This week I was asked to write for the Australian Jewish News what I think should be considered the “11th commandment’ of our Jewish tradition. Coming out of the celebrations of last week’s festival of Shavuot, the 10 commandments were fresh on my mind and I started to consider some of the things that I believe are important and integral to humanity.
The world is currently experiencing a very difficult time. The global pandemic has rippled through our societies and across the world and has caused mass sickness, unemployment, isolation and our first recession in 29 years. While we started the year with such hope, we are in the middle of one of the most difficult years in living memory.
And yet, we just have to look at the state of the planet to realize that as custodians of G-d’s earth we must put in more effort to care for and tend to our environment. Humanity cannot be sustained on an earth that is not being given the care and assistance it needs in order to flourish. As humans, we are part of a fragile ecosystem and we are each required to do our part to ensure that our children inherit a world that is in better condition than when we first came to it.
We are living in a time in which we can clearly see that our planet is at risk. The dynamic interplay between human actions and the way we treat animals and the planet can have catastrophic tangible effects for millions. The 11th commandment is therefore a pledge to understand that we are not receiving another planet and it is our duty to protect and care for the one we have.
Jewish law stresses the importance of respecting our planet. The Midrash is Kohelet Rabbah (7:28) recounts: When G d created the first man, He took him and showed him all the trees of the Garden of Eden, and said to him, ‘See My works, how beautiful and praiseworthy they are. And everything that I created, I created it for you. Be careful not to spoil or destroy My world—for if you do, there will be nobody after you to repair it.
This message relates not just to the planet, but also extends to using earthly resources responsibly. Animals are also an integral part of our vulnerable ecosystem we call earth.
Bereishit Rabba (10:7) says: The Rabbis said: Even though you may think superfluous in the world things such as fleas, gnats and flies, even they are included in the creation of the world. The Holy One has a purpose for everything including snakes, scorpion, gnats and frogs.
I think that the global pandemic has taught us to appreciate that we must care for our planet. In 2020 the world is more interconnected than ever before. As we have learnt, something that occurs thousands of kilometres away can affect the whole world, even in the most remote and far places.
It is our duty to consider the effects of our actions. If we want our children and grandchildren to inherit a world that is in better shape than we entered it, we must protect and reduce our harmful effects on our planet.