I want to save the world, and I would like to take you with me! First stop: our local Wal-Mart. No, I don’t believe that giving people dastardly low wages and ridiculously expensive health-care is the way to save the world, so let’s not stop in the Human Resources Department. Nor do I believe that lead-laden cheap toys made in dubious factories in China are going to save the world so let’s quickly walk by the toy department…
Here we are, at the home lighting section. Do you notice anything different here? Yup, that’s right. There is not a single regular light bulb to be found. Here, in the king of discount stores, you won’t find any of those inexpensive incandescent bulbs. All you will see is compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs. The best deal you will find on them is 4 bulbs, each of which gives off the equivalent light of 100 Watt incandescent for $7.58! Just a few blocks away, in Home Depot, that bright orange citadel of home improvement, you can buy six incandescents for just $2.92. What is going on with Wal-Mart?
Wal-Mart is in the process of going green. They made a corporate decision to only sell CFLs which are significantly kinder to the environment than incandescent bulbs. CFLs use only 23% of the energy of incandescents and last four to six times longer, which means that besides using less energy, they also take up less space in landfills.
The truth is, I can’t understand why anybody still buys incandescent bulbs. CFLs save about $77 over the course of each bulb’s life through energy savings and the fact that they only need replacement every five or six years. As a matter of fact, every time I buy a 4 pack of bulbs, I feel like I just saved $280, so I can run next door to Banana Republic and spend the free $280 on a shirt and a pair of socks! When we moved to Michigan eleven and a half years ago, I bought replacements for all the bulbs in our house, and I have almost never changed a bulb in all our time here. (This, of course, saved me from the marital stress of always forgetting to change bulbs and then hearing about it from my wife! So I assume we probably also saved $2100 in counseling bills!)
Early CFLs had harsh glares, flickering problems, and occasionally emitted high whining noises, but today the CFLs have come so far that they are virtually identical to incandescents. At this point, anyone buying incandescent bulbs should be given a couple of floppy disks in case their computer is as much a dinosaur as their lighting.
Evidently, not everyone has caught on to this new product that puts more green into the world, and your pocket. Less than 20% of the bulbs sold in the US are CFLs. Many people are unaware of the benefits of changing their light bulbs, while others stick to incandescent simply out of familiarity. The US Department of Energy estimates that if every American home replaced just one light bulb with an ENERGY STAR qualified bulb, we would save: enough energy to light more than 3 million homes for a year, more than $600 million in annual energy costs, and prevent the release of 3 million metric tons of greenhouse gases, equivalent to removing more than 800,000 cars from the roads.
Wal-Mart is not a kind, loving, warm company. They are ruthless competitors, consistently putting the small businesses near them out of business, causing massive road congestion near their superstores, bringing in almost all of their goods from overseas, and forcing suppliers to deliver their goods at such low prices that it leaves them with minimal profits. But even they are coming around to going green. I don’t mean to judge them unfavorably, but something tells me that this has more to do with them realizing that it will help their bottom line than it has to do with a softening of the corporate heart beating coldly out in Bentonville, AK.
It all started with Wal-Mart finding itself in trouble. A few years back, it paid out millions in fines for breaking environmental protection laws, including violations of the Clean Water Act in more than 10 states. The backlash against the company was mounting, and Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott knew he would have to clean up his act. He hired ecologist Steven Hamburg to give a briefing on climate change. Hamburg, the director of the Watson Institute’s Global Environment Program at Brown University, suggested that Wal-Mart begin aggressively pushing people to change to CFLs.
He explained that the smaller the change, the easier it would be for people to grasp and implement. Trying to get everyone to include wind-powered turbines in their backyard or solar panels on the roof would be about as effective as asking Bedouins to include more fish in their diet. Many small steps for man get us farther than a few huge leaps for mankind.
The suggestion actually worked. People starting buying the Great Value CFLs (Wal-Mart’s independent label), and the public started lighting up to Wal-Mart again. Enthused by their success, Wal-Mart has begun pushing for more environmental reforms. Lee Scott said Wal-Mart would require suppliers to develop products that use less electricity, and to manufacture them in cleaner factories. Those who fail to comply, risk having their access to the retailer’s shelf space cut off.
Wal-Mart has begun demanding that many of the products it sells — including flat screen TVs and air conditioners — be retooled to cut energy use by 25 percent. Wal-Mart’s plan makes good sense for the environment, promises better lives for those toiling under harsh conditions in dirty, substandard factories, and would offer customers better quality and energy-saving goods. And, oh yes, make Wal-Mart lots of money.
So what do we learn from CFLs, Wal-Mart and going green? We learn that you can be part of the solution for a global crisis. We often hear about the looming crises facing this world. We read about the typhoons, tsunamis, droughts, and flooding that will surely be knocking on our doors in the near future. We feel a sense of helplessness. What can we do, other than watch the world burn itself up with reckless abandon? Now we know what we can do – we can go to Wal-Mart and buy CFL replacements for every bulb in our house! Not only will we be one more person taking steps in the right direction, we will also save ourselves a bundle (make sure you send me a cut!).
