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What A Terrible Waste

08/06/2014 01:11:27 PM


(The following appeared in the June-July 2014 B'nai Jacob Bulletin)

There is a mitzvah which we trample upon all too often  with disregard. It is called Bal Tashchit.  What is this mitzvah and how do we disregard it, often daily?

It is first found in Deuteronomy, 20:19-20:  “When you besiege a city for many days to wage war against it to capture it, you shall not destroy its trees by wielding an ax against them, for you may eat from them, but you shall not cut them down.  Is the tree of the field a man, to go into the siege before you?"

From here, the Oral Torah understood: Don't waste!

In the Talmud, Rav Zutra discouraged others from wasting resources, stating:

"One who covers an oil lamp [so that it burns less efficiently], or uncovers a

naphtha lamp [so that it burns less efficiently], breaks the rule against needless waste [derived from Deuteronomy 20:19]." (Shabbat 67b)

Maimonides mastered the teachings of the Written and the Oral Torah. He compiled from these teachings, the Mishneh Torah.  In Hilkhot Melakhim, Rambam instructed us: "Whenever someone destroys a useful artifact, or rips clothing, demolishes a building, plugs up a spring, or senselessly destroys food, it violates the negative mitzvah of Bal Tashchit. Such actions are disgraceful." (6:10)

The Sefer HaChinuch is an amazing commentary on the 613 command-ments. It was written in the 16th century by a famous Rabbi (there are speculations as to which of three great  people the author may have been.)

He writes: "Righteous people do not destroy even a mustard seed in the world and they are distressed at every ruination and spoilage they see; and if they are able to do any rescuing, they will save anything from destruction, with all of their power." (Sefer HaChinuch: D’varim 20:19 number 529)

Do you see how these teachings should stop us in our tracks? There are statistics that Americans waste or cause to be wasted almost  1 million tons of material per person, per year.

Let's take just the issue of food!

Throughout my own life, I had the teachings of my parents, Aleihem Hashalom,  who always reminded us never to waste. (One of my "excuses" for battling the weight problem is that we had to finish everything on our plate. You know: "There are children starving in China.")

This is a far cry from what we see today. It actually hurts to witness food thrown away, when it could have been eaten. And, it's everywhere!

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has put this into figures:  141 trillion calories down the drain, or 1,249 calories per capita per day!  This equals more than 133 billion pounds of food lost, more than  31 percent of the total food supply.  The cost by the way amounts to $161.6 billion.

Can we not eat thoughtfully, as well as instruct our youths to do the same? Isn't it better to ask for a second helping, rather than fill our plate and discard half of the food on it?  Shouldn't we stop ourselves before we just throw out food, and ask if there is any way it can be used? 

One person who is doing something about this on a national level is former CEO of Trader Joe's, Doug Rauch. He has estimated that 40% of the food, which could be sold, is thrown out! To begin solving this problem, he is opening  a market in Massachusetts, which will sell at a discount the excess, overstocked, wholesome food, or produce that is blemished, which is  normally discarded by grocery stores.

We can each do our part! Each of us can think of ways that we can care for Hashem's gifts. It is Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch, who puts this all in perspective. In his classical work, Horeb, he eloquently taught:

 "''Do not destroy', is the most comprehensive warning to human beings not to misuse the position which G-d has given them as masters of the worlds and its matter to capricious, passionate, or merely thoughtless wasteful destruction of anything on earth...”

"G-d’s call proclaims to you, 'Do not destroy anything!' Be a mensch! Only if you use the things around you for wise human purposes, sanctified by the word of My teaching, only then are you a mensch and have the right over them which I have given you as a human…However, if you destroy, if you ruin, at that moment you are not a human…and have no right to the things around you... As soon as you use them unwisely, be it the greatest or the smallest, you commit treachery against my world, you commit murder and robbery against my property, you sin against Me!” … In truth, there is no one nearer to idolatry than one who can disregard the fact that all things are the creatures and property of G-d, and who then presumes to have the right, because he has the might to destroy them according to a presumptuous act of will. Yes, that one is already serving the most powerful idols—anger, pride, and above all ego, which in its passion regards itself as the master of things.”

May we have more regard for this mitzvah, and by being careful to guard it, become more spiritually refined mentschen.

Looking forward to seeing you in shul,

Rabbi Mitchell Kornspan

Fri, December 3 2021 29 Kislev 5782