There is an old Chinese proverb that says: “The best time to plant a tree was 30 years ago. The second-best time is today.”
A few years ago, I was teaching some students about Tashlich at a small, liberal arts college in Florida. I told them about the ancient ritual on Rosh HaShanah when we symbolically caste off our sins by throwing stones or shells into a body of water to begin the new year with a clean spirit and pure heart. I had just finished when one of the students said, “Rabbi, there’s already more than enough human “sin” in the water. Why don’t we take some of it out instead?” This led to a conversation about the Jewish tenet of Bal Tashchit, the prohibition against needless waste and destruction, and the millions of tons of trash and plastic that are dumped into the ocean every year. From this conversation came the creation of a “Reverse Tashlich” in which the students cleaned the beach and mangroves on campus to remove the human “sin” which littered them. In the end, five students removed about 75 pounds of plastic and other debris from the waterfront. What began a few years ago with five college students, has turned into an international event.
The scientific data say that if we don’t change our current practices of overfishing and pollution, in 30 years there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. And so, as I reflect on the month of Elul, I remember that Chinese proverb. What is Elul? I see it as אִלוּ-ל(אִלוּmeaning “if only” and לbeing the numerical value of 30). In other words, if only 30 years ago we had thought about the effects that our collective human carelessness and greed would have on the Ocean, we could have done something to prevent it. I know that’s impossible. So instead, I understand it as this: If only years from now we had done something today to reverse the damage that humans are causing to our water planet, then perhaps we could have done something to change it. The best time to make a difference for the Ocean was 30 years ago. The second-best time is today.
It is a simple fact: The Ocean is dying. And if the Ocean dies… we die. We can make a difference today, by raising awareness, and taking action to protect and restore the Ocean in a Jewish context. I invite you to join Tikkun HaYam and Jewish communities in the US, Israel, Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, England, Ireland, New Zealand, Palau, Scotland, South Africa & Sweden for our 4thannual “Reverse Tashlich” on Sept. 12th. It is a fun, easy and incredibly meaningful program. I hope you’ll join our Jewish movement to Repair the Sea.
For more information, or to register yourself or your congregation’s team, go to https://www.repairthesea.org/reverse-tashlich
-- Rabbi Ed Rosenthal, Executive Director and Campus Director, Hillels of the Florida Suncoast (formerly served as rabbi of Beth Shalom Auckland, New Zealand)