Lush green grass, tall trees and fresh streams framed our journey through G‑d's perfect nature. Sunlight filtered through the overhanging brush, creating patterns on a pine-needle carpet that was rich with activity and teeming with life.

Nature's beauty, unbridled and uncapped, radiated in pristine glory. Untouched by human hand and filled to overflow with insects, birds and wildlife, it was simply a paradise on earth. The animals knew it and we knew it too. We were frolicking in G‑d's own playground.

If only all of the world could be so preserved. If only our planet could become one large conservation. Alas, that cannot be. For humanity to survive we must disturb nature's delicate little petals. We cannot build homes without felling trees. We cannot farm land without turning over soil. We cannot eat without disturbing animal and vegetation.

The Contemporary Question

How much should be disturbed and how much should be preserved? That is the contemporary debate. Should we rob the environment to feed our appetites? Should we deplete our resources to serve unending and unnecessary needs? Should we uproot forests and supplant deserts to make space for suburban development?

The developer says, yes. Growing populations require housing even if it encroaches on the environment. Sprawling population centers require goods and services even if it encroaches on the environment. Despite the cost, humanity's needs must come first.

The environmentalist disagrees. "Leave G‑d's nature alone," he says. Revel in its pristine glory, enjoy its enchanting beauty and cherish its peaceful serenity. If we don't learn to protect and enjoy our environment today, it won't be here to serve us tomorrow.

Whichever way we turn we are forced to choose. For humanity to thrive, the environment must pay a price. For the environment to thrive, humanity must pay a price. In its final form the question is, does man belong to nature or does nature belong to man?

The religious answer is, neither. Both belong to G‑d.

A Hybrid Opinion

In his Monumental work, Horeb, Samson Raphael Hirsh argued that mankind is summoned by G‑d to govern his created earth and to fashion all things in our environment to our own purposes; the earth for habitation, plant and animal for food and clothing.

We are permitted to rule over the world for the six weekdays. On the seventh day, however, we are forbidden, at divine behest, to fashion anything into an instrument of human service. In this way we acknowledge that we have no ownership or authority over the world. Nothing may be dealt with as we please, for everything belongs to G‑d.1

Rabbi Hirsch drafts opposing arguments into his hybrid philosophy. The developer claims humanity's dominion over nature and Rabbi Hirsch grants that dominion. The environmentalist argues that we have no right of ownership over nature and Rabbi Hirsch grants that point as well.

Within these parameters mankind is entitled to inhabit the planet and to utilize its resources as necessary. However, unnecessary destruction of any kind, even picking a leaf from its branch without reason, is a crime against nature and forbidden by G‑d.2