Revelation of Shmitah

This week’s Torah portion, Behar  Behukotai, starts:

God spoke to Moshe on Mount Sinai, saying: Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: When you come into the land that I give you, the land shall observe a Sabbath rest for God. For Six years you may sow your field and for six years you may prune your vineyards and you may gather your crop. But the seventh year shall be a complete rest for the land, a Sabbath for God, your field you shall not sow and your vineyard you shall not prune.

Leviticus 25:1-4

Rashi asks the oft quoted question, “What is the issue of Shmitah doing juxtaposed Har Sinai?” Or in other words, what does this have to do with the price of Tea in China? Why is this Mitzvah getting top billing at Sinai? Was not the whole Torah given at Sinai? 

I was thinking about question and then I got to thinking about the forecasted impact of climate change. This list includes but is not limited to:

Sea Level Will Rise 1-8 feet by 2100

Global sea level has risen about 8 inches (0.2 meters) since reliable record-keeping began in 1880. By 2100, scientists project that it will rise at least another foot (0.3 meters), but possibly as high as 8 feet (2.4 meters), if we continue carbon emissions at our current rate. Sea level is rising because of added water from melting land ice and the expansion of seawater as it warms.

Hurricanes Will Become Stronger and More Intense

The intensity of North Atlantic hurricanes, as well as the frequency of the strongest (Category 4 and 5) hurricanes, have all increased since the early 1980s.

More Droughts and Heat Waves

Droughts in the Southwest and heat waves (periods of abnormally hot weather lasting days to weeks) are projected to become more intense, and cold waves less intense and less frequent.

Longer Wildfire Season

Warming temperatures have made the wildfire season longer and more severe in the West, and deepening drought in the region has added to the risk of fires. Scientists estimate that human-caused climate change has already doubled the area of forest burned in recent decades. By around 2050, the amount of land consumed by wildfires in Western states is projected to further increase by two to six times. Even in rainy regions like the Southeast, wildfires are projected to increase by about 30%.

Changes in Precipitation Patterns

Climate change is having an uneven effect on precipitation (rain and snow) in the United States, with some locations experiencing increased precipitation and flooding, while others suffer from drought. On average, more winter and spring precipitation is projected for the northern United States, and less for the Southwest, over this century.

Frost-Free Season (and Growing Season) will Lengthen

The length of the frost-free season, and the corresponding growing season, has been increasing since the 1980s, with the largest increases occurring in the western United States. Across the United States, the growing season is projected to continue to lengthen, which will affect ecosystems and agriculture.

Global Temperatures Will Continue to Rise

The climate of the United States is directly linked to the changing global climate. The last eight years have been the hottest years on record for the globe.

Arctic Is Very Likely to Become Ice-Free

Sea ice cover in the Arctic Ocean is expected to continue decreasing, and the Arctic Ocean will very likely become essentially ice-free in late summer if current projections hold; this change is expected to occur before mid-century.

I am not foolish enough to think that if everyone kept the laws of Shmitah we would avert global warming. But I believe that the foundational to the practice of Shmitah is the believe that we do not actually only the earth and we are are mere stewards of God’s creation. If we acted on this belief I believe that we could be a much better situation when it comes to climate change and mitigating its impact. That is some important Torah.

So to return to Rashi’s question, “What is the issue of Shmitah doing juxtaposed Har Sinai?” I want to turn it on its head in light of our current climate crisis. What Torah is there to learn beyond the lessons of Shmitah at Har Sinai?


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