24/25 May 2024, 17 Iyyar 5784

‘That which has been is what will be, That which is done is what will be done, And there is nothing new under the sun,’

or as the contemporary translation offers for Ecclesiastes 1:9 History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new.

Usually, I find this line from Ecclesiastes very reassuring. Because it’s true – isn’t it?

May arrives and all of us, in the Northern hemisphere at least, prepare for the last term of the academic year. Our children sitting GCSEs and A levels learn to associate the exams with the smell of the grass being cut (and hay fever for some). If you live in Britain, then the advent of Spring gives an opportunity to talk about the weather, which we all seem to take up with alacrity. Spring brings English asparagus, cricket and renewed interest in our gardens. If you are at school – whether a teacher or a pupil, you go through the seasons. We teach our students that if you work hard, you do well.  None of this ever really changes.

The familiarity of things coming in their expected seasons brings comfort. But underneath that sun, things are changing. 2023 is now officially understood have been the hottest year ever. For some of us, this year feels different, even as we navigate the expected patterns, and many feel a deeper absence of control. With our attention turned to Israel and Gaza, we miss the fact that our earth is changing and too often, crises of a different nature distract us from a responsibility here.  Before he died, Stephen Hawking wrote “At night, the Earth is no longer dark, but huge areas lit up. All of this is evidence that human exploitation of the planet is reaching a critical limit.”

Next week’s portion, which is usually a double with this week’s, Leviticus, packages up the promise that we will go well with the land if we behave: if we keep God’s laws; if we abide by the statues and traditions we inherit. But this is manifestly untrue.  We know this – life does not work so fairly and we have evidence of this everywhere we look.

If you follow My statutes and observe My commandments and perform them,

                                                                        גאִם־בְּחֻקֹּתַ֖י תֵּלֵ֑כוּ וְאֶת־מִצְו‍ֹתַ֣י תִּשְׁמְר֔וּ וַֽעֲשִׂיתֶ֖ם אֹתָֽם

I will give your rains in their time, the Land will yield its produce, and the tree of the field will give forth its fruit…And I will grant peace in the Land, and you will lie down with no one to frighten [you]; I will remove wild beasts from the Land, and no army will pass through your land;

I found an alternative midrash to these verses that help a little: the Aboriginal, deep seated proverb “Look after the land and it will look after you; destroy it and it will destroy you”.

During the first three years of my life, my father was in Darwin, working on his PHD in linguistics with an Aboriginal tribe. I know how close to Country they are and how much responsibility they feel for the earth.

As our plans firm and become focused for the much-needed renovations of the roof and our heating system, we are committed to a new way that is sustainable and responsible, enabling our synagogue to manifest those values.

So actually we can look to doing things a little differently and defy Ecclesiastes.

History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new.

We can do it better. I look forward to seeing what we can achieve together.

Shabbat Shalom,