Parashat Vayakhel

Ecology & Shabbat

Shabbat gives us an opportunity to stop trying to control the world.

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"…Shabbat is the time man is challenged to cease the activities that represent his control of the world, activities which can lead man to forget the world has a Creator and a purpose…A successful Shabbat allows one to have the correct perspective of man's role in God's world, maintaining an intimate connection with God even while involved in the daily activities that might otherwise build barriers ("Stop and Grow," Darche Noam Newsletter, Spring 5765)."

This message of Shabbat is sorely needed in Western society today. As a New York Times Magazine article commented about lifestyles in the United States, "A nation of remarkably productive, often well-paid workers… are becoming increasingly reluctant to pause from their labors and refresh their souls."

The mentality and lifestyle of doing without regard to being, of transforming the natural world without taking time to reflect on the value of that transformation, is taking an environmental toll on the planet. The society that rests and reflects the least is the same society that extracts and consumes the most. This mastery of the earth without sufficient contemplation of its consequences has produced ecological destruction on the local, regional, and global level.

Air pollution. Species loss. Climate change. These are problems not of the environment, but of a society bent on doing and producing seven days a week. On Shabbat, we are to walk on the earth without asserting our mastery over the earth, in order to acknowledge the sovereignty of the Creator. In this way, we will remember that we are only the custodians of the earth with the responsibility "to work it and to guard it (Genesis 2:5)."

Suggested Action Items:

1. Celebrate Shabbat with clothes made of more environmentally-friendly materials, like organic cotton or wool, hemp, or recycled polyester. This could help remind you on Shabbat of a balanced relationship with the natural world.

2. On Friday, before Shabbat, unplug electric appliances that will not be left on during Shabbat: wireless routers, microwaves, stereos, etc. During the week, get in the habit of only plugging in electrical appliances when you are using them, and unplug them when you stop using them.

3. On Shabbat, think about how you live in the natural world--as a master and consumer, steward and guardian. What do you like about your relationship to the natural world?

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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.