[Jacob] came close and kissed [his father Isaac]. [Isaac] smelled the fragrance of his [son Esau’s] clothes and he blessed [Jacob who was wearing them]. [Isaac] said, “See, my son’s fragrance is like the fragrance of a field blessed by YHVH.” (Genesis 27:27) read more »
It’s easy to remember the moment in Genesis when Rebekah covers her favorite son Jacob in goatskins so that he’ll feel, to his blind father’s touch, just like his hairier twin Esau. The image of an ambitious mother secretly wrapping and binding her younger son’s hands and smooth neck (in rough approximation of Esau’s rough hands and neck) tends to linger, doesn’t it?
Two centuries ago William Wordsworth wrote:
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
Two years ago Ellen Bernstein, founder of Shomrei Adamah wrote:
Since the environmental crisis is a spiritual crisis, a sign of separation from nature and our selves, we must mend the division and fix the brokenness at the root.(p. 13, The Splendor of Creation, Pilgrim Press, 2005) read more »
But how do we, as Wordsworth might put it, get our hearts back? What might lead us back from the brink of devastating separation from the rest of the world?
Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai said: Three things are of equal importance—earth, humans and rain. Rabbi Levi ben Hiyyata taught: Without earth, there is no rain, and without rain, the earth cannot endure, and without either, humans cannot exist. —Genesis Rabbah 13:3 read more »
If I had to sum up the whole of Jewish environmentalism in one word, that would be the word balance. We must grasp the concept of ecosystems and the notion that all aspects of creation depend on one another.
Our tradition instructs us: From the day you bring the sheaf of wave-offering, you shall keep count until seven full weeks have taken place. This is the time of counting. From the second night of Passover until Shavuot—the time of receiving the Torah, we count, day after day for 49 days. Sefirat HaOmer, the counting of the Omer. read more »
The Omer is not one of the most widely observed Jewish practices, yet I think it is one of the most profound and meaningful. There is something about taking some time in the darkness of the evening to mark the passing of time that resonates powerfully. It is an opportunity to bring a consciousness to our transition from our being avdei Pharoah—servants of Pharoah—to avdei Hashem —servants of a Higher Power.
If, along the road, you chance upon a bird’s nest, in any tree or on the ground, with fledglings or eggs and the mother sitting over the fledglings or on the eggs, do not take the mother together with her young. Let the mother go, and take only the young, in order that you may fare well and have a long life. Deuteronomy Ki Tetzei 22:6-7 read more »
Rabbi Arthur Rulnick, a Conservative Rabbi on Long Island who is related to me by marriage, told me that Ki Tetzei has more mitzvot (commandments) than any other in the Torah. Some mitzvot speak to us directly out of the past. An example is not subverting the rights of the stranger or the fatherless. Others, such as the mitzvah of kan-tzipor as described in the quote above, are obscured by layers of historical and technological development and deserve further investigation.
All trees speak with one another. All trees speak with other creatures. All trees were created for the delight of other creatures. (Genesis Rabbah 13:2)
Spring is a time of regeneration in nature and, for parts of the northern hemisphere, a time when familiar sounds return after a long absence: birds chirping, insects buzzing, trees speaking. read more »
Trees speaking? I’m referring to the sound heard from the trees when the wind carries their message: the rustling of leaves. For me, this is the most soothing sound of the season. According to Genesis Rabbah 13:2, all trees speak with one another and with other creatures. If we take the time to stop and listen, what would those leaves have to say to us?
God led Adam around the Garden of Eden and said, ‘Look at My works. See how beautiful they are, how excellent. See to it that you do not spoil or destroy My world—for if you do, there will be no one to repair it after you.’ – Midrash, Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:13 read more »
As a Reconstructionist Jew in 2007, I will admit that I don’t relate easily to the concept of a God that rewards and punishes—but I can embrace the idea of a creation ruled by a matrix of laws the fullness of which I can only begin to understand.
Parashat Terumah is one of those portions that can be the bane of every Bar or Bat Mizvah kid: a seemingly endless litany of picayune details regarding the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). What on earth can we possibly learn from this parade of dolphin skins, acacia wood, crimson yarns, loops and clasps?
If we understand the construction of the Mishkan as a metaphor for creating sacred community, the lesson should be obvious: details matter. read more »
I’ve been acutely aware of this lesson as JRC constructs its new synagogue building. In addition to the many details that come with a construction project of this magnitude (e.g., fund raising, location, budget, design, zoning, etc.) our board made one important decision early in the building process: that we would build our building in the most environmentally sustainable manner possible. Guided by the sacred Jewish value of Bal Tashchit , we have now begun construction on what we intend to be the first certified “Green Synagogue” in the world.
Uniting Power of Environmentalism
by Rabbi Larry Troster
The Earth is the Lord's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it (Psalms 24:1) read more »
As a rabbi and theologian who has long been involved with religious environmentalism both in the Jewish environmental community and in the interfaith environmental community, I have met and spoken with people of all faiths, clergy and laity, scientists and scholars, who are deeply concerned about the growing environmental crisis. And so the question must be asked: Even as we live in a world where religious divisions often lead to conflict and violence, why is there this constructive and congenial dialogue between Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and other religions of all kinds on the environment?
Tikkun Olam and Food
by Dr. David Teutsch
The earth and all in it are filled with God's glory" (Psalms 24:1) read more »
A very important step in understanding why a particular action is a mitzvah is actually doing the mitzva—immersing in the experience. But that is usually insufficient, which is why the rabbis have devoted an enormous amount of time and energy exploring ta'amey hamitzvot, the purposes behind the mitzvot. These sources often discuss observing kashrut in terms of becoming aware of kedusha, the holiness in all of creation, and practicing tza'ar ba'aley hayim, prevention of pain to animals. Both of these stem from an awareness that the earth and all in it are filled with God's glory (Psalms 24:1). For more about kashrut, you might want to read my book, A Guide to Jewish Practice: Kashrut.