It’s Green Shabbat tonight, part of London Climate Action Week.
A close friend just had a double cataract operation. When I called last Friday he said, ‘I’m OK. But almost blind. I don’t know how this is going to be.’ Mercifully, an operation was scheduled the following Monday. When I phoned that night, he said: ‘It’s wondrous; I came out and there was this brilliant, marvellous light.’
Every morning we give thanks for the gift of seeing the world: ‘Baruch pokeach ivrim – Bless, you, God, for opening the eyes of the blind.’
There are millions of people for whom this miracle never happens. The Talmud tells how two rabbis on a journey turn aside to visit a blind scholar. When they leave, he blesses them: ‘May the One who sees but can’t be seen, bless you who saw me but whom I can’t see.’ So sight is indeed a blessing and a privilege.
That morning prayer is not just about seeing, but about how we see. I’ve become a fan of David Godfrey, congregant, wildlife photographer 24/6, whose mantra is ‘the three l’s: look, listen, learn’, and who’s called his recent work ‘Chasing the light in London’s lockdown.’ ‘It’s about wonder,’ he said.
Love of nature isn’t a distraction from my spiritual life; it’s the heart and soul of it. When I hear the dawn birds I’m listening to God’s songs. When I see pictures of elephants mysteriously dying in Botswana in hundreds, I think of the words the Talmud puts in God’s mouth: ‘My head hurts,’ alas for what’s wrong in my world. When I witness the needless destruction of nature, the Talmud’s words make my heart ache: ‘We’re shoving God’s presence away.’
My family is privileged to have a huge garden; it’s made lockdown a hundred times easier. ‘We need to spread access to nature far wider,’ said Tamara Finkelstein, Permanent Secretary at Defra, on an Eco Synagogue event followed by hundreds last night. We need all of us to love and care for it more.
Deena Kestenbaum brings the healing of nature to young adults in the Grenfell area: ‘What are you seeing outside your window? Adopt a tree or plant,’ she teaches. She creates virtual vistas onto open spaces, and they watch together, ten minutes every day. ‘I find a stillness in it;’ she says, and brings that stillness to others.
The blessing for ‘seeing’ isn’t just about the eyes. In the Bible, seeing is with the heart and has to lead to action. Otherwise, we count with those who ‘look but fail to see.’
I don’t find that heart part hard: when I think of the forests, rivers and savannas (I belong to The Woodland Trust, RSPB, WWF, Plantlife, etc. etc…) though wonder lifts my soul, anguish eats me alive.
The Torah commands us not to sit there doing nothing while our neighbour’s lifeblood drains away. Nature is everyone’s neighbour; furthermore it’s a neighbour we depend on. Its life is our children’s lives. So we’re forbidden to do nothing.
We know what we have to do: it’s not an issue of knowledge but of will and urgency.
Plant gardens, bee friendly, restore forests; eat healthily for ourselves, animals and the earth; use green energy, insulate our homes, travel with greater care; invest savings in a green future. Advocate for change, in business, economics, energy, transport, farming, law. In democracies, if enough voices are raised, leaders have to listen. We need to span the distance far more quickly between what we know and what we do.
This is what Jodi Coffman, a young member of our community who’s passionate for nature recommends. I’m glad to have her generation as my teachers.
The rabbis teach that there are two motives for doing what’s right: love, or fear. Let’s act out of love. I love our beautiful world.