ועל כל יושבי תבל/ Ve’al Kawl Yoshvey Tevel/ For All Who Dwell on Earth

Back on the first evening of Rosh Hashanah, I shared with you that I’d be speaking over the High Holidays about each of the three “concentric circles of our aspirations.”   “Concentric circles of our aspirations” --- That’s Rabbi David Teutsch’s description for how at the end of the full Kaddish we pray to “Oseh Shalom Bimromav” to “The One who makes peace in the heavens”  -- that there be  Shalom “aleinu,” for us / “v’al kol yisra’el,”  and for all Israel/ “ ve’al kol yoshvei tevel, “ and for all who dwell on earth. 

Let me refresh our memories by reading Rabbi Teutsch’s teaching in its entirety.  He writes:

Adding the rabbinic phrase “ve’al kol yoshvey tevel” (and for all who dwell on earth) logically completes the concentric circles of our aspirations – our care starts with our minyan, extends to the entire Jewish people, and radiates outward from there to all who share our planet.”

Kol Haneshama: Shabbat Vehagim (Reconstructionist Press, 1995, p. 114)

On the first night of Rosh Hashanah last week, we went on to focus on our hopes and prayers for shalom “aleinu” – for us, for our families, for our congregation here at Temple Israel.

On the morning of the 1st day of Rosh Hashanah, we focused on the second of those three concentric circles – our hopes and prayers for shalom “al kol yisra’el” – “for all Israel.”  -- both for Medinat Yisra’el/ The State of Israel and or Ahm Yisrael/The Jewish people worldwide.

Today, as we observe Yom Kippur together, we reach the third circle – the wider circle of “al Yoshvei Tevel” --- our hopes and prayers for Shalom “for all the inhabitants of the world.”

In this morning’s Torah reading we encountered another expression of “concentric circles of aspiration”  as we read of the elaborate rituals of “kippur”/ atonement undertaken by Aaron, the first Kohen Gadol, to restore ritual purity to the Sanctuary on Yom Kippur.

First --  וְכִפֶּר בַּעֲדוֹ, וּבְעַד בֵּיתוֹ – “He would seek atonement for himself and for his household.” (Lev. 16:6).  Second --  וְכִפֶּר בַּעֲדוֹ וּבְעַד בֵּיתוֹ, וּבְעַד כָּל-קְהַל יִשְׂרָאֵל. – “He would seek atonement for himself and for his household and for the entire congregation of Israel.” (Lev. 16:17).  At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be any third circle of care for humanity beyond the Jewish people.  Nowhere does it say in Leviticus 16 anything like Vekhiper ba’ado, uv’ad beyto, uv’ad kawl kehal yisrael, uv’ad kawl yoshvei tevel…  No command that he seek atonement for “himself and for his household and for the entire congregation of Israel and for all who dwell on earth.”

But if we look slightly beyond Yom Kippur on the religious calendar, we can find that concern for the wider world and its inhabitants.  For Torah teaches us that the ancient purification and renewal of the sanctuary on Yom Kippur was, at its essence,  a preparation for the major festival of the year which would begin just five days later.  I refer of course to Sukkot, sometimes referred to in biblical and rabbinic tradition simply as “Hechag”  -- “The Festival” – par excellence. 

And it was on Chag Hasukkot in the days of the mishkan and the first and second temples, that the sacrificial offerings brought by our ancestors would include seventy bulls, far more than on any other festival of the year (see Num. 29: 13-34).  And, in the Talmud in Masechet Sukkah, we learn:

הני שבעים פרים כנגד מי? כנגד שבעים אומות.

“These seventy bulls, to what do they correspond?  To the seventy nations [of the world].”  (B.T. Sukkah 55b)  (Seventy being the traditional understanding of how many nations there were in the ancient world, based on the listing of nations in Genesis chapter 10.)

And rabbinic tradition teaches that during Sukkot, not only are the offerings made on behalf of all the nations of the world, but the world itself is judged as whether there will be adequate water, as we learn in the Mishnah, in tractate Rosh Hashanah ---

א,ב בארבעה פרקים העולם נידון: בפסח, על התבואה. בעצרת, על פירות האילן. בראש השנה, כל באי עולם עוברין לפניו כבני מרון, […]ובחג, נידונים על המים.

“The world is judged at four periods in the year; on Passover for grain; on Shavuot for the fruits of trees, on Rosh Hashanah, all the inhabitants of the world pass before [God] like flocks of sheep […] and on Sukkot they are judged for water. (M. Rosh Hashanah 1:2).”

These traditional teachings remind us that the welfare of “umot ha’olam” – “the nations of the world” is dependent on the welfare of “ha’olam”/ “the world itself.”  That the fate of “kol yoshvei tevel”/ “all the inhabitants of  the earth” is dependent on the welfare of “tevel” / “Earth”  itself.

