Rejoinder to Jason Palmer and Julie Goodman’s Response Papers

First, I want to give a shout-out to Michael Schiffman who is responsible for suggesting my name to do this paper. There were times during the research and writing of the paper that I could not believe that a friend could do that to a friend. But there were other times that I was thankful that I had the opportunity to contribute to this most valuable discussion. So, thank you Michael and the Hashivenu Board for giving me this great honor.

The paper took me from the world of cutting-edge science through ancient worldviews and the baal taschit (do not commit waste) world of Jewcology to just thinking on the topic, and trying to arrange it in some logical order.  In fact, I wrote the paper once and then scrapped the 47 pages and re-wrote it to tame this chaos monster that threatened to go outside the boundaries of the assignment.  And I have been truly enriched. Had I had the benefit of Julie’s and Jason’s peer review  during the process I think that it might have taken on a third rewrite, or at least a revision. Such is the nature of academia. We improve our work by “iron sharpening iron.” I am thankful that both Julie and Jason have provided plenty of that iron.

In the short time I have, I want to do three things: (1) I want to point out two areas of disagreement between Julie and Jason in hopes that some heat can be directed toward them and taken off of me. (2) I want to highlight some additional areas that each Julie and Jason have raised that will help not only in a revision but with the discussion to follow. (3) Prompted by Julie’s and Jason’s comments, I want to add some substantive additions along the way that may fill in the interstitial silences of my paper.

Points of Disagreement

Julie particularly liked the treatment of halakha and kabbalah. Jason on the other hand found it lacking, not meaty enough in its focus on Jewish  tradition, especially kabbalah. Recognizing that length is part of the assignment, Jason suggested sacrificing the other world-views, while Julie lauded their treatment. These are hard choices and in the perfect world much more could have been derived from the Jewish side of the equation. I did treat important concepts of tikkun olam, baal taschit, shmittah, yovel, pe’ah, Tu’beshevat,  and a number of liturgical pieces. On the kabbalistic side I did treat tzim tzum,  kelippot, and the Zoharic understanding of Sukkah guests. Admittedly, I am not a philo-kabbalist, although I do recognize the value of kabbalistic tradition and its place in our world of Jewry.

A second area of possible disagreement is the question of sin and man’s nature. Julie focused on its fallenness (yetzer ra), which perhaps was skewed in that direction in my paper, while Jason focused on the goodness (yetzer tov).  Here is where I really wanted to do a lot more on the question of chaos operating outside of God’s created order and boundaries. Although I alluded to Jon D. Levenson’s work on “Creation and the Persistence of Evil,” admittedly I did not develop the thought of chaos and order sufficiently in relation to ecology and the created order. There is a chaos monster who is lurking who seeks to prevent the shalom of God to prevail, who has sought to transcend the limits and boundaries that God has set for us in his purpose for mankind to be blessed by the diversity of the “other.”

•    We can see that chaos monster working in early Genesis in “tohoo vavohoo” where the earth rebelled and became without form and void, according to some exegetes.

•    We can see it in the fall of Adam where Adam and Eve broke the one kashrut food law, not obeying the boundaries for blessing, desiring to be the same as God, rather than accepting the difference between the Creator and the created.

•    We can see it in the fratricide story of Cain killing Abel, Cain refusing to accept  God’s preference for smelly, bloody animal sacrifices over tasty ripe produce.

•    We can see it at the Tower of Bavel where all wanted to be of one language and not be blessed by the diversity of different peoples and languages.

•    We can see it in the Church’s refusal to accept Jewish chosenness, instead seeking to universalize mankind in one homogenous family.

•    We can see it in the desire to wipe out Israel and the Jewish people throughout history so that there would be no God-given distinction between Jew and Gentile.

•    We can see it in society’s gradual move to embrace the sameness of male and female rather than their diversity which makes them complementary.

Julie hones in more specifically on “gross distortions in this broken world” by presenting a litany of contemporary examples relevant to ecology, where humanity has traversed the boundary of God’s order, including Monsanto’s GMO seed monopoly. She provides examples for further discussion.

