Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Jewish Earth Day

              Tomorrow is Tu B’shvat, once known as a Jewish tax day, has become the Jewish Earth Day.  We celebrate our connection to the land, the earth and all living things.  In psalm 24 we read that, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.”  The Rabbis of the Talmud, written over fifteen hundred years ago, felt that this psalm should be recited on the first day of the week (Sunday), since God created and took possession of the Earth on this first day.  Even today, we still recite this psalm on the first day of the week.  How then might this verse be understood?  If indeed God is the owner of the world, then we are but squatters in God’s glorious abode.  We have taken possession of a world that was neither sold nor gifted to us.  Dominion, as some might argue is our title certificate, is not a carte blanch designation to use the world without restriction or without consequence.  Indeed, we must use the resources of the world to live, thrive and survive, but at the same time, unrestricted use of those self-same resources is the key to our destruction.  We take delight in the wonders of the world, we stand in awe over the power of nature, and yet, in our want for comfort and our desire for money, power and prestige we willingly destroy habitats, reserves, forests, mountains and seas in the name of progress, autonomy, and proprietary rights.  The argument for animal rights, land rights, watershed rights, etc. gets lost amidst the din of personal or corporate rights.  It might seem that the idea that the earth must be protected is a relatively new idea, except that it isn’t.  In Deuteronomy, the text argues, sarcastically, “When you are attacking a city don’t destroy the trees … are they human, able to flee into the besieged city (for protection)?”  The Bible teaches that even when at war, we have to guard our actions to ensure the sustainability of the area we are attacking.  If this is one of the rules when one is the aggressor in war, then how much the more so is it important to care for the trees when one is at peace!  In America, we are taught from an early age that we have a freedom in this country like no other and, therefore, have a right to do as we wish, especially when it comes to our own property and our own business.  Yet, even here, we have laws that limit what one can do, especially when one’s personal quest impinges upon another's rights.  Laws that protect the earth are necessary, because, left to our own devices, people would do whatever they wanted without worrying a tittle about the consequences of their actions or the effects it would have on future generations.  Though we may not be able to change the way everyone understands their relationship with the earth, we can set up safeguards that protect it from those who would abuse and destroy it for personal gain.  Personally, if the many who purported to believe in God would change their status from “squatters” to “caretakers,” then, maybe, these laws would become superfluous.

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