Judaism and Ecology

February 23, 2015

By Rabbi David Rosen
‘He placed him in the Garden of Eden to develop it and to preserve it’ (Genesis 2:15)
Presentation at the Anglican-Jewish Consultation Lambeth Palace, May 2010
Within Jewish tradition, there are two central names that we use for God – Elohim and Adonai (the Tetragrammaton) – and these are identified with the two essential Divine Attributes of justice and mercy.
There is also the sense that they represent the two dimensions of the encounter with God – the transcendent and the immanent, which thus also parallel the two ways in which we “discover” God , reflected both within Scripture and above all in our liturgy. God is both the Lord of Creation and the Lord of History. We encounter Him both through events in our lives, individually and collectively, and of course above all in terms of our religious history. But perhaps above all we encounter God on a daily basis through our awareness of His presence in the cosmos, in the Divine Creation. As already referred to in our discussion, this is extensively reflected in the Psalms (most notably in 8, 19,104) that the Creation declares God’s glory.
However, the awareness of the Divine Presence is seen as more than simply a testimony. Maimonides in his introductory or the first section of his Mishneh Torah, his legal magnum opus, in the section Foundations of Torah, Chapter 2 Section 2, he asks rhetorically what is the way to love and fear God in keeping with the Biblical injunctions to do so ? And he answers:-
“When a person meditates on His wonderful and great works and creations and sees through them his wisdom that is beyond compare and limits, immediately he loves and praises and glorifies and desires a great desire to know Him, to know His great Name. As David said, ‘My soul thirsts for God, the living God’. And when he considers these very things, immediately he draws back and is fearful knowing that he is a small and lonely creature standing in weak and limited understanding before The One of perfect knowledge….As David said, ‘When I see the heavens and the work of your fingers (that is the more correct translation – the Hebrew word is not hands but fingers, DR), what is human being that you should remember him?”
So for Maimonides, our awareness of the cosmos that God has created is not purely a consciousness of the Divine Presence, but is actually the means by which we fulfil the charge to love and fear God. It is the way which we draw ourselves towards that intimacy with God. In fact it is interesting that Maimonides in a sense is connecting the transcendent and the immanent at one and the same time in what he understands to be the basic religious calling. Accordingly for Maimonides, as indeed throughout the generations of Jewish tradition (until modern times, which produced, inter alia, a reactionary Jewish withdrawal in ultra-Orthodox circles) , scientific understanding was not only not seen as a threat, but as actually being an essential means by which we develop our love and reverence of God.
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