The current United States Supreme Court again ruled in ways antagonistic to universal rights. The Court curtailed the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to set standards on climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions for existing power plants. After the horrifying decision endangering women’s health, the Court has moved on to jeopardizing our well-being and our planet. Choices on protecting the planet and expanding individual rights are as old as the Torah. With Torah there is hope.
Some countries are leaders in protecting rights and the environment. Germany is one such country. While on vacation in Berlin, I saw a homeless man lying on the street. Our guide told us that the man was homeless by choice. The German government guarantees shelter for anyone in need. Their social welfare system works well – free childcare, excellent health care, and a dynamic social security system. Environmental advocacy is ubiquitous. When buying a bottle of water at a kiosk the vendor made certain that I would return the bottle for a refund.
As I read Parshat Chukat in Torah this week, I found cautionary tales for our times. After Miriam died, the miraculous water source that sustained the Hebrews dried up. God instructed Moses to speak to a rock and draw water. Instead, a curmudgeonly Moses hit the rock and chastised his people. Water gushed from the rock. Poor Moses was denied entry into the promised land for his faithlessness.
An environmental advocate might offer a modern understanding of this story. As the planet warms, extreme droughts are underway. To save the planet, thoughtful and sustained water management will be essential. Striking out will not suffice.
A few chapters later, Moses is instructed to gather the people. Where they gathered, the leaders of various tribes together dug wells. With a spirit of cooperation, a source of water was released. Everyone benefitted from the joint efforts.
Economic cooperation and environmental collaboration are hallmarks of Germany’s successes today. These values mimic the arc of the Torah’s description of how to move from a water crisis to coordinated environmental management. Moreover, Germany is committed to equal participation by all people in social, political, and economic life – regardless of gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, skin color, disability, or other traits.
This year, even as we celebrate America’s birthday we grumble about America’s turn toward extremism. I suggest that we look to both Torah and Germany for inspiration on how to resuscitate our Democracy. Germany’s take on Torah is expanding freedom and preserving our planet. It may strike you as odd that the words Torah and Germany are used for the same proposition. Yet, it gives me hope that any desperate situation can be turned toward the good.
Rabbi Evan J. Krame