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Protecting Our Planet: Achrei Mot/Kedoshim

In this week’s Torah reading, “Achrei Mot/Kedoshim”, we learn about many of the various laws which G-d tells the people of Israel they must observe once they enter the land of Israel. These laws range from a prohibition on cursing the deaf to one on wearing mixed fibers (Levitcus 19:14 and 19:19 respectively), all under the general order of “you shall be holy” (19:2). Many of the laws listed under that heading have clear moral implications; after all, what could a commandment to leave a corner of your field to the poor be if not charity? The reasoning behind other commandments is not so clear.

One example: after the Jews enter Israel and plant trees, they must not eat their fruit until the fourth year, when they bring the fruit to the temple in Jerusalem. Only in the fifth year does it become entirely permitted (19:23-25). What purpose is served by waiting so long to benefit from a tree’s produce?

Traditional Jewish commentators provide a multitude of possible answers. The Alshich (Rav Moshe Alshich, 1580-1593) proposes an answer particularly relevant to this week’s Green Mega Shabbat. He writes that this commandment can teach us that it’s inappropriate to simply come in and use the land and its produce before we’ve worked it and gained a real appreciation for it. Before using a resource, we need to understand where it’s come from and what effort went into acquiring it. We need to know that we’re not using it up, and that we’re making the best use of what we have. Most importantly, we must be appreciative of all we have, and that appreciation precedes any other use.

This lesson is not limited to produce mentioned above. In our daily lives, whenever we make use of food, water, electricity, or another resource, we can be careful to acknowledge all the work that went into it, and to not take for granted any resource we use.

Shabbat Shalom everyone!

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