Passover 2020 – The Exodus and the Environment: A Plea from Generation Z

April 6th, 2020


Perhaps the largest misconception about the holiday of Pesach is that it specifically is the time of year during which the liberation from slavery in the land of Egypt is at the forefront of the Jewish consciousness. In truth, it is a mitzvah to recall the exodus on a daily basis (Deuteronomy 16:3). The story of the exodus, Divinity’s liberation of the Israelites from their captivity in Egypt, has inspired hope within generations of liberation movements, both Jewish & Gentile, for centuries. Our time is no exception! As Rav Kook taught, progress is inevitable – and we are the agents for change if we take the opportunity to examine our personal conduct before it is too late.

The Hebrew word for Egypt, Mitzrayim, was interpreted by the Kabbalists in the Zohar to come from the word m’tzarim, the Narrow Place. The Israelites were freed from their captivity and confinement into freedom. Just as there are so many people and animals seeking liberation from confinement, there is a narrow place that we all must navigate in our lifetimes: the narrow path we all must walk in order to prevent our planet to hurdle past the Carbon Cliff, at which point our planet and environment will be beyond the point of repair. Just as we must, individually and collectively, seek sustainable sources of energy and transportation, we simply cannot ignore the environmental devastation caused by the Animal Agriculture industry.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Animal Agriculture accounts for 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions, greater than all forms of transportation worldwide, combined. According to calculations from USDA trade data from 2018, over 8.38 billion land animals were slaughtered – for United States markets alone. We must consider all of the land and fresh water required to grow the food necessary to feed all of those animals, the fossil fuels used to power the farms, transport the animals and the products created from their bodies throughout the supply chain. It is non-controversial to suggest that the Animal Agriculture industry is the single most environmentally damaging industry in the world.

The Animal Agriculture industry epitomizes needless waste, a violation of the Jewish legal prohibition of ba’al taschit, especially when considering how much of these animal products go unsold and spoil before being purchased or consumed. It is an industry that cannot be justified, neither morally nor environmentally. Our time to repent, by recognizing the impact of our individual and collective actions, followed by radical change in behavior, is short before the fate of our world is sealed – nevertheless, there is still time! Unlike the Israelites, who had their cries heard by God (2:24), our pleas for Divine Intervention amidst the climate crisis will go unanswered. We know this from a Midrash that followed the creation of the world: (Kohelet Rabbah 7:13) “When the Blessed Holy One created the first human, G-d took him and led him round all the trees of the Garden of Eden and said to him: “Look at My works, how beautiful and praiseworthy they are! And all that I have created, it was for you that I created it. Pay attention that you do not corrupt and destroy My world: if you corrupt it, there is no one to repair it after you.” Despite G-d’s promise to Noah to never destroy the world again, there is no promise to save us from destroying the world ourselves – we must accomplish that miracle ourselves. As one of the oldest members of Generation Z, b’ezrat HaShem, I will live long enough to see the most horrifying outcomes of the Climate crisis if we do not manage to radically change our collective behaviors in the coming handful of years. It is my personal plea to all of you: please do your part to make sure there is a future for me, my peers, and our children. Your consumption of animal products is a far bigger attack on that future than you may understand it to be. Forget assimilation and anti-semitism – the Climate crisis is by far the biggest existential threat to the Jewish people and the State of Israel this century.

And yet there is hope! Our Biblical narrative reminds us repeatedly of humanity’s capacity to be the vehicles for miracles. In a crisis that our gluttonous, over-consuming society has created, we have the opportunity to be the agents of change, resolution, and healing. May we reject the cruelty and destruction of the animal agriculture industry, which mortgages the future of our children and grandchildren to feed our lusts while lining the pockets of powerful corporations, and seek to bring forth a world that is compassionate, kind, and just to all of G-d’s creation.

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