Parashat Naso

Learning From Our Mistakes

We do not need to suffer through devastating consequences in order to learn how to live differently.

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Moreover, our global consumer society has existed for a much shorter period of time, only approximately 60 years. Its environmental impact is without comparison in human history. 

We have an advantage over these ancient societies who degraded their land and ultimately were destroyed. We have the ability to learn from their mistakes, and also from our holy Torah, which teaches us how to protect our resources for ourselves and for future generations.     

The Importance of Foresight

The ordering of Sotah and Nazir in this week's Torah portion teaches us that we can learn from others' mistakes and from the safeguards of our Torah. We do not need to suffer through devastating consequences in order to learn to live differently.

Throughout our history, particularly in exile, the Jewish people have suffered along with other nations through famines, droughts, and other natural disasters, sometimes brought on by poor management of the environments in which those nations lived. Today, living in our own land in Israel, our responsibility is even more intense--to protect our land for our children and grandchildren.

We live in an extraordinarily complex society by all standards in the history of the world. The globalization of our world presents great opportunities, and can insulate us from certain types of problems, because we can rely on people across the planet to provide us with the products that we need.

However, that globalization also makes us vulnerable. Even disasters or political challenges in distant countries can be felt in the costs of our food and energy resources. The complexity of our society also makes our impact on the environment vastly more significant and broad-reaching than earlier cultures. 

Like Joseph, who foresaw the famine of seven years (Genesis 41 and 42) and saved food resources for the "lean" times, we need to adopt a mindset that will take us through not only the good years, but leave enough so that unexpected challenges will not lead to disastrous consequences. We need to restrain ourselves, and to learn from the mistakes of others so that we do not have to experience the suffering of errors that could have been avoided. 

As Jews and as participants in this globalized Western society, we must protect our land and our precious world, so that our children will be able to enjoy the good land and all the resources that God has granted us.

Suggested Action Items:

1. Learn about the environmental challenges we face today, and the long-term consequences of our environmental actions. To get started, visit Canfei Nesharim's links page for a list of recommended environmental science resources.

2. "Going beyond the letter of the law" is sometimes appropriate when it comes to the environment, especially in cases where laws have not caught up to emerging science. One area where this is especially true is in the area of pesticides, so consider buying organic fruits and vegetables. See Consumer Reports on "When it pays to buy organic."

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Evonne Marzouk

Evonne Marzouk is the founder and Executive Director of Canfei Nesharim. She has also worked since 1999 for the Office of International Affairs in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).