This same applies to other global issues. We can read about the poverty situation in Israel, the latest Hamas attacks on Israel, the frighteningly high assimilation rates of Jews in the US, and feel that we live in a world that is in a spiritual downward spiral. It can be depressing to contemplate, as we feel there is no way we can change the situation. But we need to remember to look for the small things we can do. We can put a dollar a day into a charity box to feed the hungry, say a prayer for the victims of terror who are hanging on a thread in the hospital, or invite someone with a limited Jewish identity over for a Shabbat meal. This will not only help those we involve ourselves with, they will help us as well. Where we once felt powerless, unsubstantial, and ineffectual, we will now feel empowered, active, and effective at making this world just a bit better.
We can’t fix the world tomorrow, we can’t turn it on a dime, but we can turn on just a few lights, lighting up the way for those around us. And let’s remember that no matter how small our lights are, let’s keep them burning bright, long, and clean!
Parsha Dvar Torah
This week’s parsha, Mishpatim, is the first one in which the Torah lists all the Jewish festivals. “Three pilgrimage festivals shall you celebrate for Me during the year. You shall observe the Festival of Matzos…” (Exodus 23:14-15). It is also the first time we learn the Torah’s name for Passover – the Festival of Matzot. This is interesting as we don’t call Passover by the same name as G-d does. He calls it the Festival of Matzot and we call it Pesach. This discrepancy doesn’t apply to any of the other holidays, as we see that G-d does use the terms Shavuos and Succos, “Three times a year all your males should appear before Ha-shem your G-d in the place that He shall choose, on the Festival of Matzos, the Festival of Shavuos and the Festival of Succot” (Deut. 16:16). Why, then, do we call Passover by a name not given to it by the Torah?
The Derech Avos explains that the nomenclature of Pesach demonstrates the ideal relationship the Jewish people possess with G-d. Each party focuses on the virtues of the other. G-d calls the holiday the Festival of Matzos, in remembrance of the Jewish peoples’ sacrifice in following Him out to the desert with nothing but a few wafers in their food sacks. Not only did the Jewish people have faith that G-d would provide all their dietary needs in the desert, they were in such haste to join G-d on a journey through the desert that they didn’t even wait for their bread to leaven.
We, on the other hand, call the holiday, Pesach, Passover. This reminds us of the great miracle G-d performed for us by passing over the Jewish people’s houses while slaying the firstborn in every other house in Egypt. Thus the names used to describe Passover do more than describe a holiday, they describe a relationship we should all try to mimic in all of our relationships, one in which each party is wholly focused on the good the other has done for them.
This Parsha is where we begin to learn about the Jewish system of law. The first verse starts with a fundamental, namely that a Jew cannot take his legal issues to a non-Jewish court even if he knows they will give the same verdict as the Jewish court. We believe that when a Jewish judge sits in trial, he receives Divine assistance, which aids him in adjudicating properly. A non-Jew in a secular court doesn’t have that added benefit, therefore the Torah commands us to bring our issues before a Jewish court.
The first laws dealt with in this portion are those of the Jewish servant, someone who stole and didn’t have the money to return the stolen goods, who the court then sold so he could pay the victim of his thievery. The Sages tell us, “Anyone who buys a servant is acquiring a master for himself.” According to Jewish law, not only does the master need to take care of the servant’s wife and kids (who are not working for him), but if there is only one pillow in the house it must be given to the servant. The goal of the servitude is to rehabilitate the criminal by having him be around his master for a number of years and see how fair and upright he is. (Having once been beaten by a gang of thugs fresh out of prison, I believe that anything would probably be better at rehabilitating miscreants than our current prison system!)
There are so many laws in this week’s Parsha that I will only list some of them. After the laws pertaining to servants, the Torah deals with: murder – intentional and unintentional, kidnapping, striking or cursing of parents, and damages for bodily harm to others caused by a person, his property, or his animal. It teaches us how to deal with the stealing of livestock or other goods, the right to self defense, the different types of legal guardians, and the laws of a seducer, sorcerer, or people who engage in bestiality. G-d warns us to be extra sensitive to widows, orphans, and converts, warns us against charging interest for loans, and reminds us of the importance of upholding the integrity of the judicial system.
Next, we get back to some general mitzvos as G-d commands us here regarding the laws of Shmitah (leaving the land fallow on the 7th year), the laws of Shabbos, and the laws of the three major festivals, Pesach, Shavuot, and Succos. After that G-d promises us that He will watch over us, and get us settled into the Holy Land swiftly and safely, without disease or lost battles.
The last part of the Parsha goes back to the narrative of the Jews at Sinai. We are told that the Jews, upon being asked if they wanted the Torah, replied, “Na’aseh V’Nishma,” meaning we will do and we will listen. This was the Jewish people’s way of showing their complete faith in G-d. They were so certain that G-d would only give them mitzvot which were good for them that they accepted them even before hearing them all. Even today, we can still express the idea behind Na’aseh V’Nishma by doing the mitzvot we don’t yet understand as beneficial or just. When we do them anyway, we show that we do even what we don’t fully “hear” (understand). That’s all Folks!
Quote of the Week: How much pain they have caused us, the evils which have never happened. ~ Thomas Jefferson
Random Fact of the Week: The Library of Congress has 327 miles of bookshelves.
Funny Line of the Week: Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do!
Have a Feisty Shabbos,
R’ Leiby Burnham