Almost at the beginning of the Torah, we are taught that Hashem placed man in the Garden of Eden, l’ovdah (to work it) and l’shomrah (to guard it). G-d gave us the responsibility to use the earth and its resources to grow, to build, and to innovate. He also commanded us to preserve the planet as a legacy for future generations.
The Daf Yomi world is currently learning the first perek of Taanis. The first dapim deal with the proper time for reciting the prayers for rain, fasts when the rain does not fall, and the importance of rain. We are told not only that the world cannot survive without rain, but that the day of rain is on par with the days of the creation of the world, the Exodus from Egypt, the Ingathering of the Exiles, and the Resurrection of the Dead.
When I was in Israel to learn, 45 years ago, the sky in late October and early November was often overcast. Rain was frequent. There was a chill in the air. When I came on aliyah a few weeks ago, there was day after day of glorious weather. There was not a cloud in the sky or a raindrop to be felt. The temperature was consistently warm. The first significant rainfall came on the 14th of Kislev, 51 days after we started saying Mashiv ha’ruach u’morid ha’geshem, 36 days after we in Israel began to say tal u’matar, 26 days after the elite would start fasting for three days if the first rains hadn’t fallen, and 13 days after a communal-wide three-day fast would have been proclaimed due to the lack of rain. Climate change is real.
When Chazal tell us that the day of rainfall is equivalent to the Creation of the World, the Exodus from Egypt, the Giving of the Torah, and the Resurrection of the Dead, they are saying that just as those events took place through the direct intervention of Hashem, so too does rain come directly from the hand of G-d. Hashem runs the world, but we must do our part. Hashem created the world but demands that we do our part to sustain it. Hashem took us out of Egypt, but it was we who undertook the journey. Hashem gave us the Torah, but it was we who accepted it. Even the Resurrection of the Dead will come only at a time when we merit it, and will only come to those whose lives proved that they have earned it.
Hashem created the world and runs it. He charged us with the responsibility to work and to preserve it. He gave us the Torah to guide us in how we should go about doing it.
The Torah teaches us that we should not worship gods of silver and gold. G-d created silver and gold as instruments of wealth. The pursuit of wealth is positive. Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Yosef, Moshe, Aharon, David, Shlomo, and many of the Tana’im and Amora’im were extraordinarily wealthy. We need to create wealth and build a healthy economy to support ourselves and our families and to create jobs and opportunity for all. But we must not worship the instruments of wealth. Wealth is a means to an end not an end in itself. We need to build a strong economy, but we must never bow down or give sacrifices to the almighty dollar.
We are also commanded not to worship trees or such natural phenomena as the sun, the moon, and the stars. Hashem created the world and its natural phenomena so that we can serve Him. We have a responsibility to protect the Earth as the home that sustains us. We must respect nature, not worship it.
We are commanded, on the one hand, to build and to innovate – and on the other hand, to preserve. We cannot choose between a healthy economy and a healthy environment. Our future demands that we have both.
How do we strike the balance? Again, we turn to the Torah for guidance. When we besiege a city, we are commanded not to cut down fruit trees in order to build siege instruments. Fruit trees can be a source of nourishment for years to come. We must not destroy our future legacy in the face of short-term expediency. We need to consider the impact of our actions not only on ourselves but on generations to come.
We cannot shut down the economy and subject most of the world to abject poverty. We are not going back to the days when people lit and heated their homes by fire or traveled by horse, camel, or donkey. Fossil fuels are an important part of our economy and will remain so for the foreseeable future. Yet we must use those resources wisely, not wastefully. It means turning down our thermostats in the winter and turning them up in the summer. It means walking, using mass transit or carpools, or switching to electric vehicles instead of driving our cars. We have to develop new wind, solar, and even nuclear power with appropriate safeguards as alternatives to fossil fuels. Cutting down on the greenhouse gas emissions that are a cause of climate change will require cost and sacrifice on our part. The cost of failing to do so will be even higher.
Much of the opposition to the move away from fossil fuels comes from those who will be most hurt by it. The move away from coal has devastated much of the country. It is understandable that people are more worried about how they will feed their families tomorrow than about how the melting of glaciers will cause the flooding of some island ten years from now. Any plan to combat climate change must include provisions to ensure jobs and opportunity – not handouts and condescension – to the millions of people who will be impacted negatively.
Even under the best of conditions, the impacts of climate change are likely to get worse before they get better. They may never be reversed completely. Our coastal areas need to be fortified against floods. Additional resources are needed to prevent and combat wildfires. Zoning laws may have to be changed to keep homes and businesses away from areas that are prone to flooding and wildfires.
The technologies of the future will be crucial to building a healthy economy hand-in-hand with a healthy environment. Israel’s technology for desalinating water is already being used around the world. We can be proud that high-tech Israel will be at the forefront of developing other new technologies that will benefit all of humankind. In the words of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Israel can be “the climate innovation nation.”
It is ironic that some of the most vociferous advocates of the need to combat climate change insist on vilifying one of the countries that is doing the most to develop the environmentally-friendly high technology of the future. The Sunrise Movement claims to be “the climate revolution.” The first of its principles is: “We are a movement to stop climate change and create millions of jobs in the process.” Some of its other principles include uniting with “other movements for change,” and fighting for “the liberation of all people.” The DC branch of the Sunrise Movement recently pulled out of a voting rights march because of the participation of “Zionist” organizations. The National Sunrise Movement criticized the DC movement because it singled out Jewish organizations when there were other Pro-Israel organizations involved in the rally, as well. If Sunrise DC had called for barring all pro-Israel organizations, not just the Jewish ones, that would have been perfectly acceptable to Sunrise. Sunrise is among the many leftist organizations that have made support for the destruction of Israel and a host of other dubious causes part of their agenda.
Combating climate change will require the participation of people from across the racial, religious, and political spectrum. Combating climate change will never become a mass movement, so long as it is associated with anti-Semitism, the vilification of white working-class people, and a wide range of leftist causes.
Yet we cannot ignore the reality of floods, wildfires, and melting ice caps. We cannot let the extreme Left hijack the cause of combating climate change to promote its own agenda. The need to build a healthy economy and a healthy environment is our cause. We must work to use our resources to build a thriving economy, while preserving the planet as a legacy for our children and grandchildren. We need to act to protect ourselves from the ravages of climate change while developing the technologies that will turn the tide. We will fight tooth and nail against the anti-Semitic Left. We proudly proclaim that Zionism is the national liberation movement of the Jewish people. Israel represents the return of an indigenous people to their homeland after millennia of exile.
In Taanis, Rabbi Eliezer states that the water of the ocean evaporates, and the moisture rises to form clouds and comes back to earth in the form of rain. Rabbi Yehoshua states that Hashem opens the clouds and pours in water from above, which comes down to Earth as rain. In the scientific sense, Rabbi Eliezer is correct. But in a larger sense, both are right. Science and nature are real, but they are created and continue to be guided by the hand of Hashem.
G-d demands that we do whatever we can to better the condition of humanity. This means taking concrete actions to combat climate change. But turning back the existential threat of climate change will require something more. We will need to step up our commitment to Torah, mitzvos, and g’milus chasadim. For we know that, in the end, it is the Eternal One of Israel who “has the whole wide world in His hands.”