Jews are the pioneers of modern psychology: Freud, Klein, Maslow, Frankl, and Kahneman. Apparently, we create what we need.  Jewish suffering gave rise to psychoanalysis and psychotherapy.

Yet, examples of improving mental health are as ancient as the Torah. At the end of Genesis, the text shares Joseph’s descent into despair. First thrown into a pit by his brothers who wanted to kill him, he later became a slave, and then a prisoner. Joseph’s redemption came as a successful interpreter of dreams for the Pharaoh. Elevated to a leadership role, Joseph successfully organized Egypt’s “farm back better” famine plan. Joseph’s own estranged family, fearing starvation in Canaan, came to Egypt to buy food.  After a series of torturous and enigmatic encounters with his brothers, Joseph revealed his identity. The petrified brothers feared that Joseph would seek revenge. Rather Joseph learned to positively reframe his situation. He explained to them that God merely sent Joseph ahead to Egypt so that his family could survive the famine.

Joseph made a dramatic and life-affirming transition. Psychologists refer to this as positive reframing. Joseph thought about his difficult situation in a more helpful way. Joseph was able to comprehend the ultimate benefit of an extremely negative situation. Finding something to be grateful about after two decades of abuse is a great example of positive reappraisal.

Joseph regrouped and transcended without a therapist or prescription for anti-depressants. Joseph understood that the point of his suffering was for his family to thrive in Egypt. Accordingly, he is neither angry with his brothers nor with God.

Joseph teaches us to search for meaning in our personal travails. That is the lesson taught by Viktor Frankl, the Holocaust survivor who later became an influential psychologist. He wrote that human existence is a search for meaning. Joseph happened upon the meaning of his struggles when reunited with his brothers in Egypt. Joseph’s example instructs us to employ our struggles as tools in a search for personal growth and purposefulness.

None of us exit this life without challenges and downfalls. Joseph teaches us that we can overcome our resentments, fears and acrimony. The key is to refocus our understanding, unveiling our best selves to the world. We can learn to positively reframe our lives thanks to both Joseph and the groundbreaking work of Jewish psychologists.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

A super-wealthy family battling each other and the world to maintain power and wealth. That is the premise of the HBO show Succession. The series is popular as it reverberates with the display of wealth and power. Those who have “it” are destined to be humbled.  Those without it, are merely fascinated viewers.

The bible has a story of a successful but troubled family.  Jacob, his wives, and sons lived in Canaan at the time of famine.  Meanwhile, in Egypt, there was plenty of corn. You may recall that Joseph had properly interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams and had prepared Egypt for a famine. Jacob learned of the bounty available in Egypt. He turned to his sons and admonished them, “Why do you keep looking at one another?”

Even before instructing his sons to go down to Egypt to purchase food, Jacob offers an ethical rebuke. Rashi, the great medieval commentator on Torah and Talmud, offers that the sons were feigning nonchalance to the famine. Their concern was how the family appeared to the neighboring tribes more than making the effort to obtain food. Jacob was wondering, “Why should everyone gaze at you and wonder at you because you do not search for food before what you have in your possession comes to an end?”

Sometimes we become obsessed with appearances. In the case of Jacob’s family, the assumption is that the brothers were so enwrapped in their status among local tribes that they hesitated to secure sufficient food supplies for the future. This biblical story presents a challenge for all of us.  Sometimes, do we worry more about appearances than we do about existential issues? Would Jacob’s sons have suffered starvation rather than search for food?

Jacob taught his sons that humility is the key to a secure future. Allowing our egos to dominate our thinking interrupts clear thought and timely action. Concern with appearances makes us hesitant to act, even when the circumstances are dire. Yet, we often only learn humility from experiences that knock us down or even challenge our survival.

After all, the haughty colorful coat-wearing Joseph who boasted of his dreams of dominance over his family became far humbler after his time in an Egyptian prison. Whether pushed into a pit or felled by famine, we are all going to learn a lesson in humility at some time in our lives. God spares no one from critical reminders that we are all unique but not special and all strong but breakable.  We all have egos, so we all need to learn humility.

