How Jewish Climate Leadership Can Dig Deeper on Passover

When Jacob, the son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham, traveled with his large family to Egypt, he did so to flee a famine that devastated his home in Beersheba. You've probably heard this story before, and the preceding accounts of the Pharaoh's smite against the Jewish people. You probably know the story of Moses’ near demise at the hand of the Pharaoh and if you know that, you definitely know about his courageous leadership.

The Passover story, centered around the sacrifice of a lamb in lieu of the eldest son, is familiar to those within Abrahamic traditions. The story of Moses is laden with familiar examples that have offered climate communication tools for years. But, just as modern climate communications tend to prioritize impacts over solutions, so has our reading of the scriptures.

From severe famine to plagues, the symbolic opportunities to motivate climate action are around every corner, particular during the Passover holiday. But, if we dig just a little deeper, we'll discover an entirely new and radical approach to climate communicating within the Torah.

Rabbi Barry L. Schwartz’s musing on the story of Moses highlighted how innovative creation care models are more than abundant in Hebrew scriptures if we know what to look for. Often, this level of pardes (exegesis) requires us to look past the impacts and more obvious themes to find our solutions. When we do, we discover that Torah-based solutions not only offer greater communication tools but also uncover something more profound about the human condition in relation to God’s creation.

Passover is a statement of radical amazement. Later, Passover comes to commemorate the miraculous rebirth of a people, but at its most ancient heart, the holiday celebrates the miraculous rebirth of the Earth as it emerges from the dead of winter to the glory of spring. In the same way, the people of Israel emerge from the dead of slavery to the glory of redemption. These foundational stories of radical amazement are retold year after year, generation after generation, to keep the motivating spirit of Jewish identity and responsibility alive.

Moses experiences his own transformational moment of radical amazement while in the embrace of nature. He arrives at a great mountain and on that mountain side beholds a burning bush that is not consumed. Precisely when Moses turns aside to marvel at this sight does he hear the voice of God. Moses feels summoned in that time and place. He hears God call him by name. Moses responds with that classic affirmation of presence, “Hineni” — here I am."

Granted, Rabbi Schwartz reaches outside the traditional telling of Passover, but he does so to examine how Jewish climate leaders have more resources than the traditional connections made between Passover and modern concerns of anthropogenic climate change. Rabbi Schwartz explained climate leaders could benefit from highlighting particularities in Moses’ story that pursue themes of renewal and cultural shifts in the way we think about G-d's creation.

Do we recognize the miracles around us? Do we turn aside to marvel? Do we hear the commanding voice? Do we affirm our presence? Do we acknowledge that the very ground upon which we stand is holy?

This cultural shift does open the door for expansive retellings and applications, but it doesn't mean that we must abandon the practical and literal parallels at hand. This year, the Passover holiday will occur from April 10-18, falling just a few days before Earth Day, the March for Science, and the People's Climate March. Passover’s proximity to these major events will prove critical in galvanizing climate leaders in the Jewish community, and there are a number of ways to achieve this goal.

For starters, simply making the connection for people in your community by drawing on the thematic parallels within the retelling of Passover is critically important. By applying these themes to real-world issues, people of faith will make deeper connections to Jewish history, tradition, and values; but remember that symbolic references should include more than impacts, and spark a cultural shift as much they incite immediate action. Start by checking out this article from Rabbi Barry L. Schwartz to learn more about hidden climate themes you may have missed in the retelling of Passover.

Second, use Passover to build interfaith climate coalitions. There are three major traditions that draw on the story of Moses (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). These shared stories may act as an inroad to making connections by drawing on interfaith themes to build climate awareness. Start with this guide from Blessed Tomorrow.

Find more resources at Blessed Tomorrow to help you engage people of faith this Passover, and empower them to reach out to other faith communities. Climate change impacts all of us and it will require the collective work of all Americans.

Let us know what you have planned by connecting with us on Twitter: @BlessedTomorrow.

Ryan Smith is a writer at Blessed Tomorrow. He received his master's degree in Religious Studies with an emphasis on faith and climate change from the University of California, Riverside.


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