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Chabad brags, as God's chosen, of being able to control the weather

Who Controls the Weather?

It seems that we have come full circle.

There was a time when people believed they could control the weather. In every society were rituals to bring forth rain—from sacrifices to special prayers to rain dances.

Later, people became enlightened and learned that rain depended on outside forces beyond our control. Singing and dancing have no effect.

Now the pendulum has swung in the other direction. Human behavior has a great deal of influence on weather patternsScientists have come to realize that human behavior has a great deal of influence on weather patterns. Industrial activity releases unprecedented levels of greenhouse gases into the air, raising global temperatures and contributing to rising sea levels, desertification and perhaps more savage storms. Every extreme weather event—from hurricanes to ice storms—is greeted by a media hoopla reminding us that climate change is responsible.

Long ago, we may have attributed a freak storm or a devastating hurricane to divine retribution, and even in the not-so-distant past, natural disasters were referred to as “acts of G‑d.” Today, however, we are ready to accept a much more direct responsibility for catastrophic events.

What does the Torah have to say on the matter? Can we control the weather? What is our responsibility toward the environment? To what lengths must we go to protect open spaces or endangered species? And are we at fault for natural disasters?

The Torah portion of Bereishit is fundamental in establishing the role of man within the order of creation and sheds light on some of the thorniest environmental issues of today.

Let’s examine several verses in order:

1. In the beginning, G‑d created heaven and earth.1

The very first verse of the Torah establishes the inconvertible truth: The world belongs to G‑d, full stop. Our approach to environmental issues needs to be built on this foundation. How does G‑d want us to treat His world? Are we using it in the way He intended?

2. G‑d said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness, and they shall rule over the fish of the sea, the fowl of the heavens, the animals, all the earth and all the creeping things that creep upon the earth.”2

In this verse, G‑d is contemplating the creation of mankind and envisioning the role we would play. We find two themes in this verse: We are created in the image of G‑d, and we are given the responsibility of ruling over all other creatures. These two facts go hand in hand. Our right to use natural resources or to modify the environment is predicated on our recognition that we are here as G‑d’s representatives on earth, responsible for safeguarding all of creation.

3. G‑d blessed them, and G‑d said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and rule over the fish of the sea, the fowl of the sky and the beasts that tread upon the earth.”3

Here, G‑d is not convening with the angels, but addressing Adam and Eve directly, laying out their role on earth. In addition to “ruling” over the creatures of the earth, G‑d adds two more directives: to be fruitful and multiply, and to “subdue” the earth. Chassidic teachings explain that the word “subdue” refers to our work of transforming the world into a place that reflects its creator.4

This verse does not give us license to exploit the world’s resources and harm the environment. On the other hand, it is not meant as an indictment of all human industrial activity. In an ideal world, all human endeavor is a means to an end. G‑d created a world that is “subduable,” one that can be manipulated and reshaped by man, but only to serve a higher purpose—to reveal the G‑dly unity within all of creation.

When we take a beautiful landscape and replace it with a cityscape, is this an abomination of G‑d’s earth? If the creation of the city will help more people live, work and function in order to better serve G‑d, then it is not an abomination but an enhancement of the earth. We must ask ourselves: Does our industry contribute to greater unity and cooperation between people? Do we use our inventions to help each other or to exploit one another? And—have we built the city in the most eco-friendly and sustainable way, giving back to the earth rather than depleting it? We were given a G‑dly power to shape our environment. How we apply that power is up to us.

4. These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, on the day that the L‑rd G‑d made earth and heaven. Now no tree of the field was yet on the earth, neither did any herb of the field yet grow, because the L‑rd G‑d had not brought rain upon the earth, and there was no man to work the soil. And a mist ascended from the earth and watered the entire surface of the ground.5

These verses encapsulate the symbiotic relationship between humankind and the environment. G‑d had created the world completely, yet had not brought rain to irrigate the earth and actualize the earth’s potential. For this, He awaited the creation of Adam, who would recognize the need for rain and pray for it.

It may sound strange, but in Chassidic thought, the rain that falls from above is a symbol of our work below.6 There is an intimate relationship between human activity and rainfall—which we have always understood in a spiritual sense, but are now just beginning to unravel in a physical sense as well. The “mist” referred to in this verse is There is an intimate relationship between human activity and rainfallour activity, our efforts to work with the world, elevate it and make it more spiritual. In return, G‑d reciprocates and “waters the entire surface of the ground,” saturating the world with His goodness.

When we pray for rain, we ask not only for precipitation but that G‑d send gishmei brachah, rains of blessing. We ask that G‑d send us rain in the right time and in the right amount. And this, indeed, depends a great deal on us. We ask that G‑d bless our endeavors. We ask for the wisdom and strength to use the resources that G‑d has given us in the proper way—in a way that respects every element of creation and reveals its G‑dly source. Then we will enjoy G‑d’s blessings and dwell peacefully on earth, sustained by G‑d’s full, open and holy hand.