You shall not pollute the land in which you live, for blood pollutes the land, and no atonement can be made for the land for the blood that is shed in it, except by the blood of the one who shed it. You shall not defile the land in which you live, in the midst of which I dwell, for I the Lord dwell in the midst of the people of Israel. (Bemidbar / Numbers 35:33-34; ESV)
Pollution. It's a bad thing. Poisoning the air, water, and soil destroys this beautiful planet in which we live. Irresponsible disposal of waste ruins our environment. When God mandated our first parents in the Garden of Eden to be stewards of the creation, he put the care of the planet squarely on our shoulders.
Proper management of the environment is not about the complete elimination of waste. God made the world in such a way as to tolerate certain levels of waste products. Pollution occurs when we overload the earth's natural filtration systems. In fact, in many cases when waste overload does occur, cleanup is still possible. It takes a very high level of pollution to reach the point of no return. But, of course, this should not encourage laziness on our part, especially since the harm of environmental disasters can be avoided.
With all the current interest in the environment, it is regrettable that most people and agencies neglect what is perhaps the main pollutant in our day: blood. The unjust shedding of blood pollutes the environment in ways beyond our comprehension. That's what the Torah says. But isn't that metaphorical? Yes and no. It is metaphorical in the sense that the Torah is not saying that when human blood is spilled on the ground the soil becomes unfit for use. But it not metaphorical in that murder has a real physical effect on the land. Just because the relationship between this type of injustice and the environment cannot be measured scientifically, doesn't make it any less real.
The Torah teaches that the remedy for first-degree murder is the execution of the perpetrator. This principle is rooted in God's words to Noah after he and his family emerged from the Ark (see Bereshit / Genesis 9:5-6). The Torah is careful to prevent revenge and establish fair trials. But it's only the reciprocal shedding of blood of the murderer that can cleanse the pollution cause by his or her crime. That capital punishment has become so distasteful in much of the world today reveals a great misunderstanding about the sacredness of life. I did a whole message on that topic earlier this Jewish year (Life Is Valuable: http://www.torahbytes.org/73-02.htm).
The prevalence of the unjust shedding of blood in the world today is staggering, especially when we take into account the slaughter of the preborn through abortion and the growing popularity of euthanasia and assisted suicide. There is no way our environment can tolerate the disaster caused by so much killing. We should expect a serious environmental disaster as a result.
We don't have to look too far, for it is reasonable to extend the reference of land in our passage to the wider sphere of provision and prosperity in contemporary societies - that which we call the economy. And the economy of much of the Western World is currently in the grips of a catastrophe of an unprecedented scale. For the most part it is hidden from view by a sense of false security due to the illusion of endless credit. Yet the land cannot tolerate this situation much longer.