Archive for December, 2009

By Dr. Michael Kagan

Last week my community in Jerusalem – Nava Tehila screened the musical Joseph and his amazing technicolor dreamcoat – one of my family’s favourites.  In the film a great emphasis is placed on jealousy – not only the obvious jealousy of the brothers towards Joseph but also of Potiphar’s jealousy towards Joseph, Potiphar’s servants jealousy towards Joseph, other prisoner’s jealousy towards Joseph, and even Pharaoh’s jealousy towards Joseph when he becomes the people’s saviour. When this theme of jealousy is taken back it can be seen that is seems to be the dominant emotion all the way back to Cain and Abel.

In every story everybody is jealous of somebody else.  In the case of Cain and Abel it is God that initiates the fatal jealousy by favouring one sacrifice over the other.  And this pattern repeats itself either through Divine intervention (closing the wombs) or through parental favouritism.  There’s even a fable (midrash) that extends this emotional response back to the creation of the sun and moon where the moon complains about not being the supreme ruler in response to which God makes the sun larger!

Favoritism creates in the favoured one a sense of pride leading to arrogance and in the unfavoured one a sense of inadequacy leading to hatred  (see Rachel and Leah, Jacob and Esau). Is this indeed the motivating emotion that drives human behaviour?  Is this what Torah is here to correct or promote or to challenge us with?

My teacher Rabbi Nechemia Polin pointed out that the tikun (fixing) for the family dysfunctionality caused by jealousy ends with Moses and Aaron.  Here the younger is the favoured one but Aaron shows no sign of jealousy.  In fact the two brothers seem to get along very well.  For Rav Nechemia the goal is summarized in the verse: “How good is it in my eyes that siblings are sitting also together.


But then we have the Jewish people being set up as the “Chosen People” which has triggered off jealousy amongst the nations that has continued even until today with terrible consequences.  Even the stated position towards this ‘choosing’ doesn’t seem to help the situation, namely: Do not think that this is because you are special but rather it is because I need a special job to be done.” And the Jewish joke: “God, please choose someone else already!”

As you know I was recently in Copenhagen for the Climate Change talks and it seems to me that a main block to progress towards an agreement that might reduce greenhouse emissions is the jealousy of the less industrialized nations towards the more industrialized nations  (using the language ‘developed’ and ‘undeveloped’ seems to be a continuation of the deadly cycle).  “Why can’t we have the opportunity to be like you?” they cry.  “Because we are superior/better/privileged/luckier/more blessed than you.” comes the answer.

Perhaps the lesson is that favouritism implies greater responsibility towards God and towards others, and not superiority. Perhaps indeed the more better off nations must pay for this privilege by saving the world as brothers, in the way that Joseph eventually saves his family and all of Egypt from starvation.

Is that how it works?

Have a good week,


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By Dr. Michael Kagan

One of the points that I have been making a lot recently in order to totally diffuse the debate over “who caused the climate to change?” is forget the change in climate, forget greenhouse gas emissions, forget global warming, now look at the terrible state of the oceans, the terrible state of the top soil, the terrible state of food production, health, economics, air purity, water purity, rain forests, wetlands, death of species etc. etc. there is no doubt that these are all human made devastations upon the well-being of the planet.  Let’s clear up this mess then global warming will fall in place.  The denial of our responsibility in the release of greenhouse gases is fear and laziness so child psychology recommends side-stepping that issue and going for the undeniable.

Last week I was in Copenhagen as part of the satellite conference organized by the GWPI in which religious and spiritual practitioners from all over the world discussed our responsibility to the earth and to all of Creation from the perspectives of our different traditions. I talked about three features that arise out of Judaism:

1. The deep secret of Shabbat that is the ability to stop, to breath, to desist from the economical frenzy, to exercise our free-will by resting, letting nature in all its aspects rest, to simply be;

2. The hidden message of the mezuzah which is on the door posts of our houses and the door frames of all internal doors. What is written and so well hidden within that little protective box? A reminder to love the Creator above all other things and a reminder to look after the world otherwise the consequences will be dire.  Yes, right there as we transition from our home (our refuge from the outer world) to our outer home (the planet) there is a reminder to check our inner home, our consciousness and intentions towards the greater whole.  Powerful.  This is the Green Mezuza.

3.  The story of Joseph and Judah is the story of the imperative to change and to make changes in ones behaviour and attitudes towards others. The former moves from being the arch-manipulator to being the one that let go and lets God, while the latter is the one who refuses to take responsibility and learns the hard way to lead and to go forwards.  Out of these two come the two crowns of the Messiah – but that’s another story.


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Dear Friends,

I have just returned from a week in Copenhagen as a Jewish representative to a gathering of spiritual practitioners from around the world.  We prayed together, shared together, learnt together and went out to several sites around the city to preach together.  The overall reason for our coming together was very sad – the health of the earth is tragic – but we were filled with joy at the amazing opportunity to feel aligned in Oneness at our mutual and sincere commitment to protect the planet from the ravages of humans.  Some of our adventures you’ve seen here on Climate of Change, others can be seen on http://www.odysseynetworks.org/ (I am mistakenly referred to as a ‘Rabbi’ which I am not.  Reb Zalman ordained me as a Reverend.)

The practitioners from the Eastern religions spoke most about the need to realign the inner ecology of the sentient mind.  Those from the West (Christians) spoke about outer action.  The Jews took a middle stand. Shabbat was talked about a lot as a source of inspiration for an alternative social and economical model.

The entire city of Copenhagen was dedicated to the struggle for awareness with spectacular sculptures and posters at every corner.  Protest meetings were held at the large sports complex as well as in the ‘hippy’ commune of Christiania. And a large, mainly peaceful, demonstration took place on Shabbat.

In recent article in the New York Times by Stewart Brand (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/15/opinion/15brand.html?_r=2&ref=opinion) refers to four categories of people: denier, skeptic, warner, calamatist. I only met the latter two. However I came to the conclusion that it might be a good idea to temporarily put aside the issue of climate change and instead become aware that the world is in great danger of dying anyway. The oceans are at a critical point of no return, the top soil in many parts of the world is exhausted, pollutants are increasing, etc. All these factors are being exasperated by the increase in global temperatures.

I want to bring to your attention two magnificent and deeply troubling TED talks that illustrate these two factors:



Let us pray that the actions of a small group will motivate the many, the more enlightened will uplift the less, the sanctifiers of the earth will dissuade the desecrators, that much less energy will illuminate much more, and that the holy Earth will remain a resting place for the Shechinah.

Happy Hanukah

Michael, Jerusalem

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Next in Odyssey Networks’ video series of the Faith at the Summit climate change conference in Copenhagen:

And another: Christianity and Climate Change:

And one more: Day 7 at the Summit, with Desmond Tutu

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Two more COP15 videos from Odyssey Networks: Day’s 5 and 6 in Copenhagen. Enjoy! (If you can’t see a video player on your screen, click on the image below. Otherwise, visit Odyssey Networks’ videos page.

From Day 6, “The Bishop of Canterbury

and Day 5’s “Finding Hope”:

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Hi Everyone,

The following is the third in the video series Odyssey Networks has released on the Faith at the Summit conference, paralleling COP15 in Copenhagen. We’ll continue to post their videos as the conference continues to progress. Enjoy, and keep praying for some serious action on climate change!

(If you can’t see the video from this page, click on the image below).

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JCI’s Dr. Michael Kagan and other faith leaders offer spiritual advice to President Obama, who will be joining COP15 in Copenhagen- Day 2 at the conference, by Odyssey Networks.

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