Man, by his very nature, affects the world in a significant way.
But it is not enough to simply maintain the world; he is also responsible for improving it.
The very fact that man is capable of this demonstrates that he is also required to do so.
Throughout history, our sages have disputed this subject, discussing the nature and scope of man’s role in the world.
Tineius Rufus, a Roman governor of Judea, famously challenged Rabbi Akiva on the matter of brit mila, asking, “What right do I have to cut off part of an organ that a person was born with?” (Tanhuma, Tazrias).
Rabbi Akiva pointed to the changes that man effects on the soil.
Man does not leave it in its original state.
He plows it, sows it, and constantly interferes with God’s work.
Man does not perform these actions merely to preserve the soil, but to improve on it as well, allowing it to yield crops that are greater in quantity and quality.
Man is continually changing the order, improving nature – and this is exactly as it should be.
–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz