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Words to Live By

ECO believes that environmentalism has a deep spiritual basis in many cultures. So below is some eco-inspiration from the Jewish religion!

Ma’ariv aravim: Blessing for the Evening

Blessed are You Oh Lord our God, King of the Universe,
Who forms light and creates darkness
Who makes peace and creates all things.
Who in mercy gives light to the earth
And to them who dwell thereon,
And in Your goodness renews the creation
Every day continually.
How manifold are Your works, O Lord!
In wisdom You have made them all;
The earth is full of Your possessions.
Be blessed, O Lord our God,
For the excellency of Your handiwork,
And for the bright luminaries
Which You have made:
They shall glorify You forever.

Eli, Eli

Shelo yigamer le'olam:
Hachol vehayam, rishrush shel hamayim
B’rak hashamayim, tefilat ha'adam.

Oh Lord, My God
I pray that these things never end:
The sand and the sea, the rush of the waters
The crash of the heavens, the prayer of mankind.

Did you know?

* Stewardship of God's creation has always played a large part in the Jewish religion. In fact, the Jewish holiday of Tu B'Shvat is the Jewish "New Year" of trees, when we recite and remember many of our traditions and laws regarding care for the environment. So now we'll share some of what we share with each other each Tu B'Shvat, which is a reminder of what we should practice year round.

* One commandment describes care for the environment even in the most extreme circumstances. Normal practice in biblical warfare was to destroy food and water sources surrounding a besieged city. But the Torah reads, “When you besiege a city..., you shall not destroy the trees thereof by swinging an axe against them; from them you may eat but you may not destroy them; for is the tree of the field human to withdraw before you?” Deut. 20:19-20. This text becomes the most comprehensive warning to human beings not to misuse their position as masters of the world and its matter by capricious, passionate, or merely thoughtless wasteful destruction of anything on earth. (S.R.Hirsh, 19th c.)

* The human capacity to destroy is tremendous, so we must be very careful in all of our actions. The Jewish tradition provides us with a second principle, Yishuv Ha'aretz, the settling of the land, or in modern terms, sustainable development. This entails careful planning and consideration in the building of our social life, so that we may achieve a just, productive, healthy and sustainable society.

* Some argue that people have been given a license to exploit the earth and its creatures because God gave humans "dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that creeps upon the earth" (Genesis 1:28). However, the Talmudic sages interpret dominion as meaning guardianship or stewardship, being co-workers with God in taking care of and improving the world, not as a right to conquer and exploit animals and the earth. The fact that people's dominion over animals is limited is indicated by God's first (completely vegetarian) dietary regime (Genesis 1:29).

* The origin of Tu Bishvat in the Torah was a time for renewal of our commitment to God and to share the yield of the land with the poor. "Every year, you shall set aside a tenth part of the yield, so that you may learn to revere your God forever." (Deuteronomy 14.22-23)

* Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav said: If a person kills a tree before its time, it is like having murdered a soul.

* The Jewish tradition teaches us that our relations with all things in the world of action can lead us to higher spiritual levels. We realize wasting, pollution, and not actively caring for the environment lead to very ill consequences. By internalizing and acting on the Jewish values of chesed (caring), tzedakah (righteousness), rachamim (compassion), and kavanah (proper intention) we can create and sustain a world in harmony with Being.

* Talmudic story is told about a boy, who saw an old man planting a carob tree. The boy laughed. "Foolish man," he said, "do you think you will still be alive to eat the fruit of this tree?" The old man replied, "I found trees in the world when I was born. My grandparents planted them for me. So, too, I am planting for my grandchildren."

* Again, a tree serves as a metaphor - the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad. It is through our interaction with this tree that we come to be aware of the implications of our actions - of the positive and negative consequences of our acts irrespective of the benefit to us. We must form principles on which to base our actions - ethics of behavior. How can we structure our lives to create the greatest harmony among people, and between people and the environment?

* Jews have a blessing upon seeing Lightning and other natural wonders: Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech ha'olam oseh ma'aseh vereshit. We praise You, Eternal God, Sovereign of the universe, Source of creation and its wonders. We also have a blessing upon seeing the majesty of the ocean: Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech ha'olam she'asah et hayam hagadol. We praise You, Eternal God, Sovereign of the universe, for the life-giving waters of the sea.