Parashat B'shalah

Where the Wood Meets Water

We can return on a path of responsible and sustainable stewardship.

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"The Holy One's way is that God sweetens the bitter with bitter (Nahmanides on Exodus 15:25)." The Tanhuma suggests this is also the way of the righteous. Even though the modern environmental situation has reached a point where the waters seem too bitter to drink, B'shalah reminds us of the dictum of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov: "If you believe that you can destroy, then believe that you can build."

The power that major industries and corporations have used to cause environmental destruction can be harnessed to promote a cleaner, healthier future. For example, a recent New York Times article describes how the Clorox corporation sees their acquisition of the well-known eco-minded Burt's Bees line of beauty products as a catalyst to begin an overall "greening" of the household chemical giant.

The energy and tools needed for change are within our reach. We just need the will to utilize them, and deep understanding of that which God has taught us--"Vayorehu Hashem etz."

A distraught father whose son was beginning to stray from the path of his forefathers once brought his son to the Alter Rebbe, Shneur Zalman of Liadi. R' Shneur Zalman asked the boy what he enjoyed doing. The boy responded that he liked riding horses.

"And what qualities do you look for in a horse?" R' Shneur Zalman asked him.

"Speed," the boy replied.

"And what if you are on a fast horse which takes a wrong turn in the road?" the sage continued.

"You can get very lost in a hurry," was the boy's response.

"And what if you turn the horse around?" the elderly sage pressed on.

"You can get back just as fast."

A slight smile crept across R' Shneur Zalman's face as the boy nodded his head, indicating that he understood the Alter Rebbe's message.

If we take the lesson of the bitter waters of Marah to heart we can turn around our horses currently galloping out of control towards oblivion. With the will to return on a path of responsible and sustainable stewardship, using the Etz Hayim, the Torah, as our template, perhaps we too can come back just as fast, and be carried by the sweet waters of our ancestors to a cleaner future.

Suggested Action Items:

1. The Internet is replete with suggestions on how to conserve water. Try starting here to access water saving ideas.

2. Use recycled paper products where possible. Paper and paperboard products constitute the largest portion of municipal solid waste. The greatest energy expenditure in papermaking comes from the pulping process used in virgin paper production.

3. Where possible, buy wood and lumber products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. Like an organic label for food, FSC certification assures consumers that wood products come from responsibly managed forests in which wildlife habitation and clean water are protected by ensuring that logging is done in an environmentally conscious and sustainable fashion.

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Rabbi Shmuel Simenowitz is Executive Director of Project Ya'aleh V'Yavo, Inc.