Many have compared the world to Noah’s ark  -- the world floats in space and gives us a safe home, just as the ark floated through the flood.  And the early Chasidic master Reb Nachman of Bratzlav compared the world to “gesher tzar me’od”  (“a very narrow bridge”) ---  

כל העולם כולו
גשר צר מאוד
והעיקר, והעיקר
לא לפחד, לא לפחד כלל.


Kol ha-olam kulo gesher tzar m'od
Gesher tzar m'od
Gesher tzar m'od
Kol ha-olam kulo gesher tzar m'od
gesher tzar m'od
V'ha-ikar V'ha-ikar
Lo l'fachayd, lo l'fachayd klal


(“The world is a very narrow bridge and the most important part is
not to be afraid.”)


You may be familiar with the popular musical setting of his evocative teaching: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U5tNKaLbcF0&feature=related

And Torah commentators through the ages have seen God’s command to build the mishkan as the human counterpart, as it were, to God’s creation of the world. 

So, as for this ark, this very narrow bridge, this sacred dwelling place, this world ----    Psalm 24, verse 1 tells us --- ל"ה הָאָרֶץ וּמְלוֹאָהּ; תֵּבֵל, וְיֹשְׁבֵי בָהּ.  “L’adonai ha’aretz u’meloah, tevel v’yoshvei vah”/ “The world belongs to Adonai in all its fullness, the earth and all who dwell on it.” And our task, just as it was in the Garden of Eden for Adam and Eve is לְעָבְדָהּ וּלְשָׁמְרָהּ “l’awvdah u’leshomarah” / “to till it and to tend it.” (Gen. 2:16).

As the midrash in Ecclesiastes Rabbah puts it:  “When God created the first human beings, God led them around the Garden of Eden and said:  ‘Look at my works!  See how beautiful they are – how excellent!  For your sake I created them all.  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.”

We all know that the well-being of our world has become an increasing concern in recent years – For me, it all really hit home back in June 2002 when I faced this front page headline in the New York Times:

“Alaska, No Longer So Frigid, Starts to Crack, Burn and Sag.”  The article’s lead paragraph, by Times reporter Timothy Egan, began:

“To live in Alaska when the average temperature has risen about seven degrees over the last 30 years means learning to cope with a landscape that can sink, catch fire or break apart in the turn of a season.  In the village of Shishmaref, on the Chukchi Sea, just south of the Arctic Circle, it means high water eating away so many houses and buildings that people will vote next month on moving the entire village inland.”


The other day I googled “Shishmaref” and found a follow-up article in the Times from 2006 by reporter Elizabeth Colbert.  She had gone to Shishmaref, where reporter Timothy Egan had visited four years earlier.  The villagers had in fact voted to move their village inland, but hadn’t yet finalized the new location.  In Colbert’s article, “Field Notes from a Catastrophe” (published March 12, 2006), there is this ominous passage:


"In the same way that global warming has gradually ceased to be merely a theory, so, too, its impacts are no longer just hypothetical. Nearly every major glacier in the world is shrinking; those in Glacier National Park are retreating so quickly it has been estimated that they will vanish entirely by 2030. The oceans are becoming not just warmer but more acidic; the difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures is diminishing; animals are shifting their ranges poleward; and plants are blooming days, and in some cases weeks, earlier than they used to. These are the warning signs that the Charney panel (which had met and issued a report in 1979 at the behest of then-President Jimmy Carter] cautioned against waiting for, and while in many parts of the globe they are still subtle enough to be overlooked, in others they can no longer be ignored. As it happens, the most dramatic changes are occurring in those places, like Shishmaref, where the fewest people tend to live. This disproportionate effect of global warming in the far north was also predicted by early climate models, which forecast, in column after column of FORTRAN-generated figures, what today can be measured and observed directly: the Arctic is melting."


I won’t go on at great lengths with any parade of horribles about the health of our global environment .  Jonah proclaims to the great city of Nineveh – “Another forty days and Nineveh is overthrown”  -- For ourselves, we’re probably okay for forty days, but, within the next century scientists tell us that we’re in for significantly worsening environmental conditions.  Our actions – individually and on the national and international level – could determine how much worse things may get for life on earth.

We should not despair.  After all, Rabbi Nachman’s teaching “Kol Ha’olam Gesher Tzar me’od”  -- “The world is a very narrow bridge” – continues with the admonition “Veha’ikar lo lefached klal” – “But the main thing Is not to be afraid at all.

But we SHOULD try to be part of the solution, rather than being part of the problem.  We should think small and think big –  Trying to do what we can individually and locally, but also reaching out to our political leaders to urge them to pursue responsible environmental policies. 

