By Rabbi Josh Weinberg
Friday, October 1, 2021 – כ”ה בתשרי תשפ”ב
וַיְבָ֣רֶךְ אֹתָם֮ אֱלֹהִים֒ וַיֹּ֨אמֶר לָהֶ֜ם אֱלֹהִ֗ים פְּר֥וּ וּרְב֛וּ וּמִלְא֥וּ אֶת־הָאָ֖רֶץ וְכִבְשֻׁ֑הָ וּרְד֞וּ בִּדְגַ֤ת הַיָּם֙ וּבְע֣וֹף הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם וּבְכׇל־חַיָּ֖ה הָֽרֹמֶ֥שֶׂת עַל־הָאָֽרֶץ׃
God blessed them and God said to them, “Be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it; and rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all the living things that creep on earth.” (Gen. 1:28)
וַיִּקַּ֛ח יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹהִ֖ים אֶת־הָֽאָדָ֑ם וַיַּנִּחֵ֣הוּ בְגַן־עֵ֔דֶן לְעׇבְדָ֖הּ וּלְשׇׁמְרָֽהּ׃
And Adonai God took the Earthling and placed it in the Garden of Eden, to till it and tend it. (Gen 2:15)
Starting over feels good. After a stressful year, we begin our Torah reading cycle again with creation. Rashi asks: If Torah is our particular story, why does it begin with the universal record of creation taking 11 chapters before our people come onto the scene? Rashi’s question teaches that our particularistic story leads us to universalism. The Torah’s lessons in morality, ethics, and values are not provided for our self-preservation alone but are meant to be applicable to the challenges and problems we face as human beings. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the opening chapters of our story.
The Book of Genesis is a masterpiece. The two creation stories in Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 offer two different worldviews, ideologies, and approaches to how we are expected to relate to the earth – two grand ideas about what our role as human beings should be. Genesis 1 instructs us that we should “fill the earth and master it” thereby positioning ourselves as rulers, conquerors, and occupiers over all of life. Genesis 2, however, tells our story as stewards, caretakers, managers, and custodians of the earth.
In the first story, we are given Shabbat – a day of rest – unique to humanity among all other creatures. In the second story, we experience exile from Eden, and we discover our mortality.
These seemingly opposing stories reflect two approaches to the earth, and specifically to the Land of Israel. Are we to be absolute rulers and masters of our domain, or are we to work the land and protect it within defined moral parameters?
In the 2nd story the first humans defied God’s command and ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil resulting in their permanent exile from paradise, but did we learn our lesson to be at one with nature, tend and preserve it? Seemingly not.
The Midrash on Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) reminds us of our obligation to sustain the earth:
“When the Blessed Holy One created the first human, God took the human being to view the Garden of Eden … and said: “Look at My works, how beautiful and praiseworthy they are! All that I have created, it was for you that I created it. Pay attention that you do not corrupt and destroy My world: for if you corrupt it, there is no one to repair it after you.”
(Kohelet Rabbah 7:13)
Understandably, Israelis are first and foremost concerned about security. But, the climate crisis is a “threat multiplier.” Any nation that fails to protect itself from the effects of climate change threatens its own stability and national security. Already in the Middle East, the failure to resolve existing challenges of water scarcity is a national security issue.
A surprisingly large number of people die (in Israel and around the world) from extreme weather amplified by global warming that has accentuated the power and frequency of storms, floods, drought, and the effects of heat (according to a recent study). Trends indicate that many more people are in danger as climate threats increase. If the State of Israel were to dedicate ten percent of its budget and resources that it allocates for the defense budget to preventative environmental measures, many more lives would be saved. Further, Israel has the opportunity to be a leader in regional environmental protection thus forging a tangible relationship between the defense establishment and environmental and ecological sustainability efforts.
“Israel must recognize climate change as a security threat of the first order,” concluded Dr. Shira Efron of the INSS, noting that once it was recognized as a priority by the Defense Ministry, it would be easier to budget greater funds from the Treasury.
In short, we could save more lives and preserve waning resources in the same effort. Government action is key but peace and sustainability will not come from politicians, diplomats, and world leaders alone. Civil and grassroots interaction is critical to saving lives and to preserving what’s left of our planet.
The real enemy is facing all of us. The frequency of heatwaves, drought, forest fires, floods, and hurricanes has quadrupled over the past four decades and is rising. By 2050, almost 100 million people could be forced to migrate from coastal areas and other uninhabitable locations as a result of climate change (see go.nature.com/3agzsij). It is alarming that last year 81 countries increased the percentage of their GDP that goes into military budgets4 without any concomitant increase in allocations to address climate concerns.
The world cannot afford such losses, especially as we recover from the massive death and economic suffering brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic. The financial cost of ensuring human security is less than paying for armies: one percent of global GDP per year is necessary to implement the 2015 Paris climate agreement, and five percent of global GDP each year across many sectors to implement it (Sustainable Development Goals) by 2030.
This year each of us can make a change. Instead of seeing ourselves as rulers and conquerors, we can regard ourselves as stewards, caretakers, and humble servants seeking to sustain all of life.
Here are three ways we can do more:
- Connect our congregations with the IMPJ’s Yachdav program:
“YaRoK” – Judaism, Relationships and Sustainability. In this year of Shmita, this is a program sponsored by the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism education department advocating environmental and social justice.
- Study Online and Support our Movement’s Kibbutz Lotan’s Center for Creative Ecology
- Take the Unplug Challenge and Power off for Shabbat!