“Rabbi Simeon ben Yochai said: ‘Three things are weighed equally, and they are earth, humans and rain.’ Rabbi Levi bar Hiyyata said: ‘… to teach you that without earth there would be no rain, and without rain there would be no earth, and without the two of them there would be no humans’” (Genesis Rabbah 13:3)

When the newly created Adam awoke, he found a barren world. According to the Talmud (Chullin 60b), there were seeds of trees and plants, but nothing had yet begun to grow because God was waiting for Adam to request rain.

During most of human history, people were always “in touch” with the land. The Torah is replete with laws that are rooted in agriculture. The land must lie fallow every seventh year (Leviticus 25:2-6). Fruit trees may not be destroyed, even during a siege (Deuteronomy 20:19–20). It is forbidden to live in a city without greenery (Jerusalem Talmud Kiddushin 4:12). You may not build anything generating foul odors, such as tanneries or cemeteries, upwind from or inside a city (based on Babylonian Talmud Baba Batra 25a).

In the industrialized age, it is much more difficult, and therefore much more important, to be aware of humankind’s responsibility to nature. When God placed Adam into the Garden of Eden, Adam’s purpose was “to till the land and to tend it” (Genesis 2:15). The Midrash (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:13) gives a more detailed version of God’s instructions: “See to it that you do not spoil and destroy My world; for if you do, there will be no one else to repair it.”

And while much of humankind has left the farm for city skyscrapers and pavement, this earliest command from God remains unchanged and as vital as ever.

Jewish Treats strongly endorses Earth Day.