Bal taschit: the value of ‘do not destroy’

Dear Families,

Fortunately, the J has been open in various stages since May 2020. But now, as we look forward to opening more and more, we all have really begun “housecleaning!” For me, moving offices pushed me to really assess what I need to keep and what to do with everything not needed. As you work in the yard, clean out your garage or go through your closet, remember this important Jewish value: bal taschit, do not destroy! Here are some thoughts and get to work while we have a little rest before Thanksgiving and Hanukkah (which are right on top of each other again!),

The rabbis tell us a story in Ecclesiastes Rabbah that, after the creation of humans, G-d took Adam and Eve around the Garden of Eden. G-d showed them all of its beauty, then said, “See how beautiful is my handiwork. I have created all of it for you to use. Please take care of it. Do not spoil or destroy my world.” This is a special message to us even though the rabbis could not have imagined that we would do such damage to our world. The mitzvah of bal tashchit comes from this verse from Deuteronomy 20:19: “When you wage war against a city… do not destroy its trees.” The rabbis tell us that we must not destroy any object from which someone might benefit.

Shabbat teaches us the relationship between nature and mankind. We were given six days to manage the earth but on Shabbat, we must neither create nor destroy. On Shabbat, we can just enjoy the beauty of the universe. Jewish agricultural laws also give us the “sabbatical year” to give the earth a rest. Talk about these texts:

• Care is to be taken that bits of broken glass should not be scattered on public land where they may cause injury. Pious people often buried their broken glassware in their own fields. —Talmud, Baba Kamma 30a

• A tannery must not be set up in such a way that the prevailing winds can send the unpleasant odor to the town. —Jerusalem Talmud, Baba Batra 2:9

• Whoever breaks vessels, tears clothes, demolishes a building, stops up a fountain, or wastes food, in a destructive way, transgresses the law of bal tashchit. —Mishneh Torah, Melachim 6:10

A Few Things to Do:

Recycling is a beginning to help the world. What can we do or do more of in recycling?

Can you go through your books, toys and clothes and give any away? What are other ways you can give to others and help the world?

Do you recycle? If not begin now. Pick one thing: newspaper, plastic bottles, soda cans?? Decide and do.

What are other things that would fit under “do not destroy”?

Cleaning may not sound like a Jewish activity but everything can be viewed though a Jewish lens. As you take things to recycle, say a blessing!

Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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