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What is the implication of the commandment to subject the land and dominate it Confome in Genesis 1:26-28?

There are some currents of interpretation, some extremes and some not so much. The extreme demanding that we exploit the resources in our favor whatever consequences it causes, if there is a consequence since it is a divine commandment in theory there was no consequence. Another basically argues that we use common sense with resources or respect the limits of this exploitation so as not to exhaust resources. What did Judaism say about it, whatever the current of opinion is, majority or minority? Are you going for any of these currents or has your own interpretation?

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  • You might start by looking at the commentaries on the verse such as this one sefaria.org/Genesis.1.28?lang=bi&with=Ramban&lang2=en
    – rosends
    Dec 7, 2022 at 0:51
  • It seems to favor those who interpret the text as allowing extremes in the exploitation of the planet's natural resources. That is, we do not see any mention of understandings that support conservation or a concern that this exploration may cause damage to ecology, even because God himself after the flood guaranteed the maintenance of the seasons, day-night and sowing and harvesting.
    – Thales
    Dec 7, 2022 at 1:17
  • For that, you might want to cast your net wider than just 1:28 amacad.org/publication/nature-sources-judaism oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780199840731/…
    – rosends
    Dec 7, 2022 at 1:24
  • Improved these fonts a lot. It is a very comprehensive question. For example, God allowing people to now eat meat, while the prevailing environmental thesis holds that stopping meat consumption is decisive for the environment, these lifestyle perceptions are irreconcilable. The ancients would never maintain that Man is capable of altering the natural order or impacting the climate, or else the environmental thesis still lacks a better understanding of physical phenomena
    – Thales
    Dec 7, 2022 at 1:41
  • There are two different narratives in the beginning of Genesis; in one, God says "dominate!"; in the other, God puts humans there to "work the land and protect it." Always going to be a balance.
    – Shalom
    Dec 7, 2022 at 10:39

2 Answers 2

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In order to answer your question, I'll explain what the blessing/commandment to be fruitful and multiply, in that same verse, means:

Rabbeinu Bachaye, one of our most venerated Medieval Sages, said:

Our sages in Kidushin 30 have said: “three partners between them acquired (contributed to his existence) man. They are: G’d, man’s father and man’s mother.” The purpose of the commandment to procreate profusely is so that the birth of the body be a prelude for the acquisition of the intelligent essence of man, his נפש השכלית. It is this intelligent essence which enables him to serve his Creator. Were it not for that, man’s superiority to the animals would be nil, i.e. מותר האדם מן הבהמה אין, (Kohelet 3,19). When the prophet Ezekiel 23,37 quotes G’d as saying וגם את בניהן אשר ילדו לי, “and also their children who have been born to Me,” he meant the children whose purpose in being born was to serve G’d. The implication of the verse is that all Israelites were born for the sake of His Holy Name, in order to serve G’d. The wicked people who see in the purpose of producing children a function of merely populating the universe, to eat and to drink just like the animals, completely misunderstood what the Torah has in mind with this blessing.

The point is: we only exist to serve God. We don't exist for our own benefit or for ourselves, so the premise of the question is wrong. Even our command to master the earth is in the service of God.

It should be noted that this verse is a commandment to man before the sin, referring to a quite different world, where man is immortal and the world is very blessed. Still, it is saying that Earth is given over to man, and he may do whatever he wants with it in service of God, mining it, using the trees and animals, and removing dangerous animals (see Ramban on 28).

What is included in service of God? Things like not destroying, a mitzva learned from Deuteronomy 20:19 (See Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzvah 529). One may not destroy something without a positive purpose in the service of God (which includes dwelling in the world as a functioning human society). This includes the Earth. Many say even gentiles are commanded with all the mitzvot that are sensible and of benefit to the world (which is literally this). Regardless, Kohelet Raba 7:13:1 records:

בְּשָׁעָה שֶׁבָּרָא הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא אֶת אָדָם הָרִאשׁוֹן, נְטָלוֹ וְהֶחֱזִירוֹ עַל כָּל אִילָנֵי גַּן עֵדֶן, וְאָמַר לוֹ, רְאֵה מַעֲשַׂי כַּמָּה נָאִים וּמְשֻׁבָּחִין הֵן, וְכָל מַה שֶּׁבָּרָאתִי בִּשְׁבִילְךָ בָּרָאתִי, תֵּן דַּעְתְּךָ שֶׁלֹא תְקַלְקֵל וְתַחֲרִיב אֶת עוֹלָמִי, שֶׁאִם קִלְקַלְתָּ אֵין מִי שֶׁיְתַקֵּן אַחֲרֶיךָ

In the time that the Holy One created the first human, He took him and brought him around all the trees of Gan Eden and said: See my works, how lovely and praiseworthy they are, and all I created, for your sake I created it. Put your mind [to this], that you don’t ruin or destroy My world, for if you bring ruin, there is no one who will repair after you.

