Today the environment – a.k.a. God’s Creation, a.k.a. our one and only home – needs all the friends and all the help it can get.  People of faith have a rich set of traditions which should make us among Creation’s most passionate defenders.  Somehow, despite strong statements from religious leaders and an explosion of scholarship at the intersection of religion and ecology, the message hasn’t sufficiently gotten through.  So maybe what’s needed now are spiritual soundbites on sustainability, twitterable texts toward Creation care, to reach the faithful.  The “ten commandments” (in Judaism just the ‘ten utterances’ among 613 commandments) are all in one place; here are “ten Torah talking-points on sustainability”, two from each of the Five Books of Moses.  Nothing here is new, but this old book – central in Judaism, revered in Christianity, honored in Islam – still has much to teach us.

  1. Genesis 2:15 – l’ovdah ul’shomrah – God put the first humans into the first ecosystem “to serve” (often translated as “to till”) and “to guard” it.  On our watch, the land should improve, or stay the same, not degrade.  Serve and/or guard Earth – our only two God-given options.
  2. Genesis 13:17 – kum hitalekh ba’aretz – God told Avraham to “get up and walk yourself around the land”.  Sierra Club is onto something with its motto “Explore, Enjoy, Protect”.  People of faith, go walk the land, then serve and guard it. 
  3. Exodus 5-12 – the plagues – environmental punishments for social ills.  Even today rivers turn to blood (before Passover our synagogue visits, in solidarity, the low-income neighborhoods along the polluted yet resurgent Anacostia River ).  Eco-justice: don’t be Pharaoh to Earth or each other. 
  4. Exodus 34:7 – the Divine attributes – God “extends loving-kindness to the thousandth generation” and “recalls sins of parents onto…the third and fourth generation.”  Our carbon emissions (and efforts to reduce them) impact not just our descendants, but everyone.  Intergenerational justice: a religious imperative to care for Creation.
  5. Leviticus 19:16 – v’ahavta l’re’acha kamocha – “love your neighbor as yourself.”  The most central commandment, the most golden of rules, applies in our global village to neighbors everywhere, and to non-human neighbors too.  Love your neighbor; save the Earth – same thing.
  6. Leviticus 25 – sabbatical and jubilee – the biblical economy joins justice (i.e. forgiving debts, preventing over-accumulation of wealth in few families) with sustainability (i.e. letting the land lie fallow, giving land and animals and workers their rest).  Give the land and each other a break.
  7. Numbers 11 – “the graves of craving” – when the Israelites took manna for granted and insisted on meat, God gave them flesh until it became loathsome, and killed many people.  Less over-consumption in general, and particularly eating lower on the food chain, remain timely suggestions.  Eat less meat, accumulate less stuff, stay closer to God.
  8. Numbers 11:26-30 – amid the carnivores’ carnage, two elders kept prophesying when the others ceased.  Joshua knew that the power structure was threatened, but Moses said “would that all were prophets!”  Prophets aren’t popular, but they’re right, and they’re tireless advocates for what’s right and good.  Be prophetic – save the Earth, religiously.
  9. Deuteronomy 11:13-20 – do right by God, and enjoy nature; do wrong and “you’ll be speedily be evicted from the good land that God gives you.”  This passage, which notes the key difference between ‘early rains’ and ‘latter rains’ threatened by climate change, is not radical 21st century environmental doom-saying; it’s holy writ.  Don’t want God to evict us? – clean up our mess.
  10. Deuteronomy 22:8 – “when you build a house, put a parapet around the roof”.  Today we change the climate in defiance of “the precautionary principle”: take no irreversible risks.  Scripture doesn’t require parapets only for some roofs, or flat roofs, or roofs in neighborhoods where we wait for a statistically significant number of children to have fallen off!  No Russian roulette with Creation – practice precaution with emissions.

So says Scripture.  And so we should do, whether or not it’s ‘because God said so’.  Care for Creation because Earth and all its inhabitants, human and non-human, today and in the future, deserve no less.

            -- Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb, of Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation in Bethesda MD (www.adatshalom.net), is chair of Greater Washington Interfaith Power and Light (www.gwipl.org) and executive committee member of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (www.coejl.org).  He gave this talk at the Prayer Breakfast of the National Religious Campaign on Climate Change (www.nrccc.org), 5/5/11