Today’s world faces countless environmental issues - air, water and land pollution; climate change; global warming; deforestation; overpopulation; waste disposal; ozone layer depletion – and the list goes on. These serious issues affect our lives in diverse ways, yet many of us do not realize that our awareness of these environmental challenges and the small changes we can make in our day-to-day lives can have a positive effect on the environment.
The Bible is the world’s most well-read book; millions of people have studied it for generations searching for spiritual inspiration and guidance on how to live their lives. The Bible begins with Genesis, which tells us the story of God’s creation of the world. How does the Bible tell us we should relate to G-d’s creation? How should we care for the precious world that God has given us?
Eco Bible, by Rabbi Yonatan Neril and Rabbi Leo Dee (editors and lead contributors), brings together the insights of great thinkers, past and present, to show us that the Bible has a great deal to teach us about caring for our world and its precious resources. In this innovative discourse on the first two books of the Bible, Rabbis Neril and Dee gather Biblical commentaries focusing on ecology and the environment that were scattered throughout a wide range of books. With the publication of Eco Bible, students of the Bible can delve into the thoughts of rabbis and thinkers from ancient and modern times and learn what the Bible has to say about the important environmental issues of today. The commentators range from medieval giants like Rashi to later thinkers like Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, to modern authorities like Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook to Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, and many others – some well-known and some not.
Eco Bible is the first of a two-volume work (a second book, with commentaries on Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy will be published in the future).
Volume 1 of Eco Bible has two sections – one for the book of Genesis and one for the book of Exodus. Each Torah portion has its own chapter, which includes an eclectic mix of commentaries on various passages within the portion, and each chapter ends with “suggested action items” that bring the ideas in Eco Bible to life.
GENESIS 1:1 – In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth
“Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch makes the first verse in Genesis personal and proactive. He writes that the words teach us ‘to think of the world as God’s world and ourselves as creatures of God… We must not destroy the world, but preserve it – every single creature, every insect, every plant is part of God’s world. Woe to those that disturb His world! Hail to those that preserve His world!’”
Rabbi Hirsch’s words not only interpret the first verse in Genesis but they also introduce us to the core message of Eco Bible – we must appreciate and preserve the world God created. Action items at the end of each chapter include the following (Bereishit):
“For one week, walk outside daily and pay close attention to each element of our planet. On the first day, appreciate the warmth of the sun. On the second, feel the ground beneath your feet. On the third, examine rain clouds or bodies of water. On the fourth, count as many stars as you can. On the fifth, feed birds on a park bench. And on the sixth day, try to find as many animals in your neighborhood as possible – a bird or a squirrel can be fun to follow. Fostering appreciation and awareness for all of God’s creations will bring us closer to spiritual grounding on earth.”
The book emphasizes the significance of appreciating the beauty and diversity of the natural world while treating it with great respect. In today’s world, when so many of us spend most of our days indoors behind computer screens, making the time to be outdoors and enjoy nature is good for our bodies and our souls.
IN THE Torah portion of Vayeishev, Joseph tends the flocks with his brothers.
“Why did so many Israelite original leaders become shepherds? Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook explains that the advantage of shepherding may be found in the shepherd’s secluded lifestyle. While engaged with the flocks, ambling through the hills and valleys, the shepherd is removed from the noisy distractions of society, providing him or her with ample time for inner reflection... Rabbi Kook explains, “One must have extended solitude and self-reflective prayer, examining ideas, deepening thoughts, and expanding the mind, until finally the soul will truly reveal itself, unveiling some of the splendor of its brilliant inner light.”
Taking the time to be silent like the shepherds of the Bible can give us “soul-awareness” in a way that can “benefit the larger world, and not only to gain personal spiritual fulfillment.”
One of the strengths of Eco Bible is that it not only gives the reader interesting “food for thought” and introduces you to new ways of understanding the Bible, but it also suggests simple and easy ways to bring these messages into your life. In my opinion, this innovative book should be read a chapter each week according to the corresponding Torah portion and its ideas discussed with family or friends, perhaps on Shabbat around the dinner table.
Rabbi Yonatan Neril, who grew up in California, is the founder of the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development, a unique nonprofit based in Jerusalem. Co-editor Rabbi Leo Dee was a community rabbi in England for six years, encouraging sustainable development in Israel within the field of responsible investment, and served as the ISCD’s director of programs.
Eco Bible is written in clear and easy-to-understand understand language and has a great deal to contribute both to people who regularly study the portion of the week and those who never did before. The first volume of Eco Bible offers an enlightening glimpse of what the first two books of the Bible have to say about the environmental issues we are facing in 2021. I am looking forward to Volume II.
By Rabbi Yonatan Neril
and Rabbi Leo Dee
Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development
243 pages; $14.99