Additional Areas

Julie has emphasized the balance that is necessary between “hugging trees and worshiping them.” This delicate act permeates all of existence and we see how for example the tongue can be used for blessing or cursing; how a tree can be used or misused as in the “garden;” how a tool can be used to make life easier or to destroy it. Further, Julie has raised the question of how to exalt God through going green without falling into ungodly fetishism. She also raises an important issue of Israel’s responsibility of taking care of the land as peculiar to the land of Israel; positive care of the land of Israel is an example to the whole world as to how to take care of the Earth, thus contrasting the particularistic and the universalistic. This is a point well made and perhaps one that is instructive for us in the Diaspora to follow as an example: looking upon Israel as a microcosm of the world.  Finally, Julie has hit on a profitable point when she says that our care of the Earth might reach people with God. This is the challenge: the fusion of the salvation message of Yeshua with the redemption message of the earth. What did not come through so loudly in my paper is that our godly use of the earth’s resources by blessing the other has as a by-product, the preservation of God’s created order.

Jason has also contributed his wisdom in a number of areas. He has added relevant citations, for example, the works of Max Brod and Gerald Schroeder definitely warrant attention and inclusion. Jason pointed out quite rightly that my discussion of the Scientific view was not sufficiently expressive and nuanced. I certainly do not want to leave the impression that all scientific-minded people are atheists or agnostics; or, that the Bible cannot be reconciled with science as Gerald Shroeder in Genesis and the Big Bang, and Yosef Britton in his recent work,  Awesome Creation: A Study of the First Three Verses of Torah, have both sought to do. Jason’s mention of the Deepwater Horizon spill underlined to me the absence within my paper of real world specific examples, which Julie has also supplied. I came closest to this in my Appendix on the four hypothetical scenarios, in hopes that these will be fruitful for discussion. Last year Russ Resnik, when looking through his ethical window, capstoned his paper with the question of how to approach the Palestinian-Israeli land dispute, within his ethical constructed model. I wrestled with speaking of the challenge of examining this whole grid of eco-ethicology through the lens of the health care debacle in this country, an issue so politically charged and divisive, preying on the fears of those who might lose their choice and their lives, manipulating the masses through disregard for the masses. What is the upright position on health care? Does it speak of a rugged individualism position to which America is so historically entrenched, with the cry of “me-ism,” i.e., how does it affect me and my family rather than how does it affect all families? Do we smell of I Corinthians 13 love when we express our position on universal health care? Have we made decisions based upon our willingness to sacrifice for the “other”? Are we willing to go to the ends of the earth to sacrifice for the souls of another while willingly ignoring the plight of those who are next door? Have we participated in the same cacophony of whining partisan misaligned vituperations, resounding in the ears of God as an annoying tinkling cymbal, when it comes to this issue that threatens our “freedom of choice”? Is your freedom of choice individually for you rooted in a biblical sense of justice for all? Is our partisan allegiance greater than our allegiance to the poor, the needy and the marginalized? Yes, all too often it is easier to help the one who sits among you in the congregation than the amorphous numbers who though equally needy and deserving of our help, are faceless in our sight. We do need to discuss what this all means on the ground, so to speak.

Jason had a sort of epiphany. I had one too in this area. In 1994 I took a life-changing trip to the Ukraine with Michael Schiffman and my 19-year-old son at the time, Seth. In the Ukraine I experienced the integration of the verbal message of the gospel and the non-verbal message of love through humanitarian endeavors, for the first time. It was not one or the other but mixed together in a way that was seamless. I had been a believer for almost a quarter of a century, devoted to the Scriptures and outreach to my brethren. But I never saw the richness of the Sermon on the Mount until I saw poor old holocaust survivor widows dependent upon Christian neighbors for their morsels of food. I had never understood the relationship of the gospel to the compassionate outreach in love by helping to fix a leaky roof that allowed water to pour down the walls of a one room hut, making life within it unbearable during the winter months. I had never understood the concept of freedom until I saw the faces of those trapped in an “unrelenting hell” smile with joy unspeakable when given money necessary to immigrate to Israel and thereby given hope for deliverance from the agony of  unending hopelessness.

Finally, there is a rabbinic story about a group of travelers in a boat. As the story goes, one of the people in the boat started to drill a hole under his seat. When the other people in the boat retort by complaining that this action will cause the whole boat to sink, the driller responds, “Why should this bother you? I am only drilling under my own seat.” The fellow travelers shout, “But the water will rise up and flood the ship for all  of us!” (Vayikra Rabbah 4:6) The point is obvious. We are on the same boat and in some way our actions, negative or positive, do impact us all.  Big rocks tossed into the water make big ripples; small pebbles make small ripples. But sometimes, as here, a small act can make a big difference. We have a hole in our boat and patching it can preserve our community. Let us therefore work together to patch the hole and thereby fulfill our communal responsibilities for God’s created order.