Printed from


Thursday, 19 February, 2015 - 10:50 am

For weeks, a six-year-old lad kept telling his first-grade teacher about the baby brother or sister that was expected at his house.

Finally, one day the mother allowed the boy to actually feel the movements of the unborn child. The six-year-old made no comment. Furthermore, he stopped telling his teacher about the impending event.

The teacher sat the boy on her lap and said, "Tommy, what happened to that baby brother or sister you were expecting at home?"

Tommy burst into tears and confessed, "I think Mommy ate it!"

After the thrilling, nation-defining events at Mount Sinai,  our weekly Torah portion Terumah now turns to a fascinating aspect of the Jewish people’s story.

Until now, we have seen G-d as the Creator, and Guiding Hand in His people’s destiny. We have seen Him as Liberator, as Judge, Teacher and Law-giver. 

Now, it’s G-d as Interior Decorator. 

The Torah discusses the design and construction of the Tabernacle in astonishing detail.

The Midrash says: If a person seeks to build his home using the wood of a fruit-bearing tree, he is told: When the King of all Kings, to whom everything belongs, said to make the Tabernacle he said to only bring wood from trees that do not bear fruit. In our case, where we do not own the world, how much more should we refrain from using fruit-bearing trees?!

This Midrash seems to pose a challenge to the rest of the narrative. The entire Jewish people pitched in to donate the materials for the Tabernacle, contributing of only their finest possessions. Gold, silver, and copper were used in abundance; the walls were constructed of a gorgeously hued acacia wood; various wools were joined together to form a roof over the entire structure.

But in the midst of all this divinely mandated opulence, we see a surprising touch of conservationism: Mind the trees! What are we to make of it?

The Midrash tells a story that occurred at the beginning of creation:

At the time the Holy One created Adam, the first human, He guided him around all the trees of the Garden of Eden. He told him: "See my works; how beautiful and magnificent they are. Everything I have created; I have created for you!

"Be careful that you do not ruin and destroy my world, because if you ruin it, there is no one to repair after you."

Man, in the Jewish view, is not only the master but also the guardian of Nature. A guardian is entrusted with property that does not belong to him. His task is to take charge of it and eventually return it to its owner intact.

The Talmud relates a beautiful story:

A wise holy man named Choni was journeying on the road and saw an old man planting a carob tree.

"How long will it take for this carob tree to produce fruit?" asked Choni.

"Oh, it will be about seventy years until fruit grows from this tree," answered the old man.

"Seventy years?" exclaimed Choni. "Are you sure that you will still be alive to enjoy the fruits of this tree?"

"No" replied the old man, "I will not be alive at the time. However, I found carob trees in the world. Just as my forefathers planted them for me, so too, I am planting this carob tree for my children."

This story highlights our duty to plant for the next generation so that the benefits from nature, which we gained in our lifetime, can be enjoyed by the following generations. In Judaism, concern for the future is imperative.

Are we owners or custodians of the world? The answer is the typical Jewish answer: Both are true. Our rights over the planet are no different than our duty to preserve the planet. The two are, in essence, one and the same.

The Mishnah says: Man was created to serve G-d, and a major part of our service to G-d is to employ His creation and unite it with its Divine source.

This insight has been articulated by the great 11th century Jewish philosopher, Rabbi Yehuda Halevi, in his book The Kuzari. There are four levels in creation: The inanimate, like water and earth; vegetation; the animals, which have an emotional consciousness; and human beings, who have both a rational mind, to reason, reflect and wonder, and also the free will to act as we see fit.

G-d set up the world to move in a state of ascension: Each lower category serves the one above it. First there is the earth. Then, when watered, it sprouts forth grass, shrubs, plants, fruits, vegetables. Earth and water, part of the lowest category of existence, serve the botanic world—they nurture and are absorbed in the bushes and trees.

The second category, the botanic kingdom, serves and is absorbed by the third category, the animal kingdom. Animals derive their primary nutrition from growing substances.

The third category, the animal kingdom, serves the fourth and highest category—the human being. In the words of G-d to Adam and Eve: "Fill the earth and subdue it, and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over all the beasts that tread upon the earth."

Each level is inherently designed to serve and facilitate the level above it. This is engrained into the workings of nature. But at the fourth level we reach a dead-end: What becomes of everything once it climaxes in man? Judaism grants us the ultimate answer for the healing of our entire planet. We are charged with the mission of serving the fifth dimension of reality—the Divine Creator, the source of all of the categories of existence. By virtue of having minds and free choice, we are the only beings who can discover and choose to serve the fifth dimension—G-d. We are the only ones able to transcend our natural egos and touch the Divine.  All other forms of existence are pre-programmed; they act out of instinct. A human being, who can look up to heaven both physically and conceptually, has the ability of self-transcendence, of realizing G-d and dedicating his or her life to the service of the Almighty.

When each level serves the one above it, and the highest, man, brings them all back to their singular source in G-d, he thereby justifies all of existence.

How does one climb to the fifth level? Just as it took tremendous sacrifice for the cow to become "human," it takes tremendous sacrifice for the human to become "G-dly." We must work very hard on ourselves, to challenge our brute nature, to refine our emotions, to dedicate our lives and resources to the service of G-d through everything we do. When we do all this, we are sublimating our superficiality to the core of all existence.

So do we have a right to destroy the environment? Absolutely not. But if we are using the environment for our service and connection with the Divine, we are not destroying it, but sublimating it, allowing it to be reunited with its source.

A wave is riding along the ocean having a grand time. As it draws near the shore, it notices the waves ahead of it crashing against the shore.

"My G-d," it breathes, "this is terrible. Look what’s going to happen to me."

Along comes another wave and asks, "Why are you so sad?"

"You don’t understand," says the first wave. "All of us are going to be nothing in a few moments. Isn’t it terrible?"

"No. You don’t understand," replies the second wave. "You are not a wave. You are part of an ocean."

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky


There are no comments.