Beliefnet
Truths You Can Use

Protecting our planet is not just a scientific or political issue. It is a religious, spiritual imperative. We find this truth embodied in three core Jewish values. 

jewish earth day

1. The first is captured in the Hebrew phrase l’dor v’dor: the imperative that we pass on our earth “from generation to generation.” This imperative goes back all the way to Adam and Eve.               

The Bible tells us that God placed Adam in the Garden of Eden to “till and tend.” The Hebrew words have specific connotations. The Hebrew word for “tend” is used Jewish law to imply a legal sense of guardianship.

In effect, God has made us trustees of the earth. Part of our obligation is to keep it in good condition for the benefit of future generations.

2. The second critical value is bal tashchit. In Hebrew  that means “do not destroy.” It is a religious value that also goes back to the Bible.

In the book of Deuteronomy, the Israelites were specifically commanded not to destroy the fruit-bearing trees of an opposing city when in battle. The sages saw this law as an example of a broader imperative. They extended it to peacetime as well as war, other objects as well as trees.

The broader imperative is this: We don’t have a right to destroy anything of potential human benefit, even if it is our own property.

Why I Never Throw Anything Out

How might this work in our lives? Let’s say we are moving, and we have a usable table and chairs that we don’t really need any more. We might think we can dispose of it as we would wish.

Jewish law, however, tells us that we may not. We are obliged to seek its further usage—by giving it away or selling it—rather than destroying it. To destroy it would violate our role as stewards of what ultimately belongs not to us, but to God.

3. The final critical value is shomrei adamah, which means “guardians of the earth.” As human beings, we are endowed with great power. Unlike other animals, we can manipulate nature. This has enormous benefits: technology, buildings, civilization. But it also has dangers: war, pollution, disease.

With our enormous power comes significant responsibility. Foremost among them is sustaining our world. That means we have the responsibility to do what we can to conserve energy. That means we have the responsibility to speak out for laws that curb waste and pollution.

A Child Will Lead Us

In so many ways, our children are leading us in this area. I was amazed and inspired by a student at my synagogue. Compelling by this issue, she implemented a recycling program in her high-rise building.

It was an enormous undertaking. She had to get other residents on board, work with the management company, order recycling bins, coordinate the pick-up, and make sure it became self-sustaining. She did it.

Ultimately, a Jewish view of environmental responsibility demands action and humility. We know that the world is not wholly ours to bend to our will. Rather, it is something given to us in trust for future generations.

Rabbi Moffic’s New Book, Wisdom for People of All Faiths, is available now.

Running the Boston Marathon is a dream of mine. It’s the nation’s oldest marathon, a symbol of endurance in the city of American freedom. Yesterday terrorists turned that symbol and city it into a day of desperation and death.

We know how to cope with tragedy. We survived 9/11. But that truth does not help us make sense of it.

Running a marathon is not easy. It demands certain qualities of character. Those same qualities can help us today. They give us perspective and coping tools for the days and weeks ahead. They include the following

1. Persistence: The strength to run a marathon does not come instantly. It develops through rigorous training day after day.

We have to persist in living. It’s a lesson Israelis, who today celebrate 65 years of independence, know well. Life demands caution and awareness, to be sure, but not abandoning the race. Even when we feel like quitting, we persist in living.  We persist in our daily routines.

2. Replenishment: Runners need to stop for water. Their bodies demand it.

As runners in life, we need time to grieve. We need to replenish ourselves with friends, family, and prayer. The explosion struck not only Boston. They reverberate even here in Israel.

Before we head back with persistence, let us take time to replenish. Our heart and souls need the nourishment.

3. Endurance: A sprint is different than a marathon. A sprint requires a burst of energy. A marathon requires pacing, careful breathing and focus. So does coping with tragedy.

4. Hope: A favorite Hasidic story always brings me comfort in times of tragedy: Rabbi Nachman of Braslov told it two hundred years ago.

He once saw a man whose house had burned down. The man had been crying terribly about his losses.

Now he began looking through the rubble, finding bits and pieces of wood or metal to start rebuilding. One by one he made a pile of pieces.

Rabbi Nachman said, “See how he is collecting pieces to rebuild. So it is with our spiritual lives. Even when we think there is no hope, we are already collecting pieces to rebuild.”

God will give all of us–the victims and their families, and all who mourn with them–the strength to pick up the pieces and rebuild. 

