An incoming EU law plans to ban the sale of products made or based on land that was deforested. Whilst this law wouldn’t apply to the UK, because of Brexit, it shows how seriously many governments are taking the challenge of biodiversity loss. Hundreds of thousands of different species of animals and plants are facing extinction because of human activity. Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history — and the rate of species extinctions is accelerating, with grave impacts on people around the world now more likely.
The appreciation of the importance of biodiversity can be seen as we look carefully into the underlying idea behind a verse in this week’s second parasha. There are a series of laws which deal with the intermingling of species:
“Do not mate your animal into another species, do not plant your field with mixed seed; do not wear a garment that is a mixture of wool and linen fibres.” (Vayikra 19:19)
The Torah describes these prohibitions as a chok, a non-rational law. Nevertheless, the Spanish commentator, Rabbenu Bachya (1255-1340) sees in these laws a sensitivity to biodiversity. He writes that by mingling these different kinds, we are upsetting a cosmic order. We need to respect the created diversity of all parts of our world. By inappropriate mixing or grafting, we are causing an imbalance in a pre-established pattern in creation.
Many of the problems that we are now experiencing in loss of species around the world come from excess deforestation. The EU has set itself the target to plant 3 billion additional trees by 2030 to help tackle climate change.
Our parasha refers to the planting of trees in the land of Israel:
“When you come to the land and plant any tree for food…” (Vayikra 19:23.)
The Midrash Tanhuma on this passage sees here, an ongoing requirement to plant trees:
“‘When you come into the land and plant.’ The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Israel, Even though you find it (i.e., the land) full of all bounty, you shall not say, ‘Let us settle down and not plant.’ Rather, be careful to plant, as stated, ‘and plant trees for food.’ Just as you arrived and found trees which others had planted, so you shall plant for your children…”
Our current generation has been born into a world that has enjoyed the blessings of amazing biodiversity. It is our responsibility not to spoil this for the next generation.