Colorado made news this year when:
March 30, a wildfire in Jefferson County killed 2 and injured another.
April 7, wildfire spread across 100 acres north of Gunnison
April 27 three people were injured in tornadoes
June 5, evacuation in Northern Colorado due to fire
June 28, hundreds of homes were destroyed by fire in Colorado Springs
July 6, flash floods and mudslides occurred along several stretch of post-burned land in Boulder. Roads were closed and damaged.
June through July, heat wave broke multiple date highs, consecutive days of high temperatures even interfered with air traffic. These record highs continued through August and even into September. One might say, we experienced a Rocky Mountain High. The whipping winds did not help the fire situation, nor did the lightening storms.
And that was the summer, just in Colorado. Similar activity was happening across the country, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Utah, Nevada, plus record rains and flooding on the east coast effecting thousands of people.
This all occurred in our backyard. If we were to go nationally, the tragedies would take hours, and globally the tragedies would take all day to delineate. We cannot help but look back at the year and wonder what was happening and how do we deal with it?
Today is the birthday of the world. That’s what we say. Rosh Hashana is a celebration of creation. In actuality, we celebrate it as the 6th day of creation, think of it as a birthing process for the world, which was not complete until the culmination of creation with humanity. And then, we were instructed to be stewards of this beautiful creation. Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.
1.27 וַיִּבְרָא אֱלֹהִים ׀ אֶת־הָֽאָדָם בְּצַלְמוֹ בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים בָּרָא אֹתוֹ זָכָר וּנְקֵבָה בָּרָא אֹתָֽם:
And God created human beings in His image, in the image of God he created them: male and female, he created them.
1:28 וַיְבָרֶךְ אֹתָם אֱלֹהִים וַיֹּאמֶר לָהֶם אֱלֹהִים פְּרוּ וּרְבוּ וּמִלְאוּ אֶת־הָאָרֶץ וְכִבְשֻׁהָ
And God blessed them; and God said unto them: פְּרוּ וּרְבוּ וּמִלְאוּ אֶת־הָאָרֶץ וְכִבְשֻׁהָ 'Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it;
Remember the word וְכִבְשֻׁהָ subdue, conquer or master, we will return to it in a moment.
…and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that creepeth upon the earth.'
29 And God said: 'Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed--to you it shall be for food;
30 and to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is a living soul, [I have given] every green herb for food.' And it was so.
We move forward to look at the creation story in chapter 2 of Genesis. It reads
(וַיִּקַּח יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהִים אֶת־הָֽאָדָם וַיַּנִּחֵהוּ בְגַן־עֵדֶן לְעָבְדָהּ וּלְשָׁמְרָֽהּ )
And God took man and placed him in the Garden of Eden לְעָבְדָהּ וּלְשָׁמְרָֽהּ to serve and to guard her.
Moses Maimonides, whom we know as the Rambam, was undisturbed by the apparent conflicts in Torah as well as between nature and religion. It was his belief that the conflict was inherent not in the Bible, but in humankind, we simply did not understand some mystery hidden in the text. “For Maimonides, the real obligation of a Jew was not only to keep the law in its outward performance, but to keep the ethical essence of the law. In delving deep, he psychologizes and emphasizes various aspects of halachah.” During his life time, his books were burned as heretical. In the end, his Mishneh Torah became a classic foundation for Jewish study. (Katz on Maimonides, Professor Stephen Katz on Maimonides http://aitzhayim.com/library/lectures-transcribed/katz-on-maimonides/ 9.3.2012) Given that as a background, let’s go back and look at the two source texts, one which says rule over all creation and another which commands us to protect it.
‘Dominion or rule’ is the common reading and interpretation of creation in chapter one. I propose another. The word , וְכִבְשֻׁהָ in verse 28 usually translated as 'have dominion', can also be translated as occupy or as preserve. When translated with that interpretation, it does not give humanity free reign over all of creation. We are merely dwellers on the earth, renters of space and temporary holders of the deed of title. In verse 30 we note that ‘every beast of the earth, every fowl of the air, every thing that creeps, crawls, swims or flies has a soul, a living soul and all the grass, green herbs are theirs for food, as well. The earth was already considered good before the appearance of humanity. All that existed upon it was to be shared. It surely was not the intent that we harness it only for our good, only for our use, only for our pleasures.
