Sunday, 28 September 2014

Yom Kippur Prayer for Environmental Protection: This Shmita Year, May the Land Be Inscribed in the Book of Life

This year – 5775 on the Jewish calendar – marks the beginning of Shnat Shmita , or as I would like to rename it – Jewish Environmental Protection Year. It's not the first and certainly won't be the last. Ever since the days of the Second Temple, Jews have adhered to the laws of Shnat Shmita – a Hebrew term that literally means a year let go. Practically speaking, a sabbatical year for the land every seven years.

While Shmita laws only apply to the Land of Israel, the very fact that they are rooted to the Old Testament (Exodus 23:10-11) is an eye-opener pointing to how enlightened were our ancient ancestors. Says the Bible: “And six years thou shalt sow thy land, and gather in the increase thereof; but the seventh year thou shalt let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of thy people may eat; and what they leave, the beast of the field shall eat. In like manner thou shalt deal with thy vineyard, and with thy olive yard.”

Simply put: “Give it a rest.” Leave the land alone. Whatever grows naturally for a year without planting, sowing and watering should go to the poor because you will have enough to feed on from everything that has grown the previous six years.

Because this commandment is so important, it is repeated in the next book – (Leviticus 25:1-7) – when God speaks to Moses on the top of Mt. Sinai and expands on the commandment by including all living creatures in this sabbatical year – landowners, male and female slaves, as well as cattle and animals working the land. Just in case our Biblical farmers would worry that there's nothing to eat in the 7th year, God tells Moses: “I will so order My blessing for you in the sixth year that it will bring forth the crop for three years. When you are sowing the eighth year, you can still eat old things from the crop, eating the old until the ninth year when its crop comes in” (Leviticus 25: 8-22). 

In other words, God is saying “Relax, I've boned up on agronomy and have it all planned out.” I would venture to say that today this would be added: “Environmentalists, read what I have to say before you develop any campaigns.”

The fact of the matter is that the Old Testament provides the blueprint (or should that be greenprint?) for environmental protection. In addition to a sabbatical year for the land, practical guidelines are provided about how long trees must mature before fruit can be picked; how not to be wasteful, even preserving the environment during times of war; how to prevent animal suffering; how to keep the environment clean; how to go about urban planning, etc. It's little wonder that the Bible never goes out of date and remains the world's number 1 bestselling book.

Speaking of books – since you now know that this year the High Holidays mark the beginning of Jewish Environmental Protection Year, you may very well be interested in another book, one that I have written.

If you're a parent, this book provides some fabulous quality time activities. If you're a teacher, it's the ideal textbook for bringing the Bible to life and get kids involved. A collection of eight, engaging bible stories told in a friendly, entertaining manner, it provides matching easy-to-do experiments and projects for each story. A back-of-the-book Potpourri section complements the stories by elaborating on environmental laws in the Bible and rabbinical blessings related to nature. By the time you finish reading this book you'll understand why Noah was the first to study biodiversity; why Joseph was the first to develop guidelines for natural disaster planning; how Moses performed the first water desalination experiment; how Joshua discovered the power of noise pollution, in addition to being the father of daylight savings time, plus more.

Have I piqued your interest? Here, take a peek...and please pray on Yom Kippur that the land be inscribed in the Book of Life.