By guest blogger: Rabbi Adam Winston. Rabbi Winston is a popular speaker and teacher of Jewish ethics and mysticism. He enjoys learning new things, long chills in remote locations, and baked Brie with jam. He lives in Toronto with his wife and three children.
Images of miles of coastline, thousands of homes, and billions of dollars underwater can sometimes strike even the most ardent climate change activist as apocalyptic, surreal, and unrealistic. Our human mind loves to rationalize away those things that scare us the most. The scenario that has us sitting pretty always seems the more likely outcome; otherwise, how could we go on? And Jewish wisdom has always taught us the power of positive thinking. Whether it’s Hashem considering a thought to do good which never came to fruition as the deed itself (Kiddushin 40a), or the mere thought of repentance and returning to one’s Creator catapulting the returner into the upper echelons of righteousness (Ibid 49b), our thoughts have tremendous power to inform and direct reality. As Rebbe Nachman so beautifully instructs, the lens through which we view people – including ourselves – changes that person. Why should the way we view the world be any different?
Yet I have heard more than one person say recently that efforts at curbing climate change are too little too late. They say that the mechanisms of industry and manufacturing are too ingrained, the infrastructure too entrenched for a large enough shift in emissions. Even if we succeed in slowing the beast – the argument goes – we have succeeded in nothing except buying ourselves another decade or two. Experts argue this point, and much is unknown. That this sentiment is making its rounds cannot be debated.
And what of it? So what if the only biproduct of a more conscientious humanity is a few more years? That would still be worth it. How many millions of relationships and meaningful moments can be forged in the blink of an eye, let alone ten years?
I will take it even further. So what if we don’t buy ourselves even one extra second with all of our collective efforts? Rabbi Elazer ben Dordaya lived a life full of lustful hedonism and base debauchery (Avodah Zarah 17). Only at the very end of his life, as his soul left his body through tears of regret, did he succeed in righting his path. And our Sages describe him as one who “acquires his world in a single moment.” His entire life changed into one of celebration just by one final act of repentance. We can be like Rabbi Elazer ben Dordaya. Even if it is too late to reverse climate change – and the jury is still out on that point – wouldn’t you rather perish as a people trying to save our planet? You never know…