Traditional Jews read the entire Bible once a year. Every week a new section of the Torah (Bible) is read and within that portion, Jews try and extrapolate meaning from it and relate it to contemporary events and personal experiences. And of course, they look for ways to be better people. Everyone can see something different in the Torah and it never dates. That's the beauty of it, according to traditional Jews.
The Jewish religion is governed by 613 commandments, and some of them are directly related to environmentalism and the protection of animal rights. Eco-Rabbi (aka Jack Reichert) is a philosophy student who is looking at some of these commandments (mitzvote in Hebrew), and also the weekly readings and giving them green context.
Jack has been looking at the weekly portion and is suggesting what we can learn from it. A few weeks ago, he wrote about "Parashat Hukat" and why the springs suddenly went dry. He writes:
Last week, God took care of the waste in the camp. This week Moses hits the rock. The Israelites had been traveling in the desert for roughly forty years, and Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron, dies. After Miriam dies suddenly the People of Israel lack water. Commentaries explain that in Miriam’s merit a spring followed the Israelites around, miraculously, during their travels. Now that she had passed on, the spring has dried up.
God commands Moses to gather the people in order to show them a miracle. Moses is supposed to speak to a rock and water will flow out of it. When Moses stands up before the people he loses his temper and hits the rock instead, water still flows from the rock but God is angry.
The previous time that the people of Israel did not have water God commanded Moses to hit the rock. But this time God commanded Moses to speak to the rock. God tells Moses that is as a result of his not bringing water in the manner in which he was commanded, he would not be allowed to bring the Israelites into Israel.
We can learn much from this story. Several commentaries extrapolate various educational models from this story, being forceful vs. being pleasant with your students. I believe that we can learn about not just how we should treat students, but how we should treat our land.
At the beginning the Israelites needed water, they were straight out of Egypt and the most important issue was survival. Moses was told to hit the rock in order to extract water. And that was fine.
At this point in the story God has been supporting the People of Israel for almost forty years. They should be able to trust him by now. They should be more mature. And so, it is important for Moses to show the people the path of peace.
At the beginning of the Industrial Revolution it was important to explore our capabilities. It would have been better to do so without destroying everything in our path. But I am not sure if we would have come so far had we been so careful.
Similarly, at this point, hybrid cars are not quite as eco-friendly as we think. The process of building the engine does so much damage to our environment that it almost does not make sense to buy them. But without the technology we would not be able to take the next step: a true eco-friendly car. Now that we have reached a level of maturity we have to learn how to speak to the land, and not hit it. If we cannot learn to do this we will not merit staying on our planet.
More Eco-Rabbi commentary:
Using the Land to Cover Up Our Mistakes
Environmental Torah At Yakar
Eco-Rabbi on Stones and Health
More Jewish and Green on TreeHugger:
Jewish Passover and its Connection to the Environment
Explore the Hebrew Holiday of Shavuot and the Environment
Be A Better Environmental Jew