Repairing the world not an optional task
“When the Holy One created the first man, He took him and led him around all of the trees of the Garden of Eden, and said to him: ‘Behold My works, how beautiful, how splendid they are. All that I have created, I created for your sake. Take care that you do not become corrupt and thus destroy My world. For once you become corrupt, there is no one after you to repair it.’” (Midrash from Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:13)
The earth is a treasure to be enjoyed by all of the citizens inside of it. Many of the citizens of the world are human but all creatures are entitled to the planet and to enjoy it. In recent decades we have engaged in a great political debate about global warming and/or climate change. This battle is one that will continue to rage for some time. While many reject the science behind the theory of climate change they do not reject the basic elements of environmentalism. That is the greater issue in play here. Not so much about whose fault it is that the environment is in the condition it is in but rather what can we all do to make it better.
One of the more often overlooked Jewish Holidays of the year is Tu B’Shevat. It is the birthday of the trees each year. There isn’t any special liturgy for the day nor are there many accepted rituals that the majority of Jewish people observe. It happens to be observed to a much greater degree in the state of Israel than in the Diaspora but it still lacks a certain panache due to its minor status.
For years Jewish educators have employed a certain book to teach the lessons of Tu B’Shevat. That book is The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. I love this book because it talks about relationships. I love it because it recalls the various treasures that trees provide for us each day. I love it because it reminds me a great deal of all of the tree climbing I did as a child. But there is something lacking in this book. It doesn’t live up to the value espoused above in the midrash with which I opened this article. The tree gives and gives and never takes. It gives everything that it has and receives nothing in return aside from love. While at first glance it is a loving book that depicts a relationship between a human and an inanimate, it ultimately depicts the great devastation that can occur when we plunder our natural resources. It also depicts what can happen when love is too one-sided; in all relationships both sides must give and give.
It is for this reason that I have adopted a different book as my book for Tu B’Shevat. It is also a children’s book and one which is quite well known, The Lorax by Dr. Seuss. This books drives home the basic principles of the text above and also the meaning of the day for all of us in the modern Jewish world. I believe that it is all summed up at the end of the book when it is written: ’Now that you’re here, the word of the Lorax seems perfectly clear. UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.’ We must raise communities that see the world as our home and our responsibility to care for. We must raise communities that work to improve our Earth and to fight for its future. The words at the end of The Lorax echo the words from the midrash in that God said to Adam: “Don’t screw this up because if you do there will not be any one to fix it.” Well that was then and this is now. From the outset, we knew that the earth is fragile and needs our active involvement to protect it. From the outset we knew that we need to do everything we can to keep the whole thing going strong. Now as we reflect we see that unless we care and unless we are willing to act, we will be doing damage that can never be reversed.
At this time of the year we reconnect with the “Three R’s” of environmentalism: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. We need to understand that the three are stated in order from most effective to least. We need to reduce our consumption and then we need to find ways to reuse old things and when all else fails we need to recycle all that we can. None of this is revolutionary and none of this is beyond our capabilities. None of this is politics. We all agree that we can do more every day to help make our planet safer and healthier.
Rabbinically Speaking is published as a public service by the Jewish Press in cooperation with the Tampa Rabbinical Association which assigns the column on a rotating basis.