Is Mother Nature Jewish? Of course not.

Nature goes beyond religion and theology, but she certainly follows many Jewish values. Judaism believes that when G-d created the world, they gave humans the responsibility to guard it, cultivate it and sustain it.

This stewardship is an obligation of all people to respect the earth and leave it as they found it. But how is this possible with so many different agitators attacking Mother Nature?

Investing in good stewardship may not be related to money or infrastructure; it may mean taking a step back and letting nature drive its own course.

Several weeks ago, on a crisp March morning, I was sitting with my mother in her synagogue. My mother has Alzheimer’s, but she is so excited to be in services. She hums the melodies and greets all the congregants as they trickle in.

There is a giant floor-to-ceiling window next to the Ark, where the Torah scrolls are stored. Since we sit in the back, we had a full view of the trees and flowers about to burst forth in bloom.

This window into nature, whether on purpose or not, connects the congregation’s religious life to Mother Nature. And as we prayed diligently, we saw a deer come up and nestle below one of the trees.

The deer stared intently into the window, probably just seeing her own reflection. She sat patiently, as we did, for two hours (even through the rabbi’s sermon) until the end of the service, when we all departed.

Just at the end, she began licking something below. It was too hard to see, but I hoped it was a newborn fawn, unfortunately adding to the exploding deer population in the suburbs.

Growing up just “outside” the beltway in D.C., I witnessed firsthand the paving over of nature. As Joni Mitchell sang, “They paved paradise to put up a parking lot.”

When my family moved into the suburbs in the late 60’s, there was a farm at the edge of our neighborhood; that lot now houses the headquarters of many companies. Seeing urban areas creep out to the suburbs, week after week, year after year, it has amazed me how much has changed, yet how much stays the same.

The cows are gone, and the fields have mostly vanished, but like the deer at our synagogue, wildlife has reappeared after 50 years and now frequent the street of my childhood home. Foxes slink under the fences of our tightly-packed, semi-urban community.

It is amazing how resilient wildlife and nature can be as things continue to change so fast.

If you can’t tell, I love the wildlife that accompanies my childhood home. Now I live not far away, amid apartment complexes and mixed-use communities, but I too have deer behind the fence of my townhouse.

Mother Nature obviously is resilient, but she can’t do it alone. Responsible zoning, planning and active communities are necessary to keep our natural resources intact.

Two homes side-by-side with a blue sky in the background.

(Photo: Leib Kaminsky)

Case in point: Look what they built last month next to my childhood home (the previous home was an exact replica of ours).

How will this impact the deer and fox sightings? Are we really guarding and sustaining nature, or do other values come into play in our everyday life?

That is why sustainability must be a group effort, communal and based on our values towards nature that we learn through our religious beliefs, science and each other.

One way Judaism incorporates sustainable values is through the Shemitah year. Jewish calendar year 5782 (2021/2022) is known as a Shemitah, or sabbatical year, which occurs every seventh year.

The Torah states in Leviticus 25 that for this year, all Jewish-owned land in Israel must be left fallow and cannot be worked. Anything that grows there should be given away. This gives the land a chance to rest, restore and continue to be “sustainable.”

The land is not relying on business investments or productivity for profit. Simply by doing nothing, the land is conserving its minerals, refreshing its soil and just taking a break.

It is important for land to rest, to rejuvenate back to a more natural state. Mother Nature can be a bit more resilient and refreshed — with a little help from her friends.

On Earth Day, go out and enjoy nature, and observe and encourage ways to take a short rest from everyday progress.

Natural progress can be seen in many ways. Maybe it is not what we develop, or how we develop, but by taking a break that we create more than we may lose.

Editor’s note: This article is part of a series this week calling attention to Earth Day 2022 (April 22). The previous articles in the series are:

Climate Report Notes Emissions Rise, Highlights Key Contributors | Maddie Grimes

The Desert Shall Blossom | James Gordon

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