‘Thought’ on Mikkeitz – Rabbi Elli Tikvah Sarah

LJ E-Bulletin, 12.23

COP28, which brought together 50,370 delegates (including 2,456 fossil-fuel lobbyists), 15,063 registered NGOs, and 1,293 Media organisations, concluded on 13 December after two weeks of intense deliberations in a compromise: an agreement to transition away from fossil fuels, but no commitment to phase them out https://unfccc.int/cop28 https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/dec/05/record-number-of-fossil-fuel-lobbyists-get-access-to-cop28-climate-talks https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/dec/13/cop28-second-draft-text-of-climate-deal-calls-for-transitioning-away-from-fossil-fuels

Twenty-eight years of UN climate conferences, so far. The target for avoiding the permanent breach of the 1.5°C increase in global warming, is in just seven years’ time. What are the plans for those seven years?

Interestingly, ‘sevens’ are an important feature of the Torah, from the seventh day set apart for ceasing from work (Genesis 2:1-3), through the seven-year agricultural cycle, and the seven cycles of seven culminating in Yoveil, ‘Jubilee’ in the 50th year, a year of D’ror, ‘Liberty’, proclaimed on Yom Kippur with the blasting of the shofar (Leviticus 25).

In this week’s parashah, Mikkeitz (Genesis 41:1-44:17), we encounter the number seven in the context of the ongoing Joseph story. Pharaoh has dreamt two dreams: First, seven fat healthy-looking cows are eaten by seven lean ones, and then seven abundant ears of corn are swallowed up by seven feeble ones. On waking, Pharaoh is keen for an interpretation. His Chief Butler remembers that when he was in prison, a certain Hebrew slave interpreted his dream, as well as the dream of the Baker, who was imprisoned with them, and that the interpretations had come to pass. Fetched out of prison, Pharaoh reiterates his dreams to Joseph, who promptly explains them: ‘The dream of Pharaoh is one… / The seven good cows are seven years; and the seven good ears are seven years: the dream is one. / And the seven ill-favoured cows and the seven empty ears blasted with the east wind; they shall be seven years of famine’ (41:25-27). Going on to inform Pharaoh that he should designate someone to oversee the taking up of the produce of a fifth of the land during the seven years of plenty to provide food for the seven years of famine, Pharaoh decides to appoint Joseph to the task. The plan goes so well that there is more than enough to feed the people when crops fail, which is why the famine having extended to Canaan, Jacob decides to send his ten eldest sons down to Egypt to buy corn (Genesis 41: 1-3).

With those seven years before the 2030 deadline at the forefront of our minds, we are all too aware that not only is there no plan in place to ensure that the 1.5° Celsius limit is not breached, but that the UK government is in the process of generating policies that will mean the deadline for UK compliance is extended for another five years to 2035 https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2023/sep/20/uk-net-zero-policies-scrapped-what-do-changes-mean https://www.which.co.uk/news/article/government-delays-ban-on-new-petrol-and-diesel-cars-aS7HJ8O5JC3q

There is a particularly pressing issue in connection with the failure to meet the 2030 deadline, which our Torah portion highlights. As the climate continues to heat, the planet is increasingly beset by extreme weather events year after year, both droughts and floods. What happens to life-giving crops, like corn, maise, wheat and barley in these conditions? They are utterly destroyed; unable to thrive, either, in the baked cracked soil, or when the ground is submerged in water. The global refugee crisis is not only driven by war and persecution, it is also a product of famine, flood and destitution. The famine having extended to Canaan, Jacob’s sons went down to Egypt to buy corn from the store houses. As we contemplate impending climate catastrophe, we may well ask: Where are the store houses? Where are the plans to feed and house millions of destitute people? Closing with the death of Joseph, the focus of the last portion of the Book of Genesis, Va-y’chi (Genesis 47:28-50:26), is on Joseph’s reunion with Jacob and the whole family moving to Egypt, and settling there. Refugees from famine made welcome. But then, the Book of Exodus opens with a tale of a new Pharsaoh ‘who did not know Joseph’ (Exodus 1:8), and the fate of the ‘children of Israel’, the descendants of Jacob, changes dramatically from peaceful coexistence to slavery and genocide (Ex. 19-16). It’s a familiar story, retold at Pesach. So well-known that sometimes we forget that before they became a persecuted people, the ‘children of Israel’ lived and thrived in the land of Goshen by the Nile in Egypt for many generations in peace, prosperity and security (Genesis 47:5-6; Exodus 1:1-7). Of course, minority peoples, especially, migrants and refugees, dependent on the goodwill of the host nation, are always vulnerable to persecution. As Jews, we know this only too well. It is for this reason that as we call on the governments of the world to keep to the 2030 deadline, we must also continue to demand that climate refugees and those in flight from war and persecution are given sanctuary amongst us.