Caring for the environment — a Jewish responsibility


This week we read the famous story of Noah, the sole righteous among his generation, who was selected by God to build an ark, bring his family and many animals aboard, and dwell in it while God destroyed the rest of the world with a flood that lasted 40 days and nights. As a covenant between God and humanity, God sends a rainbow as a sign that never again will the Earth be destroyed.

Unfortunately, it is becoming more evident that the Earth may indeed be heading towards a similar scope of environmental destruction, this time not by means of God but rather at the hands of human beings. Due to all of the advancements in technology, development, industrial production, pollution, and population growth, scientists, for decades now, have shown that human beings are contributing to global warming and the depleting of the earth’s natural resources. If this trend continues for the next generation and we sit idly by without taking action, the consequences to the Earth and to human life will be dire and irreversible.

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Jewish tradition, in the Torah and throughout rabbinic literature has stressed the importance of God’s creation and our responsibility to protect it. The well-known story from the Talmud in Tractate Ta’anit 23A tells of Honi, the circle-maker, who encounters an old man planting a carob tree yet who will surely not live to see the tree bear fruit. Honi asks the old man why he would do this and the old man replies that just as he found the world filled with carob trees planted for him by his grandfathers, so too he will plant for his descendants.

From the very beginning when God put Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, the Torah (Genesis 2:15) tells us that God placed them there to both work it and to protect it, “l’ovdoh ul’shomroh.” As Jews it is our responsibility to care for our natural environment that God created for future generations. Some ways that we can do this is through conservation, recycling, buying and using products from companies that are ecologically responsible, financially and otherwise supporting environmental causes, and advocating for the protection of the environment through the political process. As we read the story of Noah this year, let this be a call to action for ourselves and for our children, before it is too late. If not now, when…

Rabbi Brad Horwitz of the Jewish Community Center prepared this week’s Torah portion.