Many people turn to the natural world when they are feeling down, while others look to it as a source of solace. Either way, the connection is undeniable.
The natural world has a way of making us feel small and insignificant in an enormous universe. This can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your perspective. But either way, it’s an unavoidable truth that we are all deeply connected with one another and with the Earth on which we live. It’s also an undeniable truth that Judaism connects with this interconnectedness as well. Let’s explore how!
The Torah begins by describing how humanity first came into existence and describes how everything was created for the purpose of serving and worshipping G-d (i.e., “blessings for humans and creatures”).
In this article, Rabbi Samuel Waldman will provide an overview of some of Judaism’s most important teachings regarding our relationship with nature and explore their connection to the sixth commandment – “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.”
Judaism and Nature – An Overview of Teachings
There are a number of teachings in Judaism relating to the relationship between nature and humanity. According to Rabbi Samuel Waldman, in Judaism, nature is considered to be “holy.” Therefore, Jews are prohibited from desecrating any aspect of nature, including trees, plants, rocks, animals, and even the air.
To violate this prohibition is simha teshuva, or “a severe offense on a human level”. Similarly, Judaism sees human beings as “part of nature,” and as such, we, too, have a relationship with the universe. Judaism stresses balance and harmony between our human selves and the rest of the world.
“Everything Was Created for Man’s Use” (Torah Fromeha)
The Torah teaches that everything was created expressly for the use of humans: Everything in the heavens and on the earth was created for man’s use, as in the merkavah (chariot) G-d used to travel from His place of seclusion. (Genesis Rabba, 35:9)
Rabbi Samuel Waldman, who has been writing the topic for the past 10+ years, indicates that there are many different aspects of nature that can be used by humans: Waters can be used for drinking, bathing, and irrigation of fields. Land can be used for farming, producing food, and producing building materials. The air can be used for breathing and travel. The sun, moon, and stars can be used for navigation, making calendars, and marking seasons. Animals can be used for food and labor.
Judaism and the Environment
Rabbi Samuel Waldman stresses out that Judaism is an environmentally conscious religion that takes great care to protect and preserve the planet while still practicing Judaism. This is done by observing Shabbat, which is the Jewish day of rest, by not driving a car on Shabbat, and by not using electricity on Shabbat. Additionally, Jews are commanded in the Torah to “be holy because G-d, your G-d, is holy.”
The Torah tells us that everything in nature is to be treated with reverence and respect, and since the Earth is part of nature, it is to be treated with the same respect and reverence that one would treat the Temple in Jerusalem: And do not defile the land where you live, for G-d is in your midst, and you must be holy; for if you are holy, you will be safe. (Leviticus 19:26)
The Jewish people also believe in the concept of a “Greater Good,” which means that they are willing to make sacrifices in the present in order to protect the environment in the future.
“We are all deeply connected to one another and to the Earth on which we live,” says Rabbi Samuel Waldman, who has a diverse career in religious education.
However, Judaism teaches us that humans were created in the image of G-d and therefore are meant to be holy, which means that we should treat the Earth with the same reverence and respect that we treat G-d. Judaism also teaches that one of the ways to do this is to practice Judaism in a way that incorporates Shabbat, vegetarian diets, and other environmental practices. The Torah and Jewish teachings provide many ways for us to incorporate our relationship with nature into our daily lives. The more time we spend in nature and meditating on the beauty and interconnectedness of the world around us, the more likely we are to feel better about ourselves and more connected with the Earth.