Earth Day and Genesis

This Friday (April 22nd) is the secular holiday of Earth Day. On this day people around the world celebrate the gift of creation and dedicate themselves to better preservation of the environment.

Although most of us will be knee deep in Passover preparations, I decided to write a little bit on the importance of creation and what our universal responsibility as believers is to take care of it:

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28)

In the Garden of Eden, man is commanded not only to reproduce and fill the earth but to “subdue” and “have dominion over” it as well. Man is the principle of creation, and it is to him alone, out of all his creatures, that God communicates. He alone will partner with God in the administration and management of the earth. But there is another side to this:

The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. (Genesis 2:15)

Man is to tend to the earth as well. The word translated here as “keep” is the Hebrew word shamar (שמר), which means to “guard” or “protect.” Man’s rule is not without restraint; rather he must care for creation in his domination. Rav Joseph Soloveitchik sees in these two passages a sort of dual nature of mankind. Ilana Stein summarizes his views:

Thus, there is a conflict built into the very essence of the human-Nature relationship. On the one hand, we are meant to utilize and exploit Nature. Considered the pinnacle of Creation, the world was created for our use, to conquer and manipulate. On the other hand, we are merely custodians of a perfect, divinely created world. Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of Eden to nurture and protect it. [1]

In the creation, God gives man authority, but the authority comes with a warning as well. He must care for the special gift that God has given him. If God does not care whether we destroy creation, then we declare that there is no real inherent value in the present that he bestowed upon us. The midrash has HaShem warning mankind about the dangers of harming the earth:

When the Holy One, blessed be He, created the first man, He took him and led him round all the trees of the Garden of Eden, and said to him, “Behold My works, how beautiful and praiseworthy they are! All that I have created, I created for you. Pay heed that you do not damage and destroy My universe; for if you damage it there is no one to repair it after you.” (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:20)

Creation itself reveals God and his strength and authority. The Scriptures are replete with words of praise for the wonders of the earth. For example the Prophet Isaiah tells us:

Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power not one is missing. (Isaiah 40:26)

Psalm 104, traditionally referred to Barchi Nafshi (“My soul bless”), is recited every Rosh Chodesh at morning prayers. It is filled with the imagery depicting the majesty of nature:

You covered it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains … The mountains rose, the valleys sank down to the place that you appointed for them … You make springs gush forth in the valleys; they flow between the hills; they give drink to every beast of the field …. Beside them the birds of the heavens dwell; they sing among the branches. From your lofty abode you water the mountains; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work. (Psalm 104:6-13)

The beauty of creation proves that God cares for man and desires to provide for him. The Master uses the simple illustrations of flowers and birds to speak of God’s benevolence. [2]

Creation inspires man to bless the Creator, and creation itself actually sings a song back to God. We read in Psalm 148 of waters, mountains, hills, beasts, and birds all singing songs of praise to HaShem. Psalm 96:12 declares, “Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy.” With every movement, every chirp, every rustle in the wind, nature is calling out to the One from whom they came forth.

Additionally, creation reveals the very knowledge of God. An ancient rabbinic teaching says that God created the world with the Torah. [3] The Torah itself is the blueprint for creation. In turn, nature and the earth reveal God’s innermost wisdom because they have been patterned after it. Hence we find Paul claiming that God’s “invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (Romans 1:21).

For us, as believers in the Messiah Yeshua, we know that the Torah became flesh in the person of Yeshua, and that through this Eternal Word, (the Living Torah) the world was created. John tells us, “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:3). The Apostle Paul echoes this sentiment:

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. (Colossians 1:16)

When we piece all this together, we can truly agree with the Psalmist: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). Nature reveals to us not only the depth of God’s wisdom as is found in the Torah; it also reveals to us the glory of God in Messiah. [4] Should we not seek to preserve and care for such a precious revelation?

  1. Ilana Stein “Le’ovda Uleshomra: Judaism and the Environmental Ethic,” in Compendium of Sources in Halacha and the Environment (ed. Ora Sheinson and Shai Spetgang; Jerusalem, Israel: Canfei Nesharim, 2005), 16-20.
  2. Matthew 6:26-29.
  3. m.Avot 3:14.
  4. John 1:14.

Source: First Fruits of Zion