“Exploring Our Responsibility for Earth’s Resources: Shaping an Eco-Ethicological Approach for Discussion”
By Julie Goodman
To begin I am grateful to not only be here at Hashivenu once again but to also have the honor of responding to Elliot Klayman’s paper. Elliot – brilliant. I really didn’t know what to expect and I am not only impressed but, as I am sure many would agree, have walked away from this paper feeling both inspired and convicted. Excellent words; excellent research; beautiful conclusion.
There are several strengths to Elliot’s paper that provide an excellent basis for discussion of such a topic as eco-ethicology. To begin, Elliot is clearly well-researched and found not only scholastic achievement in the area of eco-ethics, but has brought forth Torah and rabbinical justification for taking care of the Earth; and of our role in the world. Well done! Additionally, the way in which this paper is laid out scripturally and by use of our traditions (I especially like the treatment of halacha and kabbalah, and Christian worldviews) brings forth that there are several ways to approach building our Messianic Jewish perspective. I greatly appreciated Elliot’s discussion of Kabbalism tradition as I never really thought about how this perception of mystical traditions has diffused into traditional Jewish thought and actions today. The Ba’al Shem Tov “saw the divine sparks, divine spirit, and marks of holiness in the living, the inanimate, and the vegetative; in trees and in stones.” What a beautiful picture and one that we often overlook in our fast-paced, modern world where we miss the holiness of God in everyday life. I also think this is why our Jewish traditions (from kashrut to nidah) are so important to understand: they bring the mundane into holiness and provide a renewed perspective of the world from the smallest of things to the greatest. (If God cares for the birds and the animals, how much more will he care about us (Matt 6:26); he cares for all of his creation.)
I recall a Hashivenu year in which Tikkun Olam was the primary topic and how we might consider our role in healing a broken world. I think this discussion – and this paper particularly – brings forth one way to practically do this, to see the world as it is and introduce Yeshua to the world (as the ultimate healer and physician of the individual and the world). By the end of my response here I hope to bring across that Yeshua is in fact what is absolutely needed in the world today and Messianic Jews have a unique role to play; with such a high calling, this discussion is a pertinent one as the world is searching for a way to find a balance between hugging trees and worshiping them.
Distinction: The Plan and the Purpose
In creating a Messianic Jewish ethical ecology we consider the state of the world today in comparison to what it was designed to be. We must consider the world in its current state: fallen. We must also consider the unique calling for Israel to populate the Earth and to take care of it. And as Elliot has so aptly written, such that we might “bless others” by redistributing natural, earthly elements.
Elliot clearly identifies the ultimate distinction – Israel and the rest of the world. He sets apart not only a particular people, but a particular place and land which is meant to be redeemed specifically for his people. In today’s world, this is an unpopular distinction, but remember, popularity is not what Yeshua came to bring us. Yeshua is the fulfillment of the law meant to reconcile Israel to God. The Bible is all about the saga of Israel – her chosenness and disobedience, and the example of God’s ultimate redemption. All too often, this gets overlooked or watered down in politics and in the church. But, it is Israel; the whole thing is about Israel. Clearly, God cares about specific physical spaces of land for his people. Over and over we see that heirs are appointed to particular nations: there are distinctions of people and of places, distinctions between Egyptians, Israelites, Midianites, and Moabites (among many others!). Thus, Israel’s calling to take care of the Earth is peculiar to Israel. The way in which she cares for the space she occupies is meant to be an example for the rest of the world.
God intended for this earth to be perfect, for all of his creation to be perfect.Thus, it would make sense that the very tools that he created alongside man in nature (plants, animals, the fruits, and trees, all of it) could be used actively to promote human life, to restore us to balance and to heal from within. I believe this is possible; in fact, I have witnessed it. The shift here must come from the theological truism: God created all living things.We are God-breathed, and we were created alongside nature for his purposes. As Elliot claims at the start of his paper, it is God who set this world into motion, lest we forget; we are not creators. And with this distinction, man, nature, and animals are all created in an order with purpose.
Brokenness – The Fallen Nature of Today’s World: A Reality Check
I find that the crux of the matter in developing a strong Messianic Jewish theology of ecology and eco-ethics rests first on understanding the fact that we are currently living in a fallen world far from the design which was intended. Perhaps today, more than ever before, it is most pertinent for us to consider matters of our ecological theology. Our earthly world is dying every day, and the intent for creation has become grossly misunderstood and distorted. Specific modern examples of such distortions to demonstrate the fallenness that has become this world include: mega-corporations like Monsanto which have literally determined themselves as the “creators” of a genetically modified seed, patented and “owned” such that it is illegal for a farmer to re-plant his own seeds. Seeds naturally reproduce for the following harvest; however, Monsanto seeds are made specifically sterile so that they must be repurchased for harvest each year, increasing cost to farmers, profit to the corporation, and damages the land from over-exposure. This is the epitome of “what can the land do for me now” (Klayman). Other gross distortions in this broken world can be found in:
• Corporate monopolies of natural resources (DuPont/Monsanto1 – in connection to government, and private corporations which own chemical patents and fund genetic modification lobbyists to protest regulation).
• The rapid increase of neo-liberal policies as characterized by an increase in privatization of land and natural resources.
• The complete disregard even for human life as late-term abortions increase and infanticide has yet to be eradicated (approximately 21 states have laws to regulate “late term abortion”).2
• The unequal distribution of wealth and natural resources such as water, oil, electricity and access to sanitary living. (There is enough food to go around the world 1.5 times per day, and yet people starve and go without clean water, vaccines, medicines and the like.
• The ability for “life” to be patented (whether in seed or in human-species’ development).