Rabbi Soloveitchik explains that there is tension between humanity’s exercise of control over nature and our duty to act toward nature with a ‘sense of fiduciary responsibility’. (Joseph B. Soloveitchik, "The Lonely Man of Faith," Tradition 7:2, Summer 1965)
Indeed, throughout Torah, laws appear that remind us that we are to have concern for the rest of creation. An ox and ass may not be harnessed together because they are animals of different strengths; we must shew a mother bird from the nest before taking the eggs. Even the Noahide laws to which we believe every civilized society must adhere, includes not severing a limb from a living animal. In point of fact, when a child commits such an act, we believe them to have pathological tendencies.
Even refraining from melacha, from work on Shabbat, is, according to the rabbis, a command to not manipulate nature, which more clearly explains why the tasks to build the ancient Temple were used as the model for the tasks from which we refrain.
To steward the earth means to take care of it, to tend it, to help it survive and flourish. It is therefore, in my opinion, unfortunate that the reform movement chose to eliminate the second paragraph of the Shema from the siddur. While they have returned the third paragraph regarding tzitzit to Mishkan Tefilla, the second paragraph is available only in English and only in one service. Yet, it is that second paragraph that is so in line with the reform movement’s advocacy for tikkun olam, repairing the world. Therefore, I want to take a few minutes to explore what is in the contents of this bothersome paragraph.
Oddly, the movement did not object to the words of Torah because it would indicate a literal acceptance of the commandments. Nor did it object because it refuted Torah being the actual word of God. Rather the reform movement has omitted the second paragraph since the 1890s because it saw this as a doctrine of retribution, “divine reward and punishment to human merit and sin”, and according to the committee of Mishkan Tefillah, “an implicit suggestion that sickness or suffering may be God's retaliation, something Reform Jews reject.” Therefore, even when the third paragraph regarding tzitzit was reinserted, thereby embracing some tradition and ritual that the movement had originally discarded, the second paragraph remains mostly missing.
In fact, this paragraph has little to do with ritual or with tradition. It instead embraces a fundamental element of behavior: that with actions come consequences.
In Deuteronomy 11, beginning with verse 13 we read: (Deut 11:13-21)
V'hayah im shamo'a tish'm'u el mitz'votai
And it shall come to pass if you surely listen to the commandments
אֲשֶׁר אָֽנֹכִי מְצַוֶּה אֶתְכֶם
asher anokhi m'tzaveh et'khem hayom
that I command you
הַיּוֹם this day
לְאַֽהֲבָה אֶת־יְהוָֹה אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶם וּלְעָבְדוֹ בְּכָל־לְבַבְכֶם וּבְכָל־נַפְשְׁכֶֽם)
l'ahavah et Adonai Eloheikhem ul'av'do b'khol l'vav'khem uv'khol naf'sh'khem
to love Adonai your God and to serve God with all your heart and all your soul,
V'natati m'tar ar'tz'khem b'ito yoreh umal'kosh
v'asaf'ta d'ganekha v'tirosh'kha v'yitz'harekha.
That I will give rain to your land, the early and the late rains,
that you may gather in your grain, your wine and your oil.
V'natati eisev b'sad'kha liv'hem'tekha v'akhal'ta v'sava'ta.
And I will give grass in your fields for your cattle and you will eat and you will be satisfied.
So far, so good, right? Not really much of a difference between this and the first paragraph with which we are familiar:
V'ahav'ta eit Adonai Elohekha b'khol l'vav'kha uv'khol naf'sh'kha uv'khol m'odekha.
And you shall love Adonai your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
But then it goes on
Hisham'ru lakhem pen yif'teh l'vav'khem v'sar'tem va'avad'tem Elohim acheirim v'hish'tachavitem lahem
Guard yourself, lest your heart be deceived and you turn and serve other gods and worship them.
God is saying 'wait', this may not be as easy as it sounds. Something might get in the way and you might not even realize it as it is happening. It could be hidden. You might be deceived. What could turn us to worship other Gods? The things most people would think of are wealth and power. These things become our focus of worship when they overshadow our ethical behaviors. That is what our childhood stories such as the Midas and the story of Jephtha and his daughter in the book of Judges in Tanakh, warn us against this.
