Lesson 7: Torah Law

plowing with horsesI have been surprised that so many responses to this series on Nature refer emotionally to climate change. They argue either that we are not following the data or that we do not have any conclusive data presently. None of our readers who contacted me argued we can go on raping Nature any way we please until science shows beyond a shadow of doubt that human actions will damage the way our grandchildren live. All counseled thinking before acting frivolously.

John got me thinking when he suggested we should look at our own Christian tradition as well as science. I mentioned that last week that the Genesis creation stories presented humans as God’s stewards or managers of the creation. The Torah Law given at Mount Sinai illustrates what this means. It charts how we humans can live in a proper relationship with God, other people, and the rest of creation. You can’t read these teachings without noticing how much all parts of nature are interrelated. The Bible has understood for millennia what science has recently revealed.

You see this especially with the teachings about domestic animals. We are to make sure they have a Sabbath rest just as we do. “For six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest, so that your ox and your donkey may have relief, and your home-born slave and the resident alien may be refreshed.” (Exodus 23:12)

In appreciation for their participation in producing our bounty, we are to share with them. “You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain. (Deuteronomy 25:4) And we are not to make their existence more difficult. “Do not plow with ox and donkey yoked together.” (Deuteronomy 22:10)

However, the care, also, extends to the land and wild animals. “For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield; but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the wild animals may eat. You shall do the same with your vineyard, and with your olive orchard.” (Exodus 23: 10-13)

Another beautiful passage about wild animals reads, “If you come on a bird’s nest, in any tree or on the ground, with fledglings or eggs, with the mother sitting on the fledglings or on the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young. Let the mother go, taking only the young for yourself, in order that it may go well with you and you may live long.” (Deuteronomy 22:6,7) Notice how this passage fits into our ideas about sustainable living as well as empathy for the bird.

The ancient people respected the creation. They would never have dismissed the land as “only property.” Two of the Ten Commandments protect the neighbors’ property. Other laws prohibit moving property boundaries, call for returning even your enemies’ ox, if it strays, and provide for restoring any land lost because of debt in Jubilee every 50th year.

In other words, Christians do not need science to tell us we should respect Nature. Our ancient tradition calls for appreciating and revering it. Violence against nature is disrespecting the creation God loves. The problem is how we do that. That takes thoughtful conversation between people of good will.

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