Clean and recycle, don’t destroy!

By Laura Seymour

Dear Families,

Spring officially began on March 19, a day earlier than usual because it is a leap year (not just for the Jewish calendar). It is time to begin “spring cleaning” and to get ready for Passover — which involves lots and lots of cleaning. But is it not just for your kitchen — it is time to work in the yard or clean out your garage or go through your closet. And it is time to remember this important Jewish value: Bal taschit, do not destroy! Here are some thoughts as you get to work.

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 Jewish experiential learning director and camp director emeritus at the Aaron Family JCC.

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