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Bypassing God? (Ekev – 08/04/18)

Rabbi Neil Schuman

Bypassing God?

The Torah makes strong assertions about life in Israel: one of them is that the water supply is controlled exclusively by God (Deuteronomy 11: 11-13)

“The land which you come to possess is a land of mountains and valleys and absorbs water from the rains of heaven, a land the Lord, your God looks after; the eyes of God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year. And it will be, if you hearken to My commandments that I command you this day to love the Lord, your God, and to serve God with all your heart and with all your soul, I will give the rain of your land at its time and you will gather in your grain, your wine, and your oil.”

Likewise, the Torah teaches us that all our necessities come directly from God (Deuteronomy 8: 3)

“And God afflicted you and let you go hungry, and then fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your ancestors know, so that god would make you know that humanity does not live by bread alone, but rather by whatever comes forth from the mouth of the Lord does humankind live.”

So how should we react, how should our belief system be impacted when when we’re able to bypass God?

In 2004, despite years of drought Israel relied entirely on groundwater and rain. By 2008, Israel teetered on the edge of catastrophe. Israel’s largest source of freshwater, the Sea of Galilee, had dropped to within inches of the “black line” at which irreversible salt infiltration would flood the lake and ruin it forever. Water restrictions were imposed, and many farmers lost a year’s crops.

Israel first invested in reclaiming drain water for crops, recapturing up to 86% of the water for irrigation. Spain, the next most efficient country in this field reclaims only 19%. Israel then turned its energy into figuring out how to transform the vast resource of the salty Mediterranean Sea in drinkable water. Within a few years, Israel became the world leader in seawater desalination.

Israel now has four seawater desalination plants running, which supply 55 percent of Israel’s water, and Israel has now become a water exporter.

Desalination works by pushing saltwater into membranes containing microscopic pores. The water gets through, while the larger salt molecules are left behind. Seawater is further complicated by the vast number of microorganisms swarming in its midst. Israelis developed a chemical free system using porous lava stone to capture the microorganisms before they reach the membranes.

Desalination though was always tainted by being an expensive energy hog, but the advanced technologies utilized by Israel have reduced the costs dramatically. The newest plant, Sorek, ten miles south of Tel Aviv can produce a thousand liters of drinking water for 58 cents! When I was young, Israel’s water deficiency was always apparent to me. Toilets and showers were overtly designed to save water, and there was a notable absence of fountains, grass and greenery in Jerusalem. Now it’s all changed: fountains abound throughout the country, grass can be found in parks in Jerusalem, and Israel is a verdant wonderland with sprouting, riotous flowers everywhere the eye turns.

Lack of water has profoundly affected Israel’s neighbors. As the drought which affected the whole Middle East intensified, farmers in Syria started to dig deeper for water. As the water table plunged, Syria’s farmers chased it, drilling wells 100, 200, then 500 meters down in a literal race to the bottom. Eventually, the wells ran dry and Syria’s farmland collapsed in an epic dust storm. More than a million farmers joined massive shantytowns on the outskirts of Aleppo, Homs, Damascus and other cities in a futile attempt to find work and purpose. According to “Climate Change in the Fertile Crescent and Implications of the Recent Syrian Drought,” a 2015 paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, “The rapidly growing urban peripheries of Syria marked by illegal settlements, overcrowding, poor infrastructure, unemployment, and crime, were neglected by the Assad government and became the heart of the developing unrest.” Thankfully, Israel was able to avoid these consequences by developing desalination.

So we now return to our original question. If our faith system is based upon belief that God provides our water, how are we to integrate our water independence into our religious system?

I believe the answer is also alluded to in our parsha (Deuteronomy 8: 17-18)

“And you will say to yourself, “My strength and the might of my hand has accumulated this wealth for me.” But you must remember the Lord your God, for it is God who gives you strength to make wealth, in order to establish God’s covenant which God swore to your ancestors, as it is this day.”

If we’re smart, strong, handsome, healthy, or talented in another area, we attribute these gifts to God. It is a Power greater than ourselves that has bequeathed us these talents. When we accumulate wealth, or figure out how to make the Mediterranean potable, in humility, we give thanks for having the skills and abilities to provide for our needs.

Israel may have found a way not to look to the skies for rain. It hasn’t found a way not to be thankful for having the skill set to create this independence.
We can pat ourselves on our back for all of our great efforts and achievements; the Torah is teaching us to be humble enough to be thankful for the gifts that got us there.

MIT Technology Review, Megascale Desalination
The world’s largest and cheapest reverse-osmosis desalination plant is up and running in Israel.

Scientific American, Israel Proves the Desalination Era Is Here,

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