When following the lives of the rich and famous, most often their downfall is arrogance. While entertaining to watch, watching the mighty fall is more than good television. The lessons of humility are a prelude to a moral message. Our lives may not measure up as biblical or fantastical, but we all suffer the misfortune of ego unchecked.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

At the intersection of ancient roads heading to Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Syria is the town of Dothan. The dry, rocky landscape was dotted with pits dug to store precious rainwater. As an archeological site, the location is an entryway to understanding life in ancient times. As the backdrop for a biblical story, it is a metaphor for times when life can become treacherous and unfair.

The root of the name Dothan in Hebrew means “pit.”  By its very name, the location signaled out a warning.  Digging pits was the key to water collection and storage. Plaster applied to the walls of the pit created a life-sustaining well. While a well had to be deep enough for collection and retention of the water, it also created a dangerous abyss. Fall into the well in a rainy season and you could drown. Get thrown into the well when dry, and you might die of thirst.

In Torah, Joseph’s brothers, jealous of Joseph’s favored status, threw him into a pit near Dothan. Why were they jealous? Joseph boasted of dreaming he would lord over his family. He flaunted the colorful coat given him by his father. In a sense, because Joseph was arrogant, he dug his own pit. But Joseph’s egoism alone was not sufficient to justify entrapment by his brothers.

The clan of Jacob frothed up their jealousy into hatred. Of the ten siblings forming an unholy tribunal, only Reuben and Judah cautioned against killing Joseph.  Yet neither had the fortitude to stop attempted fratricide. Rather than killing him, the brothers sold Joseph into slavery.

I too have traversed a life landscape dotted with pits both dangerous and life-giving. My displays of egoism garnered antipathy. My occasional zealousness earned condemnation. Like Joseph, there are times when I failed to appreciate the damaging impact of my words and actions. What we learn from Joseph is that it didn’t matter if the dreams he shared were true. It didn’t matter that he had every right to wear a beautiful coat.  He failed to notice the effects of his words and actions in front of his brothers.

The reaction of the brothers was immoral and brutal.  Joseph’s arrogance was no excuse for their plotting murder. And yet, the story asks us to consider if Joseph should have noticed that he walked a dangerous path in a region dotted with pits. In this way, Torah asks us to consider how we contribute to our own problems, even when we are judged exceedingly punitively by our peers or family. Torah asks you to check your ego and anticipate the hazards ahead if you don’t regulate your own character.

Consider how the Joseph story is a metaphor for your own life.  Marriages and career choices can be both wells that sustain us or pits that draw us down.  Whether with our life partners or business associates, being smart or being right is insufficient if we wish to remain in safe relationships. We live our best lives only when we are vigilant about the effect we have upon others, especially those closest to us.

We know the landscape of life is filled with dangerous chasms. Walk cautiously. Sometimes it is the wells that we dig that are also the pitfalls of our lives.

Rabbi Evan Krame

 

 

Why do I attempt to accomplish so much every day? I’ve got a law practice, a busy rabbinate, non-profit work and I study Talmud each day. Perhaps the answer is modeled by our Patriarch Jacob. We both might suffer from the same sort of neuroses, “high-functioning anxiety.”

Jacob returned to Canaan with his wives, concubines, children, attendants, and lots of goats. In a rare Torah description of emotion, Jacob took action out of fear and anxiety. Anticipating a highly charged if not dangerous reunion with his older brother Esau, he implemented a strategy. Jacob sent emissaries ahead offering gifts to Esau. He divided his family into two camps to ensure that some might survive a deadly confrontation. And then Jacob went off on his own to spend the night.

