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Part of the world

07/21/2021 11:04:35 AM


There is a tendency for humans to place themselves at the center of the universe; to feel that all of the cosmos and all of creation is at our disposal. We believe that all of these natural resources are there for us to use however and whenever we want, and rarely do we slow down as a society and question if our wants and needs ought to supersede the needs of animals, or even of other inanimate objects. It is almost absurd to think about the needs of a rock or a lake, and whether or not we should place its needs over our own. Do inanimate objects even have needs or rights? Do we have an obligation to protect and maintain their natural state? If we consider entire eco-systems, then it is easier for us to answer those questions in the affirmative. Of course, we should keep rivers clean and prevent deforestation. After all, if the rivers are dirty and trees are cut down, then the animals will suffer and the food chain will be disrupted and our lives will be affected. And we are now back to us humans, the center of our universe.

Judaism asks us to consider things a little differently. With a single Creator who is the source of all of the cosmos, there is a supreme will that supersedes our own. Acting righteously doesn’t just serve our human needs, but rather the needs of the larger universe. To protect and respect the world is to protect and respect God’s works of creation. We protect that same hills and trees, the same forests and rocks that praise God in the psalms. For they too are the works of creation.

But an interesting thing happens when we start seeing the world from a non-human centric perspective. We begin to imagine what the world might look like from God’s perspective. Like Heschel’s famous assertion that it is God who is in search of Man, our sages imagined that just as we reach out and pray to God, God reaches out to connect with humans. And just as we wear tefillin with passages that praise God, the Rabbis imagine that God too wears tefillin that praises his special people Israel. Two such passages in the Divine set of tefillin comes from Parshat V’etchanan, “For what great nation is there that has a god so close at hand as is the LORD our God whenever we call upon Him? Or what great nation has laws and rules as perfect as all this Teaching that I set before you this day?” (Deuteronomy 4:7-8) By wearing these passages, God praises the people of Israel who are agents in fulfilling the Divine will.

This shift in perspective helps us humans recognize our place in the world. Instead of the world being ours to dispose of as we please, we have been chosen to be caretakers for the works of creation. When we praise God, it is easy to forget that God too praises us for our commitment to the Torah and to be custodians of the world. If we can remember that we aren’t the center of the universe, then perhaps we can remember that there is something bigger than humankind. And if we aren’t so preoccupied with what it is that we want and need, then we can make room to consider what are the things that other aspects of nature want and need, and what it is that God wants and needs.  


Sun, July 14 2024 8 Tammuz 5784