• The increased use of technology combined with biology (biotechnology).While we all know the benefits of biotechnology, there are serious ethical questions to pose as to how biotechnology is developing and being intended for use.
• The devaluing of human life over capital profit as we see with political wars, corporate profiteering, and even healthcare.
• Lack of information to the general public and access to “organic” goods and a purified meat/fruit/vegetable supply (denied as law in California in 2013 to inform consumers of GMOs in food products).
All of these (and there are so many others) exemplify the ways in which man has, in this corrupt world, developed a theology of the self as dominant over all nature such that man is the end-all, be all. There is little room for God in this model, and such would be the expected outcome of this thinking. If man can redesign his own DNA, genetically modify his food, and even mess with reproductive chance (eugenics movements), what room is there for a Creator God? In times like these, studying the Scripture and revisiting our own perspectives of what it means to be a created being is absolutely necessary as it will necessarily change how we interact with the physical world around us. I think Elliot has brought us to this position quite well, not only in scriptural considerations but through a study of our Hebrew traditions as well. He makes his point quite clear: “the earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it.” Our role is one of stewardship. But how do we do this?
We must find a balance between the way that the world is approaching this subject and the way we as educated, traditional Messianic Jews were meant to approach eco-ethicology. We cannot idolize nature as part of God’s creation, as this would be unbiblical, but we cannot ignore the fact that the way the world is treating the Earth and its natural resources is unjust and exploitative. I think I could write an entire book (and in fact many others have – Paul Farmer, Nancy Scheper-Hughes, Leo Chavez, Roberto Gonzalez) about the injustices of the world. It is so very broken! But the general public seems to err in its worship of the land, through popular green and “new age” movements that result in putting the responsibility of healing the Earth into the hands of man. This is a major flaw in mainstream beliefs; as Elliot has shown from biblical and traditional perspectives. If the earth is the Lord’s, we must partner with him according to our calling; we cannot fix the world alone. While recycling and “going green” and organic are excellent actions, they are not enough. So, I leave us with some questions to consider throughout our discussion.
In what other ways do we see the brokenness of the Earth and a distortion of God’s plan for the Earth? How is Israel called to make a difference, particularly in ownership and population of the Earth?
Could we institute a modern practice of Shmittah? How could we promote such a belief in giving back and forgiving debts through Yovel and Pe’ah? It seems impossible that the world would ever institute such a practice. Is there a way that we could institute a modern practice of this and serve as an example? What about what Yeshua says about forgiveness? Can we more clearly exemplify this? Consider forgiving debts for those around the world who have to lease their land and get very little from it. Consider cash-croppers of cocoa in Columbia and Peru. They no longer grow agricultural crops because of the cash-cropping demand. Or consider the agricultural workers in Mexico who leave their lands unattended – and thus they literally die-out from underuse – to work in the U.S. agricultural business. When did land and farming become all about capital?
As a Messianic Jewish community, could we think about the natural disasters occurring in the world (and these distorted uses and perspectives of the Earth) as both a sign of his coming and a testing of our own faith response? What are we doing to help those in need after major disasters? How can we also engage in acts of loving-kindness, particular to eco-ethicology?
I have always said that in my mid-life crisis I would become a nutritionist; in recent years, I have discovered that healthy living goes far beyond weight-loss programs or “more exercise.” Health is a holistic, integrated process that requires a picture of one’s self that reflects the very image of God in which it was created. I have become a walking infomercial for juicing. I buy organic and local as much as I can afford. I try to educate my own students about healthy living, both by example and directly, as many of my classes center on the brokenness of the world in health, finances, and the many problems of globalization (all wonderfully researched topics in anthropology). But I can neither live in the bubble of the organic or go completely “off the grid” to avoid the world’s brokenness or become a worshiper of the “organic;” and I cannot ignore the very real calling to take better care of this world. It begins with awareness, settles into actions, and concludes in a changed mindset. We are both spirit and physical, and so is our Earth and so should be our perspective as her caregivers. As Israel, we are called to do it and to set the example. I cannot say it better than Elliot whose artistic words encapsulate the notion best. “We in his likeness are very much part of geo-bio-diversity rhythm that bespeaks of God’s ‘intelligent design.’ We participate in the rhythm of God’s breath, both in the interspacial silence of the pause and the active beat of the movement.”
In conclusion, we as believers in Yeshua should model the calling to be the stewards of the Earth that we have been called to be. It is not about idolizing, or controlling the earth, but intentionally deciding to be coexistent with God’s creation as he intended us to be. We are meant to live in and among it, as Elliot noted, to live in harmony with the world of creation and to help protect it. Elliot writes about the planting of trees in Israel to exemplify “dor l’dor,” such that, “After all, our earth supports our future; without it, Messiah simply has no place to return.” Is not this the crux of what we long for – not only a place to physically return to lead us all to be with him, but a spiritual home among his children who understand their role as stewards of nature, such that our intent to do our very best to take care of what he’s given us would cause him to know that we “got it?” It is imperative today, more than ever, to share our faith in Yeshua as the ultimate healer. He is the great physician and only he can heal the broken world in which we are living. Let us partner together to discuss and act, to be doers and hearers so that the world will know him. This is the most important calling we have, and how we exemplify this in the care of the Earth is one way that I think the world might hear us (especially given the popularity of the green movement), and might see God as a result. This broken world is very hungry right now for answers, for peace, and for understanding about the world. They know that there is more out there but they have yet to be told and shown what it is. What a calling and a privilege for us to deliver Yeshua as the Savior of this world – to partner with God and serve his creation. Well done, Mr. Klayman. Thank you.
1 www.seattleorganicrestaurants.com/vegan-whole-foods/dupont – Disclaimer: a public, opinionated blog.