Parashat Emor

Our Relationship to Other Creatures

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

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Today scientists have begun to discuss biodiversity in terms of "webs." What used to be called the 'food chain'  is now called the 'food web' because the amount of cross-links makes the whole thing more properly resemble a web than a simple linear chain. 

As we begin to understand how much more complicated and involved relationships between organisms are than what was thought, cause and effect are no longer unidirectional or even bi-directional, but can be circular, recursive, and be described by many different mathematical models.

The more we learn about biodiversity, the more we begin to see its overall importance in strengthening every kind of ecosystem against disturbances. Diversity brings stability to an ecosystem because the more species diversity that exists, the more possible adaptations and therefore the higher chance that more variations will persist as time goes on.

David began to understand this lesson when he saw the spider weaving a protective web across the cave, sheltering him from damaging intrusions. So too, in every ecosystem each species is responsible for its own part of the "web" that can support boundaries in the system against intrusions.

We have a far greater understanding today of the importance of every living thing. Each of us is required, on both a personal and religious level, to take actions that reduce our impact on our ecosystems.

The two Torah commandments that directly apply to species diversity might be rare to come by. After all, how often do we see a bird hovering over eggs in its nest and how often are we in charge of which cows get ritually slaughtered?

While most of us do not have the opportunity to perform many of the mitzvot related to species preservation, we cannot fool ourselves into thinking that species diversity preservation is beyond our reach. We can each take actions in our everyday lives to protect the earth's biodiversity, and adhere to God's general commandment to honor the importance of all that God has created.

Suggested Action Items:

1. Reduce your use of pesticides and fertilizers in lawn care. These often run off of lawns into adjacent lakes and streams with adverse effects for the plants and animals living there. Click here and here for lawn care advice.

2. Use environmentally-friendly products for cleaning. This reduces chemical contamination of habitats both during manufacturing and when those chemicals go down the drain. Visit Canfei Nesharim's web-based store to buy environmentally-friendly cleaning products.

3. Purchase sustainably harvested seafood. Many seafood, though delicious, are not harvested sustainably, either for the individual species itself or for those species that are unlucky enough to be ensnared as "by catch." Some trawlers destroy extensive seafloor habitat in the process of catching fish. See the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch for a better understanding of how your favorite seafood fares.

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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.