The Environmentally Conscious Jewish Home
For Jewish families, caring for the environment could be part of a wider consciousness of living in a world that is a divine gift.
Alongside the obvious benefit of sustaining the planet, the environmentally conscious home provides its occupants with a sense of accomplishment and even pride in personally doing something that will maintain, even better, one's world. For the believing Jew, this feeling of wellbeing should be all the more gratifying, for preserving the planet is not an end in itself, but part of a greater plan that encompasses the whole of one’s existence. This greater plan is laid out in Jewish law, based in the Torah. One may feel doubly rewarded by the overall satisfaction of living a life of mitzvot [commandments], and, within this context, living an environmentally sound existence.
Four principles guide those living in an environmentally conscious Jewish home. These principles reflect this modern day reality, where is no such thing as a free lunch, for the planet does not have an endless supply of resources.
The first principle originates in Shabbat observance: The Fourth Commandment, which begins "Remember the Shabbat day and keep it holy," deals with the issue of limited resources and the need for restraint. Shabbat is the day when G-d called a halt to His creative exertions. Just as God ceased His exertions on that day, so you shall cease yours. Just as at the end of the first week, God stopped expending His energy, so you will now do likewise.
In essence, the Jew remembers Shabbat by mirroring or copying God's restraint. Importantly, this "remembering" is an active rather than a passive process. Thus on Shabbat, the traditionally observant Jew actively reduces his/her "energies" by not driving and by not turning on electric lights. Significantly, the obligation is not limited to the individual; but rather is incumbent upon all those who would be home on the Sabbath -- family members and servants and work animals alike.
While the Sabbath is celebrated for one day, it is not meant to be an isolated point in time and space but rather a frame of reference for the entire week. This notion that Shabbat's influence is to be felt throughout the entire week is clearly seen in the opening of the Song of the Day (recited daily during the morning service): "Today is the first, second, third day of the Shabbat." The Song of the Day emphasizes that what one does on Shabbat is but an example of what one will do during the entire week.
Just as one cuts back on using electricity, gas and oil on Shabbat, so should s/he continue to do so during the rest of the week. Stated differently, the Sabbath is not an end, but a means for getting the Jew to reduce his/her use of energy-consuming products and services. Refusal to follow God's lead in reducing our demands on the world is fraught with dire consequences: "See My works, how fine and excellent they are! Now all that I have created, for you have I created it. Consider this and do not destroy and desolate My world, for if you corrupt it, there is no one to set it right after you"(Midrash Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7: 13).
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