Rabbi Moffic’s New Book, Wisdom for People of All Faiths, is available now.

The standard Jewish toast is L’Chayim, to life! Yet, during its last 65 years, the Jewish state of Israel has experienced a disproportinate share of death. 25,578 people have died as a result of war and terrorism.

This fact headlines the newspapers today in Israel. It is Yom HaZikaron, Memorial Day, where fallen soldiers are remembered in ceremonies around the country.

yom hazikaron

What is Unique About Israel

This day in itself is nothing unusual. Most countries have a Memorial Day. Yet, as we the sun sets on Memorial Day, the country begins Independence Day! Streets fill with people preparing to watch fireworks and celebrate their freedom and independence in a sovereign nation.

Why the rapid transition? Is it psychologically healthy? Shouldn’t we have room to mourn our losses before celebrating our victories?

The rapid shift proclaims an audacious message. Only when we acknowledge death can we fully appreciate gift of life. Remembering our loved ones reminds us of the imperative to live.

The Courage to Rejoice

In this regard, Jewish tradition echoes beautiful words of playwright Thorton Wilder, “All that we can know about those we have loved and lost is that they would wish us to remember them with a more intensified realization of their reality. What is essential does not die but clarifies. The highest tribute to the dead is not grief but gratitude.”

In other words, we remember by living. Our lives proclaim the faith that those we loved live on through us. Or, as Kierkegaard put it, “It requires moral courage to grieve; it requires religious courage to rejoice.”

Every Israeli secretly wants to be Indiana Jones. Archaelogy is the national  pastime in Israel. Yet, archaeologists and their discoveries often find themselves at odd with traditional Jews.

indiana jones religion

Their finding put into questions foundational parts of faith like the accuracy of the Exodus from Egypt, and the details of the life of Abraham.

Putting aside these questions these questions of doctrine and history, I think archaeologists have a great deal to teach us about the meaning and living of faith. It is not so much in what they discover. It is in how they work.

 1. Attention to detail: On my recent trip to Israel, we participated in a dig of ruins from 150 BCE, during the time of the Maccabees. We were digging through the equivalent of ancient garbage dump.

Yet, every shard of pottery; every bone; and every piece of charcoal was placed in a bucket and put aside for analysis. We have no idea what secrets they might unveil.

The great architect Mies Van Der Rohe once said “God is in the details.” Archaeology teaches the same truth.

 2. Patience: The Maccabean dig has been going on for 12 years. It will continue for at least another decade. By then we might know something new and important. Archaelogy does not yield instant gratification. Neither does faith.

3. Separating what is important: After the shards of pottery are hauled up from the underground caves, archaeologists sift through each of them, searching for distinguishing features that can help make sense of daily life. Out of the hundreds of thousands of artifacts, they pick out what helps illustrate a broader truth.

The same process happens in the life of our spirits. We sift through our daily experiences, looking for what helps us make sense of our lives and purpose. Faith serves as a filter, helping us discern what is important and what is not.

4. Looking at the big picture: Archaeologists do not gather artificacts simply to record what happened. They gather in order to understand the forces and habits that shape human life.

They work within a framework of principles. Their basic principle is that what people leave behind helps us understand the way they lived. By understanding the way they lived, we better appreciate our own heritage, and we can find lessons that will help us sustain our culture and values

A life of faith also looks at the big picture. We do not engage in prayers or rituals just because some person or some book tells us to do so. We pray and act because we believe we are part of something larger than ourselves. We live within a bigger picture whose artist is God.

 5. Faith that it matters: Archaeologists do not attend a special church. They are not generally looking to find proof of God. Yet, they share a faith that the past has meaning. They share a conviction that the remains of the past matter to the people in the present.

The archaelogist who led our dig shared his faith with passion. He has brought over two million non-archaelogists–mostly teenagers–on digs throughout Israel. He has devoted his life to helping people connect with the past.

This faith helps guide him through the hours of digging and sifting and recording seemingly mundane details. He knows they matter.

A similar conviction guides people of faith. We share what we love with others. We sacrifice our time, our energy and our resources for something larger than ourselves.

We know what we say and do matters, even if we cannot prove it to everyone’s satisfaction. Like archaeology, faith does not always show us something new. Rather, it reveals the hidden beauty all around us.

Rabbi Moffic’s New Book, Wisdom for People of All Faiths, is available now.