Parashat B'hukotai

The Blessing of Rain

We must pray for beneficial rain, and then follow through with environmental action.

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Impacting large urban areas like Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Toronto, this new reality is also quite pronounced in Israel. In a matter of decades, a near-continuous urban settlement will stretch from the northern coast to the southern coast, from Nahariya to Tel Aviv to Ashkelon to Gaza. Another urban belt extends for miles north, south, and east of Jerusalem.

Travel to any population center in Israel today and you will see the massive infrastructure work being done on roads and highways, adding more impervious paving to a land that is already living at the edge of a water crisis. Israel's water resources are so limited (and disputed) that we cannot afford to deprive the coastal and mountain aquifers of precious rainwater.

Prayer & Action

Today we have an unbelievably complex understanding of how the earth's systems work, and how we impact them. In viewing the connection between humans and the environment through scientific analysis and statistics, we must be careful not to forget the true lesson of B'hukotai--God has created the world in such a way that, when we contradict God's will by living out of balance, our lives are thrown out of balance in response.

Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi Ashlag, a leading kabbalist of the 20th century, wrote that God established the laws of nature in the world, and a person or society that transgresses one of these laws will be punished by means of nature. He likens nature to a judge God established to punish those who violate the laws of nature.

We see from this that we cannot ignore the connection between our actions and the physical conditions which surround us. Scientific explanations of storm patterns, aquifer absorption, and rain toxicity should not obscure the influence of the Infinite One. Rather, they reveal to us the true greatness of Divine wisdom, and confirm that we really are obligated to live in balance with and be stewards of God's Creation, as the Torah requires.

Praying for beneficial rain and then ignoring the problems of global warming and unchecked urban development is like praying for good health and then continuing to eat poorly and smoke a pack of cigarettes a day. We are acting against our own expressed interests when we excessively burn fossil fuels and contribute to unchecked urban expansion.

Our prayers for beneficial rain are extremely important, and our actions should be consistent with the emphasis of our prayers. We must live as earnestly as we pray. Praying for rain is a beginning, but we must follow through by acting on the awareness that we now contribute to bringing either rains of blessing or destructive storms and water shortages. By doing so, we can give our children the gift of a world that is blessed, as God promises, with rains of abundance, prosperity, and peace.           

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Jonathan Neril

Jonathan Neril is the project manager of the Jewish Environmental Parsha Initiative. He is a rabbinical student in his fourth year of Jewish learning in Israel. He received an MA and BA at Stanford with a focus on global environmental issues.