We first knew Jacob as a master of subterfuge, a bit self-righteous, and a passionate player. And yet, Jacob is a patriarch whose name we invoke in our prayers three times a day. Our tradition does not define Jacob as a bad person. Rather, his complex character is what makes him admirable. For example, a generally negative trait like duplicity, in Jacob’s case, is also a pursuit of a God-inspired plan for the Jewish people’s future.

Jacob’s motivations, both holy and secular, compel him to be shrewd and purposeful. Jacob is a high achiever, who is able to successfully outplay his father-in-law, ingratiate himself to a combative brother, and resettle his family in a promised land. Anticipating a fraught reunion with Esau, Jacob maintained his focus, even while feeling apprehensive.

Many of us transfer our anxiety into hypervigilance in our professions, our family dynamics, and our social interactions. Rather than address the cause of the anxiety, we pride ourselves on being hardworking, detail-oriented, and helpful. Motivated by a desire for success, we build walls to insulate ourselves from processing constrictive emotions. Propelled by a fear of failure, high functioning anxious people hesitate to say “no.” We offer our help just to maintain peaceful relationships. We worry too much about what other people think of us. These are also the ingredients for burnout.

Jacob also modeled for us the antidote to high-functioning anxiety. Nervous and fatigued, Jacob spent the night alone. In a rocky retreat, Jacob wrestled a pugilist angel. Some Torah interpreters say that the angel is a metaphor for Joseph struggling with himself.  By dawn, the wrestling match ended, and Jacob had an encounter with God.

On the edge of a disaster for himself and his family, Jacob took a breather. He hit the off switch and created a spatial boundary. Retreating for a night, Jacob pursued a bit of self-care. He created the space for self-awareness and reflection.  He struggled with his ego and combatted his fears. Ultimately, he was blessed by God.

Jacob exited his retreat with a permanent injury to his leg. Perhaps his new limp was a reminder of his vulnerability. The injury may have been a blessing; a reminder for Jacob to slow down.

Unlike the agrarian society of the bible, we live in an information age. Our work life and personal life have merged on the screen of our iPhones. For many, the pandemic transformed their home from a sanctuary into a workplace. The high achievement ethos in our community morphed into persistent anxiety to function at peak performance all day and every day. During the pandemic, many could not even relax at home, competing to bake the best sourdough bread or binge-watch the most Netflix programs. Even the conversations around Peloton focused on beating our best times and competing with virtual friends. Our lives were propelled by anxiety.

Jacob’s story reminds us that achieving our best lives requires us to step away from the anxiety-inducing patterns of our lives and make space for God.  We might have to wrestle ourselves away from our egos and our fears. Otherwise, the high-functioning anxiety we suffer couldruin our lives. Rather, we can learn from Jacob, to step away long enough to retool our souls.  So go for a hike, unroll your yoga mat, take a nap, or read some poetry this coming Shabbat. Turn off the noise in your head about what you need to prove to others, and wrestle with giving space to your best self. High-functioning anxiety may drive you toward financial success or societal status but it is also injurious to your soul.

Rabbi Evan Krame

 

 

Covid kept many sequestered at home for months.  Others packed up their cars and hit the road.  Some were escaping challenges while some were searching for new opportunities.  As my adult children moved around the country over the past two years, I remained at home feeling unsettled.  Since Torah has some similar travel stories, I thought I might find some guidance in our texts.

Beginning with Abraham, it seems our ancestors moved frequently. First inspired by God, Abraham took his wife Sarah and nephew Lot to a promised land. Their journey brought them to Canaan, Egypt, the Negev and back to Canaan.  Only in death are Abraham and Sarah settled and that is in a cave in Hittite territory.

Our ancestor Jacob high-tailed it out of Canaan to evade the wrath of his brother Esau.  He journeyed back to the ancestral homeland that Abraham left. His sojourn there was two decades-long. Jacob returned to Canaan with two wives, twelve children (Benjamin not yet born), and lots of goats. The family’s mailing address kept changing as they went from Succoth to Bethel, to Migdal-eder, and eventually to Egypt.

