Pekuach Nefesh by Rabbi Kamil

There is an old story of five people in a boat. None of them like each other that much, so they mostly keep to themselves. Everyone is happy to allow the other to do their own thing. One day, the person in the corner begins to hack at the wood in the bottom of the boat. At first, everyone is fine with this. However, it’s not long before a small leak appears. The people say that the person in the corner should stop what they’re doing. The person in the corner argues that they’re doing their own thing and it doesn’t matter. The people respond, “When your actions affect all of us, it’s not just your thing.”

On the evening of February 9th, we will begin the holiday Tu B’shevat, the 15th of the month Shevat, but that doesn’t tell us about the holiday. It is often referred to as the new year for the trees. It feels strange to celebrate the new year for the trees during winter, however, in the land of Israel, trees are beginning to bud. We may ask the question “why do we have this holiday?“ There are many answers to this, but perhaps the most significant today is that we acknowledge the importance of the environment for our lives. We cannot exist without our environment. Everything we do to the world around us affects another person on this boat.

There are many commandments which tell us to take care of the earth. In fact, one of the first commandments given to the first humans was to care for the land. This is discussed a lot in the Talmud, the great work of rabbinic Judaism. There is never a consensus on the most important commandment, the one to be held above all others, but the commandment of pekuach nefesh, to guard and protect life, has extreme importance. Working to create a greener world protects life, as we are all people on this planet. Rising temperatures, pollution, trash affect all of us, and actions against these will fulfill the commandment of pekuach nefesh.

Our congregation is looking to be more involved in creating a greener space in our Etz Chaim community and our community at large. We want to protect life. If you’re interested in joining our environmental committee, please contact me at rabbikamil@congetzchaim.org. May everyone have a meaningful Tu B’shevat.