June 18, 2019

What Jews Owe to the Environment

“There is little more important today than how we live the first commandment, even if we don’t believe in God. As a species and civilisation, we have too often behaved as if it said “I, humankind, am the lord and master” of creation. We have acted with such anthropocentric presumption and taken so exploitative an approach to the rest of life that we risk undermining the future of everything.

To the mystics, poets and lovers of the world, the words “I am the Lord your God” were not spoken once only in the far-off past when the Jewish people stood at Mount Sinai. They are repeated every moment; all living being utters them. For God is revealed not only in the words of Torah but in the entire text of creation. As the great naturalist and social agitator Henry Thoreau said, “Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads”.

Maybe that’s why so many of us feel closest to God among trees, where deer graze, or, fleeing light pollution, alone with the deep night sky. It was no doubt with longing, as well as extraordinary spiritual stamina, that Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, the Rebbe of the Warsaw Ghetto, wrote in the winter of 1942: “From the chirping of the birds, the mooing of the cows, the voices and tumult of human beings — from all of these one hears the voice, the unceasing voice, of God.””

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