Reviewing these texts, I realized that God communicated most pointedly when our ancestors were in transit.  For example, God spoke to Jacob on Jacob’s first night away from home. God promised that Jacob’s descendants would own the land of Canaan, even as Jacob fled that land. God promised that his descendants would be as many as the dust of the earth, even as Jacob slept on the ground with a rock for a pillow. Also, God promised to protect and accompany Jacob, even as Jacob ventured across unknown lands all alone.

I sometimes crave the personal experience of God afforded Abraham and Sarah and Jacob. God seems hidden to me while I am sequestered at home. Yet, I recall that many say that their experience of the Divine has been outdoors, on a  hike, or while moving in nature. Could it be that God is nearest when we are on the move?

I was discomforted when my children traveled across the country during pandemic times. Each was leaving challenging situations and searching for something more Eden-like. (Apparently, California has some of those idyllic qualities). I coped with my anxiety, but Torah gave me additional comfort.

My children may not have an experience of God or pursue encounters with God, but in their travels, they might be nearer to God.  At least that is my hope.  I pray that their experience of God is the protection promise offered to Jacob. And may the angels that kept Jacob from harm, bless my children, and all those who are on life’s journey whether near or far. Or at least may they know the blessing of parents that cherish them.

Rabbi Evan Krame

 

 

It is easy to become jealous while scrolling through social media. You might feel worse about yourself after scrolling through Facebook or Twitter. Vacation photos, wedding shoots, grandchild announcements – it can be enough to make you seriously envious. While the bases for jealousy have evolved, jealousy can become a life-threatening condition.

Jealousy is as old as the Bible.

Acting upon jealousy is a biblical phenomenon as well. We learn in parshat Toldot we learn of how the Philistines, jealous of Isaac and his wealth, stop up the wells serving Isaac’s flocks. These are life-preserving water sources for the flocks and Isaac’s clan. Add tribalism and fear to jealousy and we have a life-threatening situation.

Social media today is an amplifier of these precarious human sentiments. In October 2021, a Facebook whistleblower testified to Congress that Facebook knew the extent to which social media is harmful, especially to young women.  The testimony revealed nothing new. “Researchers have known for years that social media has a negative impact on how young women feel about themselves,” says Jennifer Mills is a professor of psychology at York University.

The Cyberbullying Crisis.

The linkage of social media and jealousy exposes a shadowy aspect of human nature. People are sometimes willing to cause harm acting on jealousy. Social media platforms are particularly good outlets for jealousy, often among teens and young adults, sometimes in the form of revenge. One result is the current cyberbullying crisis. Motivated by jealousy, tribalism, and fear, social media participants can become troublemakers and worse.

The tactics of cyberbullying include posting comments or rumors about someone online that are mean, hurtful, or embarrassing. Cyberbullying includes threatening to hurt someone, posting a mean or hurtful picture or video, posting false information, and even telling someone to kill themselves. As a result, targets of cyberbullying are at a greater risk than others of both self-harm and suicidal behaviors. Students who have experienced bullying are twice as likely to commit suicide.

Sadly, human nature has not much evolved in three millennia. Only the modalities of how we torment rivals have evolved. In ancient Canaan, the modality was stopping up wells. Today, jealous people attack through social media. Either way, we need to spend more time confronting the human predisposition to harm rivals of whom we are jealous. We must learn the lesson that jealousy is a dangerous and disruptive emotion.

Rabbi Evan Krame

 

 

The press analyzed every single body movement as the two brothers walked behind their grandfather’s casket.  William and Harry had not spoken for more than a year. Perhaps the world hoped that these royal siblings would end their estrangement.  In a tale reminiscent of a biblical story, we had the opportunity to watch them and perhaps reexamine our own opportunities for reconciliation and growth.

The death of the Duke of Edinburgh in 2021 was a chance for Harry and William to reunite. In Torah, we read a similar story about the funeral of Abraham, attended by his oldest and scorned son Ishmael and his younger, favored son Isaac. Torah being less investigatory than the British press offers nearly no details of the reunion.

