By Joelle Novey
Every Jewish community I have visited strives to honor the words of the Torah. Physically, we adorn the scroll beautifully, carry it carefully, touch it lovingly and read from it publicly. Spiritually, we pray that our hearts will open to its teachings, we study its words and generations of commentary on its words, and we affirm in community that its ways are ways of pleasantness and all its paths are paths of peace. To many Jews, the thought of a ripped or damaged Torah scroll is almost physically painful.
In the Tanya, a classic work of Hasidic philosophy, Rabbi Shneur Zalman writes that the actual words God used to create the world are present inside the elements of Creation, animating them. That means that nature — the mountains and oceans and forests and animals — is the living embodiment of the words of God, and the living embodiment of Torah. And it would mean that nature should be treated just as preciously as the Torah we kiss in synagogue. But while we honor the Torah of the synagogue, the Torah of parchment, we often fail to honor the Torah of nature, the Torah of the Earth.
Joelle Novey is the director of Maryland & Greater Washington Interfaith Power & Light. She is the co-author of Green and Just Celebrations: A Purchasing Guide for Washington’s Jewish Families. She prays with four communities in Washington: Tikkun Leil Shabbat, Minyan Segulah, Tifereth Israel and Fabrangen.
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