June 5 has been declared World Environment Day by the United Nations. In honor of this year’s theme, “Seven Billion Dreams. One Planet. Consume with Care,” Jewish Treats presents a brief review of how Torah law views “resource sharing.”
It goes without saying that in Biblical times the idea of a wold population surpassing seven billion people was unthinkable. However, this incredible number attests to the fulfillment of the very first Divine commandment: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the land” (Genesis 1:28). At the same time that God commanded humankind to multiply, He gave them dominion over the earth. Simultaneously, however, He placed upon humankind the responsibility of taking care of the world. Within this formative time for humankind came the instinct to populate the world and the innovative abilities to make the world liveable for all creatures. While it is up to humankind to utilize that innovative ability, it does not guarantee an equality of resource distribution.
Clearly, the Torah does not advocate for a communist-like equality, yet it includes many measures to ensure that everyone has access to their basic needs. For instance, a farmer is instructed not to harvest the corner of the fields so that the poor and the stranger might reap their needs from the unharvested corners (Leviticus 19:9-10). Similarly, a fallen sheaf of wheat that was missed by the harvesters during the harvest becomes ownerless so that it may be collected by “the stranger, the fatherless and the widow” (Deuteronomy 24:19-21).
On the other hand, there is the Torah prohibition of bal tashchit (“dare not waste”), which is derived from the commandment not to destroy fruit bearing trees, but is understood within Jewish law to refer to any situation of waste or wanton destruction.
These are just a few examples of the way resource sharing was built into the framework of biblical society.