So, what CAN we do as individuals and as a congregation to fulfill the mitzvah of protecting God’s handiwork?  The first step is simply to raise our consciousness about what we are doing in life.  Indeed, one might assert that that is the very essence of what Judaism is all about – to live our lives consciously, reflectively, deliberately – and not as automatons.

That’s what we do when we pause to say a berachah before we eat anything – and when we pause again to say birkat hamazon when we are through.  In punctuating our daily lives with berachot/blessings, we force ourselves to be conscious and appreciative of the wonders of creation, and of the ways in which we interact with that creation.

In dealing with environmental concerns, what we need to do is not really all that different.  We also need to pause, to reflect, to be conscious of, and to appreciate what we are doing, in order to increase our awareness of how our actions affect the environment. 

Here at Temple, our Greening Committee has prodded us to use washable dishes and cutlery for our meals, and at least to use compostables at other times.  And we are composting our food scraps, following upon a project started last year by Hannah W. for her Bat Mitzvah. 

Perhaps you, yourself, might even consider joining the Greening Committee here at Temple Israel if you have other ideas to share.

In our personal lives, when we go shopping – whether for food, or clothing, or household appliances or for cars – we can ask ourselves:

  • Do I really need this?
  • Do I really want this?
  • How will my purchase and use of this product affect the environment? 
  • We could strive to better conserve water and power.       
  • We could turn down the thermostat by 2 degrees in winter.
  • Thankfully, here in Duluth most of us don't even need air conditioning in the summer, but, if we do have AC, we could turn our thermostats UP by 2 degrees in summer.

Our efforts at leading more environmentally conscious lives could involve steps as simple as “bundling errands” in the car – or walking or biking or carpooling or using mass transit when we can.  And simply turning off lights when we leave a room. 

We could reduce our consumption of meat, since the raising of livestock uses up land and feed that could much more efficiently be used for crops that could feed many who are hungry.  We could resolve that the next motor vehicle we purchase will be more energy efficient that the one we are driving now.  

In short, we could try during this season of cheshbon hanefesh/ Inventory of the soul – and indeed throughout the year to come – to engage as well in a cheshbon/inventory of our consumption and use patterns.

And, of course, I’m no paradigm of virtue myself.  I definitely include myself in all of this.  In the words of the Yom Kippur penitential prayers, “Ashamnu, Bagadnu, Gazalnu”/  “We have trespassed.  We have dealt treacherously.  We have rebelled…”–   We’re all needing of confession and teshuvah in the ways in which we treat the environment.

And on the national level as well, we need to make sure that politicians don’t use the excuse of economic concerns --- even in an economy as miserable as it is right now – to ignore equally important environmental concerns.  These are only conflicting concerns if we fail to think broadly.  For environmental degradation itself has economic costs.

One national issue that is rapidly growing more prominent in recent days and weeks is the debate over construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.  This proposed pipeline would transport crude from the Tar Oil Sands of northern Alberta through the central United States in what many are concerned would be a very dangerous manner that would increase greenhouse gasses greatly and jeopardize an important fresh water aquifer and natural habitat in South Dakota and Nebraska.  I won’t pretend to be an expert but I encourage you to be on the lookout for stories in coming days on the Keystone XL pipeline and to form your own opinions about it.

Indeed, another story about questions concerning the Keystone XL pipeline can be found in today’s New York Times, on page A-11, in an article entitled “Pipeline Review is Faced With Question of Conflict:  State Department Assigned Environmental Study to Company with Ties to Project Sponsor.” (NY Times 10/8/2011, p. A-11) [Here’s a link to the internet version of the article:  http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/08/science/earth/08pipeline.html?_r=1&scp=3&sq=keystone%20xl%20pipeline&st=cse ]

Let’s conclude on a note of prayer, but may our prayers inspire us to action:  Oseh Shalom Bimromav, hu ya’aseh shalom aleinu, v’al kol yisra’el – v’al kawl yoshvei tevel --- May the one who makes peace in the heavens, make peace for us, for all Israel and ---- LAST BUT CERTAINLY NOT LEAST – for all who dwell on this one and only world that we have to call our own – or, more accurately – this one and only world that we have been blessed with the possibility of calling home, this one and only world which we are commanded to care for and preserve. 

Kol Ha’olam Kulo Gesher Tzar Me’od, v’ha ikar – lo lefached klal.  This whole world is a very narrow bridge, but the main thing is not to be afraid at all. 

גמר חתימה טובה וצום קל (Gmar chatimah tovah v’tzom kal) /  a good sealing and an easy fast to one and all  -- and Shabbat Shalom.


(c) Rabbi David Steinberg 5772/2011

Posted on October 18, 2011 .