Presumably, Ishmael and Isaac have not been together since Abraham gave Hagar a skin of water and sent Ishmael into the wilderness. Sarah had demanded Ishmael’s dismissal. God backed Sarah on that deal. Isaac was to be the next progenitor of the Jewish people. Ishmael’s crude ways and tainted pedigree were incompatible with the future Jewish ethos.

Some 60 years passed from Ishmael’s expulsion to the reunion. Ishmael and Isaac stood together, peacefully, before their father’s internment. Subsequently, there were no other reported sightings of Ishmael and Isaac together.

Our tradition has not been kind to Ishmael. The great Torah commentator Rashi describes Ishmael as a highwayman.  The rabbinic imagination has historically been harsh even to Ishmael’s descendants, described in Torah as demons of the outhouse! (kiddushin 72a:10)

Some commentators wondered if  Ishmael arrived to collect an inheritance. If Ishmael was so motivated, he was disappointed to find that Isaac was the sole inheritor of Abraham’s wealth. We can imagine the conversation between Ishmael, laying claim to the estate as the firstborn, while Isaac responds with his superior position by virtue of being Sarah’s and not a slave woman’s son. Ishmael might also have reminded Isaac that they are both sons of the covenant, Ishmael having been painfully circumcised at age 13, while Isaac was an unaware 8 day old when circumcised. Sadly for Ishmael, circumcision conveys no rights of inheritance.

Alternatively, Ishmael’s reappearance at this funeral reasserts his claim to the land of Canaan promised to all of the descendants of Abraham. The Rabbis try to jettison that claim stating that we are B’nai Israel. The children of Jacob are the sole inheritors of that land. In fact, Ishmael and his descendants were not sedentary homebodies.  As seen later in Torah, Joseph’s brothers sold him to a caravan of Ishmaelites, beginning Joseph’s sojourn in Egypt.

Perhaps  Ishmael’s banishment was precisely because Ishmael had not inherited Abraham’s good character. Greed could be a motivating factor for his return upon Abraham’s death. Yet, as the son of an enslaved woman, Ishmael would have had no reasonable expectation of inheriting. His return appears to be purely gratuitous and born of a sense of obligation.

The expansiveness of time allows for kinder interpretations by us as modern commentators. Doesn’t Ishmael demonstrate good character rejoining his brother to honor their father? The death of a parent or righteous person typically brings people together, even if temporarily. Ishmael shows character when he set aside anger for the greater purpose of honoring his father.

Perhaps Ishmael was working through his agony of being rejected and expelled by his father. Returning to bury his father may have been Ishmael’s way of exorcising his rejection demons.  Attending this burial required Ishmael to confront his pain, a necessary step toward healing.

Ishmael’s return may also represent a bit of kind-heartedness. Proverbs 27:10 reminds us “a close neighbor is better than a distant brother.” Showing up demonstrates a willingness to stand alongside his half-brother and extended family. The medieval commentator David Kimhi (“Radak”) opined that Abraham must have raised Ishmael to behave well and know the ways of the Lord. To condemn Ishmael as evil is to criticize Abraham.

Just as Harry’s appearance at his grandfather’s funeral represented only a fleeting reunion, so too Ishmael’s attendance at Abraham’s funeral appears to have been ephemeral. Yet, there are lessons to be learned. Whatever Ishmael’s wild nature might have been, he was present when needed and attentive to familial obligation.  If he harbors anger at his rejection and expulsion, he manages those negative emotions sufficient to stand shoulder to shoulder with his brother, Isaac.

Ishmael’s appearance at his father’s funeral demonstrates for all of us a pathway to overcoming estrangements and setbacks.  Ishmael’s life was upended by Abraham, and Isaac was the winning rival for their father’s investment. Yet, he demonstrates for us the strength of character to show up in peace for this sacred and transitory moment in time.