So the paragraph continues:
V'charah af Adonai bakhem v'atzar et hashamayim v'lo yih'yeh matar v'ha'adamah lo titein et y'vulah
And the anger of God will blaze against you, and God will close the heavens and there will not be rain, and the earth will not give you its fullness,
Imagine that, there are consequences if we don’t observe commandments. In this case, loving God means taking care of the items God created. If you receive an heirloom, how do you treat it? If it is a handmade gift, does it not hold special sweetness and deserve deferential treatment? How do we show love for God? By respecting God’s creations, by treating all of creation as an inheritance. The mitzvah of taking care of the earth is Bal (תַשְחִית) Tash-cheet, do not ruin, corrupt, destroy. And, if we do, should we not expect a Consequence?
va'avad'tem m'heirah mei'al ha'aretz hatovah asher Adonai notein lakhem.
and you will perish quickly from the good land that God gives you.
Deuteronomy 11:13-21 speaks about consequences for fulfilling or ignoring mitzvoth. What is problematic about that? Do we not all agree that there are consequences to following or disobeying rules? If you run a red light, you might get a ticket or have your license taken from you. You might cause an accident. You might even perish quickly from the good land. Actions have consequences. The consequences of not taking care of the land we now know are global.
The reform movement has acknowledged the importance of global environmental responsibility since 1965 when the UAHC 48th General Assembly wrote, “Water and air pollution are all too common in areas of major population concentration. Our forests have been neglected and we have not reseeded fast enough to keep up with anticipated needs. Our clean, fresh water supplies and mineral resources are being exhausted by industrial and population growth.” And called upon the government quote, “to extend its leadership in conserving and developing America's natural resources.”
In 1979, the 55th General Assembly of the UAHC declared "it is increasingly evident that the development of a fair, just and effective energy policy is essential to the economic and social well-being of our country, to our national security, to the maintenance of an independent United States foreign policy and to world stability."
In 1991, the assembly advocated for “greater efficiency in transportation”, “development of alternative energy sources and … opposition to the further expansion of nuclear energy until the unanswered questions regarding safety and disposal of nuclear wastes are satisfactorily resolved.” They opposed off-shore and environmentally unsound drilling and called for assistance to low-income wage earners so that during the development of sound energy policies, they would not need to choose between food and heat.
And, by 2009, the 70th general assembly declared, “Climate change is fundamentally a social justice issue that marries our mandate to be good stewards of the earth with our call to care for the least among us.”
Now the Jewish community, like many minority communities, is highly sensitive to the communal doctrine. If Klal Yisrael benefits all its members, it also means being responsible for one another and suffering collectively, as well. The latter we know only too intensely. The falling of rain in the correct season implies communal concern for communal consequences, for while I have seen it rain on one side of a street and not the other, even in front of my house but not in back, we know that that is not the norm. Environmental damage by a single individual may indeed affect an entire populace.
If we believe in a God of justice, and on these holidays, even more in a God of mercy, then we need to be mindful of showing God’s existence in this world by being just and responding with mercy to all of life: humanity, the creatures that live alongside us, and the living earth.
The second paragraph of the Shema concludes, “Set these words on your heart and on your soul, and bind them as a sign on your hand and between your eyes. And teach them to your children, speak of them when you sit in your house, when you walk about, when you lie down and when you rise up. Write them on the doorpost of your house and your gates, that your days and the days of your children in the land promised to your ancestors, may be as numerous as the days of the heavens on the earth.”
We read responsively from our handouts, page 14, Social Action
A Prayer for Social Action by Rabbi Jack Reimer
We cannot merely pray to God to end war;
For the world was made in such a way
That we must find our own path of peace
Within ourselves and with our neighbor.
We cannot merely pray to God to root out prejudice;
For we already have eyes
With which to see the good in all people
If we would only use them rightly.
We cannot merely pray to God to end starvation;
For we already have the resources
With which to feed the entire world
If we would only use them wisely.
We cannot merely pray to God to end despair;
For we already have the power
To clear away slums and to give hope
If we would only use our power justly.
We cannot merely pray to God to end disease:
For we already have great minds
With which to search out cures and healings
If we would only use them constructively.
Therefore we pray instead
For strength, determination, and will power,
To do instead of merely to pray
To become instead of merely to wish;
That our world may be safe,
And that our lives may be blessed.
May we be so mindful of God’s blessing, the gift of this earth, and may we become proper managers of the landlord’s property, for as Ecclesiasties Rabbah (7:13) reminds us, if we fail to do so, there will be nobody after us to repair our damage.