D’var Torah – Earth Day and the Omer

Written by Rabbi Hannah Kingston — 24 April 2022

Today marks the 52nd annual earth day.  Earth day was established to provide a voice to our emerging environmental consciousness and to get environmental concerns to the front page of the newspapers. Now Earth Day is marked by more than a billion people worldwide as a day of action to change human behaviour and provoke policy changes.

It is known as the largest single day protest in human history, a day when millions of people take part in initiatives to combat climate change. It is a day of education, a day to learn about the effects of climate change and what we can do to help stop them.

The fight for a clean environment continues with increasing urgency as the true effects of climate change are being felt every day over our planet.  Now we truly all need to commit to helping to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by mid century.

The theme this year is ‘invest in our planet’. It is a theme urging us to act now, for now is the time to do it, we cannot wait any longer. We need to act boldly, to innovate and implement new ways of living. We need to be all in, everyone accounted for and everyone accountable.

So I ask you now, what will you do this year to invest in our planet?

We are currently in the period of counting the Omer, counting for the next 6 weeks, the rest of the time between Pesach and Shavuot. It marks the span of time between us leaving Egypt and receiving the gift of Torah on Mt Sinai.

Agriculturally this was a period of trepidation, between the planting of spring and the harvest of summer. We spend the time anxious that our crops will not reach maturity, that our harvest for the next year will not be plentiful.

But for us not planting, there is another significance.

The mystics saw this as a period in which we joined our physical and spiritual redemption. Physically at Pesach we experience redemption, but spiritually we are not yet enriched. We still feel like the slaves of the past, we are not yet comfortable with the trauma we have experienced.  During the Omer, we are encouraged to reflect, spiritually preparing ourselves for revelation.

We deprive our bodies of things we would normally enjoy – we’re not allowed to get our hair cut, to listen to music, or to dance at a party. Each day, as we count, we are urged to check in with ourselves. The act of counting reminds us to take notice of each day, to practice mindfulness, to be aware that no two days are the same. Through doing this we hope to nourish our souls, to come out of the experience feeling different, changed and ready to accept the Torah.

This period of time urges us to make each day count, something that Earth day is also encouraging us to do. As individuals we may feel helpless, yet we still have an effective power to make our voices heard through our choices, our civic actions and our personal interactions. What we do, has a ripple through our society and through our ecosystems.

Climate change represents the biggest challenge to the future of humanity. Now, during this period of time when we are encouraged to be mindful and to reflect, we can engage in the united call for creativity, innovation and ambition that we need to reach a zero carbon future.

So this Earth day, during the period of the Omer, is a call to action. A reminder to us that as we nourish our souls, we can also nourish the planet, that each of us can make a difference. As we turn to add another sheaf to our Omer calendar, I ask you again, how will you invest in your planet? And I hope that over the next six weeks, you will stop, reflect and think of a way.