Plant-Based Torah – Yom Kippur: The Challenge of a Lifetime

October 7th, 2019


Our father Abraham was chosen by G-d because of his hospitality – a secondary characteristic, a byproduct of several foundational characteristics. To be properly hospitable, one must be thoughtful, considering the needs of one’s guests as much (if not more so!) than the needs of oneself – thoughtfulness, in turn, requires humility and compassion, two very holy traits. Furthermore, to be truly hospitable, one must be loving and generous – without these key attributes, a host is little more than a server or attendant. Rather than exchanging “hospitality” for money, one must be giving without expecting anything in return except for the guest’s company! In truth, a far more rewarding gift.

Like so many admirable characteristics, it is far easier to understand true, genuine hospitality than it is to execute it – after all, Abraham and his descendants were given unique status by the Creator of Heaven and Earth as a reward for this trait! Nevertheless, hospitality is an easily-understandable trait – even with a sense of obligation or exchange of reward, being a good host is widely understood by society at large.

What is less frequently discussed is what it means to be a good guest. Some people may feel overly bashful or embarrassed as guests, and seek to avoid overly burdening their hosts, even to the point of rejecting genuine generosity from a host who worked tirelessly to offer a great experience! Others may be far too comfortable as guests, overstaying their welcome, taking more than what is offered, and overstepping to the point of genuinely burdening their hosts. These guests hold a sense of entitlement and are overly accepting of hospitality to the point of rudeness. 

A good guest, on the other hand, graciously accepts what is offered to them without overextending their hosts. A good guest expresses gratitude for the hard work and generosity of their hosts. A good guest offers to assist their hosts appropriately, and knows when to back off to avoid imposing self-righteousness upon their hosts. Like so many fine qualities, being a good guest is about balance – not too much, not too little, a reflection of Judaism’s centrist worldview regarding personal traits. Certainly we can all think of examples of good and bad guests in our lives, as well as times that we have been either or both of these guests!

In the midst of the chaggim, when many family and community plans are being made, we all should be considering how to be the best hosts and guests we can be! But we must not stop there – we must consider how to be the best guests we can be in our temporary home, our world, which we and the last 3 or 4 generations have sent into rapid decay. We have done so by extending far beyond the hospitality offered to us by Our Host. Rather than living according to our needs through G-d’s hospitality, we eat far beyond our fill, and fill our pockets as much as we can, leaving millions of other guests without enough for their own needs. A small percentage of folks have scraped beneath the floor and have chipped away bit by bit into the foundation of our proverbial house to burn the material for fuel. Not only has that small percentage of guests done this hideous crime, but they have tricked all of the other guests into believing that they cannot live comfortably without it! Furthermore, much of this fuel is wasted by cruelly imprisoning some of the earth’s other guests, forcing them to eat and breed beyond their physiological capabilities, only to be slaughtered for food a fraction into their expected lifespan. Another scheme by the worst guests in the house, who further enrich themselves by convincing the other guests that they can only survive by eating the products of their crimes, rather than the wonderful food provided by the Ultimate Host. The structure of the house is threatened, and the fumes threaten the ability for any of the guests to survive living there! The problem is that there are no windows to open to let out the fumes, no doors for the guests to escape, and no other homes for the guests to survive in.

Thank G-d we have the opportunity to repent and rectify the situation! We have the chance to control the fires, to reinforce the foundation, and to end the outrageous disparities between the cruel, blasphemous greed of the worst guests and the vast majority of the others. We know what we must do in order to make sure that the house can remain inhabitable and thriving, instead of allowing it to burn down by maintaining the status quo. What will it take? Supporting with our dollars and votes the endeavors of the good guests, who have found and created the solutions – renewable energy & plant-based diets, as well as the politicians committed to solving the climate crisis and holding the worst guests accountable – instead of denying the impending doom for ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren.

The great Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Z”L, said that “In a free society, some are guilty, all are responsible.” We have to take multiple approaches, both as individuals and as a species, as soon as possible to make sure that the Host even has a house to welcome guests into. Though all of our stays in this house are temporary, we are on a fast track to ensuring that the house is permanently inhospitable for all life. As swiftly as we can, we must reject furthering the problem by supporting fossil fuel and animal agriculture tycoons with our dollars, and transition to plant-based living and renewable energy. It is our duty as Jews, and it is our duty as humans.

Not only are we Jews the descendants of Abraham – we are also B’Nei Nevi’im, the children of the Prophets, who were the voices and vehicles of Divine truth, even when it made those around them uncomfortable. We are meant to be a light among the nations, the catalysts for righteous change in the face of impending doom! May we accept this call in the darkest hour of our people’s history – without a planet to survive on, there will be neither Judaism nor a State of Israel. We must reject our lustful, violent urges and accept animal agriculture’s role as one of the most egregious offenders in this crisis! Forget ideological purity – mass extinction or a sustainable future are our only options.

On Rosh Hashanah, our fates our written, and on Yom Kippur, our fates our sealed. We know what we must do in order to survive – but we must act swiftly and comprehensively, for the ink is drying quickly. May we do what we know we must do this year, for even the Book of Life itself is beginning to burn.

Shanah Tovah & G’mar Chatimah Tovah. 

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