One Minute Torah: Our Land is Burning – Bereshit 5780

Our land is burning again. I was alone in my car when I heard the report from Geyserville this morning. A local official was explaining […]

Our land is burning again.

I was alone in my car when I heard the report from Geyserville this morning. A local official was explaining on the radio about the high winds that caused the fire to spread so quickly, and about the retardants that they’ve been throwing on the fires. As I pictured those chemicals thrown onto a wall of flames, words pressed themselves out of my chest. “We need rain! Please, please we need rain,.” I pleaded out loud. And I cried.

Just at that moment, as I said the  word “rain”, the voice on the radio changed. Instead of the local official, a reporter began describing the scene before her eyes. “A rainfall of ash,” she said.

This week, Jews everywhere began including in our daily prayers the winter plea: משיב הרוח ומוריד הגשם, “Brings the wind and brings down the rain.” But the winds are bringing destruction, and the rain is a sprinkle of ash.

This Shabbat, we will read two stories of creation. The first, Genesis chapter one, describes a CEO-type God, who verbally commands the creation of the world in six orderly steps. God is referred  to in this text as Elohim, a name the rabbis associate with justice. This story culminates in the creation of the human, to whom Elohim says, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the land and conquer it.”  The text describes these words as a blessing: וַיְבָ֣רֶךְ אֹתָם֮ אֱלֹהִים֒.  The rabbis understand these words to be a commandment. Either way, all blessings have limits, and it may be possible to exceed God’s command. Have we overfilled the land? Have we conquered too much? Why is it ninety degrees in October? 

In the second creation story, Genesis chapter two, God is referred to as Ado-nai, a name the rabbis associate with chesed, compassion. In this version, Ado-nai digs in the dirt to create the first human. Ado-nai tenderly places Adam in the Garden of Eden, “to work it and to protect it”. Not to fill it. Not to conquer it.

When the land is burning, we have no choice but to conquer the fire. In the moment of crisis, we must deploy our machines, with force and power. But to protect our land from decades of fires – and droughts, or hurricanes, or cyclones — we need to develop a different ethic. We need the ethic of Genesis two, to protect the land with chesed.