Rav Kook on the relationship of humankind and the environment
Floods, fires and droughts everywhere. The effects of global warming as a result of the years of human abuse of the natural environment is taking an increasing toll on life on our planet.
What must humankind do to stop and repair the rapidly growing environmental damage that we have created?
In 1910 Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook ZT’L wrote a remarkable entry in his spiritual writings (Notebook 1-entry 141) that emphasized our mutual relationship with all existence:
“In addition to the human domain, there is a special spiritual strength in all existence-in all the parts of the inanimate, plant, and animal realms…
We cannot imagine the many levels of life strength and spiritual health that mute animals pour into us due to the fact that we are partners in life with those animals.”
We are in partnership with all the realms of life. Our entire existence depends on our daily eating and drinking of the animal, vegetable and mineral world. Their existence and well being is greatly affected by our behavior.
“The mutual influence of the members of a nation’s society is evident to almost all of us. Those with a clearer outlook recognize the mutual influence of all humankind upon each other.
But our soul’s partnership with the entire animal realm is still hidden. No scholar of the spirit dares yet to express this confidently so that this knowledge will become clear.”
Rav Kook wrote this in 1910. Rachel Carson’s book- ‘Silent Spring’ was one of the first books to describe the environmental damage that human beings were bringing about. It was published in 1962.
“However, distant visionary suggestions come like dreams to the precise sciences, giving tidings of their appearance.
We can already rise to the height of unification with the animal realm in general, and from there to unification with plant and inanimate existence; with the core of life, the spark of light, that lives within them.
They affect us and we affect them…
Slowly as life unfolds, we will come to understand that we are a hugely influential force on all existence; and all existence is hugely influential on us. How prophetic. And therefore:
We must unite with all the people among us, with the broad masses. We sense that our ideals must be joined with the dew of life to bring about the general betterment of all humankind. The radiance of life will then shine forth for the entire population, with ‘the blind and the lame, the pregnant and the birthing together’ (Jeremiah 31:7).
Our realization that we must be devoted to uniting and improving the well being of all humanity will lead us to understand that:
But more than that, ‘you will have a covenant with the stones of the field, and the animals of the field will make peace with you (Job 5:23)’.” (Notebook 1:141)
We have broken our covenant with much of life on earth. We are now experiencing the consequences of our reckless and selfish behavior on all realms of life.
In Orot HaTshuva/The Lights of Tshuva Rav Kook explains that: “Physical penitence is related to all transgressions against the laws of nature…Every act of wrongdoing will in the end engender illness and pain, and the individual as well as society is exposed to much suffering as a result of this.
It is clear that the human is responsible for his distress as a result of his misbehavior. He must necessarily give thought to correcting his condition, to conforming to the laws of life and becoming obedient to the laws of nature…Thus he will be renewed in life’s vitality.” (Orot HaTshuva, Ch. 1)
Rav Kook understood that all parts of existence are systematically united. Our actions have a profound affect on all realms of life. He called upon us to respect our relationship with each other and all life. He explained that our covenant with the Creator requires us to recognize the divinity of all creation. When this recognition is integrated into our behavior we will be able to do everything that is necessary to repair all that we have broken.
Bemheira be’Yamenu- Quickly in our days.
Prepared by Rabbi Itzchak Evan-Shayish, [email protected], www.haorot.com