Parashat Toldot

Digging Wells, Conserving Water

Now is the time for the Jewish people to respond to regional and global concerns about water scarcity.

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There are many ways to acquire new sources of water. In Israel, one possible solution is to gather rainwater (as opposed to letting it flow to the Mediterranean) in ways that balance the needs of the ecosystem with the human need for more water. Furthermore, we should be investing more effort in preserving an efficient maintenance of the national aqueduct, and at the same time eliminating even more than we already have the waste and negligence which accounts for much lost water.

For example, rather than having an open channel from which water is lost by evaporation, we can use closed tunnels. Additionally, one of the greatest sources for increased water supply is through purification of recycled water--something already done in Israel's agricultural sector. An increased investment in this technology is critical. 

A National Response

Although the ethics for wise and appropriate water consumption practices are not found in our Torah portion, it is nonetheless included in the general prohibition of wanton destruction (bal tashchit). Due to the direct connection between water and life, the conservation of water becomes a halakhic obligation, deriving its source from the laws concerning the mitzvah "You shall not stand idly by while your brothers blood is spilt" (Lev. 19:16), as well as part of the prohibition of bal tashchit.

In Israel's private sector, this could translate into a small yet significant conservation of water: turning off the faucet when not in use, watering plants and gardens only at night, using only landscaping that is appropriate for Israel's dry climate, e.g., no lawns in the desert or golf courses in Israel, water-conserving ways of car washing, requiring efficient and minimized water tanks above toilets, and more.

On an Israeli national and industrial level, the challenge is more complex. First and foremost, there must be a government-led initiative toward proper commercial consumption and water usage, including the establishment of an appropriate price for water that would discourage growth of products that demand exorbitant amounts of water, the management of agricultural consumption and waste of water, and the prudent use of water in the industrial sector.

An International Vision

The water issue in the state of Israel plays out in the international arena in two ways. On one hand, what we see in our Torah portion is also what we see in our newspaper headlines. One of our national existential struggles is our attempt to establish control over the Jordan River's precious sources of water, which are partially found in enemy states.

Geopolitically, our regional neighbors suffer from similar water problems, and the lack of water in our arid region only adds fuel to the already existing political conflagrations, thus contributing to the fears that water sources will be deliberately destroyed or poisoned, or that our enemies will find an additional pretext to attack the state of Israel.

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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.