Nothing succeeds with excess

I went to a wedding last weekend, which you would think has nothing to do with this week’s double Torah portion, Tazria/Metzora, but read on.

Like most weddings (one hopes!), it was a happy affair, with a delightful young couple bringing two loving families together.  There was a beautiful chuppah, (wedding canopy), wine, a smashed glass, and a great band.   There were some unusual elements, at least to some of the guests, although for the couple, it reflected completely who they are: green!  For example, they calculated the carbon footprint of the whole wedding and planted fruit trees on the bride’s parent’s farm to offset it.  Suggested wedding gifts included donations to really impressive his-and-hers bicycles.  We were given a bell-jar to use and re-use for our drinks, and the pleasant people at the open bar insisted we use them.  The food was vegetarian – a delicious salad with tofu, butternut squash soup, and mushroom risotto.  There were handmade chocolate  truffles (fabulous!) and ice cream sundaes for dessert.  The portions were reasonable, which meant food wasn’t going to waste.

There were people at our table who good-naturedly (?) kept saying, “This is dinner?”   I’m sure they were thinking, “Where was the meat, or at least, salmon?  Where was the over-laden sweet table? The over-flowing dinner plates?”   Basically, where was the excess?

It’s a new world, folks…or rather, it’s taking care of our old one.  (We’re not at Tazria/Metzora yet, bear with me)

A year ago, just before Passover, I was standing in line at the local kosher butcher. The woman in front of me was paying for a thousand dollars’ worth of meat.   A thousand dollars.  And she wasn’t feeding anyone but her own family; I know, because I asked.   Now, I will probably never give up meat.  And to a large extent, the cost of kosher meat has contributed to our eating less of it, not any ideological shift.  Still,  I was stunned by the excess.

Which brings me to Tazria/Metzora…skin diseases, afflictions,  and “cleaning” what is “unclean”.  We read in  Lev. 13:28 about a guy who had gotten burned, and there were subsequent skin issues,  so he was isolated.  Finally, “…The priest shall pronounce him clean, for it is the scar of the burn.” Scars.  And I got to thinking about different kinds of scars from which it is harder to become clean.

We humans have managed to bring quite a few afflictions onto the land.   We have not been “shomrei adamah”, guardians of the earth, as we were entrusted to be, back in the Garden.  We have left our scars.  We all know what the transgressions are, our excess use of limited resources.  In the Torah, being in a state of “contamination”  (tamei) means you have to go outside the camp for awhile, wash your clothes, take a bath, and come back in again, tahor (clean).  How do we become tahor again from the affliction of excess?  Can we ever really de-contaminate what has been afflicted?

I’m no green giant, but I do have my pet peeves, as my friends will attest.  Remember “Reduce, reuse, recycle?”  We have to add another one:  Refuse. Refuse plastic bags at the grocery. (In fact, start charging for those damn things already; that’s what it will take to get folks to change behavior, and bring in their own bags.)  Stop buying plastic water bottles for yourself and whatever teams you bring snacks for. Tell people to fill up at home.   Refuse to buy plastic utensils.  Even if you do wash and reuse them, you have to buy them in the first place, creating a demand.  Refuse to buy that over-packaged plastic nightmare that you can’t open anyway without surgical instruments. Speak up about it…it worked with CD packages.  And stop expecting to have every fruit or vegetable in every season.  Get back in touch with what’s in season because it just costs too much to bring in raspberries in February.  How can you say a Shehchiyanu (the blessing for doing something new…again) over that first bite of a peach  if you’ve never stopped eating them? Seasons lose their meaning.

Whew. Rant over. I’m not trying to be self-righteously idealistic.  I won’t give up my car, I hate gardening, and I’m not going off the grid anytime soon.  I can’t possibly match this bride and groom’s passion or commitment or incredible attention to detail.  But they reminded me of how we’ve come to expect excess as the norm, and that excess leaves scars.

Jewish life in general is all about balance, discernment, and above all, paying attention.   We’re supposed to be leaving marks on the world around us by our acts of kindness and generosity, in ways that make the world better for our having been here.  Consider what kind of mark you’ll leave behind – will it be a gentle footprint or a searing scar?

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One Response to Nothing succeeds with excess

  1. First, the picture grabbed my attention! Good choice! So, is it our job to leave just a gentle footprint behind? In cub scouts they call it leave no trace, so basically clean up after yourself. As adults, we try to teach our children the same and to be respectful of others and the earth. I admire the people that can live a “clean life.” I would like to say I will be respectful and clean, but the reality is, I can only do my part. I can only do so much in a fast paced society, but every single little piece counts. Glad to have read this, and I will recycle my water bottle and my unopened mail today!

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