Parashat Mishpatim

Humans as Co-Creators

People cannot be proprietors over nature--they are not even absolute masters of their own creations.

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People, the yetzirah-creators, according to the teaching of halakhic Judaism, are responsible to God, the beri'ah-Creator, not only for the raw material of the natural world into which they were placed, but also for protecting and enhancing the civilization which they themselves created.

No matter how extensive and ingenious humanity's scientific and technological achievements in the transformation, conquest, and improvement of nature, people cannot displace the rightful Owner who provided the material in the first place. And not only do people not have proprietorship over raw nature, they are not even the absolute master of their own creations, the results of their magnificent yetzirah.

They may not undo what they themselves did, for once having done it, it belongs to the Owner and not to the artisan. People must never entertain the notion that because they labored over their own creations, they have the right to destroy them, to repeal their creativity. They remain paid trustees over their very own products and must guard and watch over them with the greatest care.

Suggested Action Items:

1. To realize your responsibility as custodian of God's world, make a habit of cleaning up a bit of litter on the street each day. Alternatively, organize a neighborhood clean-up day. As you invest time and energy, remind yourself that you are fulfilling God's intention for humans to guard and protect creation.

2. When building a house or other structure, keep in mind that the ultimate result is not entirely yours, and make sure that it is environmentally friendly.Click here for more information.

3. Find out where you can safely dispose of electronic devices and batteries. The use of these objects of human ingenuity and craftsmanship places on you the responsibility to dispose of them carefully. In Israel used batteries may be brought to any government office such as the Interior Ministry or the Absorption Office. In the United States, you can find information about battery recycling and other hazardous materials here.

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Rabbi Norman Lamm

Rabbi Norman Lamm, Ph.D., served more than a quarter of a century as President of Yeshiva University and of its Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. He is the author of The Shema: Spirituality and Law in Judaism and Seventy Faces: Articles of Faith.