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Pikuach Planet
by Dr. Arnie Gotfryd
Readers Write
Dear Dr. Gotfryd,

I really enjoy your articles explaining science in the light of Torah, and vice versa. They are very informative and inspiring, but I take issue with one thing especially. The way Lubavitchers such as yourself (and don't get me wrong here, I admire Chabad's work for klal Yisrael) are so obsessive about the Rebbe and Moshiach, as if there's nothing else in Judaism. When you think of all the gedolei Yisrael and all the mefarshim, etc., to boil all of Yiddishkeit down to Rebbe and Moshiach is just plain wrong.

Sincerely, Chezky R.
Far Rockaway, NY.

Dear Chezky,

As with everything in Judaism, we need to look at what Torah says. The honor accorded to one's Rav hamuvhak, primary Torah teacher, surpasses anything except our honor of Hashem himself. Accordingly, Maimonides writes that one who disagrees with his primary Torah teacher is as if he disagrees with Hashem. And it is my Rebbe who taught me that our singular focus these days should be Moshiach and geulah. Of course this doesn't take away from anything else we are doing, it just enhances it.

We can compare this to a hot issue in ecology today, a very hot issue indeed - global warming.

Just yesterday, a major study was released by a team of some seventy leading climate experts on behalf of the National Science and Technology Council in the US. That report clearly demonstrates the correlation between greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. The fact is, the world is getting warmer, the weather is more violent, polar ice is melting, and sea levels are rising and overall, faster than predicted. 

Their advice? Do whatever it takes to control greenhouse gases. In fact many analysts are even saying that the dozens of environmental issues we used to be concerned about until now are all basically irrelevant - because if world climate is allowed to run amok, the entire global ecosystem will be at risk of total collapse, G-d forbid.

The sheer magnitude of the issue places it squarely in the forefront of every decision we make, the experts say, and that will change the way we view every other environmental issue.

For example, how would your ecological footprint compare if you lived in a wood-burning, rural cottage in New England eating organic, free range meat vs. if you lived in a constantly airconditioned, densely populated city in the American SW, powered by a nuclear facility and fed on agrobusiness beef?

The old ecology would say hey, getting back to nature is the way to go and the cottage wins hands down in every category. But that was before pikuach planet, the fear that these days only one issue counts - survival. Thus, if you love our planet, go nuclear, crank up the air conditioning, move to a crowded city, and chow down on factory food, because in every case, those options emit far less CO2 and methane.

But how clever, you may wonder, is the new ecology, really? We all realize that urban consumerism degrades the environment, nuclear energy poses serious disposal problems, air conditioning uses immense amounts of energy and the hormones and other chemicals in our food are not healthy. Isn't it wrong to forget these values to focus on one issue only, global climate change?

The answer is yes... and no.

If we take care of the more localized quality of life issues and don't address the big question of survival itself, we may be deemed foolish, like the 'chassid shoteh' who won't save a drowning naked woman because she's not appropriately dressed.

On the other hand, if we only concern ourselves only with fighting the greenhouse effect, we will trounce any number of other important environmental values. So what do we do?

Let's return to our initial question. Doesn't the obsession with Rebbe and Moshiach get in the way of respecting everything else in Judaism? Well, it depends.
If we only focus on Rebbe and Moshiach, we will be neglecting all the details of Torah study and mitzvah observance. On the other hand, if we don't focus sufficiently on Rebbe and Moshiach, we will be neglecting the most timely and vital concern of our times as well as the man whose core competence is teaching us how to actualize it.

What's the solution? The Rebbe himself explains. Since the Redemption is so imminent, we should continue all our diverse activities, but dedicate them all to actualizing the redemption and speeding up its progress. In this way, it remains our singular focus while leaving no aspect of Torah unstudied and no mitzvah undone in our tireless quest to bring Moshiach now.

And the same is true about that the environment... Monolithic greenhouse gas fanatics would have us focus on reversing global warming to the exclusion of any other issue. Meanwhile old school ecologists would say no. Let's go back to the way things were and forget about those big issues we can't do anything about anyway.

The solution, as with the Moshiach issue, will not be found through division, but rather through multiplication and integration - just as we multiply our Torah studies and mitzvah observances and integrate them with the singular focus to welcome Moshiach, so too must we multiply our environmentally attuned activities (as this too is a mitzvah - the mitzvah of baal tashchis - resource conservation), but integrated with a common goal, tikun olam, improving the world for an ongoing, sustainable future.


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