Rabbi Sacks on Eco-Judaism Roots
JInsider (March 2010)
Because the Jews were first to believe in one God who created the universe, they also laid out in the Torah the world’s first-ever environmental legislation. And so we have in the Torah laws about letting fields go fallow every seven years, about not needlessly destroying trees when laying siege to a city and so on. The key phrase here, two vital words, occur in the second chapter of Bereishit, where it says that God planted the first human being in the garden, l’ovdah u’leshomrah, to serve and conserve it.
In other words, God says to us, “Here is the universe. I have made you the single most powerful force in the universe, but you are My guardians, My trustees, and therefore, you have to protect and preserve the environment for the sake of future generations.”
A Midrash puts it as well as any other statement that I’ve heard. When God finished Creation, and He had created the first human being, He said, “Adam, see what I have created and I’ve made it all for you. Therefore, be careful. Be careful not to destroy what I’ve made. For if you destroy it, there will be no-one left to put the damage right.”