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Earth Day Lessons from The Torah

Rabbi Sidney Helbraun

April 22, 2022

As this week’s Torah portion, Achare Mot, begins, God tells Moses to tell Aaron not to enter the most holy space in the Mishkan whenever he desires; because if he does, he’ll probably die.

I don’t know about you, but if I was Aaron, and had recently been promoted to the position of High Priest, and my principal place of employment was the Mishkan, I might have expected to be informed of this a little sooner, like before I started the job! And yet, this tiny detail, that if he enters the wrong part of this unmarked structure he’ll die, had been overlooked. For Aaron, who assumed that as High Priest he’d have free reign over his office, this might well have been a moment of recalibration. Rather than be in charge and tell others what to do, he was going to have to approach his job with a little bit of humility and recognize that while the spiritual life of the Israelites had been placed into his hands, there were still limits on what he could do.

This realization was equally applicable to God’s first creature, Adam, who was given a garden to roam, filled with every kind of vegetation. An idyllic place where all his needs would be fulfilled. And yet, he too was reminded that even though he was in charge, there were still rules that needed to be followed.

As this Shabbat coincides with Earth Day, it’s worth noting that these teachings are every bit as relevant to us today as they were to Aaron and Adam. We might be in charge of this planet, free to rule, use, and even abuse. But there are still consequences to our actions. And if we don’t pay attention to the “house rules,” we’ll end up hurting ourselves, or worse.

Like Aaron and Adam, we need to practice a bit more humility, and learn to treat our dwelling place with respect. And because those who came before us might not have understood the impact that their actions had on our home, we need to fix some of the mistakes that were made before, so that our children – and theirs will have an opportunity to enjoy the richness of this planet that God bequeathed to us.

Thu, May 30 2024 22 Iyar 5784