We Have Built an Unethical World – Now We’re Reaping Environmental Disaster

In Jewish liturgy we have a daily prayer (from Deuteronomy 11:13-21) that is the second paragraph of the Shema. We repeat this particular paragraph two times a day. This prayer teaches us that there is a direct correlation between the ethical/moral foundation and order of society and the environmental/ecological foundation of the universe. This prayer teaches us that if we build an unethical world, the universe will become ecologically unbalanced as well. This prayer has been removed from the Reform siddur (prayerbook) and in many other denominations and communities as well, it is left out of services. Yet it is a prophetic message that is relevant to our time. Rabbi Lerner and I offer below a poetic, prophetic translation (although pretty spot on) of this prayer in the hopes that you will incorporate it into your daily prayers and on Shabbat as a reminder of this core foundational teaching.  

V’haya eem shemoa . . .

And it will come to pass . . . If you love the Transformative Power of the Universe (YHVH) with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your passions and using that energy, build a world based on these teachings/mitzvot: A world of love of the stranger/the other, kindness, generosity and care, peace, compassion and nonviolence, social, economic and environmental justice, and ecological sensitivity, then the world will work. The sun will shine, the rain will fall appropriate to its season, the earth will give forth her produce and you and your animals will eat and be satisfied.

But be careful . . . watch out . . . because if you don’t build a world based on these teachings/mitzvot and instead build a world based on selfishness and greed, consuming and producing without care for the well-being of the planet or its inhabitants, constantly chasing and hoarding after more money, power, fame, or land, building walls that separate, voting rights for some and not others, economic systems that benefit the few on the backs of the many then the world will not work. Just as the social, economic, and political systems become unbalanced, so will the ecological and environmental systems and foundations of the earth and universe. The sun will not shine, the rain will not fall appropriate to its season, the earth will not give forth her produce, there will be a series of environmental catastrophes – cities and nations alike will be consumed from bursting waters, fires will spread throughout the lands, glaciers will melt – and eventually you and your animals too will be wiped off the face of the earth in one of these catastrophes.

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So . . . teach this to your children; talk about it in public, even when your voice cracks and your knees shake, at services and events, even when people get upset hearing it; talk about it in your home with friends and family even if they are sick and tired of hearing about it; talk about it when you walk by the way so that strangers hear this message because this, this is the greatest spiritual need and calling of our time. Talk about it when you go to sleep at night and when you get up in the morning because you’ll forget. Bind it for a sign upon your arm so it seeps into your heart and guides your actions and a sign upon your third eye so it seeps deep into your unconscious permeating every cell and pore of your being. Write it for a sign upon your doorposts and upon your gates so that you remember and all those who come into your home know the values by which you live. If you do these things, and build a loving and just world, then you and your children, and all children will have a long life on this earth that God promised you.

This translation is a collaborative effort between Rabbi Michael Lerner and me, Cat Zavis.

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