God created the Universe in seven days and gave us the task of caring for our surroundings. Adam and Eve are told to “tend and protect” the garden. This means there is a human obligation from God to care for the world. Similarly, the midrash teaches that we are to plant trees even when we ourselves will see no benefit from them. A story is told of an old man planting a fruit tree. Honi, a magical / mystical Talmudic figure, asks, “Why bother? You will never eat the fruit of this tree.” The old man replied: “Others planted trees for me; I too plant for the future.” Not only must we care for the world; we must leave it in better shape, better able to sustain and provide for life, than we found it.
One of the most basic environmental commandments is baal taschit, meaning do not destroy. A recent Teshuvah of the Conservative movement wisely extended this commandment from a focused prohibition against wasteful behavior to a larger concern of caring for the environment and making sure we do not destroy the world. Sustainability is a basic Jewish value.
This year we will celebrate Tu b’Shvat in our new building. I am excited for you to see the progress so far and get your own sense of what it will be like to enter the building and how close we are to that moment. I am also excited that our first holiday celebration will be the New Year for trees, a day that has become a celebration of nature and a reminder to care for the Earth.
Our new building is going to be net zero energy. With solar panels on the roof, we will produce as much or more renewable energy than we use. It will be net zero waste, meaning we will use compostable and recyclable items for kiddush and office use. We will send as little as 5% of our garbage to the dump. Being net zero waste means working together to create systems that make it easy to separate our garbage, easy to compost, and leave as small an impact on the world as possible. Our religious school will be part of this effort, helping by making signage and systems to make this all possible.
We have systems to collect runoff and gray water from other uses so that our landscaping can be largely reclaimed and collected rainwater. That will make Kol Emeth drought resistant and a model of what it means to care for the Earth and to use our resources wisely. Kol Emeth is designed to fulfill the mitzvot of caring for the Earth, of ensuring the future is able to better sustain life than the present, and to sustain the world rather than damage it.
When we left the old Kol Emeth, many of us collected soil. Bring that soil with you Sunday to plant new trees for our landscaping. In that way, we will bring breath to the world with our hands and with the soil of the old Kol Emeth as we ourselves form the new. We will celebrate Tu b’Shvat by planting trees and reminding ourselves that we have an obligation to sustain and care for the world with our own hands.
In this way, the new Kol Emeth can inspire all of us in our homes and places of work to sustain, tend, and heal the Earth. We can then be partners with God in maintaining the truth of the Psalmist: You (God) extend Your hand, and sustain all life that is.
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Tu b’Shvat,
Rabbi David Booth