Preserving the Species

The following is an excerpt from an article in the Washington Post by Juliet Eilperin (August 24, 2005)

Wave of Marine Species Extinctions Feared:

For years, many scientists and regulators believed the oceans were so vast there was little risk of marine species dying out. Now, some suspect the world is on the cusp of what Ellen K. Pikitch, executive director of the Pew Institute for Ocean Science, calls "a gathering wave of ocean extinctions." Dozens of biologists believe the seas have reached a tipping point, with scores of species of ocean-dwelling fish, birds and mammals edging toward extinction. In the past 300 years, researchers have documented the global extinction of just 21 marine species -- and 16 have occurred since 1972.

Dear Friends,

It is unjust to destroy any species of life, for as the following verses indicate, the diversity of species is part of the Divine plan for creation:

"The Just One created the great families of fish, and every living small creature that moves, with which the waters swarmed, according to their species, and every winged bird according to its species. And the Just One saw that it was good." (Genesis 1:21)

"The Just One said: Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their species; tame animals, creeping things, and wild animals of the land according to their species. And it was so. The Just One created the wild animals of the land according to their species, the tame animals according to their species, and every creeping thing upon the ground according to its species. And the Just One saw that it was good." (Genesis 1:24,25)

"And the Just One saw all that He had made, and lo! It was very good! And it was evening and it was morning; the sixth day." (Genesis 1:31)

"It was very good!" Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains: "Every single creation is good, when considered by itself. But only now, when all the stages of Creation have been completed, and each single part can be considered in relation to the whole, is everything not only good, but very good! (Commentary on Genesis)

On Friday evening, just before the Shabbos meal, we chant the "Kiddush" - blessing of sanctification. The Friday night Kiddush opens with the following verse:

"The heaven and the earth and all their host were brought to their destined completion" (Genesis 2:1).

One of the classical commentators, the Ramban, explains that the "host" of creation includes all creatures and plant life on earth. The Hebrew word for "host" is tzava - a group assembled and united for a common purpose. The Midrash on our verse therefore explains that this verse is conveying to us the following message: All species serve the Divine purpose, even those that a human being may feel are not needed, such as "flies, fleas, and mosquitoes" (Genesis Rabbah).

The human being, however, has the power to destroy species of life which are serving the Divine purpose. An allusion to this harmful injustice appears in the following verse: "Consider the deeds of the Just One else how can one repair what he had made crooked?" (Ecclesiastes 7:13) The commentary of the Metzudas David explains that there is severe damage caused by the human being which only the Creator will be able to repair. As the Midrash on the above verse states:

In the hour when the Holy One, blessed be He, created the first human being, He took him and let him pass before all the trees of the Garden of Eden and said to him: "See my works, how fine and excellent they are! Now all that I have created, for you have I created it. Think upon this and do not destroy and desolate My World, for if you corrupt it, there is no one to set it right after you." (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:28)

Human beings will not be able to find anyone in their midst who can fully repair the beautiful world that they have corrupted and destroyed. In the messianic age, however, the Compassionate Creator of all life will intervene to repair the world. This idea is expressed in the "Song of the Trees" which is found in Perek Shirah:

"Then all the trees of the forest will sing with joy before the Compassionate One - for He will have come to judge the earth." (I Chronicles 16:33)

Rabbi Nosson Scherman, in his explanation of the above verse, writes: "Where there has been disarray, a judge must restore order and replace chaos with justice. When the world is in turmoil, and justice is perverted, even the trees of the wild suffer, for the earth's resources are abused and depleted. When the rule of the Ultimate Judge is acknowledged and accepted, even the trees will express their joy by waving their branches ecstatically, because the health of nature will be restored." (ArtScroll edition of Perek Shirah)

The Prophet Isaiah therefore proclaimed the following Divine promise:

"For Behold, I am creating new heavens and a new earth; the former (troubles) will no longer be recalled and will not be taken to heart." (Isaiah 65:17) - The creatures of the heaven and earth will be renewed (Ibn Ezra quoting Rabbi Judah Ibn Hiug).

According to Jewish tradition, we can hasten the arrival of this new age if we begin to act justly with everyone and everything in creation. The Prophet Isaiah therefore proclaimed, "Zion shall be redeemed through justice, and those who return to her through righteousness" (Isaiah 1:27).

As the "Song of the Trees" reminds us, this justice is to extend to all species of life on earth.

Have a Good and Just Shabbos,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)

P.S. Ibn Ezra, a classical biblical commentator, gives another explanation of the words, "Behold, I am creating new heavens and a new earth." According to Ibn Ezra, the atmosphere will be renewed, and the earth will gain new strength. The purified and good atmosphere, he adds, will enable people to live long and healthy lives.

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