B’reysheet: Operating Instructions for the Third Planet

There’s an epidemic of breast cancer, according to whatever show it was that I heard on WAMC on the way home tonight (later note: it was Living on Earth). This sure fits what I’ve seen in these 10+ rabbi years: So many women getting breast cancer, and so many surviving it too, thank God. I know such things were talked about a lot less when I was a child, and I was generally sheltered and/or oblivious, so I wondered if the rates were really up. Apparently yes. I am appalled by how many women in my congregation are battling cancer. Yes, and men too, but more women.

What I heard on the radio is that there’s a new study which shows clearly a tremendous correlation between childhood exposure to DDT and development of breast cancer. Exposure later in life didn’t up the risk much or at all. Can you believe DDT was not banned until 1972???!!! Peak exposure in food was around 1965. I was born then — and still a child, eating that very food, no doubt. Scary.

There’s a midrash that before God created this world, God created and destroyed many other worlds, dissatisfied with them. Then God created this world, and led Adam and Eve all around it, saying “Look at this world I’ve created. Isn’t it beautiful? Guard it well, for if you mess it up, there will be no one to clean up after you.” (A Google search turned up this little compilation of such midrashim. Not quite sure who made this collection, but these are the midrashim I’m thinking of, most likely from Genesis Rabbah.)

It’s amazing how much the biological/ecological systems of the earth are capable of renewing, restoring, and repairing themselves. Toxins filter out of air, water, and especially earth in all sorts of amazing ways.

But of course one of the ways that they are removed from the environment is by collecting in our bodies, particularly in fatty tissue I believe. That concentrates and essentially encapsulates them. To our distress and dis-ease.

I used to have a poster, a long time ago, entitled “Operating Instructions for the Third Planet.” It cautioned, like the midrash, that Earth is an enclosed system and we need to keep it in pretty good repair, because every part is connected to every other part. “In case of emergency, the Manufacturer is best contacted by prayer.” Or something very close to that. I lost it in one of my many moves, perhaps back from Portland, Oregon, to the midwest. But I’ve never forgotten. The Manufacturer is not easily contacted, and cannot be relied upon to pick up our mess for us.

More musings for Shabbat B’reysheet.

(And the wonders of the Web have given me back the words of the poster, though not the poster itself: click here to read it. It’s clever, funny, poignant, thoughtful and thought-provoking.)