We celebrated Tu B’Shevat this week, and the weather outside has been cold one day and warm the next. We have been able to enjoy the beauty of nature outside, even in January. As we continue to celebrate trees and all of nature year-round, remember this important Jewish value: 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 in 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”?
And make sure to get outside. Take a Jewish nature hike — look with eyes that see God’s creation. Enjoy beauty — say a blessing.