Extinction Rebellion (abbreviated as XR) is a socio-political movement with the stated aim of using civil disobedience and nonviolent resistance to compel government action on climate breakdown, biodiversity loss, and the risk of social and ecological collapse.
The group was established in the United Kingdom in May 2018 with about one hundred academics signing a call to action in support in October 2018 and launched at the end of October by activists Roger Hallam and Gail Bradbrook, and others from the campaign group Rising Up!
Extinction Rebellion's website, at the time of the group's inception in the UK, stated the following aims:
- Government must tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency, working with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change.
- Government must act now to halt biodiversity loss (ie extinction of animal and plant species in their natural habitats) and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2025.
- Government must create, and be led by the decisions of, a citizens' assembly on climate and ecological justice.
Last week, XR commandeered an old fire truck and tried to spray fake blood onto the outside of the Treasury. They lost control of the hose and the stunt backfired. Five people were arrested for criminal damage.
Reading XR's list of grievences, there are many that I find I can agree with.
We are in a situation where the environment is under threat and both animal and plant species are at existential risk and I do sympathise with XR's concerns but when stunts like last week's both end up causing damage, at the expense of ridiculing the perpetrators - I wonder if there is a better way to act?
What's the Jewish way to save the world?
Maybe we can learn something from this week's Parasha.
In the very last mitzvah of the Torah #613, we are told:
(19) Therefore, write down this poem and teach it to the people of Israel; put it in their mouths, in order that this poem may be My witness against the people of Israel.
(20) When I bring them into the land flowing with milk and honey that I promised on oath to their fathers, and they eat their fill and grow fat and turn to other gods and serve them, spurning Me and breaking My covenant,
(21) and the many evils and troubles befall them—then this poem shall confront them as a witness, since it will never be lost from the mouth of their offspring. For I know what plans they are devising even now, before I bring them into the land that I promised on oath.
(22) That day, Moses wrote down this poem and taught it to the Israelites.
Our Rabbis explain that this last mitzvah was for every Jew to write his own Sefer Torah, which would contain the poem that makes us the bulk of this week's parasha of Haazinu.
A poem which describes what will happen if we enter the Land of Israel and stray from the worship of Gd.
It is interesting to note that the fundemental message contained therein came in the shape of a poem or a song.
What is the significance of a poem?
Let us think back to the start of Moses' leadership of the Israelites.
When did it really begin?
At the shores of the Sea of Reeds.
Each day, we sing the Shira - the song that our ancestors sang after they witnessed the miracle of the splitting of the sea. It was the precursor to the provision of manna and the giving of the Torah. It described the way we felt about Gd, our independence, our salvation from Pharaoh and the Egyptians and the bright future that lay ahead.
It opened the way to our journey towards the Promised Land.
And here, we complete that journey with another song. Forty years later, as Moses completes his last journey on the day of his death.
In both cases, the Torah uses a poem or song to describe our emotions and feelings.
Can there be a better way to convey a message, than through the medium of song?
When we think of those significant moments in our lives, how many of them are accompanied by some sort of soundtrack?
Whether it is the clapping and singing at barmitzvah/batmitzvah or wedding or sadly, the mournful sound of a memorial prayer when we bid farewell to our loved ones - music is our companion through life.
It accompanies us wherever we go and whenever we arrive at our destination.
The harsh words that comprise some of the verses of Haazinu are somehow softened by the magnificent language used in the verses.
(14) Curd of kine and milk of flocks;
With the best of lambs,
And rams of Bashan, and he-goats;
With the very finest wheat
— And foaming grape-blood was your drink.
(15) So Jeshurun grew fat and kicked—
You grew fat and gross and coarse—
He forsook the God who made him
And spurned the Rock of his support.
(16) They incensed Him with alien things,
Vexed Him with abominations.
(17) They sacrificed to demons, no-gods,
Gods they had never known,
New ones, who came but lately,
Who stirred not your fathers’ fears.
(18) You neglected the Rock that begot you,
Forgot the God who brought you forth.
Yet, throughout this, Gd will not forsake us.
(26) I might have reduced them to naught,
Made their memory cease among men,
(27) But for fear of the taunts of the foe,
Their enemies who might misjudge
And say, “Our own hand has prevailed;
None of this was wrought by the LORD!”
28) For they are a folk void of sense,
Lacking in all discernment.
(29) Were they wise, they would think upon this,
Gain insight into their future:
(30) “How could one have routed a thousand,
Or two put ten thousand to flight,
Unless their Rock had sold them,
The LORD had given them up?”
(31) For their rock is not like our Rock,
In our enemies’ own estimation.
(32) Ah! The vine for them is from Sodom,
From the vineyards of Gomorrah;
The grapes for them are poison,
A bitter growth their clusters.
You can deliver a devastating message, but you need to consider the medium that you are employing.
And this is where I believe that XR has missed the proverbial 'trick'.
Blocking bridges, occupying the centre of London and spray-painting Government buildings is counter-productive. If you want to really get your message across, do so intelligently - as we have learned, the medium is as important as the message.
You can have the greatest message, but if you don't know how to utilise the medium, it's like drinking the finest quality wine poured out of a watering can.
Perhaps we haven't completely taken in the lessons that we read year-in and year-out from the Torah. We are still making mistakes and some of our less salubrious brethren have indeed grown fat, gross and coarse. The Jewish man whose reprehensible behaviour led to the rise of the '#metoo' movement is a sad but relevant example.
But that doesn't mean the messages are any less relevant today than they were 3,300 years ago.
We know that we can all strive to do better - and the Torah tells us how we can go about this.
In a few weeks time, we will read about the sin of the Garden of Eden, when we first abrogated our responsibility for 'looking after the environment' by the eating of the fruit - and the subsequent banishment which led to all kinds of disasters.
Had Adam and Eve looked at the consequences of their actions, maybe they would have made different decisions.
I'm not in PR and I don't have the answers but if XR wants to get its message across in a succinct, refined and more successful manner, they could do a lot worse than looking at the Torah for ideas.
Sometimes the smallest activities have the greatest impact.