Parashat Ha'azinu

The Heavens & Earth Bear Witness

Nature can tell us a lot about our ethical and spiritual situation.

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Ethical & Spiritual Concerns

Second, a society that destroys the environment is one that lacks any sensitivity towards future generations. Of itself, it espouses the philosophy 'eat and drink, for tomorrow we shall die,' while abandoning its children to an unknown future.

It should be emphasized, however: it is not inherent that a society that takes pains to protect its environment will expand these efforts to its spiritual vision as well. On the contrary, it is possible to envisage a situation in which a society becomes addicted on a broad scale to the protection of its resources and environment, specifically out of a fear of, and an escape from, spiritual visions and a connection with the Divine. Protection of the environment may turn into a modern form of idolatry, precisely because of its focus on the real and tangible world, and its disconnect from a holy and pure life of faith.

That said, it is nonetheless true that the spiritual and moral stance that regards itself as responsible for the image of the world and the protection of the Earth is an appropriate foundation for the building of a truly spiritual world. The opposite is also true: we may find a moral and just society that does not see the need to protect the quality of its environmental life. There is usually, however, a connection between the character of society and its attitude towards its surroundings.

Testimony of the Heavens

We have dealt until now with the Earth, but these sentiments are also true with regard to the Heavens. When attempting to discern the character of a society by looking to its skies, several issues are of relevance. Of these we will mention three.

First and foremost: the ever-widening hole in the ozone layer, which testifies more than anything else to the character of Western society. Production methods and unbridled consumerism are today infecting the awakening giant--China, as well as its neighbor, India, and the world in which we live is entering an insane, materialistic rat race. The destruction of the atmosphere bears very real testimony to what is currently happening, as well as testimony to the character of the society in which we live and through which we develop.

The second issue is rainfall, which is heavily influenced by humans' actions on the Earth, such as deforestation and global warming. Drought, too, has a new facet--it is now also a consequence of human action, and can be avoided in part by adopting a better relationship towards the universe. The connection between man's ethical lifestyle, and rainfall, is truly a fascinating topic; not as a supernatural miracle, but as the direct and straightforward connection between over-consumption and scarcity of rainfall.

Thirdly, in a place farther away from us, but still one that is beginning to bear significance with regard to our destiny, the seeds of another catastrophe are being sown: the chaos taking place today in outer space. Experts claim that space is filling up with filth: satellite parts, waste, etc. This stuff, known as orbital debris or space junk, is becoming an integral part of space, with the Heavens once again bearing witness to the faulty character of humankind's activity in our world.

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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.