Respecting nature in Judaism
By Laura Seymour

Dear Families,
We have just celebrated Tu B’Shevat and hopefully it is not one of those things we either don’t know about, so don’t stop and think about it, or we know about it, went online and bought a tree at and are done! There are so many wonderful ways of teaching our children to appreciate the wonder of nature and to learn that the Jewish people have been ecologists and environmentalists since biblical times — commanded by God to care for our earth. Yes, we must teach our children but today more than ever, we must be reminded to go out in nature and renew our sense of wonder in the world.
Before you begin: Do not be nervous if you have never studied a Jewish text. Begin by reading the full text aloud. Ask “what do you think it is saying?” Then begin to break down the text into smaller pieces. Remember that there is no right answer, but that each of us must find meaning for ourselves (and even young children are capable!).

  • Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai used to say: “If you have a sapling in your hand and you are told that the Messiah has come, first plant the sapling and then go welcome the Messiah.” (Avot de-Rabbi Natan 31b)
  • It is forbidden to live in a town in which there is no garden or greenery. (Jerusalem Talmud, Kodahsim 4:12)
  • When you besiege a city for a long time in order to capture it, you must not destroy its trees by wielding an ax against them. You may eat from them, but you must not cut them down. (Deuteronomy 20:19)
  • Whoever destroys anything that could be useful to others breaks the law of Bal Tashchit. (Babylonian Talmud, Kodashim 32a)
  • The whole world of humans, animals, fish, and birds all depend on one another. All drink the earth’s water, breathe the earth’s air and find their food in what was created on the earth. All share the same destiny. (Tanna de Bei Eliyahu Rabbah 2)

As you walk outside to begin your day, say this:
May our souls be rekindled as we open our hearts to the world and take good care of God’s world. “When you look out at the world around you, you are looking at God; and He is looking back at you.” -Reb Kalonymus Kalman Shapira
Shalom from the Shabbat Lady,
Laura Seymour is director of Camping Services at the Aaron Family JCC.

Leave a Reply