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Darkness Upon the Face of the Deep

“In the Beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God hovers on the surface of the water.” (Gen.1:1-2).

While we are taught that God is omnipresent and there is no place where the Divine presence does not dwell; there are few places that evoke a spiritual experience or a connection with the Divine more surely than the surface of water. Stand on a beach and look out to the endless expanse of the sea, and we feel God’s power. Contemplate the still, calm surface of a quiet lake and we feel God’s peace. Sit on the bank of a meandering river and feel God’s presence.

Yet we Jews have never been contented just looking at the surface of anything. We delve deep into our sacred texts. We dive into social justice. We are not content just living in the world; we want to change it. We talk about being partners with God in creation and Tikkun Olam. Indeed, the Jewish environmental community is a stellar example of individuals who are passionate about repairing the world, not because it is the popular thing to do or because it is “politically correct,” but because we are Jews. We see environmentalism not as a fad but as a religious and moral imperative. It is our responsibility as Jews to reverse the damage that humans have caused to our planet.

For all the noble efforts to raise awareness of the environment in the Jewish world however, it would seem that we have missed one essential element. Stand on the beach, the bank or the shore and all looks peaceful and right. The price of waterfront real estate alone will attest to its beauty and desirability, but do not be deluded. There is darkness upon the face of the deep.

With seventy-one percent of our planet covered in water, where is the voice of the Jewish environmental community concerning the virtual rape of the oceans and waterways of the world? On the surface, it would appear that the Jewish environmentalist’s view of water conservation is limited to ground water utilization and the amount of energy used to get it from the aquifers to the field and faucet.

Where is the voice of the Jewish environmental community concerning our oceans? In his book “Oceana: Our Endangered Oceans and What We Can Do To Save Them,” Ted Danson wrote: “Humans are terrestrial creatures. We live on the land, not in the sea. When we refer to the “environment,” we’re typically talking about our environment – the land, air, rivers, lakes, and coastlines where we live, work, and play. It’s no surprise that a study of charitable giving in America showed that of all donations directed toward environmental concerns, 99 percent went to agencies and organizations focused on terrestrial issues, while 1 percent went to groups working to protect the oceans and the sea life within them.[1]” It’s time for a change; a sea-change, if you will. It is time to raise the Jewish voice to save our oceans and seas. This is the reason Tikkun HaYam - Repair the Seas was created.

The Jewish People is called to be a light unto the nations. It’s time for Jews to get actively involved, to raise the torch and shine the light on the disaster which is taking place at this very moment. We can no longer sit complacently by as our oceans are destroyed by greed and ignorance, simply because we don’t see beneath the waves. The most recent studies and data are telling us that at the current rate of depletion by the fishing industry, our oceans could be empty within the next fifty years. Yes, you read that correctly: Our oceans could be empty..... devoid of life....dead, within the next fifty years if we don’t do something. Australia’s Great Barrier Reef could be a pile of dead rubble even sooner.

The Talmud says: “Those who have the capacity to eliminate a wrong and do not do so, bear the responsibility for its consequences.[2]” We Jews, like the vast majority of all environmentalists, are focused on the terrestrial world. The simple fact however, is that if we lose the oceans, the earth will follow. There is nothing we can do to sustain the world once we have destroyed the seas.

It is undeniable that there is darkness upon the face of the deep. It’s time for light to shine forth from Jewish environmentalists to dispel the darkness.


[1] Oceana: Our Endangered Oceans and What We Can Do To Save Them, by Ted Danson with Michael D’Orso, Rodale, New York, 2010.

[2] Babylonian Talmud: Massechet Shabbat 54b

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