A photograph of Lake Mead (Arizona/Nevada) in the midst of a drought.

Credit: CreativeCommons / Chris Richards.

As we all heard, 2014 set record for being the hottest year in a decade; in fact scientists say that every year in the past few decades set a record for being the warmest year. We know it for fact now; our planet is getting warmer each year.

Some scientists are still trying to figure out the causes for Global Warming while others study the effects of Global Warming on extreme weather events such as heat waves, hurricanes and droughts. As to the drought in California, so far no scientific link between Global Warming and the drought was found. Research has shown contradicting evidence and thus, contradicting conclusions.

Extreme weather events is something both science and religion speak about in very different ways; while science is about explaining the cause of events, religion is about finding meaning in events.

What kind of meaning one can draw from a drought? How can humans affect such large scale global events? The Jewish Bible and Jewish echo- theology may give us some food for thought.

The fundamental Biblical understanding is that God is the Creator. God forms order and balance out of chaos. Order (Seder), in the Jewish tradition invokes the sense of Ownership, Holiness and Meaning to the world. Moreover, the creation narrative creates a sense of Cosmic Balance. The concept of Cosmic Balance, both on a physical and on a behavioral realm, is a key to our discussion; God installed laws to keep this balance. The Torah warns us time and again against disrupting God’s order and law.

Martin Buber, Jewish Philosopher who lived in Europe at the beginning of the 20 century, asserts in his commentary on the creation of humans in Genesis 2:7, that, at that specific cosmic moment when humans were created, the bond between Adam (human) and Adama (earth) was created. In a way, echo- theology was born. Buber focuses on the interdependence of people and soil, explaining: “human and earth are united, one with the other from the beginning and to the very end of time…they are bound up with one another, for better and for worse, but in such way that it is human who determine the fate of the earth by his conduct, the fate which in turn becomes his own.”

Genesis 2:15 is very clear about the connection between humans, earth and God: “The Lord God took the human(s) and placed them in the garden of Eden, to toll and protect the earth.” Humans were charged from the very beginning, from Bereshit, to tend the land and be stewards of God’s creation. The Midrash (Jewish hermeneutics) tells us that when God showed the earth to Adam and Eve, He told them: “I have created the earth for your sake; but be careful, do not abuse it, once you destroy it, there will be no one to mend it after you.” Adam and Eve are to be mindful, not to destroy the fragile balance of earth. We, as their descendants, must continue this mindfulness.

As we develop our ecological understanding, these intricate, fragile, interdependent relationships between humans and earth take a unique spin, beyond the physical realm. Leviticus 26 proclaims God’s will and the biblical understanding of cosmic balance: the relationship between humans and rain:

“If you follow my laws and faithfully observe My commandments, I will grant your rains in their season, so the earth shall yield its produce and the trees of the field their fruit… you shall eat your fill of bread and dwell securely in your land.” (26:3) “But if you reject my laws and spurn my rules.. I in turn will do the same to you. – I will wreak misery upon you.. Your land shall not yield its produce, nor shell the trees of the land yield their fruit.” (Lev 26: 14-20)

The earth belongs to God; maintaining the cosmic balance, the normal course of seasons and the flow of rain depends on following God’s laws! How dose this Biblical understanding is relevant to us today? How can Californians living in 2015 find meaning in old Leviticus? How can this Biblical understanding be of any relevance or inspiration to people of other faith traditions?

What dose it really mean to be obedient to God? What does God really expect of us? Basically, “What’s’ the Deal”?

Surprisingly, the answer is quite simple; the core of Biblical law is moral behavior and social equality. Deuteronomy 10: 12 states:

“what does the Lord your God demand of you? Only this, to revere your God, to walk in his paths… For the Lord your God is supreme; God who shows no favor and takes no bribe, but upholds the case of the fatherless and the widow, and befriend the stranger, providing him with food, and clothing. You too must befriend the stranger, (and do all the above) for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

The prophet Micah summarized the core of biblical understanding and worship: “He has told you O human what is good and what the Lord your God requires of you: only to do justice and love goodness and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8).

Thus, failure to follow Gods commandments for moral behavior disrupts the cosmic balance and has it consequences in cosmic events like drought.

From ancient agrarian society perspective, drought is a calamity, and perceived as a punishment form God for moral wrong doing. References to that idea are scattered throughout the Bible, and especially provoked by the prophets. One example is Isaiah’s vineyard proverb in which he proclaims the moral wrong doings of the Israelites are mainly-social injustices; “He hoped for justice’ but behold- injustice; for equality, but behold, inequality.” And thus declares by the name of God: “I will command the clouds to drop no rain on it” (the vineyard, ie. Israelites) 5:6. Another famous story is in 1 Kings 18 about Elisha furiously battling Ahab and the worship of the Canaanite rain God – Ba’al. God brought drought as a punishment to Ahab’s rule and misconduct.

If we are open enough for self reflection; if we are willing to open up for deeper conversation, maybe the Biblical understanding of drought as sort of cosmic imbalance, caused by humanity’s moral short comings and Isaiah’s social vision can offer us some food for thought. Personally, I find Isaiah’s social message as relevant as ever before: “Learn to do Good. Devote yourself to Justice. Aid the wronged. Uphold the rights of the orphan. Defend the case of the widow. Come, let us reach an understanding- says the Lord.” (Isaiah 1:17).

Isaiah’s powerful message inspires some questions: How are we, as Californians, treating the stranger? How are we doing with emigration regulations? Is there some room for Chesed, loving kindness? How are we relating to poverty in our midst? (Do we see it at all?) How is our justice system working? Our political systems? Our police? Our Medical care systems? Echoing Micah’s emphasis to “walk humbly with God” raises the questions: In what ways can we be more modest with our consumption of energy and water? Can we be more moderate with our consumption of other animals? Consumption of trees and land? How can we be more humble in face of the grandeur of creation? How can we better respect the beauty of our magnificent and diverse nature in California? How can we help in keeping this fragile cosmic balance of creation? How can we be more humble to each other?

Rabbi Belle Michael is a rabbi at Cal Lutheran University, and part of the campus Ministry team. Among her activities as Campus Rabbi and Hillel Director she is responsible for creating and organizing Jewish life on campus. She is also involved in interfaith work and leadership development. She holds a Master in Divinity from the academy of Jewish religion in LA and M.A in Jewish Thought and History from Haifa University in Israel.


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