with which he delivered the message. He was focusing on the story of Joseph, who interprets Pharaoh's dreams to mean that a famine is coming. Joseph also suggests that Pharaoh collect food from all Egyptians before the famine strikes, and then sell it back to them in the lean years. Spencer said this was "terrible" behavior, and chastised Joseph for being "power hungry." In light of many things going on around the world, in our community, and right outside our very doors, I would like to agree with Spencer and add yet another reason why Joseph's behavior is, indeed, terrible.
Two years ago, I wrote a blog post on this same Torah portion, Vayigash, focusing on how the land itself is a player in our story. We often talk about Joseph, Pharaoh, and God in this drama, but we don't see the planet, the physical ground as a character in the Torah as well.
Still today, we disregard the vital role that the earth plays in determining our future, and we pretend not to see the signs all around us that climate change is a significant problem. Recently, statements issued by Pope Francis and then the summit in Paris demonstrate how world leaders are (finally!) realizing that change MUST happen. We all need to open our eyes - wide - to this issue, and we especially need to accept our own responsibility in it. This brings me back to Spencer's D'var Torah.
It isn't just that the earth is a player in our lives, it's how we interact with it as well. The plan that Joseph suggested to Pharaoh in Spencer's parashah gets implemented this week, and we see how the palace gradually takes possession of people's livestock, land, and then their autonomy. Indeed, as Spencer suggests, this is terrible. In a time of
famine and starvation, Joseph takes advantage of the vulnerability of the people, rather than trying to help them take care of themselves. Not only that, but this attitude is actually damaging to our entire planet. In his papal letter, "Laudato Si," Pope Francis writes: "Those who possess more resources and economic or political power seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms." Around the world today, leaders are realizing that their inaction, apathy, and disinterest - especially regarding the environmental disasters in poorer parts of the globe - has already led to greater climate destruction. We cannot behave like Joseph, and think we won't suffer the repercussions of oppressing others. We are all interconnected, and we need to take care of our planet together.
This weekend, we will be joined at Ohev Shalom by Bill Haaf. He represents an organization called Climate Voices that seeks to bring climate scientists to communities to engage in dialogue. This will be our opportunity to bring science and religion together (what could possibly go wrong??). The data may be
pretty bleak, but there are also many things that we can each do to take greater responsibility for our community and our world. But first, we must admit that we are Joseph in this drama. We CAN make a difference, and we CAN alter our behavior to influence those around us and even people across the nation and beyond. On the surface, we often think Joseph is just taking care of himself and his family, and we praise his behavior. But, in fact, we all need to realize that caring only for those in our closest circle is simply not enough. I hope you can come on Saturday to hear our Sustainability talk, and I hope you will take a good look at your own life and your behaviors, and make a change. Our ancient ancestors were lucky, and seven years of famine were followed by bounty yet again. Can we afford to gamble on the same being true for us?
Photos in this blog post:
3. CC image, "Famine in India: Natives waiting for relief in Bangalore," courtesy of Adam63 on Wikimedia Commons