Slaves to Materialism

Readings for the seder table.

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As part of Operation Noah, the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL) has developed the following materials for Passover to help you explore the ways in which overconsumption and materialism "enslave" us as individuals and as a society and threaten the survival of other species and our planet. Excerpted with permission from COEJL.

Spiritual Preparation for Passover

Passover is rich with teachings we can use to live more sustainably and happily on earth. One of the names for Passover is Z'man Chay-Ru-Tay-Nu, the time of our freedom. As we go through this holiday, let's think about the degree to which we are enslaved by our addiction to material things. Let's think about what it costs us as individuals, families, and communities to pursue the consumptive lifestyle to which we have become accustomed. Let's think about what our real material needs are and how they might be satisfied at less cost to each other and to the rest of life on the planet.

passover seder readings on materialismLet's think about who our Pharaohs are--the forces in our society and within each of us that make us want more and more. Let's think about who our Moseses are--who, within us and around us, can help us break out of patterns of over consumption and materialism? Let's think about the other ways in which Judaism in general and Passover in particular can help us lead happier, more fulfilling, and less consumptive lives.

Who is rich? Those who are content with their portion.

-Pirke Avot

No matter what their income, a depressing number of Americans believe that if they only had twice as much, they would inherit the estate of happiness promised them in the Declaration of Independence. The man who receives $15,000 a year is sure that he could relieve his sorrow if he had only $30,000 a year: the man with $1 million a year knows that all would be well if he had $2 million a year...Nobody has enough.
-Lewis Lapham, Money and Class in America: Notes and Observations on Our Civil Religion, 1988

How does our consumption lead to the endangerment of other species? There are three major ways.

We physically alter or destroy the ecosystems in which many species live when we log virgin forests for wood and paper products; when we build sprawling cities that destroy wetlands; when we turn vast areas of land into agro-industrial zones.

We pollute habitats, putting toxic materials and excessive levels of nutrients into species' homes when we release toxic industrial byproducts into rivers, lakes, and oceans; when pesticides leach into water; when we release sulfur into the air which falls as acid rain on forests; when mining and processing of metals pollutes watersheds; when poorly managed land erodes into streams.

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