Genesis’ opening chapter seems to teach how the world was created, how it came into being and that our responsibility is to have dominion over it.
Our science books would beg to differ – and given the recent actions by Extinction Rebellion protesters, perhaps we have misunderstood the real message of this Torah story.
I now have a young adult in the community with a criminal record and an emeritus rabbi who was carried away by the police. Why? They have chosen a specific course of action, through Extinction Rebellion, to make a crucial statement.
Campaigners around the world are disrupting society to remind us that the first commandment in Torah – this specific verse – is not our dominance over Earth, but our responsibility to sustain the planet and all life on it.
Their disruptive behaviour might be an annoyance, but their campaigning cannot be just ignored. Perhaps the picture painted of seven days of creation and Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden wasn’t intended to teach us how the world came to be, but our responsibility towards it.
By seeing Genesis purely as a creation story, we have been ignoring the Torah’s statement on the environment.
The starting point for the whole world, every star, bush, fruit and animal is there in a perfect balance for our existence. Our whole Torah is founded upon that simple message: Maintain the equilibrium. For only with an understanding of our collective responsibility towards the planet can we live our lives according to all the other Torah mitzvot.
Genesis takes us from darkness and nothingness to being an established people. We need to heed the call, before we find ourselves writing the final chapter. It is our responsibility, as Genesis 1:28 says, to sustain the earth by replenishing it.
- Rabbi Miriam Berger serves Finchley Reform Synagogue