Sam is a San Francisco 11 Wexner Heritage member and the California Program Director for the Conservation Lands Foundation where he works to protect the wild lands and rivers of the American West. He serves on the LGBT Advisory Committee of the San Francisco Jewish Community Federation and is a new member of the board of Wilderness Torah. Sam can be reached at

The news coming out the day after Thanksgiving on Black Friday shocked me: The pepper spraying Wal- Mart shopper, the scuffle over waffle-makers, and other violent incidents from consumers trying to find great deals. On the same day, Patagonia, the outdoor equipment company, ran a full-page ad in the New York Times with the headline: “Don’t Buy This Jacket.” Encouraging consumers to buy only what they need, and nothing more. The ad states that the jacket requires 135 liters of water, enough to meet the daily needs of 45 people. The company argues, that as our planet is on the brink of being unable to support life, we need to be more careful of how we choose to consume. Water, open space, and clean air are in grave jeopardy. 

Patagonia CEO, Yvon Chouinard believes in a philosophy he calls, “The economy of abundance” and writes that, “In an economy of abundance, there is enough. Not too much. Not too little. Enough. Most important, there is enough time for the things that matter: relationships, delicious food, art, games and rest.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about these principles since attending Sukkot on the Farm, one of the pilgrimage festivals sponsored by the California-based, non-profit, Wilderness Torah. Wilderness Torah is an organization whose purpose is to reconnect the elements of Judaism to the natural world, to community and to G-d. Wilderness Torah shares a similar refrain to that of Chouinard’s economy of abundance theory and it was present at the Sukkot Festival.

Sukkot is a harvest festival, and so it is easy to take for granted the bounty of the harvest each fall. However, when the Jewish people lived more connected to the Earth’s natural cycles, this bounty was not always seen as a guarantee and a ceremony was conducted to cultivate rain.

Wilderness Torah teaches that the ancient festival of Simchat Beit HaShoeivah was a water ceremony in which a unique service was performed during the Sukkot holiday: the Nisuch ha- Mayim (“Pouring of the water”) or Water Libation Ceremony. Sukkot is the time when G-d judges the world for rainfall, according to the Talmud, therefore this ceremony, like the waving of the Four Species, invokes God’s blessing for rain in its proper time. As the book of Isaiah states, “and you shall draw waters with joy from the wells of salvation.” (Isa. 12:3). It is said, that this ceremony was the most joyous in all of the land.

Wilderness Torah staff and volunteers have imagined what that festival would have looked like and we are teaching each other and our children about the importance of water and the importance of understanding life’s natural cycles through a lens of our ancestors. This year’s theme at Sukkot on the Farm was about the importance of joy in our lives. The four day Sukkot on the Farm festival culminated with a celebration, probably not as wild as when our ancestors celebrated the ancient water drawing festival, but it was a very joyous occasion with more than 250 people dancing to live music in a beautiful sukkah and a nearby bonfire. 

When our harvests seem more to do with Black Friday’s haul of stuff, more than with harvesting actual foods grown in our gardens or farms, we need to pause and re-consider how we are living our lives. If we live in a way that takes into account how the natural cycles are also connected to our life cycles, I believe we will be more aware of how our choices and the choices of our leaders impact our world.

Over the next few months, while it will be easy for me to be distracted by big sales and getting more stuff, I am going to continue to be reminded of a few principles of the economy of abundance: spend more time with those that I love; if I need to make a purchase, to buy products that last a little bit longer and that I can return if they aren’t right, or that can get fixed if they break; and as I learned this Sukkot, keep asking the question, where can I find more joy in my life and how can I bring that joy to others?