By Rabbi Josh Weinberg
Friday September 24, 2021 – י”ח תשרי תשפ”ב
“תֵּן דַּעְתְּךָ שֶׁלֹּא תְּקַלְקֵל וְתַחְרִיב אֶת עוֹלָמִי, שֶׁאִם קִלְקַלְתָּ, אֵין מִי שֶׁיְּתַקֵּן אַחֲרֶיךָ.”
(קהלת רבה ז:י”ג)
“See to it that you do not spoil and destroy My world; for if you do, there will be no one else to repair it.”
(Kohelet Rabbah 7:13)
Yosef Abramowitz, a.k.a. “Captain Sunshine,” knows that the sun is, in fact, the source of REnewable energy. He is the president, CEO, and co-founder, of Energiya Global Capital, which he created to address the urgent need to expand access to renewable energy throughout the world. With passion and persistence, he built solar fields in the Arava making the region the first to be nearly 100% solar powered. This, according to then Israeli President Shimon Peres, was the realization of David Ben Gurion’s dream of making the Negev bloom and causing the vast and barren desert to be a source of energy and life.
Abramowitz is a member of Congregation Kol HaNeshama in Jerusalem and married to a Reform rabbi. For his groundbreaking work, he was nominated for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize by members of parliament from 12 African countries and Belize with whom he has worked to bring solar panels and achieve 100% daylight energy provided by the sun. The effort to build renewable solar energy in Africa from an Israeli company is literally a “light unto the nations!” We, as Jews, who see the world as God’s holy creation, should be leading the world in reducing our fossil fuel dependence and alleviating our carbon footprint.
The core commandment on Sukkot is to “be happy and rejoice on your holiday,” but just in case you are a little too frivolous or get carried away, the rabbis instituted the reading of Kohelet (the Scroll of Ecclesiastes) on the intermediate Shabbat of Sukkot (tomorrow), as we read the Scrolls of Song of Songs on Pesach, Ruth on Shavuot, Esther on Purim, and Lamentations on Tisha B’Av. Ok, it was probably the only scroll left after the rabbis designated the others to their respective holidays. Nonetheless, Kohelet has the unique capability of being the party-pooper that no one invited and the only scroll that can kill the joyous mood with its fatalism and depressing nature.
In one of its oft-quoted and more philosophical verses, Kohelet paints life as discouraging:
מַה־שֶּֽׁהָיָה֙ ה֣וּא שֶׁיִּהְיֶ֔ה וּמַה־שֶּׁנַּֽעֲשָׂ֔ה ה֖וּא שֶׁיֵּעָשֶׂ֑ה וְאֵ֥ין כׇּל־חָדָ֖שׁ תַּ֥חַת הַשָּֽׁמֶשׁ׃ (קהלת א:ט)
“Only that shall happen which has already happened; only that shall occur which has already occurred; there is nothing new under the sun!” (Kohelet 1:9)
What has become a well-known proverb “nothing new under the sun” (Kohelet uses the phrase “under the sun – tachat ha-shamesh 29 times!) is often used as a world-weary complaint against life’s monotony.
To say “there is nothing new under the sun” does not ignore inventions or advances in technology. Rather, innovation does not change the laws of physics or human nature, according to the alleged author of Kohelet, King Solomon as an old man.
While there may be nothing new under the sun, maybe it’s the sun’s job to renew us? Sukkot is not just a Vitamin-D enhancer but a reminder of the rapid depletion of the earth’s natural resources. The sun can and should be the source of energy, renewal, and vitality.
In that vein, “Captain Sunshine” advocates an antidote to Kohelet. Kohelet waxes on about life being futile and vain. Abramowitz’s pioneering, persistent, and activist spirit and vision constitutes a refusal to take “no” for an answer, that we can use the sun to renew us and fulfill our energy needs.
It’s almost too obvious. So, why are we not all doing it? What would it look like if many more of our synagogue buildings were equipped with solar panels and stood as symbols of reducing fossil fuel dependence? Every Reform Synagogue in the world could hang a sign outside its building along with “We Stand With Israel,” “Black Lives Matter,” and “LGBTQ Safe Zone” saying:
“יש חָדָ֖שׁ תַּ֥חַת הַשָּֽׁמֶשׁ –שְׂאוּ-מְרוֹם עֵינֵיכֶם וְרָאוּ!”
“There IS something new under the sun; Lift high your eyes and see!!”
But, lest we have heavy hearts as we read Kohelet tomorrow, there is good news. Beyond the serious contemplation of the meaning of life and one’s place in the cosmos, Kohelet makes strikingly relevant connections to Sukkot and even more important lessons for life.
Rabbi Mordechai Yaffe (1590-1604) explains in his book “Levush” (A commentary of the Or HaHayim 663:2 published in Poland) that we read Kohelet on Sukkot “because it is Zman Simhateinu, (the season of our rejoicing) and Kohelet urges people to rejoice in their portion and not run after increased wealth. People who enjoy what they have is a God-given gift.”
The Zionist lesson from Sukkot reminds us to appreciate our material possessions as gifts. Even more so now that we have entered the Shmita year (occurring every seven years when we allow our land to lie fallow), we are reminded to utilize our existing resources.
Zionism is partly about the restoration of Jewish rootedness in our Land and the concomitant responsibility to care for it. All the more so on Sukkot, Zionism can and should be the most relevant and authentic expression of Judaism’s concern for and commitment to the preservation of the earth. We can and should be leading the way.
Yosef Abramowitz teaches (you can learn more with him as part of our Zionist Beit Midrash on October 19th!):
“If we consciously scale back our consumption, our driving, our materialism, our work with a true day of rest, and if every faith community in the world followed suit, we could reduce by 1/7th greenhouse gas emissions — enough to bring the earth back into balance. In Israel, our greenhouse gas emissions are nearly nonexistent on Yom Kippur and there is a 30% reduction on Shabbat. Spreading the practice of a true day of rest every week could be the most powerful market force on the planet.”
Tomorrow, when you turn to the words of Kohelet may they inspire you and not depress you. May they be a call to action to learn this Torah coming from the Land of Israel, and may we affirm our commitment to being stewards of our Earth (more next week).
Shabbat Shalom U’Moadim L’Simcha,