Parashat Emor

Our Relationship to Other Creatures

There are real actions we can take to preserve species diversity.

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Provided by Canfei Nesharim, providing Torah wisdom about the importance of protecting our environment.

In Genesis, God looked at all that God created and saw that it was very good (Genesis 1:31). Since then, the vast diversity of life on the planet has not gone unnoticed by Jewish Sages. Explicitly because the Torah ascribes God's intention as well as God's satisfaction with the existence of every life form, our rabbis were moved to derive a deep lesson.

The Midrash (Exodus Rabbah 10:1) notes in the name of Rabi Acha bar Rabbi Hanina: "Everything you see as superfluous in this world--like snakes and scorpions--are part of the greater scheme of the creation of the world."

Though most of us are used to a Torah that calls certain categories of animals "not kosher" or "impure," we see from this that, surprisingly, the Torah outlook is actually one of respect and recognition for all creatures. The consequences of such an outlook have important ramifications for biodiversity issues today.

canfei nesharimBiodiversity

The biodiversity of planet earth is severely endangered. Edward O. Wilson, a Harvard University zoologist, estimates that "If we continue at the current rate of deforestation and destruction of major ecosystems like rainforests and coral reefs, where most of the biodiversity is concentrated, we will surely lose more than half of all the species of plants and animals on earth by the end of the 21st century."

Humans benefit from biodiversity in immeasurable ways. For example, many of our most potent medicines come from the plants and animals that God put on this earth: Aspirin from the willow tree; digitalin from the foxglove plant; vincristine, taken from the rosy periwinkle of Madagascar and used to treat childhood leukemia; painkillers from cone snails, snake venom, and frog skin poison.  What if the willow tree had gone extinct? What if the rosy periwinkle had disappeared?

In addition, the wide variety of plant and animal life allows humans to globally nourish and sustain themselves in several different climates. No less important, the splendid sight of differing flora and fauna expands the mind and delights the senses. Billions of dollars are spent each year on tourism to spots with breathtaking views and 'exotic' wildlife such as safaris, coral reefs, and rain forests.

Torah Guidelines for Stewardship

God saw the good in all that God created. And God gave a series of commandments to the Jewish people intended to ensure that man was a proper steward of that which God had created. In this week's Torah portion, Emor, God gives the Jewish people a mitzvah (commandment) that is instructive to today's problem. God prohibits the slaughter of a mother and its calf on the same day--a prohibition often referred to as "Oto V'et Beno (Leviticus 22:28)." 

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Ora Sheinson

Ora Sheinson is an attorney at the New Jersey law firm Patton Boggs. Ms. Sheinson is the Associate Director and Chair of the Jewish Law Committee for Canfei Nesharim.