Ya'akov Avinu the Conservationist

Ya'akov Avinu the Conservationist

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By: Rav Shlomo Friedman

The concept of conservation and preserving our planet is one which overlaps with many Torah values. אדם הראשון was given the responsibility of לעבדה ולשמרה. We are taught that the Torah prohibits waste (בל תשחית). Our recognition of the fact that להשם הארץ ומלואה certainly dictates that the entire universe is owned by הקדוש ברוך הוא , and is not ours to destroy. However, as Jews, our responsibility goes further than avoiding unnecessary use of fossil fuels, cutting down on pollution and not overusing disposable dishes.


Our Rabbis point out that although יעקב אבינו gathered a number of stones when he went to rest on his journey to Charan (ויקח מאבני המקום), nevertheless, the פסוק later speaks of האבן אשר שם מראשותיו.  The גמרא (quoted by רש"י) suggests that all the stones " fought " over the right to have the צדיק rest his head, until miraculously they were all combined into one. The מסילת ישרים in the first chapter, indicates that the idea being expressed by this מאמר חז"ל is that use of this world for spiritual purposes, especially when being done so by a righteous person, uplifts the world, and thus each stone was " interested " in יעקב resting on that particular one. In that same context the  רמח"ל  quotes the מדרש on קוהלת that tells us that after G-d gave אדם הראשון a tour of גן עדן,  He told him, " ראה מעשי כמה נאים ומשובחים הן, וכל מה שבראתי, לא בראתי אלא לכבודך, תן דעתך שלא תקלקל ותחריב את עולמי. The clear implication is that using the world for spiritual pursuits and purposes preserves the world and protects it. Misuse and ignoring G-d's directives, is a form of (and can lead to) destruction. Thus יעקב אבינו who was only interested in לחם לאכול ובגד ללבוש - in taking from the world only basic necessities, and whose interests were fulfilled in אהלה של תורה- in the realm of the spiritual, was in effect a great conservationist. 


This trait of  יעקב אבינו as one whose use of the world was solely for the sake of bring heavenly values into our world, is expressed very beautully by the תנא דבי אליהו (chapter 19). The מדרש comments on the meeting that took place after יעקבand עשו hadn't seen each other in so many years. According to the מדרש, when עשו asks at that encounter מי אלה לך he is stating that he is is puzzled by the  family and wealth of יעקב that עשו  just saw. After all,  asks  עשו, we the brothers struck a deal many years ago (already when in the womb!) that you - יעקב would  take עולם הבא and I- עשו would take עולם הזה. That being the case, asks עשו, how and why are you entitled to all this bounty. יעקב responds, in effect, that what you are looking at, is not עולם הזה as it might seem. It is a share of this world that is being used purely for the purposes of עולם הבא.


We are clearly not close to the level of יעקב אבינו . Nevertheless we can demand of ourselves to move in the direction of his approach towards proper use of G-d's world and His gifts. This includes making efforts to avoid the strong hedonistic influence of the secular world, giving a proper amount to צדקה , and realizing that our mission is to bring G-d's presence into our world. Doing so will be a meaningful contribution to not only preserving our world, but also bringing it that much closer to  the Redemption that we pray for.  


Shiur ID: 9222

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