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ARC Home > Faiths and Ecology > Judaism > Jewish quotations :

Jewish quotations about faith and nature

A fallow deer, released from captivity by the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo.

I often think of the heavens
your hands have made,
and of the moon and stars
you put in place.
Psalm 8

“Even if I knew that I would die tomorrow, I would still plant an apple tree today.” Rabbi Hillel

On seeing creatures that are beautiful or exceptionally well-formed or goodly trees, one says, “Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the universe who has such as these in His world.” If one goes out into the fields or gardens during the month of Nisan [i.e., the spring] and sees the trees budding and the flowers in bloom, he says, “Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who has made Your world lacking in nought and created therein beautiful creatures and goodly trees for the benefit of mankind”. (Maimonides, M T, Berakhot 10:13)

“One’s mercy must extend to all the oppressed. One must not embarrass or destroy them, for the higher wisdom is spread over all that was created: inanimate, vegetable, animal, and human. For this reason were we warned against desecrating food stuVs… and in the same way, one must not desecrate anything for all was created by His wisdom – nor should one uproot a plant, unless there is a need, or kill an animal unless there is a need.” (Tomer Devorah, R Moshe Cordovero).

It happened that a certain person was removing stones from his ground onto public ground when a pious man found him and said, “Fool, why do you remove stones from ground which is not yours to ground which is yours?” The man laughed at him. Some time later he was compelled to sell his field, and when he was walking on that public ground, he stumbled over the stones he had thrown there. He then said, “How well did that pious man say to me, Why do you remove stones from ground which is not yours to ground which is yours?” Tosefta Baba Kama 2:10.

"First, a person should put his house together, then his town, then the world." (Rabbi Israel Salanter, 1810-1883, founder of Lithuania's Musar Movement. Quoted in Voices of Wisdom by Frances Klagstrum.


In other words, the terms “private domain” and “public domain” are not necessarily identical to the concepts “mine” and “not mine.” What was once my private domain might one day not be mine, while the public domain will always remain my domain (from the Jewish Statement on the Environment) Link here for the Jewish Statement.


A Jewish ecology is "not based on the assumption that we are no different from other living creatures. It [begins] with the opposite idea: We have a special responsibility precisely because we are different, because we know what we are doing. Rabbi Harold Kushner, "To Life!" as cited in "Jewish Wisdom" by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin.


The pure righteous people do not complain against wickedness but add righteousness. They do not complain against disbelief but add faith. They do not complain against ignorance but add wisdom.Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook


"Judaism has more than once adapted itself to overcome crises that threatened its very continuation. (E.g. after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in the year 70, and after World War II.) We need to recognize what Jewish tradition can teach about adaptation in the face of impending ecological crisis. More so than anyone else we have stared down destruction and emerged with hope. Regardless of our current situation, hope that we can make the world a better place is a basic Jewish value." Draft Jewish Seven Year Plan, March 2009.


The Jewish Declaration on Nature



When God created the world, so the Bible tells us, He made order out of primal chaos. The sun, the moon, and the stars, plants, animals, and ultimately man, were each created with a rightful and necessary place in the universe. They were not to encroach on each other. “Even the divine teaching, the Torah, which was revealed from on high, was given in a set measure” (Vayikra Rabbah 15:2) and even these holy words may not extend beyond their assigned limit.

“And the Lord took man and put him in the Garden of Eden, to tend it and guard it” (Genesis 2:15). Soon Adam, man, the one creature who is most godlike, gave names to all of creation, as God looked on and approved. “And the name that Adam gave to each living being has remained its name.” (Genesis 2:19) forever. In the Kabbalistic teaching, as Adam named all of God’s creatures, he helped define their essence. Adam swore to live in harmony with those whom he had named. Thus, at the very beginning of time, man accepted responsibility before God for all of creation.

*

The highest form of obedience to God’s commandments is to do them not in mere acceptance but in the nature of union with Him. In such a joyous encounter between man and God, the very rightness of the world is affirmed. The encounter of God and man in nature is thus conceived in Judaism as a seamless web with man as the leader and custodian of the natural world.

*

There is a tension at the centre of the Biblical tradition, embedded in the very story of creation itself, over the question of power and stewardship. The world was created because God willed it, but why did He will it? Judaism has maintained, in all of its versions, that this world is the arena that God created for man, half beast and half angel, to prove that he could behave as a moral being. The Bible did not fail to demand even of God Himself that He be bound, as much as man, by the law of morality …. Comparably, man was given dominion over nature, but he was commanded to behave towards the rest of creation with justice and compassion. Man lives, always, in tension between his power and the limits set by conscience.

Some twenty centuries ago they told the story of two men who were out on the water in a rowboat. Suddenly, one of them started to saw under his feet. He maintained that it was his right to do whatever he wished with the place which belonged to him. The other answered him that they were in the rowboat together; the hole that he was making would sink both of them. (Vayikra Rabbah 4:6).

We have a responsibility to life, to defend it everywhere, not only against our own sins but also against those of others. We are all passengers together in this same fragile and glorious world. Let us safeguard our rowboat – and let us row together.

*

These are selections from the “Assisi Declarations” (from “Faith And Nature – Our Relationship With The Natural World Explored Through Sacred Literature”: Edited by Martin Palmer, Anne Nash and Ivan Hattingh).

Link here to read an interview with ARC's founder, HRH The Prince Philip.


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