The world remains riveted to the story of the royal family of England, and its defectors, Harry and Meghan, who have decamped to California. As tantalizing as the feuding might be, there is also the great expectation of a reunion between brothers Harry and William. On the day of their grandfather’s funeral, Harry shows up with all of his hurt and a bit of contrition. Whether reconciled or recalcitrant, they carried on the biblical traditions of showing up, remaining civil, and keeping the peace.

Rabbi Evan Krame

 

 

Opportunities to speak truth to power may approach like an unexpected visitor. Imagine one sunny day you are sitting in your yard, enjoying the shade of a tree. Suddenly you have unexpected seraphic guests heralding the start of adventures in metaphysics. This was Abraham’s story. The first biblical patriarch of the Torah had a surprise visit from three angels and God. Nonetheless, Abraham kept his composure and demonstrated how to share moral outrage with those in power.

At a pivotal moment in the story, demonstrating Abraham’s righteous virtuosity, Abraham challenged God. God had said to God’s self, I’ve heard that the people of Sodom are evil. God was determined to destroy Sodom. Perhaps to test His thesis, God shared this notion with his buddy, Abraham. Stepping into his fullest and most respectable self, Abraham promptly and vociferously protests, “will you sweep away the innocent with the guilty?”

With deed and words, Abraham employed the highest level of spiritual intelligence.  He was spontaneous in challenging God, addressing God with urgency.  Abraham employed his vision of justice and mercy. Accordingly, it was Abraham who proved to be the compassionate one.  Moreover, undaunted by the presence of the Omnipotent, Abraham becomes a holy advocate.

Perhaps you have had the experience of knowing a friend is about to make a bad choice.  Often, we hesitate to offer moral advice or offer a warning because we don’t want to confront an acquaintance and jeopardize a relationship. Yet, there will be times when life and death hang in the balance, the results of unethical or callous behaviors.  In those instances, can we muster the moxie to speak up and challenge those in power?

In formidable times like today, when morality has been set aside in favor of power and greed, we need to be more like Abraham. We should challenge politicians and industrialists who pollute our democracy and corrupt our environment.  Our challenges must be offered with urgency and in real-time. After all, lobbying a  politician or protesting a company should not be any harder than it was for Abraham to challenge the Holy One who is omnipotent!

Somedays I feel like we are all sitting in our yards under leafy trees, imagining that the bad news will disappear from the newspapers, the earth will heal itself, and the tyrants will retire to a commune. Yet, this damaged world and suffering people need to hear our voices. Let’s be inspired by Abraham. Don’t be afraid to let your moral nature guide you to challenge the world (and even God) to do better. Sweep away your faux innocence or you too are guilty. It just takes a bit of holy moxie and some spiritual intelligence.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

 

 

As the Democratic party leadership navigates their intra-family squabble over new legislation, I thought that they could use a bit of spiritual intelligence to solve their differences. Yes, Torah has something to teach modern-day politicians: compromise is a demonstration of faith and concessions are often holy.

In parshat Lech L’cha, both Abraham and his nephew Lot have acquired great wealth.  In ancient times before Bitcoin, wealth was measured in sheep and goats.  The herdsmen loyal to Lot and the herdsmen loyal to Abraham argue over grazing rights.  Rather than allow the conflict to percolate, Abraham opts for an amicable solution

God has promised all this land to Abraham and his descendants, north and south.  With greener pastures to the north and the arid Negev to the south, Abraham offers Lot a choice on which direction to move.  Lot chooses the northern path.  Abraham has faith in a better outcome no matter what Lot chooses.  And as a confirmation of Abraham’s faith just after Lot’s departure, God reassures Abraham.

