Enrique Peña Nieto, François Hollande, Angela Merkel, and Michelle Bachelet  on November 30 at the UN Climate Change Conference
Enrique Peña Nieto, François Hollande, Angela Merkel, and Michelle Bachelet
on November 30 at the UN Climate Change Conference

By Larry Gordon

At first it strikes one as nearly complete nonsense. When our leaders articulate, in the aftermath of the terror attacks in Paris, that the single most significant threat to the world is the global climate, one has to wonder what they are really thinking.

Can you imagine if Prime Minister Netanyahu or Defense Minister Yaalon in Israel would say after a shooting or knife attack that they are doing what they can to prevent these assaults but, more importantly, what are we going to do about the weather?

So the relevant question might be why, at this stage in our evolving history, when the scourge of terror and the threat of another world war seems increased, are world leaders so interested in meeting to discuss global climate changes?

President Obama has suggested that changes in our environment over the last many years may have contributed to a worldwide mindset that made it possible for the terrorist entities of ISIS and al-Qaeda to come into existence. The president’s contention is that changes in the environment, ecological setbacks, air pollutants, and other atmospheric alterations impact on people’s thinking and decision-making processes that apparently lean in the direction of anarchy and extreme violence.

More conventional wisdom attributes the chaos in the Middle East to Mr. Obama’s strategic and military blunders and less so to the ten-day forecast.

But then it strikes one that Mr. Obama and the more than 100 world leaders who gathered in Paris last week to forge an agreement of global cooperation to, as the president says, “save our one and only planet,” might be communicating a message to the world that even they are not conscious of.

There might be several such issues at play here. One of them is that the focus on nature and climate is another way of demonstrating deference to the natural order that also serves as a subconscious attempt to deny the existence of G‑d.

If somehow we can convince ourselves that this universe consists of just our inexplicable and what many consider accidental existence and the chemicals that make up the world as we know it, then those leaders who met in Paris are also quietly and unceremoniously easing the relationship between man and G‑d out of the process of our lives.

In Jewish life and law, there is the popular concept of “Kol Yisrael areivim zeh ba’zeh,” that all Jews are in some fashion guarantors for one another. Years ago, there was a popular telephone company slogan that stated “We’re all connected,” and it seems that based on Torah sources (and the theories of climate change), we are all linked in some fashion, whether obvious or somewhat concealed.

On a simple and mundane level, consider the way smoking in office buildings or even on airplanes has been handled over the last 20 or so years. Once it was revealed that smoking was hazardous more than just to smokers but also to those in their proximity, laws were eventually enacted that forbade smoking cigarettes, cigars, or pipes in many public places. It was deemed unhealthy and bothersome to people who could not avoid inhaling the smoke wafting through the air around them.

Regulating smoking was a step in the direction of taking responsibility for the air and even the climate around us. While that was an important, tangible, and visible step, there is apparently much more at stake.

The Torah in Leviticus describes the following scenario about the people of Israel: “They will stumble, each man over his brother, as if chased by the sword even when there is no pursuer.” Rashi explains: “When they desire to escape, they [the enemy] will fall over one another because they will run in confusion.”

And the Gemara explains, “And a man will stumble because of his brother’s iniquity.” It states in TractateShevuos (39a), “She’kol Yisrael areivim zeh ba’zeh”–that all Jews are responsible for one another.

And the Talmud elsewhere discusses a flip side to this formulation. In Rosh Hashanah, the Gemara states that one who has already fulfilled an obligation can nevertheless cause others who have yet to discharge their obligation to fulfill the mitzvah. For example, it states there that one who has already fulfilled the mitzvah of Kiddush on Shabbos can repeat the Kiddush on behalf of someone else who has not yet recited it. This law is based on the concept of arvus, or that every Jew is a guarantor for his fellow Jew’s observance.

So all those men reciting Kiddush repeatedly on Shabbos morning in shul may not be doing it just as an occasion to imbibe another drink or glass of wine. That may just be a benefit of the act of being yotzei people in shul or elsewhere with Kiddush.

When considering this connectedness that is uniquely Jewish, there might be a new and refreshing insight into the ideas about global warming and climate change being urgently discussed even as terrorists work their destructive way in a number of locations around the world.

The world seems to be exploding, but the globe’s leaders and especially President Obama are speaking about ice caps melting, thereby creating flooding in parts of the world, and the fact that the average seasonal temperature in some areas has fallen two-tenths of a degree over the last 50 years.

Like many others, I was struck by the absurdity of the president’s claims about the vital nature of climate change, particularly at this time. But Mr. Obama would not let it go. The agenda may be to distance man from his Creator, but the more he said the words “climate change,” the more it made me think in terms of our actions, whether publicly or privately, having a cosmic impact on others around us, both near and far.

And there it is explicitly in the Torah–allusions and specific instances where the Jewish people are evaluated as a unit. Whether it is our forefather Avraham asking G‑d not to destroy Sodom if there are ten or even five righteous people in the entire city, or Moshe and Aharon asking G‑d directly why He was determined that all 250 men who identified with the Korach rebellion had to die. There it is clearly, the possible merit or absence of sin in just a few men changing things or saving an entire city from destruction.

Much of this subject was recently brought to our attention as those who study the daily daf encountered an extensive review of the subject of the eglah arufah–the less-than-one-year-old calf that is killed as part of the protocol of a city absolving itself of responsibility or any involvement, no matter how remote, to a murder that occurred nearby.

As it turns out, the eglah arufah ceremony, in an indirect way, teaches an immense amount about responsibility to one another. Through the weeks that Mr. Obama kept mentioning global warming and climate change, I kept thinking again and again about eglah arufah.

In brief, the story is that a person is found dead in a no-man’s-land between two towns. Who murdered him and who will now be responsible to provide him with a proper burial? A broad array of possibilities exists. In order to discover who bears indirect responsibility, the elders of the town are assembled at the site where the body was found. They then measure which town is closest to the body. The municipality that it is closest is to some degree responsible for the death and has to incur the cost and expend the effort for the burial.

Why are they liable? They didn’t kill him. True, but he passed through their town and perhaps no one said hello in shul or offered him a meal or inquired of his well-being. And when it was time for him to leave, no one escorted him out. He was apparently a loner and vulnerable, and at the end of the day met an unpleasant end.

To atone for the death, the city leaders sacrifice the calf, which will never give birth to other calves, in a barren field which will never produce any vegetation–just like the victim will no longer produce anyone or anything.

Chassidic thought tells us that one of the vital lessons of eglah arufah is that by virtue of the fact that we even know about an individual’s particular crisis or situation, as a result of the hashgachah that the knowledge of the matter has been brought to our attention, we bear some level of responsibility in the matter.

And that may be true if it is a matter of a body being discovered in between towns, if there is a person we learn about who needs assistance, or if greenhouse gases are polluting the environment. They say climate change; we hear responsibility for one another on all levels.

Comments for Larry Gordon are welcome at editor@5tjt.com.

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