Vaera: What Gives Me Hope? By Dr. Barak Gale

“Shmita offers a “release” from this harsh legacy, whispering to us: Aspire to this time when you no longer harden your heart.”  

Vaera recounts the Ten Plagues and the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart.  I am often asked in my climate presentations – what gives me hope?  Day after day the news speaks of another tipping point or plague threatening our survival – the cracking of ice shelves in Antarctica that keep the great ice sheets from sliding into the ocean, the loss of permafrost holding vast stores of potent methane, and more.  Day after day also sees new threats to what is left of our democracy, and of our humanity.  And we see marginalized communities suffering disproportionately, for example Black children suffering from asthma, often due to proximity to fossil fuel plants, refineries, freeways, at 8 times the rate of White children.  

Rabbi Shefa Gold comments on Vaera, that symbols of life, like blood, in excess become the opposite. Yes, sun provides essential energy and warmth and now electricity, but intense heat waves are deadly.  Wind provides essential cooling and transportation for seeds, insects, birds, but in excess becomes monstrous storms and hurricanes. Greenhouse gasses keep the Earth from being a frozen ball of ice, but in excess are scorching the planet.  Some hardening of heart no doubt protects us, but the Pharaoh’s excess and our complacency, our deadening of heart today in the face of calamity: where is that leading us?  

Shmita offers a “release” from this harsh legacy, whispering to us: Aspire to this time when you no longer harden your heart.  Aspire to this time when you return  לשוב lashuv  to a right relationship with the land.  Aspire to this time when you return and dwell  לשבת lashevet  in right relationship with each other.  Aspire to this time when you let the land rest  לשבות lishbot, allowing nature to reforest, to re-prairie, to regenerate.  

And in this time when shmita is needed more than ever, a global network of farmers, ranchers, consumers, and climate activists, has come together with the goal of changing the global conversation on climate, farming, and land use, advancing the methods of  “Regenerative Agriculture”, a key climate solution according to the IPCC, and to a large extent, a relearning of indigenous methods and wisdom.  I am reminded of what Rav Abraham Isaac Kook once said: “the old will be made new, and the new made holy.”  This gives me hope.

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Dr. Barak Gale is a passionate volunteer climate educator, trained by Al Gore in 2016.  Retired from optometry, he volunteers as Chair of the Climate Reality Project Thurston County, WA Chapter, and Chair of Temple Beth Hatfiloh GreenTeam in Olympia.  He has presented to over 100 high school classes, faith communities, and Lions Clubs, and has served as Mentor in five global trainings with Mr. Gore. A favorite project was facilitating a “mini summit” of Middle School classes, in New Delhi and Olympia. He can be contacted at

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