Now that we are past the High Holidays and getting back into our day-to-day schedules I want to talk about a simple mitzvah and the potential for “tipping point” dynamics. The idea of “doing a mitzvah” is a powerful Jewish example of one of the basic principles of all complex living systems: even small actions can produce big results. In other words, the most ancient and central of Jewish spiritual technologies, the mitzvah, embodies the wisdom that we know from so many protest movements and struggles for human liberation: that change comes about not by dramatic sweeping actions of famous and exceptional people, but by many normal people doing the right actions in their daily lives. The idea of a mitzvah is that it I do it because it is the right thing to do. And you never know what that might lead to.
Recently we had a small mitzvah victory at Organic Torah. Jeremy Sher, who works with me as treasurer, web master and general right-hand-person told the oneg coordinator at Temple Beth Zion, where we are both members, about do-it-yourself seltzer makers, instead of having to buy and carry all those plastic bottles of seltzer that are put out for the weekly Shabbat Oneg. The idea was received enthusiastically, and soon TBZ seltzer will be homemade and plastic-free — not to mention cost-free too. And without those heavy bottles to carry, the oneg volunteers will have to find another way to exercise.
I’ve been a big booster for home seltzer makers because they are good for both our health and the environment and they are easy and fun. In the past few years we have seen sodas, juices and bottled teas of every kind get sweeter and sweeter as high fructose corn syrup has brought the price of sweetness way down and the food industry has gotten people addicted to sweeter and sweeter products.
I love having a home seltzer maker because now I don’t need to be at the mercy of these super sweet commercial drinks. I get the fun, bubbly soda and mix it with a much or as little juice as I want to make a great spritzer. We can all improve our health and wean ourselves down from super sweet to just normal sweet, or enjoy the bubbly soda straight up. With the national epidemic of obesity and its related diseases such as diabetes this declaration of independence from commercial drinks is not insignificant. And, at the same time you don’t add to the number of plastic bottles going to the land fill. It’s one of the easiest and most potent little bits of eco-activism that we can all do as individuals and as communities. And, in my opinion, it’s a mitzvah.
So I’m really gratified that TBZ will be taking this up as a community. And I want to write about it because that is the second half of the mitzvah/tipping point dynamic: we all can do our individual mitzvah, but it is more likely to bring about a tipping point in the communal consciousness if you blog about it, talk about it, email, Facebook and tweet about it. We don’t know what the effect of our small actions will be, but we can make it more likely that they will start a trend, even go viral, if we get our small action out on the airwaves or into cyberspace where it can influence others.
In this world of global warming, dangerous decimation of natural resources, political gridlock, crisis-level unemployment and gapping inequalities of wealth, it is easy to lose hope and say that my small actions can’t do anything in the face of the magnitude of these crises. And getting your own or getting your community to buy a soda maker is a decidedly small action. But that is the way the world changes: one congregation at a time, one mitzvah at a time. You never know when your mitzvah will go viral.
Now that the holidays are over, it is time to get down to work on the daily mitzvahs. Now that we’re done saying L’shana Tova, we can say L’Chayyim – maybe this year over a homemade spritzer!