Genesis 13:14-15

יהֹוָ֞ה אָמַ֣ר אֶל־אַבְרָ֗ם אַחֲרֵי֙ הִפָּֽרֶד־ל֣וֹט מֵֽעִמּ֔וֹ שָׂ֣א נָ֤א עֵינֶ֙יךָ֙ וּרְאֵ֔ה מִן־הַמָּק֖וֹם אֲשֶׁר־אַתָּ֣ה שָׁ֑ם צָפֹ֥נָה וָנֶ֖גְבָּה וָקֵ֥דְמָה וָיָֽמָּה׃

And the LORD said to Abraham, after Lot had parted from him, “Raise your eyes and look out from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west,

כִּ֧י אֶת־כׇּל־הָאָ֛רֶץ אֲשֶׁר־אַתָּ֥ה רֹאֶ֖ה לְךָ֣ אֶתְּנֶ֑נָּה וּֽלְזַרְעֲךָ֖ עַד־עוֹלָֽם׃

for I give all the land that you see to you and your offspring forever.

God reassures Abraham not to worry about Lot’s move. In the grand scheme of God’s plan, the division is only temporary. All the land will belong to Abraham. God did not make that promise to Lot or his descendants.  In fact, Lot suffers misfortune. Abraham rescued Lot when Lot was apprehended by warring tribes. Later, God sent messengers to rescue Lot before Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed.

Lot‘s chose to move north, motivated by the lure of easier pastures, but his choice was unprincipled. All the while Abraham, settled in a tougher terrain but nonetheless thrived. Abraham demonstrated leadership that is spiritually informed.

Compromise is a solution demonstrating spiritual intelligence. When making a concession we accept less than we want or feel we deserve or have been promised. Grinding one’s heels into the ground refusing to give up an inch is spiritually lacking. Compromise is a demonstration of faith in a greater plan and a greater good.

Our politicians need a little Torah in the halls of Congress!

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

 

 

A bird referred to as the “Lord God” has been declared officially extinct. The ivory-billed woodpecker is no more. Millions more species of plant and animal life are now imperiled. We’ve read similar stories before. I recall the story of the flood in Torah.

I found a description of the bird called “Lord God” by Chelsea Steinauer-Scudder. The ivorybill had a regal crested head, deep red on the males, velvet black on females. The rest of the bird’s plumage was composed of layered sheens of blue-black feathers interspersed with striking patterns of white on the wings and neck.

When the people of Arkansas or Louisiana would catch a glimpse of the wide-winged, graceful swooping flight, they might call out in amazement “Lord God – what a bird!”

After the earth became corrupted, the Lord God determined that all life would be extinguished but for Noah’s family and the animals they rescued. Noah saved representatives of all the species of animals.

In the twentieth century, people caused the extinction of the last bird called Lord God and are set to eliminate many more. Here’s how it came to pass.

The logging companies felled the sweet gum and Nuttall oak trees of the American South. Consequently, there was less room for the Lord God to find food. As Rachel Carson wrote in her seminal work, Silent Spring, “No witchcraft, no enemy action had silenced the rebirth of new life in this stricken world. The people had done it themselves.”

If the Lord God had survived into the 1960s, DDT and other pesticides might have killed the last of them. DDT had disastrous environmental consequences on bird populations, human populations, and entire ecosystems. Pesticides permeated the seas and soils, and pesticides were traceable in everything from birds’ eggs to the breast milk of every human mother on the planet.

In the 21st century, our dependence on fossil fuels has caused disastrous climate change which threatens every species including humankind. The environmental apocalypse may now be unavoidable. Man may have finally succeeded in emulating God, but it is the God of Genesis who destroyed all life but for a few representatives of each species. How much more of a warning do we need than a headline that includes the words “Lord God” and “dead”?

The singer Sufjan Stevens wrote these lyrics for a 2005 documentary about the Lord God bird:

In the delta sun, down in Arkansas
It’s the great god bird with its altar call
And the sewing machine, the industrial god
On the great bayou where they saw it fall

In the morning paper, on social media, on Cable TV and in my news feed, while we worship an industrial and electronic God, we ignored the altar call. Before our eyes we are watching it all fall.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame