Rabbi Erica Seager Asch of the American Jewish World Service writes of this week's Torah Reading:
This week's parashah contains the well known episode of the Golden Calf. Our ancestors eagerly gave their gold for its construction. That gold became an idol and the people made sacrifices before it. Their misuse of the gold was so grave that God sought to destroy the entire nation. Yet a few weeks from now we will read of our ancestors using their gold for good by eagerly offering it to create the Mishkan (Tabernacle). The Israelites brought many gifts, including gold, to build a Mishkan. In this instance, the people gave freely of their possessions for a divine purpose.
The gold of the Israelites was used in two very different ways, prompting Rabbi Abba bar Aha to declare: "You can't understand the character of this people! When asked for the [Golden] Calf, they contribute. When asked for the Mishkan, they contribute." The gold was the same--it was what was done with it that gave it the quality of either idolatry or of holiness.
The question of how we use our limited resources is not just a question for ancient Israelites or for modern Jews, it is a question for every human being. How can we be good neighbors? How can we improve our own quality of life as well as the quality of life of those with whom we share this world?
Yesterday, I had the privilege of addressing the Rhode Island House of Representatives Committee on Environmental and Natural Resources. The Committee was accepting testimony on upcoming legislation that is referred to colloquially as "Right to Dry." This legislation, if passed, would protect the rights of Rhode Island residents to hang laundry outside, mount solar panels on their homes or small wind turbines on their property and would render illegal local regulations from prohibiting these actions.
Here is my statement to the Committee:
Mr. Chairman, honored members of the committee,
I am Rabbi Amy Levin. I am the rabbi of Temple Torat Yisrael in Cranston and also serve as the vice-president of the Rhode Island Board of Rabbis.
It is an honor to have the opportunity to bring a Jewish sensibility to today's discussion . . . for the legislation you are considering today touches upon two values cherished by Jewish tradition:
The first is "kvod habriyot": respect for every created being.
The second is "tikkun olam": repair of God's created world.
The Jewish ethic of k'vod habriyot, of respect for every created being, compels all those in leadership positions on every level to do our utmost to respect the realities and support the most fundamental aspirations of everyone around us. The legislation before you is a means to just such an end. A family struggling to cover the monthly commitments of utility bills, rent or mortgage and food bills, can find substantive relief in an act as simple as hanging laundry in the sunshine instead of paying for the electricity or gas to run a clothes dryer. In our state, this should be low-hanging fruit. I would hope that legislation from this body protecting everyone's latitude to take such a step would be a self-evident value. It is a step that would be applauded by the constituents of Rhode Island as an act of intelligence, vision and compassion.
The Jewish ethic of "tikkun olam", of repair of God's created world, also informs today's discussion. By acknowledging that we are all in the same boat . . . and that that boat is the natural world . . . we take on a tremendous burden of mutual responsibility. The actions of one have an influence on us all. The unbridled consumption of the natural resources that currently supply the overwhelming percentage of our electricity have implications for those of us alive today, in this place; for generations to come, God-willing, in Rhode Island; and for generations to come all over the world. Passage of this legislation would express to Rhode Islanders and our peers in other states and other countries, that here we take our responsibilities seriously. That here in Rhode Island we understand that making way for individual commitments to sustainable energy through small wind turbines and solar panels is really the least we can do to encourage the sustenance of the natural world God has left in our hands.
If we have people in our state who are willing to pay the premium to generate sustainable energy, we should thank them, we should remove all barriers to their commitment and their vision. You and your colleagues are in the unique position, with this legislation, of bridging the gap between theory and practice, between ethical talk and moral action. I and many others in our state would feel blessed to be led by statesman who embrace the opportunity to nurture the financially vulnerable and to encourage the environmental pioneers of Rhode Island with the passage of this one, sound, simple piece of legislation.
Thank you and God bless you.