Parashat Bo

Taking Notice in Our Time

Renewal is possible at every moment.

Print this page Print this page

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

The original Jewish geography, according to our mystical tradition, has three components--Place, Time, and Soul (Olam, Shanah, and Nefesh). These are the basic dimensions in which we exist and interact with our world.

Environmental thought often dwells in the realm of place, as clearly the physical world has inherent ecological import. Therefore, when we read the Torah for its environmental wisdom, we usually look for passages relating to land or material goods.

canfei nesharimIn the Torah portion Bo, however, our attention turns to time: "This month will be to you the head of the months (Exodus 12:2)."  An exploration of this unique mitzvah can reveal profound insights into the Jewish nature of time, and unlock the secret of how the realm of time is also of deep environmental significance.

The First Mitzvah

The commandment to mark the month of Nisan is the very first mitzvah given to the Jewish people as a whole. While still in Egypt the people are commanded to note the month so that they may prepare to observe the first Passover at the time of the Exodus.

This mitzvah is so significant that Rashi's first question on the entire Torah (Genesis 1:1) is: if the Torah is the book of the Jewish people's Divine Law, why doesn't it start with Parashat Bo? We know that it does not; we go through the whole process of the book of Genesis before arriving to this place of mitzvah. But what is so crucial about the awareness of the new month that it holds the significance of being the Torah's first mitzvah?

Conceptions of Time

In some of the environmental movement's writings on religion, what has been called the "Judeo-Christian" conception of time as a linear progression comes under attack. In such a view, history moves towards a culmination of God's plan--the attainment of an ultimate, eternal good, far beyond that which is accessible in this world. Herein, we find our "end."

The conception of time as cyclical is considered primitive, oblivious to the reality of a final, heavenly Truth. One of the tasks of Jewish environmentalism is to grapple with this version of religious belief and question whether Judaism really sees time and nature this way.

We are free to view time as an unstoppable vector moving towards a pre-determined end. But what are we to make of the events and processes along the way? Are they really just means to an end? Certainly not.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Rabbi Shaul D Judelman

Rabbi Shaul David Judelman spent six years in the Bat Ayin Yeshiva Rabbinical program and now teaches at Yeshivat Simchat Shlomo while working on several different environmental initiatives in Jerusalem. He is the founder and coordinator of Simchat Shlomo's Eco-Activist Beit Midrash, a program offering holistic in-depth Torah study around issues of ecology.