Eco Rabbi: Parshat Tetzaveh – Creator of Light


Each week Orthodox Jews read one segment of the Five Books of Moses so that they can complete the entire Five Books within the course of a year. In last week’s Eco-Rabbi post I discussed how to create room for God to live within us. This week I discuss giving thanks to God for the energy he has given us.

This week’s segment opens with God commanding Moshe on how to prepare the ner tamid for the tabernacle. The ner tamid is an eternal flame, that would burn in the menorah. What is the purpose of an eternal flame?

Fire distinguished man from animal. Fire made meat possible to eat without getting parasites. Without fire we could not make complicated tools. Many of our building techniques rely on fire. With fire to keep man warm, life expectancy grew and many medical procedures developed. Fire led to longer days with the ability to study by the candlelight. Knowledge grew and of course technology.

Fire also represents man’s soul. It is connected by a wisp to matter, but cannot be held. It barely holds onto reality, and reaches up to the heavens. Fire warms us, like our souls, but if you try to touch it it can burn you. And if you hold onto it too tightly, it goes out. With a single breath it goes out, yet it needs air to continue. Man’s elusive soul mirrors the flame.

This is yet another parallel between man’s soul and the Torah, just as water, and trees. The torah is said to be written with black fire on white fire. The torah, too, is ungraspable.

Fire is what allowed us to transcend the animal kingdom. But having this status comes with responsibility.

Most of our energy today comes from oil. Crude oil was made over millions of years from plankton, from the Jurassic period, roughly 180,000,000 years ago. The plankton were trapped under many layers of sand and mud. Over millions of years, the dead animals and plants were buried deeper and deeper. The heat and pressure, from that process,  gradually turned the mud into rock and the dead animals and plants into oil and gas.

Oil was a gift from God. Just as fire. So that man could transcend to a higher level of being. From animal to man to evolved man. Today we are developing more and more ways of generating energy. Ways that do not rely on burning oil. I believe that God gave us the oil so that we could develop these harmonious ways of living. But just as with all gifts, we need to use it responsibly. We are burning through millions of barrels of oil a day, only as fast as it can be pumped out of the earth. We’re charging God’s energy debit card faster than we can become self-sufficient.

If we respect this wonderful gift of energy, if we want it to be eternal, and not bring our own destruction, we have to be responsible with this gift. For the very least, be aware of the energy you use. Just as us Jews make a blessing before we eat, so that we can appreciate what we are about to take part in, I would like to suggest taking a moment to contemplate before turning on a light, or starting your car. Baruch yotzer ohr, blessed is the one who creates light.

Image Credit: veo

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2 thoughts on “Eco Rabbi: Parshat Tetzaveh – Creator of Light”

  1. Confused says:

    I don’t understand how someone who calls himself a Rabbi and seems Knowledgeable of the Parsha would write that oil was made 180,000,000 years ago. Maybe you should explain wow that works out with the 5769 years that we have been counting.

  2. russ says:

    Sadly if the oil that was once plankton is ours to use we have misused it to destroy those very plankton. In 200 years of burning fossil fuels we have emitted back into the air in one deadly belch 1650 billion tonnes of CO2 taken out of the air over a hundred million years by the early plankton. In the same manner that a massive dose of chemicals sterilizes our swimming pools in one shock treatment our dosing of the oceans with this CO2 is sterilizing the oceans. That thousand gigatonne carbon bomb already airborne is sufficient to destroy life as we know it on this blue planet. No amount of late pennatant emission reduction will influence that airborne carbon bomb. The single thing we might do to restore the balance of nature is to replenish and restore the ocean pastures, the plankton blooms. Those blooms have been more than decimated in our cavalier abuse of fossil fuels. 17% of ocean plants have been exterminated in the N. Atlantic, 26% in th N. Pacific, and 50% in the tropical seas in the past 30 years. Only by replenishing vital mineral micronutrient dust which no longer falls in sufficient abundance to nourish ocean plants can we restore the ocean pastures. The life force of ocean plants alone might capture and convert billions of tonnes of CO2 into ocean life instead of becoming acid ocean death which it does today.

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