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Published on September 23rd, 2022 | by Jacob Sapon


A Message from Rabbi Sid

We’re honored to share this message from Rabbi Sid Schwarz, originally published in Kenissa Connections.

So many individuals in our Kenissa Network are making important contributions to North American Jewish life. Many of those contributions often manifest in programs on the ground. Once in a while it comes as an intellectual contribution in the form of a book. For that reason, I want to highlight the new book by Rabbi Natan Margalit, the founder of Organic Torah. His book, published this past spring, is The Pearl and the Flame: A Journey into Jewish Wisdom and Ecological Thinking(Albion-Andalus, 2022). It is a great Elul read, in preparation for the yamim noraim.

Reb Natan uses a systems theory approach to applying core Jewish values to the world. The book is built around three such “mem” values:

  • Minyan-the quorum of ten which is an example of how the whole is greater than the sum of the parts;
  • Mikdash-sanctuary, which is an example of nested structure in which holiness is contained in nested patterns;
  • Mitzvah-small actions which can have huge consequences.

I particularly appreciated how Reb Natan focuses on the need for us to build holy communities as a response to the breakdown of the social fabric in our world today. In my work, I like to use the term “covenantal communities” for what Reb Natan describes so beautifully. In addition, Reb Natan pays close attention to how we can build these communities with a consciousness about the preciousness of the natural world, which is also at risk today.

The big question that jumps out at me from the book is one that I have thought about for a long time: Can individuals surrender some level of autonomy for the well-being of the larger social system? I believe that covenantal community is the antidote to a society in which every individual and every interest group seeks advantage over their competitors as if we were in some giant, zero-sum game. Such a zero-sum game is, I believe, un-Jewish, un-American and, ultimately the very opposite of the kind of world that Reb Natan’s book holds aloft.

I highly recommend getting a copy of the book and consider bringing it with you when you attend services during the coming High Holyday season. Wishing you and your families a healthy and happy New Year.

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