Parashat Re'eh

Time to Clean Up

As we work to clean up the places we live, we pray for Jerusalem to return to her splendor.

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

Our Torah portion begins with the following words:

"Behold I set before you today a blessing and a curse; a blessing if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you this day, and a curse if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside out of the way which I command you this day, to go after other gods, which you have not known. And it shall come to pass, when the Lord your God has brought you to the land to possess it, that you shall put the blessing upon Mount Gerisim, and the curse upon Mount Ebal (Deut 11:26-29)."     

Blessings & Curses in the Environment

While there seems to be no obvious connection in these verses to the quality of the environment, nineteenth century biblical commentator Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch saw a message with deep ecological consequences. He wrote:

canfei nesharim"Gerisim and Ebal are two peaks of the Ephraim range of mountains which still show a striking contrast in their appearance. Gerisim to the south of the valley of Shechem presents a smiling green slope rising in fruit-covered terraces to its summit, Ebal on the north side, steep, bare and bleak, some 2,900 ft. high, slightly higher than Gerisim. The two mounts lying next to each other form accordingly a most speaking, instructive picture of blessing and curse.

They both rise on one and the same soil, both are watered by one and the same fall of rain and dew, the same air breathes over both of them, the same pollen wafts over both of them and yet Ebal remains in barren bleakness while Gerisim is clad to its summit in embellishment of vegetation. In the same way, blessing and curse are not conditional on external circumstances but on our own inner receptivity for the one or the other, on our behavior towards that which is to bring blessing."

Rabbi Hirsch describes how, particularly in the land of Israel, the difference between blessing and curse can be plainly evident in the physical appearance of an environment. In other words, there is a tangible relationship between the spiritual state of the land and its inhabitants and the physical appearance and quality of the environment.

Beauty & Adornment

This relationship, apparently, works both ways. The appearance of the land reflects its spiritual state, and we are required to ensure that areas of the land with higher levels of holiness be kept in appropriately high environmental states. Along these lines, Rabbi Yehuda Shaviv of Israel's Yeshivat Har Etzion writes:

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Rabbi Akiva Wolff is director of the environmental responsibility unit of the Center for Business Ethics in Jerusalem. He also teaches environmental management at the Jerusalem College of Technology--Machon Lev.