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Parashat Hashavua Vayeira 2010 / 5771 - The Tea Party, Global Warming, Sodom, and Abraham

26.10.2010 by

The Tea Party, global warming, Sodom, and Abraham - Weekly Portion - Va'yera A couple of days ago, there was an article in the NY Times about skepticism towards global warming among Tea Party members and the public in general. The article claimed that only 14% of tea party members believe that global warming is an environmental problem that is having an effect now, as opposed to 49% (NOT A MAJORITY!) among the general public. Let me tell you, both figures are scary, especially since the temperature hit 95 degrees in Jerusalem on Wednesday, and broke records all over Israel. It also brought the interesting news that, since 2009, the oil, coal, and utility industries in the US have spent $500 million lobbying against legislation to address climate change.A few of the quotes brought by the Tea Party savants evoked biblical reasons for not believing: "I read my Bible...He made the earth for us to utilize." This idiotic statement - why should "utilize" preclude intelligent use? - is based, I am assuming, on a verse in Genesis, in which God says to Adam and Eve: "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill up the land, and subdue it". (There is another one, referring to the Garden of Eden, in which we are told that God put man in the Garden "to work it and protect it", but never mind.)In this week's parsha, Va'yera, there is an interesting story which may shed some light on the subject of our relationship to, and responsibility for, the earth. God, about to send his angels to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah because the people there are so evil, says the following: "Should I hide anything that I do from Abraham? After all, Abraham will become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the world will blessed through him." God says a few more nice things to himself about what good guys Abraham and his descendants will be, committed to fairness and justice, and He tells him about the upcoming fireworks.The verses seem pretty clear: God will share with Abraham his plans to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah because of His special relationship with him, and Abraham's special relationship with the world, and with justice. The commentators, however, are never satisfied, and a few of them add an interesting angle to God's ruminations. First, Rashi: "I gave him this land, and these...cities are his. Will I destroy the sons and not tell the father, whom I love?" Now, Rashi's grandson, the Rashbam (Rabbi Shmuel ben Meir, 1085-1158): "...these cities are part of his decendants' can I destroy his land or the land of his neighbors [!] without his knowledge?" And finally, the Radak (Rabbi David Kimchi, 1160-1235): "He 'will become a great and mighty nation', and most of the world will be settled by his descendants [I guess he means they will live all over the world, and not that they will be the majority of the people in the world], so how can I hide from him what I am going to do in the world?"What all these comments have in common seems to be this: Abraham is invested in this land as its owner, it is his, or, at least his neighbors'. As such, he is interested in its well-being and the well-being of its inhabitants. He has the right, and the duty, to care for it, so I must tell him that I am about to destroy it, and the people on it. The Radak adds the fascinating notion that this sense of ownership, and therefore responsibility, extends to the entire world, as that is where we, the Jews, will live.This attitude does share something with that of the Tea Party characters, in that it is capitalist in its approach, and recognizes and respects the notion of land ownership; the land belongs to people, it is ours to do with as we will. This concept of ownership is so powerful that even God respects it, and feels He can not damage Abraham's property without telling him. However, where we part company with the fans of Fox News is in how we understand the implications of ownership. Whereas they think it means we can do what we want with the world we own, God thinks it means we will act responsibly towards it, and its people. Ownership is expressed not in a callous disregard for consequences because it's mine and I can do what I want with it. On the contrary, ownership brings responsibility, the desire, and obligation, to care for what I own.I especially like the Radak, who uses the fact that we live in, rather than that we simply own, the world, to say much the same thing. Because Abraham's descendants will live in the entire world, they must care for and about it. God assumes that they will care about, and feel a responsibility for, what God will do in the world, i.e. everything that happens in it, everywhere. This certainly feels like an example of early global thinking, a one-world approach that is way ahead of its time. The fact that this concern for the fate of the entire world is rooted in Abraham's descendants - they will spread out across the globe, so the globe will be a Jewish concern, a thing that Jews feel they own, in the sense that they will take moral responsibility for it - underscores what is, for me, is the weirdest thing about these global warming doubters: do these people not have children? Grandchildren? Are they so selfish that they can only be selfish about their own immediate petty comforts ("they wanna take away our American way of life"), and not care about their own children's future?Take that, you idiotic 51% of the general public!Shabbat Shalom,Shimon

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