Stewards of God’s World

          The Torah is an environmental document. The rabbinic statement בל תשחית, you shall not destroy, originates from this week’s Torah portion. We learn “when in war against a city you have to besiege…you must not destroy its trees, wielding the axe against them. You may eat of them, but you must not cut them down. Are trees of the field human to withdraw before you into the besieged city?”[1]

          The Torah acknowledges from the very beginning the need for human stewardship of the world. It says “the man was placed in the Garden of Eden to work it and tend to it (לעבדה ולשומרה).[2] Our role is to protect the earth. Parshat Shoftim reinforces it, saying that we cannot prey upon trees, deforesting entire populations so that they run out of produce. No matter whom we are fighting, we must protect their vegetation.

          With our seeing the impact of climate change in our own lifetime-larger fires, warmer temperatures, and more powerful hurricanes-this section of Shofetim serves as a wake-up call for us to do our part in being stewards of God’s world. On Shabbat we should recognize this even more than on other days. The prohibition against melacha (creative activity) on Shabbat is to teach that the productive manipulation of the environment is not an absolute right.[3]

          As we celebrate Jason’s Bar Mitzvah this weekend let us think about what we can do to fulfill our job as stewards of God’s world for future generations. In doing so, may we do our small but significant part in combating climate change.


[1] Deuteronomy 20:19

[2] Genesis 2:15

[3] Dr. I. Grunfeld, The Sabbath, Feldheim Publishers, 1972, pp. 3-29. 9.

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