As Avraham embarks on his journey to the place that God promised him, I continue on my personal journey to find a message about environmental sustainability in every Parshah in the Torah. There were so many different angles I could have taken in Bereishit and Noach but Lech Lecha, I have to admit, has proven to be more of a challenge. Nonetheless, an important message is to be found in the second half of the story.
The story of Lech Lecha takes place at a time that is far easier for us to relate to than the earlier parts of the Torah. It is in a time following the agricultural revolution when some are settling in farming communities, some are settling in small cities with a form of governance, and others are living nomadic lives, wandering from place to place in search of food for themselves and their livestock. The impression is that Abraham spent the early part of his life in a fixed town/village with relative security but swapped this for an insecure nomadic future when God told him to leave Haran and journey to an unknown place. Despite a famine which drove him temporarily to Egypt and other hardships Abraham and his nephew, acquired many possessions, including livestock, silver, gold, a wife and servants until “The land could not support them to live together, as their property was substantial.” So, here it is, the reminder that even thousands of years ago, when population was sparse, there was a limit to what the land can provide before it is degraded and no longer able to support us.
If this was a problem that had to be considered in Abraham’s day, how much more so today when the Earth is called upon to support and feed 7 billion people, many of whom consume disproportionate resources. The following infograph was produced by the Global Footprint Network in 2017, and shows that if everyone on the planet lived like the average Australian then we would 5.2 Earths to sustain us. Abraham, when he realised he was putting too much strain on the land, separated from his nephew and journey on to Canaan. We, though, cannot go find another planet just yet.