Monday, December 10, 2012

We Have Not Inherited The World From Our Ancestors,We Have Borrowed It From Our Children: Parashat Miketz

Parashat Miketz begins with Pharoah having a dream. He sees 7 fat cows being consumed by 7 weak, sick cows.  Then Pharoah sees 7 fat bundles of grain being consumed by 7 weak bundles of grain. What could it mean?
He consults with Joseph, who was languishing in jail. Two years prior, Joseph had correctly interpreted the dreams of Pharoah’s Cupbearer and Baker. Joseph must have been wondering if he was going to spend the rest of his life in prison. But now Pharoah was interpreting his dreams.
Joseph explained that he foresaw that there would be 7 years of great abundance throughout the Land of Egypt, and then 7 years of famine, and all of the abundance would be gone.  Joseph advised Pharoah to find someone to supervise the collection of a certain percentage of the harvest….a savings….to be set aside, for the years of the famine, so the land and the people would not perish.
Joseph gave Pharoah some pretty sound advice, even for today. We might have surpluses, but if we continue to use our resources at the rate that we do, one day, they will all be gone.
“The earth is Adonai’s and the fullness thereof: the settled world, and all that inhabit it.” (Psalms 24:1) This reminds us that the earth has been lent to us as a “trust” by God on the condition that we care for it and respect it, and ensure that future generations will benefit from its bounty.
All this talk of dreams makes me think that we’ve been sleeping a little too long, or maybe sticking our head in the sand.
Did you know that by the end of this month, nearly 11 million children in the world will have died this year from malnutrition?  The U.S. Farm Bill that was up for renewal in September in Congress could have included policies to support farmers in developing countries in their efforts to grow enough food and learn how to distribute it. But, it seems as though Congress allowed the Farm Bill to expire, and if a new Farm Bill is not passed quickly, the money that exists for emergency food aid will run out. 

A few weeks ago, PBS showcased Ken Burns’ “The Dust Bowl” which describes “the worst manmade disaster in American history”. It was about one of the greatest tragedies of the Great Plains region of the U.S. The land was appealing to homesteaders, who came in the late 1800s and early 1900s and began farming and raising livestock. For many, it was the first time anyone in their families had owned a piece of land.
But in the World War I era, the government encouraged farmers to plant wheat because warfare had closed off foreign markets. Rains were adequate to support wheat cultivation. The government fixed prices and farmers were prospering and plowing up more and more grasslands to plant more wheat.
It was a get-rich-quick atmosphere, complete with real estate scams and shady salesmen. Huge amounts of grasslands were turned under, exposing the topsoil in what was known as "The Great Plow Up."
But in 1929, the stock market collapsed. The Depression sent wheat prices plummeting. The rains dried up and drought took hold. The winds blew away the shallow topsoil, leaving a hard, caked surface beneath. And that’s what caused the massive dust.
The dust was so unrelenting in that 1930’s catastrophe, as it swept through houses, through bodies…..massive dust storms, called “black blizzards” across the Great Plains. They were clouds of dust that were so huge that they looked like mountain ranges, and so thick that they would blot out the sun during the day, and turn the skies black.
Native grasslands anchored the soil, protecting it from the unpredictable climate and winds.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt was not willing to abandon the Great Plains, and government became a force in helping rescue them from extinction. New jobs gave workers wages to feed their families, and new techniques for managing soil and water helped bring the land back from the brink.

The fact that we have huge climate change, the fact that we just in New York had a hurricane that intensified unexpectedly because of the warmth of the Atlantic, the fact that this was the second hundred-year storm in two years … all these things, the fragility of our environment, we ignore the heavy hand that we have placed toward that environment at our peril. … We can see it happening again. There is a drought going on, and farm families are suffering. We see isolated dust storms, although certainly not the size or caliber of the devastating storms in the Dust Bowl, but enough to make us think it can happen again.
That should be a stark reminder to us all.

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