea of tending Earth, the garden, had become part of him and there was no turning back.  He was taking on the task of Adam and being a caretaker and keeping.

To him, others who have come through our doors, and our congregants who make the effort to be better keepers, I commend you.  Being frugal with the resources of our planet is not political - it is theological.

Keep on keeping on.....

daily living Fri, 19 Nov 2010 21:22:52 +0000
the age of consumerism http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/equanimity/item/343-the-age-of-consumerism http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/equanimity/item/343-the-age-of-consumerism

art-shoppingNow godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. --1 Timothy 6:6–8

Frugality and moderation are not the most popular virtues in the age of consumerism in which we live. Rabbi Mendel tells us, “Be careful with your money. Do not spend even a penny needlessly.” In the afterglow of the recent global economic meltdown, this looks like good advice. But it also has the potential to derail the global recovery, since today’s economy depends on the opposite of frugality, on free and ever-expanding spending. Contentment is hardly considered a virtue, but a sign of sloth and lack of imagination.

Rabbi Mendel captured the spirit of our day nearly 200 years in advance when he wrote about those who squander money, often borrowed money, to compete with their neighbors for prestige and superficial honor: “Every day they devise new ways to waste their money—on clothing or jewelry or giving larger sums to charity than others do—all to embarrass those who are without means and to gain prestige for themselves.”

Frugality, in contrast, devises ways to not spend and not waste. As with all the middot, however, frugality represents a balance through moderation; in this case, the balance between the conspicuous consumption that Mendel decries and stinginess or hoarding. Frugality does not mean that we begrudge every penny that we have to spend and never give of our means to help another. Rather, it means that we value money not for its own sake, as the miser does, but as a resource for good that needs to be wisely applied.

Frugality is an up-to-date virtue, then, because of the constant pressure of consumerism, and it’s also up-to-date because of the need for conservation. The resources of our planet are limited and must be valued and respected. When we reuse or recycle or, better yet, don’t use at all, we are practicing frugality on a level that benefits the earth that G-d provided for us to inhabit. Again, balance is the key. The Creator gave us as humans dominion over the planet, which means that we are supposed to be here, contrary to the opinion of some radical environmentalists, even if we take up increasingly limited space and resources. But dominion also means that we are responsible for how we manage the creation, and wasteful consumerism won’t pass muster with the Creator. Frugality doesn’t require us to live like our disadvantaged brethren in the third world, but it does require us to keep them in mind as we go about our daily routines.

daily living Fri, 19 Nov 2010 18:36:17 +0000