A Mensch courageous conversation-piece

Pesach, from slavery to net zero.

Words: Ephraim Moss

The tribe of Israel leaving Egypt is not just a story. The rituals of Pesach not just a tradition. Nor is the feasting merely a time to celebrate an ancient victory.

The story tells of a people enslaved by a leader whose symbol is the pyramid. A people taken on a journey towards physical and then ultimately psychological freedom. The story of freedom starts with an awareness of being enslaved, often by a hierarchy and authority that is not to our benefit or choosing. True freedom is the ability to choose what we serve.

But an individual’s freedom —freeing oneself of enslavement and restriction in our own mind, and of society’s restrictions — requires some digging and reflection.

The never-ending spiral of the Jewish calendar provides an opportunity to reflect, to grow and to deepen ourselves. The gift of Pesach is a framework to address what is holding us back, what is limiting us (the Hebrew word for Egypt, Mitzrayim, shares the root for the word straits or narrows — that which limits).

Just like the preparation for Pesach starts weeks before, by cleaning our homes of every crumb and speck of dirt that may be chometz, so too does our personal preparation to liberate ourselves start with getting rid of the chometz within us.

Technically chometz — that which is leaven — is food made with yeast. In a warm environment and in the absence of oxygen, the fermentation process of yeast breaks down sugars and releases, amongst other things, carbon dioxide (CO2) which gives bread it’s fluffy airy consistency.

One of the names of Pesach is the Festival of Matzah, of unleavened bread. This is because those who waited for the bread to rise stayed in Egypt and died. Only those who were able to unburden themselves of the airs that puffed them up, were able to choose to leave and be free.

I’m currently travelling around the Eastern Cape, meeting farmers of the Karoo. Many have been here for generations farming goats and sheep, for decades using farming practices that have caused tremendous harm to the environment and the sensitive ecosystems where they operate.

The degradation of the ecosystems in these areas has had an immediate and profound effect, not only on the communities living here, but also on all of us across the globe who rely on the benefits of a healthy ecosystem.

One of the harms caused, is the loss of carbon sinks. A carbon sink is anything that absorbs more carbon from the atmosphere than it releases,  for example: plants, the ocean, and soil. As plants grow and use sunlight to transform carbon dioxide in the air into sugars (the opposite of what yeast does) they naturally reduce CO2 in the atmosphere.

Unchecked, commercial practices (full of chometz) release more carbon into the atmosphere than it can absorb, the net result being an overall rise in levels of CO2. This acts like the glass of a green house, trapping the sun’s heat. The more CO2 there is, the more heat is trapped.

CO2 in the atmosphere has increased by 40% since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, causing an almost 1°C average increase to our planet’s temperature. The impact of this is the crazy weather that has been experienced over the past few years across the globe, including the current drought in the Eastern Cape.

The average middle class human causes about 12 tons of CO2 emissions per year. Which means in each of our lives, we will cause over 840 tons of chometz gas to be released into the atmosphere. By planting just 15 Spekboom a month you’ll be able to neutralise the emissions that your chometz causes over your entire lifetime.

So, thank God for Pesach — an opportunity to deflate us of CO2, and humble us to our unhealthy patterns of consumption. To bring us to the awareness that all of us on an individual level can make a difference, not only by becoming aware of our haughty emissions but by being able to do something that will benefit our generation and generations to come.

Start planting Spekboom this Pesach and get rid of your chometz. Subscribe to ReSpek Nature’s monthly programme, and be net zero and personally free within our lifetime.

Mensch is a social Justice NGO, committed to capacitating and supporting our Jewish Community’s response towards Social Justice in South Africa. Click HERE to read more about Mensch.