Parsha Emor: Respect for Nature and Animals

May 5, 2023
BBYO Weekly Parsha


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Among holiday explanations and rules for the High priests, there is a lot to unpack in Parsha Emor. One of the most famous parts of this parsha, however, is the ever-so-famous line: Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. While punishments for crimes committed by humans unto humans are outlined, crimes against animals are also mentioned as needing and constituting punishment. How can the same Torah that urges animal sacrifice talk about punishment for wronging an animal? The answer is simple. Animals belong to G-d, not to us. Just like us, they are living beings in this world, and they are also G-d’s creatures. What we are instructed to do or not do to them is simply Hashem exerting control over animals and nature, both of which are rightfully his. 

Those familiar with the laws of Kashrut know that unlike with Islam, the main concern with pigs is not their “dirtiness” (although that is a factor), but rather the fact that G-d did not give us the green light to eat pork. The same goes for shrimp, rabbit, camel, shark, and all of the Treif fauna around us. Why is this? G-d gave us animals as a gift, after all we are in his earth. Our planet does not belong to us, but rather to nature, the incredible embodiment of G-d’s grandiose on earth. G-d gave us the permission to eat certain animals, such as chicken and cow, and even giraffe, as well as the permission to reap the fruits of the earth’s soil. This is all, however, still a gift, as the earth and everything inside it belongs purely to Hashem. Regardless of how much control we think we have over our planet, and how much of nature we dominate, this is still Hashem’s sanctuary, and we are simply living in it.  Parsha Emor teaches us that while we have moral laws that apply to interactions with people and Kiddush hashem, the sanctifying of G-d’s name, we cannot ignore G-d’s commandments to protect flora and fauna, and to ensure our planet and ecosystem remain healthy.

In today’s world we are too consumed by contemporary life, from cell phones and cars, to buildings and books, human-made objects dominate everything in our world. Because of this, we often overlook the importance of G-d’s commandments surrounding the earth, leading to commandments on human interaction and belief coming first. Sanctifying G-d’s name, however, also comes with sanctifying his dwelling, which is our earth. Keep this in mind as you navigate through this, and every parsha. Laws like Emor’s stating not to kill a mother and calf on the same day might seem like they are about obedience or mere procedure, but they have nothing to do with human behavior and practice. The aforementioned law, for example, is widely interpreted as a call for respect of the cycle of nature. The best way to honor Hashem is not always to go through traditional routes, as we have, after all, 613 Mitzvot to choose from. Tikkun Olam, additionally, is often touted as being helping make the world a better place through kind deeds and actions to benefit people, but we must not ignore the nature aspect of it.

Luiz Gandelman

Miami BBYO

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All views expressed on content written for The Shofar represent the opinions and thoughts of the individual authors. The author biography represents the author at the time in which they were in BBYO.

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