At this time of year Rabbis and ordinary folk try to refresh our understanding of Pesach by finding new angles from which to discuss the story. They use contemporary themes to make it relevant for today, for example by comparing modern slavery to the slavery of old. And indeed there is real value in doing so, as people pay more attention to, and recall for longer, stories which have personal significance.
Jewish environmental groups are no exception. Canfei Nesharim, for example, have published a few great articles on the Pesach story from an environmental viewpoint, including one on the Four Children and the Environment. There are many, many angles one can write about Pesach and sustainability ranging from how to have an eco-friendly Pesach, to how mistreatment of the planet will lead to plagues (lack of drinking water, dying cattle, uncontrollable insects) in a similar manner as mistreatment of the Children of Israel did.
But there is one particular angle which is relevant this year and this year only. As we sit down to our Pesach Seder in Australia on Friday night, April 22nd 2016, a ceremony will be underway in New York to open the signing of the Paris Climate Change Agreement. From this date there is a one-year period in which 55% of countries must sign the agreement in order for it to be officially adopted. Of course, the choice of date has nothing really to do with Pesach but rather because it is Earth Day, a date that, since 1970, has been used to mark support for environmental protection.
Similarly, the Paris Climate Conference was held during Chanukah, not because it was Chanukah but because the same conference is held every year for 12 days around the beginning of December regardless of the Jewish calendar. It just so happens that a small miracle happened in Paris, in which all participating countries agreed to attempt to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial temperatures. That agreement was only a first step, but nevertheless a reason for real hope, especially when the second step begins on Pesach.
So if you are looking for some modern day relevance as you sit down for your Seder on Friday night, then consider that today may mark the beginning of the end of our toxic relationship with fossil fuels and our slavery to the polluting energy corporations who reap huge profits whilst causing untold devastation to the planet. Our Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, will be at the signing ceremony and Australia will be amongst the first countries to sign. It could be said that, like Pharaoh, Mr. Hunt will be releasing his people from the shackles of fossil fuels. Unfortunately his support of the proposed massive Carmichael coal project makes me fear that like Pharoah he will go back on his promise. And that should help us focus our thoughts on Seder Night.