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Ashamnu: Our souls have transgressed with climate silence …

September 25th, 2012 · 2 Comments

Arev Yom Kippur … The eve of the Day of Atonement. After the period of reflection and engagement with others between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, this is a moment to turn to internal considerations and the relationship between the individual and G-d.

As part of the prayers for the Day of Atonement, the Vidui, the Al Cheyt or recital of sins, is perhaps the most important. (Modern Judaism being what it is, there are a myriad of translations and modern variations on the Vidui/Al Chet.) A key word: Ashamnu … “we have sinned” is a recognition of individual and communal failures. The Al Cheyt is a recognition and statement about sins by ourselves (and our community) against others, against oneself, against G-d through action … and inaction.

It is clear: one can do wrong through action and words … and one can do wrong through inaction and silence.

And, there is a silence that bears heavily on the heart at this time: the silence in our political leadership and among too many of us on the damage we are doing to the planetary system, the risks of climate change, and the urgent necessity for meaningful change to change our path toward something that enables sustainable prosperity for humanity.

From a Yom Kippur sermon leading into a Viddui recitation,

This is Yom Kippur. This is a night for confession. So let us be honest. If ever there was a time for candor, this is it. We humans are not good with limits. We are pushing the planet and its animal resources to the limit. We want what we want when we want it. We pretty much take, hunt, fish, and consume until someone or something stops us or until there is no more to be taken.

Do you remember the Viddui we will be reciting in a few minutes? It’s the Confession prayer that lists our sins alphabetically.


We abuse. We besmirch. We consume. We destroy. We excuse ourselves. We forget the consequences of our actions. We are greedy.

I could continue through the alphabet, and I should go on because, as the saying goes, although religion ought to comfort the afflicted, religion also needs to afflict the comfortable. And we truly do need to be uncomfortable tonight. Remember an alternate name for Yom Kippur is Yom Ha-Din…the Day of Judgment. This night is meant to be a time for severity.

“a time of severity”. We are living in a time of consequences, a time where humanity’s future (and our own, unless you are on your deathbed, futures) require confronting Inconvenient Truth, and acting in this regard.

The individual matters and we need, for Yom Kippur, to judge ourselves with “severity” — to push our own comfortable ways as to whether we ‘sin’ and damage and harm unknowingly or knowingly.

We, however, live within a society. And, while each of us has a voice and role in that society, there are leaders. And, we expect leaders to show leadership. Truthfully, there is no such thing as that perfect person (take a look and reflect on the Al Cheyt) nor is there such a thing as a perfect leader. But, we should recognize our own faults and seek to change our patterns. And, we should look to our leaders’ faults and seek to help them change for the better.

Most of all, we cannot afford more of the same timid politics when the future of our planet is at stake. Global warming is not a someday problem, it is now.

Who said this? Senator Barack Obama in 2007.

Where, however, is President Barack Obama and Presidential-candidate Barack Obama in 2012?

There is no question that President Barack Obama is better on environmental and climate issues than a tea-party ruled Mitt Romney conceivably could be. However, this is an incredibly low bar of judgment.

Even though climate change is an arena of incredibly stark differentiation between the parties (and candidates); even though President Obama’s one-liner about climate change was one of the best received lines during his DNC speech; even though “the future of our planet is at stake”, the silence about climate change from Presidential candidate Barack Obama and Vice Presidential candidate Joe Biden is simply deafening.

We sin … we do wrong through action and words. We sin, we do wrong through inaction and silence.

It is past time to end the climate silence.

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Tags: 2012 Presidential Election · climate change · Global Warming

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