I recently saw an Internet poll that asked the following question: “Would you pay higher taxes in order to preserve a species from extinction?” To be honest, while I didn’t click on the poll (I hate those things), in my mind I answered “I doubt it.” After all, after being indoctrinated by right-wing talk radio for too long, environmentalism and environmental protectionism are creations of the liberal left-wing. Right? Not according to Rabbeinu Bechaya they’re not.
Among the numerous commandments we find in this week’s parshah, the Torah forbids us from taking both a bird and her eggs from the same nest. Rather, שַׁלֵּחַ תְּשַׁלַּח אֶת-הָאֵם, וְאֶת-הַבָּנִים תִּקַּח-לָךְ – “send away the mother and take for yourself the children.” Many commentators, especially Rambam, see an ethical imperative in this commandment. After all, it takes a special level of cruelty to wipe out an entire family of even birds in a single moment. But Rabbeinu Bechaya (a Medieval Spanish commentator), rather than seeing an ethical commandment, finds an environmental message.
“In its simple meaning, the scripture commands us to maintain the species and not uproot it, for even though the Torah permits the slaughter of animals for the benefit of man, it does not permit the destruction and uprooting of them. And if he takes the mother with the children together, it is as if he has destroyed that entire species.”
Perhaps then, the Torah cares more about the environment, and the way that we treat it, than we might have previously thought.