A Shabbat Message from Rabbi Bob Freedman:
Have you noticed the robins lately? It seems like there are a lot of them. Actually there hasn't been a dramatic rise in robin birthrate this year. We're just seeing more of them close up. Less human activity, less traffic. makes them bolder. We're hearing more birdsong too. That's not because there are more birds. It's because there's much less noise pollution. They can hear themselves and their brother (and sister) birds much better, and they're inspired to talk more. If you've ever been in a quiet forest far from habitation in the early morning you'll know what I mean.
I moved to New Jersey in 1982. Then I could still see lots of stars at night. Over the past two decades, as the pollution cloud thickened over the Bos-Wash corridor, the stars faded. Now they're back.
All over the world humanity has noticed the pollution decline. In places like Wuhan, New Delhi, Seoul, and Mumbai the concentration of air-borne particulates is down 60% compared to last year. I read that the cleaner air may save more lives than Covid kills.
We know it's not going to last. When lockdown wanes the brown haze will return. But what a sharp, dramatic reminder! As the sky has cleared so have our minds (Mind pollution is deadly too.), and we remember that restoring our habitation and us, its inhabitants, to health is not a vain hope.
In the Torah reading for this Shabbat is the verse, "If your brother has fallen on hard times, if his livelihood with you is shaken, strengthen him." (Leviticus 25:35) When our fellow humans become weak or sick from breathing polluted air, when noise pollution clouds their ears and minds, our obligation is to strengthen them by removing the offense. We are all responsible for each other. Abraham Joshua Heschel observed, "If a person is not more than human then he or she is less than human... In order to be a human being, you have to be more than a single human."
Shabbat will begin in a few hours. Take a walk outdoors to enjoy the clean air and quiet. Remember that Shabbat is a foretaste of the world to come and resolve to make a less polluted world come sooner rather than later.
Tomorrow morning Sam Daley Harris plans to read the Heschel text from which the quote was taken, and Sydney Burnside plans to leyn a portion of Torah containing the verse. Please join us. Shabbat Shalom!