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Environmental Protection Agency

Friday, 26 October, 2012 - 12:00 pm

The US Environmental Protection Agency states that its mission is to ensure “all Americans are protected from significant risks to human health and the environment where they live, learn and work.” To this end, since its inception under President Nixon, the EPA continues to enforce regulations authorized by Congress that mitigate or eliminate risk to human health and the environment.

Recently, there has been considerable debate about the extension of the Clean Air Act, which impacts fuel economy of motor vehicles, among other things.

Most people accept that I need some sort of regulation protecting me from others that create hazardous situations, such as a company that pollutes my drinking water. But what if I pollute my own drinking water? Do I deserve protection from myself?

Should we help those that refuse to help themselves? If someone creates or settles into an environment that’s detrimental are we still morally obligated to cure their ills?

***

In this week’s parsha, Lech Lecha, we find Avraham and his nephew Lot parting ways. Lot chooses to depart for the greener pastures of Sodom. Now, the Torah considers the people of Sodom to be “very evil and sinful against G-d.” In fact, in next week’s parsha we learn about their destruction.

Subsequently, a war breaks out and Lot is taken captive. Quoting the verse in Mishlei (Proverbs), “He who goes with the wise will become wise, but he who befriends the fools will be broken,” the Midrash explains that Lot brought this upon himself. In other words, he was hanging out with the wrong crowd. It was his environment that caused him to eventually end up in trouble.

Nonetheless, Avraham mobilizes his forces and rescues Lot.

In fact, Lot does not learn his lesson. He resettles in Sodom and again is rescued just before the destruction of Sodom.

The message is clear: Lot is negatively impacted by his environment, all at his own choosing. (The wisdom of our Sages, “Woe to the wicked and woe to his neighbor,” is certainly appropriate). Avraham, instead of blaming Lot, repeatedly saves him from his nasty environs.

***

Even if someone has ‘brought it upon themselves’ we are nevertheless obligated to aid them. We are indeed responsible for each other. If someone falls ill due to self-poisoning, we need to be there to heal them. We must protect people from the very environment they may have put themselves in.

If this applies to physical health and well-being, it’s certainly so regarding spiritual affairs. It’s easy to excuse ourselves saying, “Well, she fell into a bad group. What can we do?” The Jewish perspective is not to blame, but to jump in and help out.

When the Lubavitcher Rebbe began his mitzvah campaigns, many questioned whether it was useful to offer spiritual opportunities to those who chose to neglect the way of Torah. But the Rebbe, taking a cue from Avraham, refused to judge others. Our job is simply to illuminate the world with holiness.

If we continue on the path blazed by the Rebbe, we might just change the face of the global neighborhood while we are at it. Perhaps the coming of Moshiach is the true Environmental Protection Agency. May it happen now!

Comments on: Environmental Protection Agency
10/26/2012

R. Evans wrote...

Rabbi,

This is such an important concept and I honestly had not thought of caring for others in this capacity. Very powerful blog and I will not only try to apply this to my life - but I will share this with my children.

Thank you!