Parashat Masei

Lessons for Regional Planning

The biblical migrash principle provides a response to urban sprawl.

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In industrialized Western countries, 98% of the population works away from the land, in manufacturing and service jobs. In 2005, the United Nations reported that the majority of people in the world today live in cities.

Migrash as Ideal

As city dwellers, we can certainly grow from internalizing the principle of migrash, even without apportioning an actual green belt. Migrash moderates some of the negative effects of city life, such as the alienation of a person from nature and from the source of the food they eat. That's why migrash comes from the root legaresh, to divorce or separate, because it separates one urban area from another in an attempt to marry Jews to the natural existence God gave them in the land of Israel.

 

Our disconnection from nature is one of the root causes of environmental degradation, causing people to abuse resources, spread pollutants, and plan poorly for the future of our planet. A civilization can radically damage the natural world when it does not see itself as part of that world. Which city residents actually know the river to which their sewage flows during the common occurrence of storm-related flooding?

A society can squander natural resources when it is not aware how it uses them. How many of us know exactly where our electricity is produced and how the plant transports the coal for its production? And when a community does not realize its dependence on certain natural processes (such as the growth of rainforests, the reproduction of fish schools, the flow of clean water aquifers) it is unlikely to prioritize their unhindered continuation.

 

Judaism does not emphasize abstract, quietistic contemplation of God's greatness. Rather, appreciation of God develops from the physical performance of mitzvot in God's world, and leads back to appreciation of God and the world. Thus, restoring our awareness of nature and our place within it will invigorate our efforts to solve environmental problems, inspired by the mitzvot of the Torah.

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Jon Greenberg

Jon Greenberg, Ph.D. received his Bachelor's degree with honors in biology from Brown University and his Master's and Doctorate in agronomy from Cornell University. Dr. Greenberg was a Senior Editor of science textbooks at Prentice Hall Publishing Co. and an assistant professor at the School of Education at Indiana University. He teaches science at Yeshivas Ohr Yosef.