Author Archives: Rabbi Yuval Cherlow

Rabbi Yuval Cherlow

About Rabbi Yuval Cherlow

Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Hesder Petach Tikva, is a graduate of Yeshivat Har Etzion and a retired major in the IDF. Rabbi Cherlow was amongst the founders of the Tzohar Foundation, a central Modern Orthodox foundation which works to build bridges between the religious and secular worlds.

The Heavens & Earth Bear Witness

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“Give ear, O Heavens, and I will speak,

and may the Earth hear the words of my mouth (Deut 32:1).”

The Heavens do not know how to listen, and the Earth cannot hear that which the Creator has spoken. So how are we to understand Moses’ call to the cosmos, “Give ear, O Heavens, and I will speak, and may the Earth hear the words of my mouth” at the beginning of the Torah portion Haazinu?

Some commentaries interpret the call to Heaven and Earth as a call to become tools of the Creator for the realization of His intentions (eg, Rashi). Other commentators explain that Heaven and Earth bear witness simply by virtue of their eternal existence. They need not make any active effort in order to listen, since their actual existence is in fact their means of hearing (eg, Nahmanides).

The profound and constantly increasing awareness of environmental issues and of the awesome responsibility we bear towards the Earth and its atmosphere afford us a special opportunity to contemplate the testimony given by Heaven and Earth.

Consumerism Gone Wild

Heaven and Earth bear witness, in fact, to the character–in the general sense–of the society we are building, since they constitute the basic structure of the universe. The Earth testifies to how we live our lives. An appropriate attitude towards the Earth begins with a great sense of humility in the face of reality.

While we were commanded to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the land and subdue it (Genesis 1:28),” this conquest does not mean sucking the Earth dry and exhausting nature’s treasures. It refers rather to a control and mastery of the world that is guided by knowledge of our responsibility to use it to realize the full potential of everything and everyone that exists in our world.

The failure to protect the environment serves as a very powerful testimony to a number of extremely basic issues. First, it exposes a society driven by consumerism and greed, one which knows no fulfillment, and does not know how to restrain itself from exhausting the pleasures of this world. This can be seen as the root of the verse found later in our parashah, “Jeshurun became grew fat and kicked (Deut. 32:15).”

A Land Flowing With Milk & Honey

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One of the best-recognized descriptions of the land of Israel is "a land flowing with milk and honey (Deut. 31:20)." This description immediately conjures up a picture of a rich, fertile, and desirable land–but what do the words actually mean, and what environmental implications are alluded to in this expression?

We start with the interpretation of the Talmud, which interprets the words zavat halav udvash, (flowing with milk and honey) as "milk flows from the goats’ (udders), and honey flows from the dates and the figs (Ketubot 111b)." For a pastoral people, this indeed must have been an inviting description of the land. The goats were a source of milk as well as meat, and were very prolific. In biblical times, goats were a reflection of wealth.

The Ban on Small Livestock

How surprising then that in the land of milk and honey the Jewish sages later instituted a ban on the raising of small livestock (goats and sheep) in the land of Israel–at least in the settled areas (Mishnah Bava Kama 7:7).

Rashi, in his commentary on that Mishnah, explains that the reason for the ban against raising sheep and goats in the land of Israel was due to the mitzvah of yishuv haaretz, literally settling the Land, and by extension living there in such a way that will sustain Jewish existence on the Land for an unlimited time. Although very profitable for the owner, sheep and goats are especially destructive to fields and gardens as well as other green areas.

Clearly, in their considerations for making the ban on raising sheep and goats in the land of Israel, the sages were faced with a dilemma. On one hand they needed to consider the economic benefits to those that raised sheep and goats; on the other hand they needed to consider the environmental costs, and the injury to the farmers whose crops were being damaged by them.

The sages, in prohibiting the raising of these small livestock, chose what today might be called the ‘sustainable’ path. They ruled against inappropriate development that yields a quick profit for some but damages others, and causes extensive long-term ecological damage. They determined that this was clearly not the kind of responsible development demanded by the concept of yishuv ha’aretz.

Digging Wells, Conserving Water

Provided by Canfei Nesharim, providing Torah wisdom about the importance of protecting our environment.

The limited resources of the world we live in affect wide spheres of influence. Resources that are more essential and uncompromising have greater potential to lead to conflict and war. In this week’s Torah portion, Toldot, Isaac faces conflict with the Philistines and the people of Gerar rooted in the age-old struggle surrounding the scarcity of water.

The shepherds of Gerar claim, “The water is ours” (Gen. 26:20) and effectively expel Isaac from the area of the well in contention, forcing him to find a new source of water. Contrary to this behavior, the Philistines simply fill up the wells Isaac used with dirt. That is to say, the desires of the Philistines to hurt Isaac as a result of their jealousy toward him brought them to the place where they preferred to destroy their own ability to draw water from the wells in order to attain a political end.

canfei nesharimThe issue of water is one of the most primary issues–perhaps even the largest issue–impacting the environment and more directly and immediately influencing mankind’s current quality of living. Today, we are not merely dealing with a potential environmental crisis that threatens tomorrow’s generations–we face environmental questions that have very concrete and specific ramifications in our own world.

Water is the concern that requires us to directly face the undeniable and harsh realization that the world’s natural resources are critically limited, and that all of creation is dependent on the existence of these natural treasures.

No-War Zone

Our Torah portion can offer some insight into dealing with Israel’s contemporary water crisis. The first teaching is the necessity to remove natural resources from the realm of destruction in times of conflict and war. The fact that the Philistines deliberately filled up the wells of Isaac in order to expel him from their midst reflects the dangers of war and the need to protect natural resources even in times of serious conflict.

The Sin of Sodom and its Impact on Creation

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Two cosmic catastrophes unfold in the book of Genesis. The first, the flood, in which God brings waters down from the Heavens to destroy almost all life. The second, the utter devastation of Sodom and Gomorrah, in which an area previously known as a fertile and lush “garden of Hashem” (Gen. 13:10) becomes a desolate land “that cannot be sown, nor sprout, and no grass shall rise up upon it, like the upheaval of Sodom and Gomorrah…which God overturned in His anger, and His wrath” (Deut. 29:22). 

canfei nesharimOne of the connections we see between these two events is the word the Torah employs in both cases, lihashcheet–to destroy. When God relates to Noah that He will bring the flood He says, “The end of all flesh has come before Me; for the earth is filled with robbery through them; and, behold, I am about to destroy (mashcheetam) them from the earth” (Gen. 6:13).

In the case of Sodom we see the same word applied, “…when God destroyed  (beshachet) the cities of the plain…” (Gen. 19:29). The Torah did not elaborate on the sin of Sodom, but the underpinnings are expressed later in the prophecy of Ezekiel: “Behold this was the sin of Sodom…She and her daughters had pride, excess bread, and peaceful serenity, but she did not strengthen the hand of the poor and the needy” (16:49).

What Did They Do?

The prophet’s description combined with what the Torah reveals to us gives us the following picture: the people of Sodom insisted on preserving their high quality of living to such an extent that they established a principle not to let the poor and homeless reside in their city. Consequently when a destitute person would come seeking help, they would revoke his right to any welfare–public or private! By doing this they figured they would preserve an elite upper class community who would monopolize the profits that the bountiful land offers without having to distribute any revenues to a “lower class” of people.