Earth Etude for Elul 15 – Caring for the Planet
by Rabbi Laurie Gold
“When God created the first human beings, God led them around the Garden of Eden and said: ‘Look at my works! See how beautiful they are; how excellent! For your sake I created them all. See to it that you do not spoil and destroy My world; for if you do, there will be no one else to repair it.’” (Midrash Kohelet Rabbah, 1 on Ecclesiastes 7:13)
I read this midrashic story only recently, decades after I was a teenager sitting in the pews at Temple Beth El of Great Neck. I was listening to Rabbi Jerome K. Davidson deliver his sermon. He was speaking about how it is against Jewish values to litter and to pollute the air and seas. He was disheartened whenever he saw people dumping the contents of their ashtrays onto the roads and sidewalks. Perhaps Rabbi Davidson was thinking about this Midrash when he said that Jewish ethics require that we do our part to take care of the earth. Maybe he was thinking of another Jewish textual basis of our obligation to care for the environment, for we find such bases in the Bible, Talmud, Midrash and Law Codes.
Jewish thinkers in every generation and in every part of the world have urged us to care for our planet. Why, then, don’t we remember? Why don’t we listen? There are many reasons. Some of us fall short of our obligation because we are forgetful, greedy or ignorant. Some of us miss the mark because we are lazy, oblivious or selfish.
Fortunately, at this time of year we are given the opportunity to ask ourselves tough questions, such as: How has my conduct caused damage to the planet? How can I change my behavior so that I stop hurting, and start healing, the earth? Can I encourage other people to make these changes too?
Changing our behavior isn’t always easy. It takes time to undo bad habits and replace them with new ways of doing things. All of us have been successful in modifying our behavior in the past. We can do it again. We can make the changes needed to help improve our world. May we start today.
Rabbi Laurie Gold was ordained by the Academy for Jewish Religion. She works for Chapin Home for the Aging in Jamaica, NY. Laurie also serves as rabbi for Holland Americaand Celebrity Cruise Lines. Laurie resides in Queens with her wife Nancy. They enjoy bike-riding, swimming, jogging and traveling together.