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Monday, April 8, 2019

Our Planet

David Attenborough*

So I was watching Our Planet on Netflix last night. It's in the format of the BBC One and Blue Planet series and narrated by David Attenborough.

It's stunning to look at and well presented. The cat and I watched the episode Frozen Worlds and as I looked at the birds of South Georgia Island, a place in the very south Atlantic Ocean with a population of 20 people I thought of Hasidim and of the Ultra Orthodox. I thought of the sheltered communities and the fences upon fences upon fences. I thought of the kosher cell phones and 17th century dress. I thought of people frozen.

The overwhelming objective of Our Planet is as a wake up call. It's a presentation of the intensely random, often disparate yet absolutely connections ecosystems have in keeping the overall health of the planet. It showcases the reactions of animals to the changes in the planet owing from our dominance over it. In this episode it was the Walrus who were the focus of intense tragedy. The animals making due with what they have been left with owing to our species capricious and ravenous hungers. I'm not going to tell you what happens, you need to watch it yourself.

The thoughts of Jews frozen in time came from the message the series is offering. Our Planet is presenting what any mystical thinker would recognize immediately. The subtle interconnections of our world and all of life on it is very much in keeping with the concepts espoused in the Lurianic notion of kabbalah. That we are ignoring a reality of interconnections, veiled in the clothes of modernity and our own self concern. Aspects of the world are falling out of balance and the planet's ability to sustain life is retracting away from our poor behavior. 

We can no longer afford for our words to be just words. We need to make positive changes in how we interact with the world. As the mystic tradition suggests, when we draw towards the unknowable by a life of observance the unknowable draws towards us.  While this is metaphysics, I would suggest that observance is not just checking a box. It was a system that was engineered so that you would always think about everything you were doing. You would observe your self as you acted so your actions would be for the good. We need to develop holistic eyes while understanding our personal needs.
 If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, Then what good am I? And if not now, when? (Hillel Avot 1.14)
Take advantage of this system. Be critical of what you see and debate it even unto the personal debate with yourself. Why am I doing this thing? Is it good for me? Is it good for my neighbors? Not just because the rules say so.

Let our ancient system be the starting point to new thinking, and don't forget why you are using a guidance system in your day to day. The OU sets the bar for kosher in a huge way across America. It's also possible for a thing to be entirely lawful and absolutely morally wrong at the same time.

I've already had snide remarks made about plastic bags in New York. As a state we're phasing them out. As an individual I've been using cloth bags for decades, some of my earliest bags still in use were my parents and came from stores long defunct. Would I call single use plastic shopping bags kosher, in most cases, probably not, but then again my theology extends beyond the 16th century and a selective interpretation of material science. 

Our Planet is an attempt at evoking a spiritual response without using spiritual language. They let the images manage the reach into that part of the human psyche that feels awe. See it if you can, and be moved by it. Even the most ardent mitnagdim will be hard pressed not to feel the power of what the series captured and the message. Watch it with your parents, and with your kids. Watch it at Shul as a community, and then start the conversation on how we can do better, while we have the time to do something.

 * David Attenborough video by Biscuithead & the Biscuit Badgers

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