Summer is a great time to think about nature. The value for this week is: Bal taschit, Do not destroy!
The rabbis tell us a story in Ecclesiastes Rabbah that, after the creation of humans, God took Adam and Eve around the Garden of Eden. God 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
There are also so many things to do to help save our world — try one of these:
- Recycling is a beginning to help the world. What can we do or do more of in recycling?
- Can you go through your toys and clothes and give any away? What are other ways you can give to others?
- What are other things that would fit under “do not destroy?”
Take a Jewish nature hike — look with eyes that see God’s creation. Enjoy beauty — say a blessing.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services and Jewish life and learning at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas.