לֹא עָלֶיךָ הַמְּלָאכָה לִגְמוֹר

וְלֹא אַתָּה בֶן חוֹרִין לִבָּטֵל מִמֶּנָּה

The new year of 5780 will soon be upon us and most of the readers of this blog will be, or already are, in the process of crafting the teachings you will be sharing. I would like to suggest that you challenge yourselves and your communities to make this often quoted teaching from Pirkei Avot real in the following way:

Greta Thunberg of Sweden inspires me. She is not only chastising political leaders for their unwillingness to treat our climate emergency but she is doing her best to live her ideals by taking trains to get around Europe and getting a ride on a solar powered racing yacht to come to North America. Instead of finding fault with one or another of her choices, let’s follow her example.

I propose three steps, all of which I’ve used both as a rabbi and in my personal life:

1. Decide to put your money where your mouth is and change a significant behaviour to reduce your own carbon footprint. By this I do not mean buying carbon offsets so that you can continue that behaviour, but to really reduce or eliminate it. We speak with admiration about how our grandparents and other immigrants sacrificed so that their children could have better lives, yet we seem not to apply this to ourselves. I’ve chosen to reduce my plane travel to nearly zero. To do that, I sacrificed attending our OHALAH conference at just the moment when my presence is truly missed, both by my colleagues and by me. (

2. Share that change with your friends and your communities and challenge them to do the same. I have a friend with whom I share a passion for carbon footprint reduction and, because we talk about our decisions, I learned that there is dental floss made from silk which can be composted and, after writing to one of the producers who was still putting the floss in a plastic package, learned that they would be replacing that plastic with something biodegradable, which they have. In the process of buying this floss at a local health food store, I also discovered that there are shampoo bars (which look like soap bars) that I now use instead of commercial shampoos in plastic bottles. (This can easily be extended to using soap bars instead of liquid soap in plastic containers.)

3. Share your personal choices with your elected representatives. Tell them that you have changed your behaviours and even made sacrifices for the sake of future generations and yourselves. Encourage them to support legislation and regulations to address the larger issues for which we need government to implement. Tell them that they can win elections by giving more attention to the climate emergency.

Nothing that any one of us does will, in and of itself, complete the work. But, as Rabbi Tarfon said so long ago, that doesn’t let us off the hook.


PS: For those who would like, we can use the comments section to share the steps we are taking.