Spiritual practices often make use of powerful symbols to stir people into action.
Earth Day fell during Passover this year causing Jews to reflect on how an important tradition offers some wisdom about environmental challenges. Rabbi Jeff Sultar, director of The Green Menorah Program at the Shalom Center, took the three necessary elements of the Passover Seder and used them to symbolize the struggle with personal, economic, or political “pharaohs” putting limitations on a healthy planet.
He advocates holding “street seders” this year during Passover. These seders are part religious observance, part political demonstration. Possible locations include regional E.P.A. offices to demand they allow states to raise emissions standards above federal standards, ExxonMobil offices around the country, and congressional offices to urge politicians to pass “America’s Climate Security Act.”
The three important parts of a seder that need to be explained by the host are
- the Passover sacrifice, symbolized by a shank bone (or yam for vegetarian seders). Rabbi Sultar writes that the sacrifice of a lamb was an act of defiance for the Israelites because the Egyptians worshiped the lamb. Participants in a street seder are to call out politicians and corporations for their worship of oil and hardened hearts on issues such as climate change. There are also to look inward at ways they can consume less.
- the Matzeh, which is crisp, flat, unleavened bread. Jews are forbidden to have any chametz, which is literally any kind of grain mixed with leaven and allowed to swell up. Sultar points out that Chasidic teachers understand chametz metaphorically. They ask everyone during Passover to remove everything unnecessary in their lives. This means removing swollen clutter. Sultar extends this metaphor to the environment and identifies CO2 as eco-chametz that needs to be removed. Also, the things that we buy that we do not need which eventually ends up in landfills could be considered eco-chametz.
- and the Maror, which are bitter herbs. The bitter herbs symbolize the suffering of slavery. Sultar writes that for this generation, it should represent the harm of our actions today.
This is a creative use of religious symbolism to raise voices against environmental injustice.
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