Sefer Hachinuch (ibid) states about the mitzva of not destroying fruit trees:

The root of this commandment is well-known - it is in order to teach our souls to love good and benefit and to cling to it. And through this, good clings to us and we will distance [ourselves] from all bad and destructive things. And this is the way of the pious and people of [proper] action - they love peace and are happy for the good of the creatures and bring them close to Torah, and they do not destroy even a grain of mustard in the world. And they are distressed by all loss and destruction that they see; and if they can prevent it, they will prevent any destruction with all of their strength. But not so are the wicked - the brothers of the destructive spirits. They rejoice in the destruction of the world, and they destroy themselves

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To have it tame and not out of control, like a dog that is tamed and leashed. Or a parent that is strict or regimented toward his children. And regarding resources and exploitation, again the main thing is control of one's self. And character and Sekhel ("common" sense, like you mentioned) which should prevail, are developed through the rest of the Torah and devotions and the advice of the Tzaddikim.


From Tikunei Zohar daf 60a:

Similarly, from the side of Yesod Cha"Y Almin she (the Shekhinah) is called miswat Berit Milah - whoever steals from the Berit and emits seed from it to a foreign domain, is as if taking out from Reshut haYachid to Reshut haRabbim, and causes the Shekhina to go out from its place which is Eretz Yisrael Reshut haYachid, and exiling her among the nations of the world which are Reshut haRabbim, behold it's the scripture (Isa. 50:1), "And your sins have sent away your mother," therefore (Ex. 20:7), "Do not take Shem YKW"K ELHY"K in vain" - who is "Shem YKW"K?" - it's the Shekhina - "l'shaw" is aboda zara, making her exiled there.

וְכֵן מִסִּטְרָא דִיְסוֹד חַ"י עָלְמִין, אִתְקְרִיאַת מִצְוַת בְּרִית מִילָה, מָאן דְּגָזַל בִּבְרִית וְאַפִּיק זַרְעָא מִינֵיהּ לִרְשׁוּ נוּכְרָאָה, כְּאִלּוּ אַפִּיק מֵרְשׁוּת הַיָּחִיד לִרְשׁוּת הָרַבִּים, וְגָרַם לְמֶהֱוִי שְׁכִינְתָּא נָפְקָא מֵאַתְרָהּ דְאִיהִי אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל רְשׁוּת הַיָּחִיד, וְגָלָה אוֹתָהּ בֵּין אוּמִין דְּעָלְמָא דְאִינוּן רְשׁוּת הָרַבִּים, הֲדָא הוּא דִכְתִיב (ישעיה נ, א) וּבְפִשְׁעִיכֶם שֻׁלְּחָה אִמְּכֶם, וּבְגִין דָּא לֹא תִשָּׂא אֶת שֵׁם יהו"ה אלהי"ך לַשָּׁוְא (שמות כ, ז), מָאן שֵׁם יהו"ה דָּא שְׁכִינְתָּא, לַשָּׁוְא דָּא עֲבוֹדָה זָרָה דְּגָלַת תַּמָּן. …

And Gevurah - there is SM"EL which is the yetzer haRa, and whoever overcomes his yetzer is as if making Gevurah dominate over SM"EL, in strictness over its children, therefore the Mishna masters said, "Who is the strong man? He that conquers (Kovesh) his yetzer." What's "conquering?" As it says (Gen. 1:28), "and conquer it," that it should be conquered under his hand, like a dog that is tamed and leashed under a man's hands.

וּגְבוּרָה תַמָּן סמא"ל דְּאִיהוּ יֵצֶר הָרָע, וְכָל מָאן דְּיִתְגַבֵּר עַל יִצְרֵיהּ כְּאִלּוּ הֲוָה מִתְגַבֵּר גְּבוּרָה עַל סמא"ל בְּדִינָא לְגַבֵּי בְּנוֹי, וּבְגִין דָּא אָמְרוּ מָארֵי מַתְנִיתִין, אֵיזֶהוּ גִבּוֹר הַכּוֹבֵשׁ אֶת יִצְרוֹ, מַאי הַכּוֹבֵשׁ, כְּמָה דְאַתְּ אָמַר (בראשית א, כח) וְכִבְשׁוּהָ, דִּיְהֵא כְּבוּשָׁה תְּחוֹת יְדֵיהּ, כְּכַלְבָּא דְאִיהוּ כָּבוּשׁ וְקָשׁוּר תְּחוֹת יְדֵי דְבַר נַשׁ.

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