Torah of the Earth For Addressing Public Policy

(Notes by Rabbi Arthur Waskow, The Shalom Center)

These passages, with telegraphic divrei Torah, can help you root earth-healing policy talks and writing in Torah:

1. Creation: Humans are "adam," coming forth from earth, "adamah." The two are forever intertwined. (Gen 2:7)

2. Garden of Eden: God (Reality) provides extraordinary abundance ("Of every tree of the garden you may eat"); but we must show some self-restraint in using it ("Of the one tree in the midst of the garden, do not eat"). Gobbling up all that abundance brings disaster: The earth gives forth only thorns and thistles, humans have to toil with the sweat pouring down their faces to survive. (Gen. 2: 8-17)

3. Human malfeasance – especially disregarding the cycle of the seasons and mixing the species (genetic recombination?) ruins the planet -- God decreates the world through the Flood. –- But God demands that Noah save every species on the Ark. Rainbow covenant restores the cycle of the seasons. (Gen. 7-9)

4. Pharaoh oppresses workers; as a consequence (not in "punishment") the earth itself is tormented through the plagues, which are eco-disasters. (Some are easily connected with global climate crisis & its results.) Healing for society and the earth are intertwined. Says the Haggadah, Pharaoh reappears in every generation, and we must in every generation seek freedom; in our own generation, is "Pharaoh" Big Oil, Big Coal, Big Corn, and their governmental allies, brining plagues on society & on the earth? (Exod. 7-13)

5. After the Liberation (even before Sinai) come manna and Shabbat, the first reversals of the disaster of Eden. Restfulness & peaceful relation with the earth are the marks of freedom. (Exod 16: 13-36) Then Sinai confirms the relationship of Shabbat with the cosmic reality of creation, as well as the social reality of freedom from slavery. (Exod . 20: 8-11; Deut. 5: 12-15)

6. The earth is entitled as a matter of absolute right to full rest every seventh year; if this rest is denied, the earth rests anyway – through famine, drought, exile. The year of non-attachment and restfulness is like the law of gravity, ignored at our peril. (Lev. 25 and 26: 34-43)

7. Do not destroy fruit trees, even in time of war; today we know all trees are crucially "fruitful" to the planet by producing oxygen and "banking" CO2; trees must be protected to prevent climate disaster. (Deut . 20: 19-20)

8. The Menorah at the Holy Temple is modeled on a tree, and when Ezekiel prophesies its restoration he sees an olive tree on each side of the Menorah, each pouring its oil directly into the Menorah, not needing human intervention. Thus the Menorah itself becomes an intertwining of human and natural creation – bearing the Light that shines from the Unity of all life. (See Green Menorah Covenant information below.)

9. The very last passage of the last of the Prophets, Malachi (3: 23-24), proclaims: "Before the coming of the great ands awesome [or terrible] day of YHWH, I will send you Elijah the prophet, to turn the heart of the parents to the children and the heart of the parents to the children, lest I come and smite the earth with utter destruction."

This prophecy speaks to our own generation, threatened with utter destruiction of the earth through climate disaster. Turn the hearts of the generations to each other especially at Bar/ bat Mitzvah time: Invite a family who reaches that life-marker during the election season to focus on this issue and use "Covenant of Elijah Between the Generations" ceremony and curriculum.

10. The Song of Songs is the ultimate "Eden for grown-ups," the vision of full maturity of the human race, at loving peace with the earth, living in organic rhythms of time.

The pre-election festivals:

Tisha B'Av: The Temple was understood as the microcosm of the world, and therefore its destruction is a warning of danger to the planet. Intertwine passages on climate crisis and danger with passages of the Book of Lamentations.

Rosh Hashanah, known as anniversary of the Creation; invites sermons on protection of God's earth. Tashlich: direct connection with streams, rivers, "blood vessels" of the earth.

Yom Kippur: Tshuvah (turn-toward-healing) in general; where possible, use the tradition of full prostration in the Avodah service to take congregation into the open, full prostration on the earth, adam rejoining adamah. Sukkot: huts with leafy, leaky roofs, open to wind and rain, celebration of rain and harvest,

Contemporary midrash: "YHWH" "pronounced with no vowels is the sound of breath, wind. The interbreathing of all life, trees/ plants to animals/ humans and vice versa. "Nishmat kol chai tivarech et-shimcha," from Siddur) :– "The breath of all life praises your Name" because the Name is the breathing of all life. "Ruach haKodesh," "Holy Spirit/ Breath/ Wind" as an aspect of God.

Connect with CO2 danger to atmosphere & climate. Abraham at last becomes able to fruitfully beget a child with Sarah only after he sees "YHWH," The Holy Wind, in the oaks of Mamre, as the wind rustles their leaves and he perceives that this is God. (Gen. 18: 1-10)

For more information, speakers, etc: write -- and see the Green Menorah section of this website at

See books by Rabbi Arthur Waskow: Down-to-Earth Judaism; Torah of the Earth (2 vols; eco-Jewish thought from early Torah to our own generation); Trees, Earth, & Torah: A Tu B'Shvat Anthology; Seasons of Our Joy.