The Return of the Healing Waters of Eden

Redemption and Hydraulic Fracturing
by Rabbi Lawrence Troster, Rabbinic Scholar-in-Residence, GreenFaith 

The High Holidays are a time in which the theme of redemption both personal and communal is central to the liturgy of the Mahzor. Personal redemption comes through teshuvah, repentance; communal redemption is the collective act of teshuvah; both help to bring about the universal redemption of the whole world (Tikkun ‘Olam).

One the most important and vivid visions of redemption is found in the last chapters of the book of Ezekiel which the prophet had after the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem in 586 BCE. He was in exile in Babylon but he was granted a prophecy of the future restoration of the Temple. In chapter 47, Ezekiel is shown a great deep river, full of fish, flowing out of the new Temple eastward down to the Dead Sea, which will become a body of sweet water. The Judean desert on either side of the river will become fertile and blossom with fruit trees that will never cease to give fruit and be filled with all kinds of animals.

This vision is meant to show how the future Temple will become the new Garden of Eden. And the new covenant with God will now assure that the land will not have to depend on chancy rain.  Freshwater will always flow from the Temple Mount, and the Gihon spring of Jerusalem will return to its original character as one of the primordial rivers of Creation (see Genesis 2). In other prophetic texts (Zechariah 14:8; Joel 4:18) there are two rivers that flow from the Temple: one eastward toward the Dead Sea, one westward toward the Mediterranean.

The metaphor of fresh living water as a sign of redemption is used quite often in the Bible, especially in the books of the Prophets. God is in fact called the mekor mayim hayyim, Fountain of Living Waters. The scarcity and intermittent nature of fresh water in the ecosystems of the Land of Israel helped to create this theology. The abundance or scarcity of rain was not considered to be a random natural occurrence dictated by changes in geography or climate, but a divine response to a human moral crisis. There is no “nature” separate from human concerns, and there is no “natural evil”; Israel and the Land of Israel are bound together in one moral community under God’s direction. This idea is also found in rabbinic sources. For example, in the Babylonian Talmud (Rosh Ha-Shanah 17b) there is a direct connection made between the behavior of the Jewish people and the amount of rain that God will bring for the coming year.

Many of us live in communities where fresh clean water is taken for granted until it is disrupted. We expect that access to clean water is a basic human right but there is a growing crisis in the world over the access to freshwater. The main causes of the shortage of freshwater are the rapid increase in world population in the last hundred years, resulting in a lower per capita amount of available water; an increase in contaminated water from human effluents, and an increase in the rate of water consumption per capita as countries develop. Modern agricultural methods, power generation, and industrial use cause pollution, which also lowers available clean water for human consumption. Yet despite the large presence of water on Earth, clean freshwater is a precious substance, comprising only 3 percent of the total. It is a finite resource.

For these reasons, we must oppose hydraulic fracturing. It destroys sources of fresh water, it uses large amounts of fresh water and the carbon-based energy produced by it is causing sea levels to rise which is contaminating critical river delta’s that supply millions of people with food. Fracking is a transgression against God’s Creation, delaying the redemption of the world. If we are to create the world of Ezekiel’s vision, we must oppose this destructive procedure and allow the living water to continue to flow.