“Change your light bulb! Call your senator! Buy a hybrid car!” Today’s
environmental movement seems to focus strongly on doing. There are
things to buy, actions to take, policies to advocate.
rare for environmentalists to think of prayer as a tool for change. Yet
Jewish teachings express a very different view of prayer. Prayer is one
of the key tools that God has given us to change the world, and it is
our responsibility and opportunity to pray for the health of the earth
and human civilization living on it and with it.
At the moment before humans were first created, the Torah expresses an important lesson about our role in creation:
all the plants (siah) of the field were not yet on the earth and all
the herbs of the field had not yet sprouted, for God had not yet
sent rain upon the earth and there was no man to work the soil.” (Gen.
Rashi comments based on the Talmud:
“For what is
the reason that God had not yet sent rain, because there was no man to
work the land and there was no one to acknowledge the goodness of the
rain, and when man came and knew that they (the rain) are a need for the
world, he prayed for them and they came down, and the trees and grasses
In this understanding of our creation
story, the very first task of the person is recognizing God, and then
praying to God on behalf of creation. As Rabbi Daniel Kohn explains
(based on Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook), one of the first acts of humans on
this planet was to care for creation – by praying for it.
Jews pray three times a day. The Talmud identifies Isaac as
instituting the afternoon prayer service, based on the verse: “And Isaac
went out to su’ah in the field before evening” (Gen. 24:63). The word
“su’ach” is unclear, but the Sages conclude that he was praying based on
the linguistic similarity between this word and another reference for
prayer in the Psalms.
Based on this, Rabbi Natan Sternhartz
teaches: “Meditation and prayer are called 'sichah.' A plant or shrub is
called 'si'ach.' When the plants of the field begin to return to life
and grow, they all yearn to be included in one's sichah, in meditation
and prayer." This implies that not only does God want our prayers for
the creation – the natural world is seeking them, as well.
reflecting the importance of the prayer-human-creation relationship,
the liturgy of Jewish prayers is filled with nature imagery and
recognition of our dependence on natural resources. Nature takes on
symbolic roles in relationship to humanity, to God, and to righteous
activities for which we are encouraged to strive:
person will flourish like a date palm, like a cedar in the Lebanon he
will grow tall. Planted in the house of Hashem, in the courtyards of our
God they will flourish. They will still be fruitful in old age,
vigorous and fresh they will be.”
Jewish prayers also help us
recall and appreciate the beauty and consistency of nature, and how much
we rely upon it and its Creator. This constancy is alluded to in the
Psalm (repeated each morning in the Jewish liturgy):
illuminates the earth and those who dwell upon it, with compassion; and
in His goodness renews daily, perpetually, the work of creation.”
nature-centric verses in the Jewish liturgy remind us to be grateful to
God for providing the natural world we live in, and themselves serve as
a prayer for continued blessing of natural resources.
us long to make a difference in healing the world today. According to
Jewish mystical teachings, our desire to make a difference comes from
our souls. Prayers are the language of the soul, and by praying we can
affect ourselves and the world around us. It is also a basic Jewish
understanding that when we pray, God listens and acts on the physical
reality based on our prayer. Jewish tradition is filled with
descriptions of these types of effective prayers.
teachings help us realize that a moment spent in prayer is an active
moment, with the power to make a difference. When we pray with a
community, we become connected to the needs of the community and the
rest of the world. To pray on behalf of the entire planet is to summon
the entire earth within us.
Prayer is a vision for what can
become, with a heart full of hope, inspiring a brighter future. Today,
perhaps the most important thing for us all to pray for is the health of
the earth and of a return to balance within human civilization.
materials are posted as part of Jewcology’s “Year of Jewish Learning on
the Environment,” in partnership with Canfei Nesharim. Learn more at http://www.jewcology.com/content/view/Year-of-Jewish-Learning-on-the-Environment.
Evonne Marzouk is the founder and Executive Director of Canfei Nesharim: Sustainable Living Inspired by Torah.