Skip to content

Walk in My Statutes: Parshat Behukotai


This week the irrefutable evidence of global warming has surfaced. The New York Times had two articles that showed that the effects of global warming are taking its toll on our planet. One article documented the breaking of the Western Antarctica Ice Sheet.  It said “Two groups of scientists report in journals Science and Geophysical Research Letters that a large section of West Antarctica ice sheet has begun falling apart, partially fueled by global warming from greenhouse gases, and its continued melting appears unstoppable;” If this is melting continues the article predicts that seas will rise by 10 feet or more over the course of the century. This would be devastating to coastlines and island countries.  It means the melting of polar ice caps and in one simulation all of South Florida would be submerged and New York City gone.  (Gillis, Justin, and Chang, Kenneth, New York Times, May 12, 2014).

The second article discussed the change in rain patterns especially in the U.S. This follows data and research done as far back as 1995 by 2 Australian and New Zealand researchers. “In the National Climate Assessment, published last week, researchers in the United States reported that “large increases in heavy precipitation have occurred in the Northeast, Midwest and Great Plains, where heavy downpours have frequently led to runoff that exceeded the capacity of storm drains and levees, and caused flooding events and accelerated erosion.” (Gillis, Justin, By Degrees, New York Times, May 12, 2014).

Both articles reinforce an important message we all must heed. Climate change is real.  It isn’t something we can bury our heads in the sand about and hope it will go away.  But there are steps that we can do to help. 

Here in our home state we are facing a drought of huge proportions. Already in Northern California farmers are rationing water.  Lake water levels are low throughout the State and Gov. Brown declared a drought emergency back in January of this year.  Now is the time to take faster showers, flush less and water your lawn less.  Cut back your water usage. Or better yet, tear out the grass and put in a drought resistant yard (that’s what I did!).  The Department of Water and Power even has a rebate program of up to $2.00 a square foot to help you replace your thirsty lawn with California drought resistant plants. 

We may not be able to stop Climate Change but we can do things to slow it down!

This week’s Torah portion Behukotai, the last portion of the book of Leviticus reminds us that how we live life on the land matters. When we live a life that observes the sabbatical year (in last week’s portion Behar), when we follow the mitzvot and live a righteous life then the land will be filled with abundance and blessing.  But if we stray from the most basic mitzvot, like the observance of the sabbatical year, the observance of Shabbat, then the land becomes uninhabitable and we can no longer cultivate our patch.  The simplest mitzvoth help us focus on our tasks as partners with God in the sustenance of our globe.

Our Torah urges and reminds us in this week’s portion that we tithe from the land, and redeem it from its real owner—and that is God.  If we misuse the land, if we don’t treat it as holy then indeed we will see the consequences.  Even if you are not a farmer, the Torah is pointing us to understanding the link between agriculture and well-being. When the land is abused, when we are not scrupulous in our observance of those very basic principles then there are consequences that affect the land and all of us.

Climate change, global warning, drought or heavy rains and flooding, these noticeable and current changes to the rhythm of nature are reflected in our abuse of the land and our environment today.

Mark Kirschbaum who writes a blog at Tikkun Daily, wrote about this week’s Torah portion saying: “The Tiferet Shelomo (commentary by Shlomo HaKohen of Radomsk) answers that when we live correctly, our correct manner of living is reflected in a proper order in nature. These aren’t rewards so much as signs of proper living. Our actions, when they are correct actions, make the world around us correspondingly correct. Thus, these manifestations of correct order in nature are not really rewards, but a reciprocal alignment of nature to our actions: If we keep our lives in the proper order, then the world will be maintained in a proper order. The world about us is not so much a gift but a direct consequence of our actions (there is a similar teaching from the Baal Shem Tov regarding God’s response to us; the Baal Shem Tov explains the phrase Hashem Tzilcha, “God is your shadow” as meaning that God’s actions are a parallel reflection of our actions, we make choices in how we deal with the world around us and so does God “shadow” our choices and actions).

Climate change is a reflection of our actions and yes, inactions. It is a reflection of our lack of caring for our planet and treating the earth with the proper kavod, respect.  Our Torah specifically created rules for us to treat the earth with the same holy approaches that we give to all beings, for our earth itself is a foundation of life.  When we mistreat one another and our planet, the consequences are huge and we see this today in the dramatic changes to our earth.

If you walk in my statutes and observe my mitzvot…begins the Torah portion.  It is a reminder that living an ethical life is a choice. Let’s choose wisely and help our planet heal.